“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.
“Oh Brother, Where Bart Thou?”
December 8th, 2008
I watched some solid television on Monday: I caught up with Dexter (a solid penultimate episode, but I’ll have some thoughts on the season as a whole after the finale), enjoyed the night’s episode of Chuck (an entertaining if highly improbable outing), and caught up with a bit more of FX’s Sons of Anarchy (I’d suggest checking it out). But, admittedly, I haven’t been limiting my television to more serialized outings: I also took some time to get through the last two discs of The O.C.: Season Two. And, ultimately, this means that despite all of that high caliber television I’ve watched over the past few days, it’s Gossip Girl that sent me to my laptop at 5am.
For those who don’t remember the final episodes from the second season of Josh Schwartz’s other show about elite, rich white people, they featured the tragic (if somewhat bittersweet) death of the show’s patriarch. What followed was an emotional rollercoaster of sorts, the various individuals most affected by his death spiraling into something approximating either utter despair (Kirsten’s alcoholism) or an odd sense of freedom (Julie reconnecting with a returned Jimmy). And while I found both of these developments to be either overplayed and out of character (See: alcoholism), or idealistically portrayed to contrast the season ending gunfire (See: Julie/Jimmy), I nonetheless felt that the death of Caleb Nickel was a death that resonated.
And while some could argue that it is unfair of me to draw this comparison, I would argue quite the opposite: this episode of Gossip Girl followed this pattern to such a degree that anyone with a strong recollection of that series of events can’t help but make the same observations. The problem with the death of Bart Bass, confirmed seconds into the episode if not by last week’s cliffhanger, is twofold: that there are only two people on this show who we really care enough about to sit through their reactions, and Bart Bass was so insignificant and poorly developed that we don’t care about his death enough to make this all matter.
So while Stephanie Savage did what she could to make this seem like a pivotal moment in the show’s trajectory, it was like shining a bright light on the show’s inability to demonstrate anything beyond poor attempts to shock the audience.
“Bonfire of the Vanity”
November 10th, 2009
Gossip Girl is not one for subtlety, nor one for taking their time to get into storylines. Last week, Serena was just discovering that Aaron could be a potential mate of sorts: this week, he’s leading her on romantic trips around the city and making her his muse. Just at the beginning of the season, Jenny Humphrey was a naive young girl looking for her big break, and now she’s an angst-ridden, eyeshadow wearing and hoodie sporting punk.
It feels like these two characters, in particular, are jumping around from story point to story point: Serena has gone from post-Dan sadness to new Dan closeness to post-Dan sadness to anti-Blair bitchiness to suddenly friendly towards Blair to now hunting after Aaron. Jenny, meanwhile, went from unhappy intern to unhappy student to home-schooled young assistant to unappreciated designer to unappreciative rebel to guerilla runaway fashionista to homeless, dressless child (And in between she made out with Nate – Ew.)
And we’re not too far into this the show’s second season, and there’s a long way to go: right now, what Gossip Girl is doing right is those storylines that feel natural, and don’t count those two girls amongst them. In fact, only really Chuck and Blair have maintained something approximating consistency, and the result is the episode’s only positive development. And while I’m glad the show is finding its footing in the ratings, there are points where the guilty pleasure needs to show a bit more pleasure.
September 22nd, 2008
My, what a difference an episode or three can make: at the beginning of the month, I spent an entire blog post drawing comparisons between Gossip Girl and The O.C. as they each handled their seasons easons, but here I am saying that Josh Schwartz finally has two leading ladies capable of dramatic range and, thus, has a far more compelling turn of events to offer viewers.
What “The Ex-Files” does is successfully turn the entire show on its ear: without losing a step, we see the re-emergence of Queen Serena, the return to a damaged Blair Waldorf, and the ever-present evil that is Chuck Bass pulling every string imaginable. Combine with a healthy dose of harsh reality for the Humphrey siblings, and inoffensive plot machinations for Nate and Vanessa, and you have an episode that feels like what Gossip Girl is supposed to be: a decidedly fanged investigation of complex social behaviours within a high school setting.
Or, if you prefer, one big season-long bitch fight.
“The Dark Night”
September 15th, 2008
If Josh Schwartz lives up to his word, at least according to Maureen Ryan’s twitter from yesterday after her interview with the producer, this may be the last time that Dan and Serena make up and break up. And, if this is true, I am going to be one happy viewer.
I’m not one of those crazy internet posters on the show who has an emotional connection to these characters and their relationship, which is really the problem. Watching The O.C. recently helped point out that the show’s problem in the third season was its inability to separate its slavish attention to the central “fated love” of Ryan and Marissa from the audience’s total disinterest: long before the show itself seemed to realize that nobody thought they should be together, the show was shoving them down our throats and hinging the story’s central drama on their future.
But, Dan and Serena (And Gossip Girl) can’t listen to the crazy fans who treat this series like the girls in the episode treated Gossip Girl: these are supposed to be real people, and they can’t possibly always fall back into the same patterns and cliches. It might seem weird that Blair is the only one making sense about relationships, considering her trajectory in the episode, but if Dan and Serena don’t actually deal with their problems there are serious issues here. Ryan and Marissa went through exactly the same thing at the start of The O.C.’s second season, but it should have ended there: if Dan and Serena can do the same, Josh Schwartz might be able to hold a teen drama together by the end of its second season.