For those of you interested, I've written a couple of pieces in the last month for Flak Magazine. My latest, on Josh Schwartz's sublime Gossip Girl can be read right here. Or, if you're too lazy to click that, just read the less polished version (read: better) of it posted below.
Gossip Girl's third episode airs tonight at 9 p.m. on The CW.
When The O.C. broke through the television clutter in the summer of 2003, it was more than a breath of fresh air. It was iconic. By the time the pilot ended, you knew you were in the presence of greatness. (For a teen show.) The first seven episodes were some of the best television I’ve seen this decade, filled to the brim with brilliant dialogue, acting and even music cues. Then, to my delight, those seven episodes turned into twenty-seven. For a full year I was able to enjoy the sarcasm of Seth Cohen, the tough-guy nobility of Ryan Atwood and the complete earnestness of Superdad Sandy Cohen. It was television nirvana. And sure the show hit some speed bumps along the way—the Oliver episodes, hello I’m talking to you—but top to bottom, series creator and budding genius Josh Schwartz accomplished something that rarely has been done before or since: the perfect first season.
Of course, we all know how that story ended. After plowing through plot after plot in season one—Marissa OD’d! Marissa’s mom slept with Marissa’s ex-boyfriend! Ryan definitely/maybe/possibly knocked up his ex-girlfriend!—The O.C. fizzled under its own weight. More importantly though, it fizzled under the weight of expectations from viewers who thought that The O.C. had saved the teen soap genre from the depths of hell it had sunk to in the waning years of Dawson’s Creek.
After just four seasons, it was canceled.
This fall however, to my joy and excitement, Josh Schwartz picked up the pieces and returned to the world of teen angst. Predictably, the results are...awesome.
Based on the popular series of teen novels by Cecily von Ziegesar—don’t worry, I literally never heard of them, or her, either—Josh Schwartz's Gossip Girl, is the surefire, can’t miss, clap-your-hands and smack-your-couch-in-joy, best new show of the fall season. If you missed the first two episodes, may you be doomed to watch multiple episodes of Back to You. And if you don’t start watching Gossip Girl immediately you might as well sell your television set. Seriously. Why even bother having one if you aren’t going to watch this?
Gossip Girl revolves around a group of teenagers attending prep school on the Upper East Side, as they navigate their tormented lives through the perils of young adulthood. The lead is Serena van der Woodsen (Blake Lively, the only recognizable youngster in the cast—you might know her from seeing Accepted forty-three times on Cinemax in the last month), who has just returned to New York after mysteriously disappearing to “boarding school” in Connecticut for the last year. Did Serena really go to boarding school? Or did she leave town because of the guilt she felt for sleeping with Nate (Chace Crawford, a Boone from LOST doppelganger), the boyfriend of her BFF Blair Waldorf (Leighton Meester, who looks like a cross between Kate Bosworth and Rachel Bilson)?
Meanwhile, in the “dangerous” borough of Brooklyn (with Williamsburg comically playing the part of The O.C.’s Chino), we have the Humphrey family. There’s the Dad, Rufus (Matthew Settle, channeling his inner Sandy Cohen), a former rock star from all the way back in the 90s, who is currently separated from his wife. There’s the little sister Jenny (Taylor Momsen, think a more wholesome Willa Holland), a freshman in high school who wants to work her way up the social ladder, hopefully without being date raped. And there’s the older brother Dan (Penn Badgley, getting to play a cross between Seth Cohen and Ryan Atwood), who finally got to go out on a date with his long-time crush Serena, only to realize that maybe it wasn’t even what he wanted.
In true O.C. fashion, the first two episodes featured a massive school dance, a fist fight, a Sunday brunch that would make Marie Antoinette proud, multiple instances of backstabbing, bald-faced lying, an implied threesome, and two near date rapes (poor Jenny might need to recalibrate her social goals). Oh, and as an added bonus, there was enough teen drinking and casual drug use to make everything actually feel real.
If that’s not enough, the entire show is narrated by the faceless and anonymous “Gossip Girl” of the title (voiced by Kristen Bell, the masturbatory fantasy of fanboys everywhere), a blogger in the vain of Gawker’s Stalker section who relies on what onlookers can send her from their Sidekicks around Manhattan. Example: “Spotted on the steps of the Met, an S and B power struggle.”
Gossip Girl is like The O.C. times Mean Girls and divided by Cruel Intentions. Basically it’s a show I can call “ri-donkey-kong good."
I realize that what I’m about to write, after just two episodes is probably a little foolish, but, Josh Schwartz has definitely learned from the mistakes he made in later seasons of The O.C.. Yes, Gossip Girl owes a large debt to the kids from Orange County—everything from the dialogue, to the 20-something actors playing teenagers, to the music choices, which feature Peter, Bjorn and John, Amy Winehouse, The Bravery and Rihanna, is all very familiar to fans of the former Fox show. But the difference lies in the details.
The O.C. was four kids and two sets of parents. That was it. And when the first season ended, their stories had essentially been told. Schwartz kept everything so isolated amongst the Cohen’s and Cooper’s in season one that when he needed to expand the storylines and add characters for the second season, the entire show rang false.
But on Gossip Girl, it feels like there are at least ten-to-twelve legitimate characters that Schwartz can cull storylines from. Sure, right now Serena and Dan are the good guys, while Blair and the evil, twice attempted date-rapist Chuck Bass (Ed Westwick, basically doing Ryan Phillipe from Cruel Intentions but with a large helping of Preppy Murderer Robert Chambers thrown in) are the antagonists. But who’s to say that can’t change? Who’s to say that Jenny won’t end up being the hero? Why can’t Nate, in his struggle to find out if there’s “something more” to his posh lifestyle, take the lead?
And I barely even mentioned the parents. We’ve gotten enough dollops of information about Dan’s dad and Serena’s mom (they used to date!) and Chuck’s dad and Serena’s mom (they currently date!) to populate another entire series with their potential arcs. You could call it The U.E.S. and stick on Fox’s Thursday night lineup.
There are dozens of directions this show could go in, which is one thing that The O.C. did not have in its favor. I’m not saying that Gossip Girl is a better show than The O.C., but I do think that this new show could have real creative staying power, perhaps for more than just one season.
I know you felt left behind when The O.C. exploded and you weren’t watching it. So do yourself a favor and get on board the Gossip Girl train right now. If you do, I’ll be your BFF. And if you’re embarrassed about watching a show called Gossip Girl, don’t worry...I'll never tell.