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HBO Max’s “Gossip Girl”: a mediocre Gen Z makeover

Reboot tries to bridge new generation with original show’s essence, loses appeal of original

<p>The new Gossip Girl includes completely new characters – privileged Upper Eastsiders who attend the all-girls school Constance Billard and the all-boys school St. Jude’s – and the same omniscient gossip account named Gossip Girl.</p>

The new Gossip Girl includes completely new characters – privileged Upper Eastsiders who attend the all-girls school Constance Billard and the all-boys school St. Jude’s – and the same omniscient gossip account named Gossip Girl.

From “And Just Like That” to “iCarly,” reboots and revivals have been taking the TV streaming world by storm. One of the latest and most anticipated shows has been HBO Max’s revival of the late-2000s hit show “Gossip Girl.”

Set in the same universe as the original “Gossip Girl,” the revival follows a completely new roster of privileged Upper Eastsiders attending the all-girls school Constance Billard and the all-boys school St. Jude’s as they deal with the same omniscient gossip account known as Gossip Girl.

Despite how unimaginative some reboots and revivals, like “How I Met Your Father,” can be, the new “Gossip Girl” had the potential to be different. The original show was groundbreaking in its use of social media but was also a reflection of the minimal online culture of the late 2000s. A revamped Gen Z version of the show seems like the perfect way to highlight modern online culture in ways other teen dramas haven’t.

Here, Gossip Girl is no longer a blog with a badly designed website, but is rather an Instagram page that, by episode two, gets verified. The way the characters interact with the Instagram account feels very organic and current — from initially assuming it's fake to blocking it and even sending incriminating evidence via Instagram direct messages.

This dynamic is not restricted to the online sphere. The show’s queen bee Julian Calloway (Jordan Alexander) doesn’t gain her popularity and power from real-world minions and elaborate revenge schemes like Blair Waldorf (Leighton Meester) did in the original. Instead, her status comes from being an influencer with millions of followers.

But the show doesn’t have much going for it beyond that.

Joshua Safran, executive producer of the original show and showrunner of the revival, told “Variety” that he didn’t want the new show’s characters to have the same eccentric relationship with wealth that the original’s did.

“These kids wrestle with their privilege in a way that I think the original didn't,” Safran said. “The 'Gossip Girl’ crew of 2021 is aware of income inequality. They take Ubers, not limos. They’re (mostly) not rude to service workers.”

Safran’s idea is only nice in theory. The whole appeal of the original show was that it was detached from reality. You tune in because you want to see rich, spoiled brats be exactly who they are with a backdrop of romance, revenge schemes and the latest fashion trends. No one was watching the original “Gossip Girl” with an expectation of complex political understanding and social awareness from the characters.

The prime example of this is found in Otto "Obie'' Bergmann IV (Eli Brown), the main love interest of Julian and her half-sister Zoya Lott (Whitney Peak). He is a social activist whose passion for activism only seems to come from the fact that he feels overbearing guilt for his wealth. Throughout the series, he spends his time bouncing between the sisters because Julian’s influencer ventures take up too much of her time, or because Zoya is just not invested in his fake activism. This makes for not only an unlikable character but also a storyline that is just not good.

The original show’s juicy and wacky dramas, like when Chuck Bass (Ed Westwick) became the owner of a gentleman's club at age 16, were what made it appealing in the first place. We miss when Serena van der Woodsen's (Blake Lively) aunt hired an actor to play her cousin Charlie, who ended up dating both of Serena's mom's ex-husbands later on.

The other characters don’t offer interesting alternatives. The dynamic most reminiscent of the original show is that of Aki Menzies (Evan Mock), Max Wolf (Thomas Doherty) and Audrey Hope (Emily Ayl Lind) as they try to figure out their sexuality and if they want to be together as a throuple. While still interesting to watch, the characters struggle to stand out as individuals and live in the shadow of the original show’s archetypes. This is especially true for Max, who lacks uniqueness as a character and just seems like a pansexual version of Chuck Bass (Ed Westwick).

Still, the biggest issue with the show is that while the characters have higher social morals, the show explores borderline uncomfortable storylines.

Gossip Girl’s identity is the biggest symptom of this.

Unlike the original show, the revival takes a different approach by revealing the identity of Gossip Girl in the first episode. The problem isn't the early reveal itself. In fact, it's a rather smart way to escape the disappointing reveal that many teen mystery dramas, like “Pretty Little Liars” and the original show, suffer from. The disappointing — and even disturbing — part comes from the fact that the teachers at Constance Billard are Gossip Girl. Disappointed with the way that their entitled students mistreat them, the group, led by English teacher Kate Keller (Tavi Gevinson), decide to create a new account after they are exposed to the Gossip Girl website from the original show.

While this plot point does shed light on the pull privileged students have over their teachers at elite prep schools, it’s just hypocritical and, frankly, pathetic to watch. Plus, it’s sad, and honestly creepy, to watch these adults in their 30s spend all their time obsessing over who their students are sleeping with. Even if these teachers have nothing better to do, exposing that you are sleeping with your sister’s boyfriend seems by far the least effective way of teaching someone good morals.

Unfortunately, not even Kristen Bell returning as the voice of Gossip Girl is able to distract from the disturbing nature of the users behind the account. It just makes it impossible to buy into this new Gen Z version of the show that is supposed to be “woke” but instead centers around teachers essentially stalking their students.

It feels like the show hasn’t decided what it wants to be. It hopes to be cool and socially aware but fails to hold itself accountable to these standards when trying to explore darker storylines.

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“Gossip Girl” has been confirmed for a second season by HBO Max, but no details have been officially released. While the first season ends at a cliffhanger, I am skeptical that the writers will be able to escape the mediocrity that just makes the show less appealing than the original.



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