Season Premiere: Gossip Girl – “Summer, Kind of Wonderful”

“Summer, Kind of Wonderful”

September 1st, 2008

When a show skips over a period of time between a finale and the following season’s premiere, there is an extremely recognizable phenomenon that rears its ugly head: exposition. Whether it’s through steamy bedroom scenes, long monologues or phone conversations, or just about any other contrivance you can think of, the show will spend more time telling us about the past than actually showing us much of anything about where the show is heading.

As a result, the season premiere of Gossip Girl kind of leaves me not just pondering the future, as Kristen Bell suggested I do as the (literal) fireworks went off at episode’s end, but also questioning whether the show that struggled with consistency last season has gained any new perspective to even things out. From the looks of the premiere, they have made some choices that seem to reflect a knowledge of some of its characters, but when others seem so far off the mark it’s hard to necessarily say that the show has a chance of breaking out into something more accomplished in the year ahead.

If we have some faith, however, let it lie in the fact that all of that exposition and the prequel-like nature of this episode seem to indicate that the real action of the season has yet to begin.

I can understand the lack of time available to spend time digging deep into our characters’ “What I Did This Summer” essays, but everything was in such broad strokes: you have Dan making out with two girls at one party while struggling with his new internship, or Jenny being treated like a sweatshop worker while completing her own intern position, or Chuck spending time with a set of mostly nude triplets on the beach. While I get that the show has developed its own shorthand for these types of things (Dan in over his head, Jenny overwhelmed by life itself, Chuck cavorting with various women), it kind of sucks all of the life out of these characters in the process. I don’t feel like the characters necessarily earn their situations, Dan and Jenny in particular.

I think a lot of that is because Serena and Blair get far superior characterization: rather than some sort of hormonal reaction that leads to going from “Lonely Boy” to “Playboy,” Serena is simply sitting back and avoiding playing the field until Blair guilts her into going out with the lifeguard. And Blair, meanwhile, jets back from Paris with a fake boyfriend to make Chuck jealous and does so in a variety of conniving ways that make her a perfect villain but also someone with more complicated responses to emotional stimuli. Blair and Chuck, amongst the show’s romantic entanglements, has the most potential considering that these two characters are both such enigmas in certain ways. The pairing got so much attention early on, before their hookup, simply because of that shared energy.

The energy seemed to be in effect for most of the episode until the conclusion, as Chuck refuses to say that he is sorry for what he did to her and she drives off with her fake American University Student/Actual British Lord boyfriend instead. It’s inexplicable, really, why he won’t apologize, except that the show likes to on occasion boil down Chuck (when necessary) to the Triplets-loving asshole incapable of emotional feeling. It only happens in those moments where it’s convenient, and it feels like such a contrived engineering of this world and its characters. Say what you will about The O.C., but part of what worked was how it managed to create unique and unpredictable relationships (both romantic and non-romantic) between its characters in a way that Gossip Girl has not perfected.

Nate’s affair with the married woman is something that other shows have done before, and making it out and out adultery doesn’t make it any more dramatic or interesting in the way the show thinks it does. Weeds is doing a similar storyline right now, but that’s a show where the 17 year old having sex with an older woman is actually acting 17. Here, there’s a maturity to the storyline that doesn’t work, but what else do you do with Chase Crawford? He’s a character that only clicked when he was removed from the central love triangles, so will they just keep bringing him in guest stars like Madchen Amick to try to sustain the character? It feels like such a sidestep from the other storylines that I don’t quite know what they desire to do with the character.

But they know exactly what they want to do with young Jenny Humphrey, even though I (or any discerning viewer) shouldn’t be buying it. This is a character who has been given talents beyond belief, who has been given opportunities beyond her character, beyond her status, and in this episode beyond reproach. Here, she’s literally portrayed as a sweat shop worker whose unglamorous internship (Where her punishment for speaking out is to SORT BUTTONS) suddenly transforms into a chance to show up her bitchy boss while also proving that she has a “strong character” by not totally selling out with her opportunity. Forget for a moment that she only got to the White Party by giving Erik the worst apology ever, and that the fashion-type cameo was so blatantly handed to her by Erik, and that for being so central to her plan Erik doesn’t get to do much of anything this episode (other than play some Sherlock Holmes for Chuck); what the show wants us to take away is that this young girl is fierce and powerful but also sweet and kind. Personally, I think she’s just insufferable and pointless.

And speaking of pointless, we have Dan and Serena finding each other after their own indiscretions are aired: except that Dan had been whoring himself out while Serena made out with Nate once to make someone jealous, so I can’t see their truce lasting very long. At this point, we enter into the month of September with Chuck and Blair where they were before, Dan and Serena still rocky, Nate in a cliche-ridden storyline, and Jenny still in existence – while I appreciate that the parents were completely absent from the story, if they’re not going to do anything more with the kids I don’t know if it can sustain itself. Hopefully, as they return to familiar ground, maybe they can work towards some new goals.

Cultural Observations

  • As noted, Rufus is only present in a serious of horribly exposition-riddled phone calls: it fills in that he’s on tour, that his ex-wife is keeping the kids, and that Jenny tells her father way too much about Dan’s love life. What a snitch.
  • The dialogue on the show is usually quite clever, but I wonder whether they needed both “Mother Chucker” and “Chuck Basstard” in the same scene; they could have stretched those out into two episodes and earned double the praise.

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