HBO Max’s ‘Gossip Girl’: Film faux pas compared to original


IMDb. Copyright HBOMax

Promotional poster for the Gossip Girl reboot.

Katrina Sanville, Arts Writer

While the phrase ‘XOXO, Gossip Girl,’ has become as iconic as the 2000s show with the same name, the tagline has been passed on as a family heirloom to HBO Max’s reboot of “Gossip Girl”. However, as with most reboots and remakes, fans and newcomers alike have been left with a half-baked idea with some high points, but more often than not lackluster content and cringe-worthy lines.

        2021’s “Gossip Girl” wrapped up its first season on Aug. 12, and much like its predecessor, the series follows the young elite of New York City as they attend high school, experience relationship drama, and go through familial woes. However, unlike the original “Gossip Girl”, the reboot has taken on a modern approach—adding social media influencers, racial inequity, and civil rights protesting to their drama—in addition to the glitz, glamour, and debauchery the original show was known for.

        I had never seen the original “Gossip Girl” or read the books they were loosely based on beyond a single episode at a sleepover years ago, so I came into this series the same way many of the younger people in my generation who watch the series will, completely unaware and new to the series. Though I had watched several video essays on the show by fans and took part in the meme using stills of Blair and Serena that circulated the internet in early 2020, this reboot has been my first time experiencing the chaotic nature of “Gossip Girl”.

        The reboot had been able to capture the original nature of “Gossip Girl”—whether that was the teenage drama and hijinks, high-status society, or recreating some of the iconic locations from the original series. The new series nearly seamlessly updated itself into the modern age as well, adding social media, the Internet, and pop culture into the teenagers’ lives without seeming too forced. It made perfect sense to have Julien, the main ‘It Girl’ of the reboot, be a social media influencer since she comes from a similar background as many of the most famous people in Hollywood today as a “nepotism baby”—a famous star with already famous parents.

        2021’s “Gossip Girl” also has made significant improvements in terms of diversity and inclusion in comparison to its predecessor. The original “Gossip Girl” features an entirely White main cast, which isn’t out of the ordinary for the early 2000s television, or the type of school the teenagers are attending. However, it isn’t as realistic in 2021. Half of the cast in the reboot are people of color, several characters are LGBTQ+, and one of the main actresses, as well as her character, is transgender. While diversity is not and should not be a quota film companies try to check the boxes of, seeing this amount of inclusion without it being forced was enjoyable to watch.

        Most enjoyable to me, though, was the soundtrack for the series. Many scenes featured songs by the top artists of today—with names such as Ariana Grande, Frank Ocean, and Billie Eilish appearing in the first episode. The show also featured relatively new releases such as “Solar Power” by Lorde, which was released in June. Oftentimes I found myself distracted by the background song and had to rewind to understand what had just happened in the scene.

        However, the series is not without its flaws. The show had far too many characters and plot lines that needed attention, and because of this, several characters ended up taking a backseat to others and their plots. I found myself incredibly interested in Aki and Audrey’s plots and characterizations, Aki especially, but he got little to no screen time outside of being a peacemaker for everyone until the last episode. On the other hand, I could not stand Obi and his love triangle, and that was one of the central plots of the season.

        As with many shows trying to appeal to a younger, diverse, and well-informed audience, 2021’s “Gossip Girl” can seem as though it was trying too hard to be with the times and “woke,” which can often come off as forced. Comments such as “f*ck the patriarchy” and name dropping celebrities such as Jameela Jamil, Barack Obama, and Brett Kavanaugh can be laughed at by Gen-Z viewers. However, it was painfully clear that the writers for the show believed they were in touch and knew how to write for teenagers.

        With this, the season takes place in modern times—meaning it follows these teenagers in a school year following the COVID-19 pandemic. Within the next six months to a year, the constant quips about Zoom classes, wearing masks, and staying at home will be obsolete and even cringed at.

        The show also falls into the odd grey area many reboots tend to end up in, where they try to appeal to new fans by creating an all-new show but also appeal to older fans by making it clear that the show is based on the original series they loved. More often than not, and especially in the case of this reboot, it falls flat. 2021’s “Gossip Girl”’s extent of tying in the original series had the show take place at the same school and feature some of the same iconic locations, as well as the same premise, and have characters dress up as Serena, Blair, Dan, and Chuck for a Halloween party. While the gap between the original and reboot is too small to have a character be a child of the original characters, an estranged family member would be an interesting cameo.

        Finally, and the worst part of the series in my opinion, is the fact that the teachers run the Gossip Girl account, rather than a fellow student. While the teachers originally used the account to scare their students into respecting them again, the power went to their heads, and it has become incredibly toxic and creepy. These teachers have seen their students change in front of a window (and snapped a picture “for the account”), gathered confidential information, and even have personal relationships with these students and their families, and none of them can step away from the account for more than a few days. Though the person who was revealed to be the original Gossip Girl had been highly unbelievable to fans, a student had been more believable and easier to digest than a group of teachers.

        In future seasons, I think the writers need to condense the number of plot lines they have open, as well as focus on character development across the board. I also think they could limit the amount of “fake-woke” lines, which would most likely make the show much more appealing to older fans and younger ones alike.

        The second season of HBO Max’s “Gossip Girl” will be released on the service in November, with episodes releasing weekly.