Gossip Girl Reboot on HBO Max: is It Worth It?

Pop Culture

August 11, 2021

Wait, you mean to tell me that this whole time ... There weren't just white people in New York?

What is this witchcraft?

No, seriously, the new Gossip Girl is just fine.

Rise and Shine, Upper East Siders. You might have thought that we have reached the peak of reboots, remakes, and rehashes. Well, you were wrong.

With the summer in full swing, there are new kids on the block sitting on the steps of The Met. And they're ... actually not horrible people? They're definitely a miserable bunch, though.

Don't get me wrong, there is plenty of dumb [censored] in the show that doesn't work, but as far as the overall watchability goes, I am so over hating content for teenage girls just because it's for teenage girls. As if you weren't cringey when you were fifteen.

There is a lot to say about the reboot. And I'm going to say it all.

Image credit: Source Unknown

How We Ended Up Here

I want to begin by requesting consensus — Did anyone ask for this?

My two cents would be — Yes? Kind of?

As repetitive and unimaginative as these Hollywood remakes are, the original Gossip Girl occupies an entirely different space in TV and movie history than any other project they have rebooted. If anything, Gossip Girl is the perfect TV show to reboot, because the only reason it was so iconic is — and I know a lot of people are going to disagree — the zeitgeist. A magic element of releasing a project at the right time.

Gossip Girl came out in 2007 when we were all riding high on the success of The O.C. After they dropped the ball on that one, we wanted a fresh new teen show to drool over. The internet had just hit the ground running, the recession weighed heavily on everyone's mind, and we were so numbed by the entertainment industry, that a show about the filthy rich authentically shot in New York City played on everyone's cylinders.

[censored], my baby boomer mom remembers Gossip Girl. And she couldn't name a Hollywood actor without mispronouncing their name with a gun to her head, so.

With all that said — the original GG had it all — the mystery, the intrigue, the interesting plot, the characters made sense, the romance was tight (most of the time) — I always think back on it fondly.

But there is a new generation of kids that never got to live the emblematic years of Gossip Girl. Given the fact that I was twelve when it came out, I think that my generation deserves it too. As nice as it sounds to re-live the blessed years of the Lord when the only cyberbully was Gossip Girl, everyone hated Westlife and Bo Burnham was recording songs about not being gay in his bedroom, it's time for the new GG to log in.

The Premise

The reboot is set ten years later in the same universe as the original, so they can cleverly reference the old characters and probably even bring them back later to a small extent. At least that's my layman's assessment.

But for all intents and purposes, there is a new group of rich private schoolers and the cast is more diverse in terms of race and sexuality. Just when they start a new school year, the omniscient Gossip Girl returns to mess with them.

The series premiered July 8th on HBO Max instead of The CW because they wanted to feature more nudity and disturbing content.

So far, we are four episodes into the series, and if you're asking why we're diving into this so early — the divide is real and the critics hate it for all the wrong reasons.

Run, Forrest, Run — There is a teen drama on tV

If you've read some of my previous reviews, you probably think that I'm one of those people who hate everything.

And, yes, you would be right.

That's because the decline in quality entertainment, in general, has been on the rise since Zuckerberg decided to stick it to Harvard and become a trillionaire. It's much easier to hate everything when most of it sucks at its core. But that's not the case here.

The reason why the critics and some fans hate the new Gossip Girl is the fault of none other than ...

Gerard Way.

Yes, the frontman of the mega-popular rock band My Chemical Romance. See, Gerard had always been a music enthusiast, but nothing ever too serious. He was into drawing and even secured an internship at Cartoon Network, housed by the World Trade Center.

And you probably already know where I'm going with this.

On his way there, the buildings collapsed right in front of him. He fell into an existential crisis and decided to jump head-on into his passion for music. And, well, he became so famous with his band, so meta, so ... inspiring, he caught the eye of none other than Stephanie Meyers, who modeled the entire broody, melodramatic character of Edward after him.

Except, you know, she left out all the cool things and turned him into a sparkling vampire. And the rest is history.

All the [censored] spin-offs that glorify abusive relationships, stalking behavior, and toxic partnerships — 50 Shades of Grey, After, 365 days and other abominations in literature and film — the reason why critics and fans (at least those with healthy brain functions) turned against teen content — now you know what lies beneath.

