Gossip Girl

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Jordan Alexander in Gossip Girl.
Jordan Alexander in Gossip Girl.
Photo: Showmax

SHOW:

Gossip Girl

WHERE TO WATCH:

Showmax

OUR RATING:

2/5 Stars

WHAT IT'S ABOUT:

Eight years after the original Gossip Girl website went dark, a new generation of New York private school students are haunted by the ever-watching eyes of Gossip Girl.

WHAT WE THOUGHT:

Trying to create a new version of Gossip Girl was always going to be a controversial decision. The original series, while not always a critical success, was a pop culture phenomenon, and it ended so recently that it is still fresh in viewers' minds. Trying to live up to this is almost impossible, but the new version of the series is a valiant attempt to try and recreate the essence of what made it so popular.

Set eight years after the original series, Gossip Girl follows two half-sisters - Julien (Jordan Alexander) and Zoya (Whitney Peak) – as Zoya receives a scholarship to attend Constance Billard school with Julien. Julien is the IT girl at Constance and has a large following as a successful influencer. However, the introduction of her younger sister to the school threatens Julien's position and relationships.

At the same time, a group of teachers at Constance, fed up with how the rich students treat them, decide to resuscitate Gossip Girl as an Instagram account reporting on the students' behaviour. Like the original Gossip Girl focused on the relationship of frenemies Blair and Serena, this Gossip Girl focuses on the relationship between Julien and Zoya and others in their orbit.

The biggest difference between the two shows is that in the original, Gossip Girl mainly was an anonymous narrator (narrated by Kristen Bell), and her true identity was only revealed in the finale. In this version, we are there at the genesis of Gossip Girl; we are peeking behind the curtain, watching her being born, going through teething, and growing up. Did the original Gossip Girl face similar problems? We will never know, but the thing is, we also never cared.

If Gossip Girl, the anonymous blog that is always watching and threatening to reveal the characters' secrets, is supposed to be the true villain of the story, then this attempt to show the other side of the story neuters the threat so much that it seems asinine. The fact that this group of adults are spending their time stalking and bullying teenagers is pathetic, if not incredibly unrealistic. But further than that, their storyline is the weakest of the show; it's tedious if not boring; most of the time, when the teachers were onscreen, I wanted to fast-forward their scenes.

What the sequel series does well is depicting how diverse a group of students like that in New York City in 2021 would be. The original series was critiqued a lot because the majority of the main cast was white. However, with the 2021 version, the diversity in the cast does not feel like tokenism or as if the producers were ticking boxes. It seems seamless, the group gels well together, and it's easy to believe that they would be friends.

However, I do think that the character of Obie (Eli Brown), who starts the show as the boyfriend of Julien, is the weakest. The character seems all over the place, and it constantly seems as if the writers don't know where they want the character to go, so he spends most of the episodes floundering around. His chemistry with Julien and Zoya leaves a lot to be desired, and I feel that both characters are much more compelling when they are not with him. One of the smartest decisions that the Beverley Hills 90210 sequel series, 90210, made was to write out the main character of Ethan after the first season because his character just did not work. I hope that Gossip Girl does something similar, if not as drastic, then a proper rewrite of the character.

Even though the original series produced talented actors like Blake Lively, Leighton Meester and Penn Badgely, it is easy to forget that they didn't start like that, and rewatching the first season shows how rough their performances were. The young cast of the new version's performances can be a bit rough at times, but they are all extremely good and show a lot of promise. Thomas Doherty as Max Wolfe is a particular standout. The character is meant to be similar to Chuck Bass but with so much more depth. Throughout the first season, we watch Max, a pansexual character, dealing with a series of inappropriate relationships while dealing with his parent's divorce. We see Doherty slip from sultry to sensitive within seconds; we feel the pain in his facial expressions, his yearning, his hope. He is one of the best-handled characters in the series.

Even though Gossip Girl has a lot of potential regarding its' characters, relationships and storylines, it tumbles under the weight of its' predecessor. Perhaps if it starts to cut storylines and characters that weigh the story and make bolder decisions to set it apart from the original series, it could come out from under its shadow. What made the original Gossip Girl so popular was that it was shameless, different, glamorous, and unlike anything that was seen before. While it will be difficult for the new Gossip Girl to recreate that, it would do the show well to try to forge its path.

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE:

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