“Reversals of Fortune”
September 14th, 2009
There is no question, whatsoever, that Gossip Girl is a flawed show which only on occasion finds its true potential. That potential is most often bottled when we get the opportunity to see Chuck Bass and Blair Waldorf together, trading barbs and turning what is often a depressing melodrama that fails to capture the potential of this concept. By so isolating the show’s universe in a small collection of characters (many of whom I, you know, don’t like), the show has become less about teenagers and their wily ways and more about these individual characters repeating the same cycles over and over again. For Chuck and Blair, this has weakened their appeal: for Dan and Serena, it’s eliminated it altogether.
So why do I keep watching? I think part of me wants to be able to say that I’ve still got a less than critically fascinating series on my schedule, but at least some part of me wants to see how the show handles itself as the teen soap of its generation. There is something about Gossip Girl’s bizarre dichotomy between cultural awareness and actual ratings/quality which says something about this generation of television viewers, and Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage are not slouches behind the scenes.
“Reversals of Fortune” does what every Gossip Girl premiere does, playing off of the uncertainty of what happened in the past summer and the kind of mistakes and ill fortunes that the characters find themselves in as a new year begins. It’s the same formula the show has used numerous times before, but it also still works, in particular this time around as the show resists turning Dan and Serena to the forefront and lets Blair and Chuck’s relationship keep its spark by playing with expectations.
It’s not high drama, but it’s the right kind of premiere for the series.
“You’ve Got Yale!”
January 19th, 2009
After starting the season seemingly boosted by summer buzz and showing positive growth, Gossip Girl has been on a ratings and creative slide for quite some time. It is not so much that the show was great to begin with, but rather that it was showing an odd sort of complacency: rather than trading a period of angst and contrivance (mostly surrounding young Jenny) the show rights itself by introducing a mysterious son given up for adoption and by insisting that its central relationship is worth testing even when I, as a viewer, am convinced that it was dead a long time ago. “You’ve got Yale!,” despite its usual movie title-pun charm, feels like the show just doesn’t get it: whatever fun we might get from Blair going back on the warpath can’t possibly overcome the idea we’re supposed to care as much about Dan and Serena as Gossip Girl’s readers.
The funny thing is that House is in many ways going through the same problem: for weeks, the show has been focusing on Thirteen as a central source of drama and interest in a series that has always been most interesting when focused on its eponymous doctor. While it is ostensibly an ensemble, the show is really about House, and while the show’s tendency to have patients who reflect their doctor’s problems can on occasion be frustrating I was just kind of glad to finally have a patient who is about House instead. What “Painless” does wrong, though, is feel as if it needs to pile on the drama: House’s pain is enough reason for the show to stop and consider his illness, compounding that with more drama for Thirteen and Cuddy’s complete and total breakdown seems both false and overkill.
Neither show is going off the rails enough for me to be disinterested, but I remain skeptical about whether they know what they are doing isn’t working.