Teen movies used to be emotionally fulfilling and even praised — remember Clueless? Mean Girls? A Walk To Remember? Yeah, good days.

So thanks, Gerard. Thanks for nothing, my dude.

Thanks, I (don't) hate it.

Now that we know why the new GG has already entered the game with a disadvantage, let's see what works about it.

Well, the characters work. They're not as memorable and, frankly, I couldn't name even one after the first episode. I called all the guys Stu and all the girls Linda. But that's not the fault of lazy writing, they do have distinctive personalities — they're just introduced poorly.

There wasn´t a strong enough hook, an archetypical line that would suggest right away who is who and why they're there. However, as the episodes went on, I learned not only their names, but also the twist I had not expected at all — they're good people.

Troubled, yes. But good.

While the OG GG leads you to believe that Gossip Girl is ruining the lives of the characters, we quickly learn that Gossip Girl is just shining the light on the fact that they are all terrible people ruining their own lives. Yes, even Saint Dan. In fact, I think Dan might have been the worst of them all.

They don't do that here, and honestly, it's very refreshing. Does anyone want to watch another show about the vilification of wealth and spoiled kids who don't know what to do with themselves because they have everything? I personally don't.

Not only are they decent, but they are also way more mature than you would expect them to be. This brings me to another diversion from the OG concept that works — their parents are not self-centered, clueless idiots.

I don't know about you, but everything about the original parents annoyed the [censored] out of me. They were beyond unbearable. Chuck's father was an outright criminal, Lily was aloof and superficial, Blair's mother was a nightmare, and apart from Rufus Humphrey, no one cared enough to actually raise their [censored] kids. The dynamic resembled more of a competitive frenemies situation than a parent-child relationship.

The new GG spins the dynamic completely and takes a more relatable approach.

So who are the new kids?

You have Julien, who seems to be the new “it” girl of the Manhattan Elite, her younger half-sister Zoya, who moves to New York to get to know her better, Obie — the quintessential sweet guy who has “rich guilt”, Max, who dodges all his problems with sex, Aki and Audrey who tries to stay in a committed, monogamous relationship that just doesn't work anymore, and yes, Monet and Luna, Julien's minions.

Yeah, those two get on my nerves, I admit that.

But as a concept of subverting expectations, they work, too. You would think that Julien's the one calling the shots, but it's actually these two who are wreaking havoc on her life and creating conflict. And yeah, they are all a mixture of their evocative predecessors, but is that really a problem?

Did anyone go into this thinking they would abandon the winning formula? They improved on the characters´ decision-making process immensely, which I applaud, even though they do resemble the original ensemble when it comes to mannerisms, fashion, and even backstory in some cases.

But — their parents actually check up on them from time to time — ain't that something else?

They have a curfew, the parents are interested in what they're doing in their free time, they ask about their life and their friends — and most of the relationships hint at a larger conflict brewing and soon to be explored. Especially with Max's parents getting a divorce.

The plot works, too. I mean, some of it. A crucial element does, at least for me:

They talk to each other.

They acknowledge their mistakes, apologize and promise to do better, there are no artificial fights created by the stupidity of the characters believing everything they read online. They rationalize, they think and process logically.

When your conflicts could be resolved by a single conversation and your characters don't do it, you're doing it wrong. They come off superficial, and then the story disintegrates.

And how could I forget Kristen Bell? The unmistakable voice of a generation is back to narrate our lives. I don't think that the reboot would catch on at all had they not brought back Kristen Bell's awe-inducing xoxo, Gossip Girl. When the transition from a scene to the Manhattan skyline happened and Kristen Bell entered with her chilling, bitchy narration, I was immediately pulled into their world.

Don't judge a book by its cover

Let's move on to the stuff that doesn't work — the other aspect of the plot that I had mentioned earlier.

Gossip Girl was revealed right away, and it's the lamest, creepiest thing ever. Gossip Girl is ...

Their teachers.

Oh, man. Why do you do this to me, show? I was rooting for you, we were all rooting for you!

Firstly, I'm about 95% sure that it's supposed to be a social commentary about how Millennials and Gen Z hate each other. The problem with that is ... We don't. The only people who keep pointing out a generational conflict that just doesn't exist are the media.

Of course, there are differences in opinion on how to handle social issues. It's always been that way, and it always will be — don't you argue with your parents and grandparents about how to live your life? Politics? Education?

