Gossip Girl is a guilty pleasure in my household, so I’m glad to see the Season One box set. Even though we watched all the episodes as they aired, it’s lots of fun to go back and rewatch the early ones now that we know the twists and outrageous turns that are coming. If you haven’t seen it, it’s the best glossy teen soap out there because of its upper crust New York City setting.
In the pilot, golden girl Serena is returning home. She used to be the center of the social set, but a scandal drove her away. (She made out with best friend Blair’s boyfriend. Except it turns out later to be much worse!) While I love watching Blake Lively’s performance, she’s much too nice to be completely believable as the lead bad girl. She’s very good as returned and reformed, though, struggling with the expectations other have of her because of who she used to be.
The series revolves around a regular family confronted with all the rich kids. Good guy Dan (Penn Badgley, whose previous role was as a college student in The Bedford Diaries) is smart and edgy. His younger sister Jenny (Taylor Momsen), who is somehow both innocent and evil, wants to be popular and so sucks up to Blair (Leighton Meester). Their dad, back in his rock star days, had a thing with Serena’s mom, a former groupie who married well and often, that complicates Dan and Serena’s relationship, the core of the series and what keeps us rooting for them.
Gossip Girl is the narrator, beautifully voiced by Kristen Bell. She fills in the backstory, underlines the plot, and drops juicy hints. In-story, it’s a website that everyone visits and submits tips to via their prominently used smartphones. Part of the show speculation has been which character is really Gossip Girl, but I doubt we’ll ever know. That’s not the point, anyway.
Considering that these are supposedly high school kids, even if they’re filthy rich, their lives are ridiculous. Serena’s younger brother has been institutionalized after a suicide attempt and is hiding a bigger secret. Near the end of the season, Serena’s old friend Georgiana, played by Michelle Trachenberg, sends her cocaine as an “I’m back” present. All the teens drink all the time. It’s the latest recasting of the sins of the rich and young as entertainment for the masses. The fashions and music are hip, the scenery is New York modern, and the actors are attractive — what more do you need?
One of the more interesting storylines was one parent encouraging his son to keep going out with a girl he’d outgrown because the father wanted to do a deal with the girl’s mother. That kind of parental pimping was something new yet believable for the upper crust, where names and families matter more. And the villains are always the best. Chuck, my favorite character, gleefully drinks, drugs, date-rapes, and drives all kinds of trouble through spreading rumors. He’s sleaze incarnate, and as a result, magnetic to watch. (All the more so when you know Ed Westwick is English playing American.)
The set includes all 18 episodes, most of which have deleted scenes included as extras, on five discs. There are no commentaries, which is a good thing, since hearing most of these people talk in the documentary was somewhat off-putting. Normally, I love making-of features, but this one is too commercial for me. Cecily Von Ziegesar, the author of the book series, at one point says, “Chuck in the books is described as having ‘after-shave commercial handsome looks’, whatever that means”. You supposedly wrote it, sweetie, shouldn’t you know?
Von Ziegesar is from a similar background as her characters and came up with the book idea as an editor seeking to tap into the love of technology among teens. Everyone has clearly been given the talking point “this was before blogs were popular; she was ahead of the trend.” Other contributors including those responsible for casting and Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage, co-creators and executive producers, previously of The O.C.. There’s good information here about what they were aiming for, and interesting tidbits about how the show differs from the book, but these supposedly creative people appear to be so practical in their intent that it turned me off. I recommend just sticking with watching the episodes and not worrying too much about how they got that way.
If you’d like to find out for yourself, the package includes a downloadable audiobook version of the first novel read by Christina Ricci. Other extras include coverage of the clothes, filming a wedding scene, two music videos, and a not-very-funny gag reel. One of the videos, “Boring”, features two dead-eyed Eurotrash-looking wannabe models in black and white reciting catchphrases in monotone triads and then saying “boring.” It could have been a parody of this kind of “I’m too hip to enjoy anything” attitude mixed with a James Bond theme rhythm, but I have the sinking feeling it was meant to be artsy. Great match for the show, though, especially if you can laugh at it. The other, “Secret”, is a minuet rhythm that’s a better song and has a lot of show footage in the video.
When I was younger, my mom and I used to have a lot of fun watching 90210 together. I would think that this generation of parents and teens could have the same enjoyment, with the right attitude — which is something like “of course no real person acts like that!” The second season premieres on September 2. The official DVD site has a contest to win a $1000 New York City shopping spree. A complimentary copy of this DVD was provided by the studio.
One last note: the set opens with an anti-piracy ad that intercuts scenes of Casablanca with “piracy is wrong” title cards and badly chosen cheesy music. They’ve rewritten things so that Rick doesn’t like Ilsa “pirating” movies. That’s a really poor film choice for that message. First, do they really think the target audience is going to care about Casablanca? More importantly, Casablanca is about breaking laws to do what’s right when you’re suffering under an uncaring evil regime. This is the second Warner anti-piracy film rewrite. The Wizard of Oz one on the Freakazoid set earlier this month was even weirder, since we were supposed to infer that our gang of lead characters were all bad for sharing movies.