Gossip Girl – “Pret-a-Poor-J”


October 27th, 2008

It’s been a long time since I’ve commented on Gossip Girl, but the show has been on a weird trajectory as of late. The season has had a lot of false starts: I thought they were going to villify Serena in her battle with Blair over supremacy, but now they’re back to being tight friends. I thought they were going to actually give the Nate/Vanessa storyline some time to breathe, and instead Vanessa’s back to being irrelevant and Nate’s moved in with the Humphreys. I thought that they were going to let Jenny settle into her new career in order to spare us more of her storyline, and instead they thrust her back into the show’s romantic and dramatic center.

Really, we’re right where we left off last season: with Blair and Chuck as the only interesting characters on the show, and everyone else just kind of puttering between pointless storylines. Even Blair and Chuck acknowledge, of course, that it’s the game that keeps them interesting, and even that could get old with time. And, to be fair to the show, “Pret-a-Poor-J” does represent the start of a new direction for the show (now 1/3 into its season, recently upped to 24 episodes), but it’s a start that seems too quick: new characters and new worlds can have an impact, but this feels more cheap than earned.

First, let’s focus on what’s good, mainly the addition of Willa Holland in a recurring role. I won’t lie in saying that I quite liked the fourth season of The O.C., and much of the reason was the emergence of Kaitlin Cooper as a real, functioning character. Not only did it help to ground the show in someone who was younger, but Holland brought a real humanity to what initially seemed to be a total bitch of a character. By the end of the season, she was cracking Sandy Cohen jokes and it felt more natural than anything Marissa ever did on the show, so that says something about Holland as an actress.

Here, she’s charming and far more interesting than Taylor Momsen, through no fault of her own, is going to be. Jenny’s storyline is, in short, just not that compelling: I know she’s the closest thing the female teen audience has to a viewpoint within the series, but giving her a new haircut and an edgier wardrobe (not to mention the dreaded teenage mood swing attitude change) doesn’t make me any more interesting in her trajectory. The fact that the show didn’t even allow her any time to settle in, also, seems to indicate that they are in a bind: Jenny’s the only character going through any sort of profound change right now, and as a result they’re forcing drama on her with few other characters to send it to.

How else can you explain the nonsensical, out of nowhere decision to have Nate and Jenny suddenly become an item? Their makeout session was more disturbing than it was anything else (I think because I know the real ages of the actors involved, plus because she might have transferred that awful throat infection to him), primarily because it was totally forced: we get one scene of Nate coming out of the shower shirtless and noticing Jenny’s new look, one scene of Nate being helpful, one scene of Nate wanting to talk to her more, and then one scene of Nate playing dashing prince to her damsel in undressed distress. Forcing all of this within a single episode is more contrived than I could possibly imagine, and it feels like one of the worst tropes of the teen soap that I thought Gossip Girl was capable of rising above.

You also know it’s a transition episode when we meet a few new characters, first Jenny’s photographer friend and then Aaron, the visual artist whose highly elaborate and expensive installation opened in Rufus’ gallery. I have some logistical questions about this (he’s obviously rich considering he went to summer camp with Serena, so why did he need Rufus of all people to discover him and give him this position?), but for the most part it’s what you expect: he falls for Serena, Serena falls for him. Even then, though, look how the show rushes things: they, conveniently, already know one another, which skips over the need for a long courtship and gets right to the conflict of them wanting to be together but him picking up some other floosie (was it Vanessa? I thought it was at first, but the show never confirmed) at the show. It’s instant chemistry, a volatile concoction that does little for the show’s future.

The issue is that right now the only chemistry in the entire show is between the two characters who, at episode’s end, decide that they can’t actually be together because the chase, the game, is all that sustains them. It’s a true realization, as Chuck and Blair could never work as an actual couple, but where do you take these characters from here? After last week seemed to insinuate that the show had plans for Chuck and Vanessa, I really don’t know if they have a real plan for these two. Either way, anything will seem like a cheap replacement for their relationship, the most complex and interesting of the entire series, especially compared with Dan and Serena. Blair’s right: even when they’re broken up, they’re nausea-inducing as opposed to anything close to being interesting.

All in all, it’s a tough transition period for Gossip Girl: after a start to the season that had a few good ideas and juggled them around perhaps a bit too long, we’re left with some new trajectories that aren’t what I’d personally call the show’s strengths.

Cultural Observations

  • What bugs me about Jenny working at Elanor’s is that we skipped over the potential for humour and skipped right into the self-righteous teenage phase of the proceedings. Their relationship could have been actually really interesting, but instead it’s a one-dimensional oppressive environment that gives Jenny justification for her actions.
  • In the episode’s funniest scene, without question, we get Derota (Blair’s housekeeper, however you spell it) hilariously warning Blair against finishing off her self-pleasure session because God is always watching. I’m surprised they got that entire scene past the censors to be honest: I wish the rest of the episode had tried to be nearly as cheeky.

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