Of course, you do. That's normal. They experienced a completely different life than what we are going through right now, and conflicts naturally ensue.

But no one is at war here, and I'm sick of seeing it portrayed that way in almost everything I watch. Especially teen dramas.

Next to romanticizing abuse and mental health struggles, it's the newest, poisonous trend in young adult consumerism and I hate it with burning passion.

Now, you probably think that I am trying to defend the show too much with what I'm about to say next, but at least for me — this is not a major eff up that the writers cannot fix. Especially because at the wheel of the show is the same guy who ran the OG GG, Joshua Safran.

And not only does he understand the world he has created, he's a fan of the genre. And apparently drawing from the source material — the novels by Cecily Von Ziegesar — more heavily than before in terms of characterization.

You know how the DC movies suck and there’s nothing anyone can do to fix them? That's because there’s a guy that goes by the name of Zack Snyder directing them. And he doesn't understand the characters he's supposed to be directing. He's never read comics and is generally not a comic book fan.

That's not the case of the new Gossip Girl.

The early Gossip Girl reveal ruins the mystery and the fact that it's supposed to be revenge on the rich kids for being rich is dumb but fixable. Someone can easily hijack the Gossip Girl account and mess with everyone at the Constance Billard school. I think that they're building up to it actually, since the lady teacher whose name I can't remember is having a hard time with the morality of the whole thing, to, you know, stalk her students. (Eye roll.)

One of the teachers even introduced themselves as a schoolmate of the original group that they had mentioned once in a throwaway line at the very beginning — definitely a missed opportunity to build her into a vengeful GG who never got to hang out with the cool kids and is now trying to get more attention and live vicariously through the new generation. The possibilities are endless, so I hope from the bottom of my heart that they are going to correct this mess of a plot.

Get in Losers, we're going ... to put more sex in it than necessary

Calm down, I'm not a prude. I love a good romance, I love a good sex scene, and I'm not an idiot. A soapy teen drama needs to have hot couples going at it in order to attract the right demographic. I get it.

What I don't get is how they don't see that it doesn't push the right buttons anymore. You know what I mean? No?

Well — I think that the logic behind selling the property to HBO Max to be able to show more nudity on screen is an attempt to duplicate one of the aspects that the original Gossip Girl had kinda set up for every show that followed in its footsteps — shock value.

See, back in 2007, the sexual revolution was unraveling almost everywhere in the world except for the US. In the US, everything was still heavily censored, and you just wouldn't see sixteen-year-olds doing drugs and having sex on mainstream television. Gossip Girl built its entire marketing on the less than favorable reviews from the critics and how much of a bad influence it had on young adults. The posters were filled with quotes from The New York Times and Variety like: “Very bad for you”, or “Don't let your kids watch this”.

The problem with the new Gossip Girl is ...

The over-sexualization just doesn't work anymore.

We've become desensitized to hardcore sex or drugs, or violence, because it's everywhere. If anything, now it's seen as glorification and audiences don't respond to it with curiosity or intrigue, but rather with disgust. It's just too much.

When you've seen a movie that makes Christian Grey look like a Golden Retriever, you've pretty much seen it all, and a bunch of sex-crazed teenagers, who, frankly, look like they're in their late twenties are not going to shock you.

By the way, don't give up on your acting career, guys. When you turn thirty, you're officially old enough to play a teenager in one of these projects. And I believe that's the logic behind it — the writing room sees an attractive 29-year-old guy and puts him in a romantic storyline with a teacher because it's hot.

And the fact that this 29-year-old is playing a 16-year-old and a sexual relationship with his teacher is not hot, it's illegal and just really gross apparently went over everyone's head in the writing room.

At first, I got really excited about this storyline.

Don't look at me like that, I'll explain.

The student-teacher trope is extremely popular in these teen dramas — for all the wrong reasons. It's a fascinating, super-interesting storyline, it's a more common occurrence in real life than you would think, but instead of writing it the way it's supposed to be written — emphasizing the sexual exploitation, the consequences on mental health etc. ...

They f**k this up every single time.

It's always portrayed as the pinnacle of romance.

Riverdale did it, Pretty Little Liars did it, that weird show on Hulu did it, you name it. And I got my hopes up, because the new GG started off just right.

Max is desperate for attention, so he starts pursuing his attractive teacher. I can't remember this teacher's name either, so let's call him Greg.

