“Never Been Marcused”
September 8th, 2008
Late last week, as anyone following my Twitter feed may have found out, I received in the mail a recent impulse purchase. The Complete Series box set of The O.C. was waiting for me at the post office, and with it came a lot of memories and, ultimately, a sudden impulse that resulted in finishing off the show’s first season, and starting the second, over the weekend.
I mention this because there’s always a lot of talk when any teen dramas are premiering, or airing, about how they compare with The O.C., now considered the seminal comparison point for any teen soap opera of this generation. Having just completed what it considered the show’s crowning achievement (its first season), I can confirm that it lives up to this title: while the central, most soap operatic moments are perhaps worse for wear compared to my recollection, the ancillary elements (The Parents, the less traditional romance of Seth and Summer, the humour and quippiness) are so strong that it’s hard not to hold other shows up to that standard.
And I spend so much time talking about this standard because “Never Been Marcused” was cribbed almost entirely from The O.C.’s own transition from summer to fall. I won’t attempt to accuse Stephanie Savage from plagiarizing herself, but I will say that she certainly has taken the lessons learned there to heart. The comparison is not a negative one: while obviously different in tone, the events we see here are smart in the same way The O.C. was smart, creating various entanglements that have dramatic potential for the future.
The real difference is that Gossip Girl is a show about scandal, a show where these events will be less introspective than they are fodder for our narrator and her incessant appetite for these types of affairs. This isn’t to say that it’s a lesser show by default, but it means that it’s shooting for another audience: one that includes me, definitely, but not one was diverse and inclusive as perhaps Schwartz’s original series to which this episode owes much of its plotting.
First and foremost, and most interestingly, we have Blair and Chuck, the Seth and Summer of this equation. At the start of The O.C.’s second season, Seth had abandoned Summer, who despite still having a thing for Seth had told herself she should move on, finding an innocuous and non-emotional fling in Zach. Here, we have Chuck abandoning Blair, who is still in love with him, so she finds a quick fling to bring home to make him jealous. The real difference is that Blair is cruel, something that Summer wasn’t once Schwartz figured out what to do with the character: Blair, however, intends to hurt Chuck, intends to use Marcus, and is oh so willing to scheme her way into the scenario.
That’s really what does set Gossip Girl apart: although Chuck, like Seth, befriends Marcus on other terms (As Seth bonds over comic books with Zach), he is doing it precisely to win her back not through kindness but through manipulation. What makes Blair and Chuck so much fun to watch is that they were both so cruel and heartless about getting what they want that getting it only terrifies them – look at Blair’s inability to transition into just being a normal girlfriend, or the entire reason Chuck abandoned her being his inability to accept that he is, in fact maturing.
Their behaviour is really the only part of the show that reminds me of the best parts of The O.C. – Blair gets most of the one-liners, their relationship has the most nontraditional development, and it’s just sort of fun to watch in a way that is similar but different to the series that obviously inspired parts of it. It’s one thing to play with the same storylines, but when you have almost a mirror universe version where Summer is a pure manipulative bitch and Seth is completely self-righteous in a malicious as opposed to vulnerable way it’s actually a fresh take on what was, without question, the strongest relationship in Schwartz’s first series. Watching Blair gain her bargaining chip into Marcus’ heart by discovering Nate and Catherine was fun enough, but seeing her throwing it back in Chuck’s face? That’s what makes the show worth watching.
And this actually wasn’t a bad episode overall, a fact I’ll attribute to a wonderful lack of Jenny Humphrey. Instead, we got to see Nate’s life spiral that much more out of control. In fact, Chace Crawford has a pretty full plate and he’s doing better this year: he’s got his affair with Catherine, the FBI trying to sell his life for restitution, Chuck bailing him out, realizing Catherine is Marcus’ stepmother, and brushing off poor Vanessa, who returns to our narrative running a conveniently conceived cafe inside of Rufus’ gallery. What I like is that he isn’t concerned with all of it: he could care less when Blair finds out about his affair with Catherine (Which somewhat differs from the O.C. storyline that IT is clearly ripping off), and his complaint about Chuck bailing out his family is quite true (Also, how much exactly was that burlesque club worth that it would be enough to keep a high class lifestyle afloat?).
But Dan and Serena aren’t so lucky, at all. While I think there’s some charm in this whole scenario (echoing quite specifically the Ryan/Marissa awkwardness in the second season of The O.C.), as they can’t keep their hands off of each other despite not actually talking about any of their issues, the problem is that I spent the entire episode trying to remember what their issues were. Say what you will about how bogged down Marissa became in Oliver and the rest of the show’s ridiculous drama, but at least it felt like they had a history: honestly, I just don’t care about Dan or Serena, primarily because Dan is so uninteresting and Serena just doesn’t assert herself as much as she should despite being a far superior leading lady to Mischa Barton’s loathed protagonist.
The episode is also being very slow to get into the parental drama, but their return to New York brings Rufus back into the equation: we have to presume that, after seeing what his daughter made, what his son wrote, and the fancy photos they took while doing very touristy things in the city they live in, he decided not to go back on tour (plus, then he wouldn’t be in the show). I won’t say that the show is better without him, but he often feels like an afterthought, which is why they paired him with Vanessa, the other afterthought of the series. I don’t quite know how the show will work when it’s balancing all of this as well as the eventual return of Kelly Rutherford as well, but it’s not in terrible shape.
But when Jenny returns to the central narrative? I don’t know if it will be the same situation.
- I’m willing to accept the convenience of Serena and Dan both taking the bus so they could join the…whatever they call the bus bathroom sex club, but I have serious issues with the idea of someone bringing chocolate covered strawberries on a bus…but, I guess it is the Hamptons.
- The lack of parents in the first episode is now even more apparent: Rufus and Nate’s mother return this week, but other than Serena’s grandmother everything was parent-free last week. Now, as they start to return, you can see the atmosphere changing: with fall brings consequences, parental supervision included.