In 2007, Sex in the City had been off the air for a few years and Gossip Girl felt like the perfect remedy to cure viewers withdrawal of watching New Yorkers drenched in drama in an overly glamorized portrait of the city. It was the best kind of guilty pleasure, and the show was a huge success with millennials. Now, Gossip Girl returns as a reboot on HBO Max with a social media inspired Gen-Z refresh.
“Been a minute. Did you miss me?”
The salacious voice of Kristen Bell (The Good Place) that narrated Gossip Girl for six seasons is back and ready to stir-up all kinds of new drama, but let’s start from the top: the original show followed a group of wealthy teenagers attending the elitist Constance Billard-St. Jude’s high school on the Upper East Side while their lavish parties, scandalous drama, and twisting betrayals were all sneakily posted about on an anonymous gossip blog. Yes, the ancient art of blogging actually existed!
The teenagers were unrealistically beautiful and ran the city in an impossible way that was not relatable for anyone watching (what teen gets published in the New Yorker?!) but that’s exactly why we devoured it.
The reboot is not a far cry, except they swap out the antique blog for an anonymous Instagram account that can tag it’s new targets in photos and captions. The framework is the same: same school, same preppy blazers, and same random fashion shows, but with a totally new generation of characters.
In episode one, titled ‘Just Another Girl On MTA,’ there’s a new crew drinking lattes and judging people on the steps of the Met. The story centers around two half-sisters, Julien (Jordan Alexander) and Zoya (Whitney Peak). Julien is the wealthy “It Girl” on campus with a huge social media following, famous father, and she rocks an edgy shaved head. Zoya is quite the opposite: a kind and humble artist that doesn’t come from big money and could care less about social media appearances. Zoya is the new Dan Humphrey, the middle-class outsider that gets adopted by the exclusive elites, and Julien is a hybrid of Serena van der Woodsen and Blair Waldorf – popular, glowing, but might have an evil streak.
Their relationship is confusing. They share the same mom, but she died giving birth to Zoya after she left Julien’s wealthy father and ran off with Zoya’s dad. Despite the distance between them, they found each other online and schemed a plan to attend the same school. However, things go south for the two of them after Gossip Girl 2.0 drives a wedge between them. Julien’s friends frame Zoya to look like she’s attention-seeking at Julien’s fashion show, and Julien doesn’t stop them. It’s a weird heel turn for them to suddenly go from loving sisters to mortal enemies. What’s the motive? Just didn’t seem natural.
While the series is definitely not a comedy, there were certainly some laughable moments. The driving source of humor is Tavi Gevinson (Enough Said) as Kate Heller, a teacher that’s tired of being pushed around by the wealthy students (Fun fact: Gevinson was the prodigy of her own viral blog, Style Rookie, when she was just 12-years-old!). With the help of her coworkers, she devises a plan to take down the hierarchy of popularity and power within the student body, but their involvement in the student’s lives is so inappropriate that you can’t help but laugh. Submitting photos of students getting undressed in front of a window to Gossip Girl 2.0? Super creepy.
In 2007, the OG Gossip Girl had it’s issues. For starters, there were two sexual assaults in the first episode that were easily dismissed and almost all the core characters were white, to name just a few of it’s major flaws. Now, in 2021, the reboot has a more racially diverse cast and gender fluid line-up, but it doesn’t get much deeper than that. It feels like it wants to be topical and progressive, but it doesn’t have any stand-out scenes or storylines that rise to the occasion. Besides mentioning smashing the patriarchy once and making it’s leading lady an influencer, the Gen-Z makeover falls flat.
However, it’s still fun and leaves you wanting to know what’s going to happen next, which is the thing we loved the most about the original. It wasn’t always well-written, but we still came crawling back for more.
Rating: 7.5 out of 10
Episode one of the Gossip Girl reboot is now streaming on HBO Max.