Max's sexually liberated or whatever, and he's going after this guy pretty relentlessly. But Greg keeps resisting.

Then Max finds out that his dad is cheating and the marriage of his parents is crumbling down. You would think that this is the moment when it all goes downhill, but the show is very good at subverting expectations, because it actually made me believe that Greg would just help Max get through the emotional shock and set him on the right path. That's what he does at first.

But effing no. One episode later, Max goes to Greg's apartment after a fight with his dad, and they have sex.

I think that they mentioned at one point that Max is eighteen but here’s the thing ...


I don't care that he's legal! Why would a grown-[censored] man be interested in a high school student? Stop it, show!

Stop it! Just stop! He's a disturbed child, he needs a hug not a make-out session!

They could make Greg a [censored] and up the stakes, and who knows — maybe this time I will be surprised by the outcome.

What Makes it or Breaks it?

Now that I have calmed down a little, let me introduce the greatest misconception about storytelling — bad dialogue doesn't necessarily break the story.

Bad writing does.

And people often have those two mixed up. In order to illustrate more vividly, I'll take a little detour into a quaint little town that is also known as the worst show on TV right now.

Yep, you guessed it.

Riverdale has bad dialogue. We all know that, it's beyond what the human mind can take and there are thousands of crack videos on YouTube making fun of it.

That's not why Riverdale is humanity's most awful creation.

It's the very contradiction that Riverdale is built on.

See, if Riverdale had good writing and the only problem would be cringey dialogue, it would just be another mediocre CW show and no one would be spewing so many reaction videos about it.

The reason why it's so frustrating is that the characters have bad dialogue ... that directly contradicts their actions.

The show wants you to believe that Jughead is a loner (he famously says so in that season 1 monologue of his) who doesn't like people and that people don't like him. He's a mysterious mopey writer who just wants everyone to leave him alone.

Except ... he isn´t. He sticks his nose into everyone's business, he's always where the action is, he's the leader of a biker gang that looks up to him, he has tons of friends, and so on and on.

The same thing happened to Archie.

The show presents Archie as the pure-hearted snowflake, the “goodest” guy of them all, the poster boy for faith in humanity, the vanilla ice cream personified ...

Except, he isn´t. He pulls out a gun on a random guy in an alley, he's involved in violent sports, he has sex with his teacher, he's selfish as [censored] and cheats on his girlfriend with every female that ever crosses his path.

That's bad writing.

Now, the new Gossip Girl, however, only has bad dialogue. And I say “only” with a huge caveat, because dialogue can in fact disrupt the enjoyability of the show significantly.

But — it doesn't necessarily break it. It's another one of those mistakes that can be easily fixed. The reason why the dialogue in Gossip Girl edges on Riverdale cringey is because they try to appeal to Gen Z too much, and it never works.

Just because young adults these days text in abbreviations and comment on Instagram posts with certain slang phrases doesn't mean they talk like that in real life.

The only person allowed to be amusedly corny is Gossip Girl. They have chosen to give her an Instagram platform, which makes sense out of all of them — they even reference Twitter in a pretty funny joke — let her over-dramatize, use overtly formal language and make call backs to famous movies all day every day.

Just don't put it in the characters' dialogue.

It sounds insane and makes an audience want to boil themselves alive hearing it. But I have faith in you, show. Fire whoever it is that thinks they understand how youngsters talk and hire someone who's in touch with reality, and we should be just fine.

Yay or Nay?

Overall, I think that the show has just not found its footing yet. It's still too early to determine whether it's going to be excellent, but the ingredients are there. The actors haven't connected with their characters yet, but The Vampire Diaries and Shadowhunters had the same problem in the first episodes of their respective seasons, and it turned out pretty good in the end.

It's not how you start, it's how you finish, and I have marginally higher hopes for the Gossip Girl reboot than I have had for any other teen drama in the last three years. They are portraying a struggle that people overlook on a daily basis — being a good person is not that easy.

Image credit: laiyasolivia from Twitter

Zara Miller
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Writer since Oct, 2020 · 20 published articles

Zara Miller is a published author, writer, and blogger. She is a graduate of Middlesex University London where she studied International Relations. Her debut YA novel I am Cecilia attracted the eye of prominent speaking conferences such as the Career Grad Festival and Association of Writers and Writing Programs and was nominated for a Reader's Choice Award.