The New ‘Gossip Girl’ Is Officially in Its Flop Era

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Despite its prevalence in the cultural lexicon, the word “gaslighting” is still a very real term used by highly qualified mental health professionals. It’s also used when describing what it’s like to watch Season 2 of HBO Max’s Gossip Girl reboot.

In its first season, Gossip Girl’s highly-anticipated reboot bungled its massive amount of promise by taking the high road. The show refused to let its characters engage in the good, old-fashioned slut-shaming and catfights that made the original such a delicious dish. Instead, it attempted to position its teenage characters as a collection of tech-savvy influencers, all vying to look more woke than the last. Among all that goody-two-shoes posturing was a drab mountain of name-dropping, cringeworthy cultural references, and cameos from micro-influencers that all led to the same major takeaways for fans old and new: This reboot has no idea what it’s doing or who it’s for.

<div class="inline-image__credit">HBO Max</div>

One would hope that its second season would rectify those glaring mistakes. In the months leading up to its premiere, showrunner and creator Josh Safran certainly promised as much. The ascension of two of the show’s best power players, paired with some tail-between-the-legs return of the catfights we know and love, certainly gives the flatlining show a much-needed dose of fun. But even these feel like empty attempts to restore viewers’ faith. And with half of a leading cast that can’t deliver a caustic dig—let alone hold a scene—Gossip Girl is still struggling to use all of the money and beauty at its disposal to find the point of its existence.

Any of us praying for a shake-up after a convoluted and insipid first season are out of luck; like its titular anonymous blogger, Gossip Girl will not admit defeat that easily. During the two-episode premiere, dropping Thursday, we don’t miss a beat with the new crew haunting the halls of the world-famous Constance Billard-St. Judes prep schools. And that means that we’re still being forced to question our sanity as the show struggles to convince us that its characters not only fit the successful archetypes set into place by the original series, but are remotely interesting on their own accord.

Julien Calloway (Jordan Alexander) remains an influencer with no influence; Obie Bergmann (Eli Brown) is still a vanilla nepo baby; Zoya Lott (Whitney Peak) stays weirdly obsessed with her boring lawyer father’s every move; Max (Thomas Doherty), Audrey (Emily Alyn Lind), and Aki (Evan Mock) are settling into their snoozy throuple; and Kate Keller (Tavi Gevinson) persists in her grand machination as Gossip Girl to take rich private school children down several pegs. In the show’s world, this sad lot is the most fascinating clique to hit the New York social scene since Blair, Serena, and the rest of the self-appointed Non-Judging Breakfast Club wreaked mayhem across the Upper East Side.

The New ‘Gossip Girl’ Is Trash. But It May Also Be Brilliant.

There are a handful of welcome changes: Monet de Haan (Savannah Lee Smith) has moved up in the social strata, going from Julien’s minion to a contender for queendom—one who is actually armed with enough bite to pull it off. And then there is Luna La (Zión Moreno), whose wavering alliances and cutting remarks make her more of a power player than anyone in the main cast.

If you’ve forgotten where everyone’s story left off, that sense of déjà vu certainly won’t help. It has been a whole year since the first season of Gossip Girl ended on a glimmer of promise: Julien finally relinquished her need to be loved, teaming up with Gossip Girl to send a slew of tips—some real, some fake—to help take down her fellow classmates. Like most of the plots in the first season, this story is quickly dashed away in favor of something newer and shinier. This year, Kate isn’t just after the students; she also has it out for their one-percenter parents, who have corrupted the entire system at Constance-St. Judes, making the lives of her and all of the other teachers a living hell.

With the rest of the crew returning to the city from a lackluster trip to Hudson, things are in motion to begin ramping up once more. Obie’s got an equally snoozy new girlfriend, Grace (Anna Van Patten); Monet’s mom Camille (Amanda Warren) is bringing stone-faced theater monologues; and Zoya’s truant bestie, Shan (Grace Duah), has been bumped up to a series regular as well. Shuffling the decks with new love interests and enemies is how the original Gossip Girl sustained itself for a whopping 121 episodes; there was always something new happening, and even if it wasn’t working, viewers could rest assured that something else would be right around the corner.

<div class="inline-image__credit">HBO Max</div>

The new players do their best to rile tensions—save for poor Grace, who is competing against Julien, Zoya, and Zoya’s father for the most wooden performance on television. But only Shan is capable of bringing in real drama, like at the first episode’s debutante ball. It’s a series staple, an immediate attempt to assuage our doubts and remind us that the Gossip Girl we know and love might still be hiding somewhere underneath all this synthetic tulle. By the time we get to the knock-down, drag-out catfight, it feels as though we’re all supposed to stand up and pump our fists. “The Gossip Girl we love is back!” we’ll scream, even if it’s actually the show understanding what it could have always been from the first place. It’s a transparent, if successful, attempt to ingratiate itself to beleaguered viewers.

Thankfully, Monet is a more than formidable new foe and competitor for the queen crown. Her rise spotlights an actress—and a character—much more capable of dipping into the campy, uber-bitchy murk that this show should be delivering in droves. Watching Savannah Lee Smith act circles around the rest of the cast would be a glorious pleasure, if we weren’t also watching the other players try to keep up. Jordan Alexander continues to try her best with Julien in Season 2, but she can’t quite nail the perfect combination of faux modesty and queen scheme that Smith can so naturally. In the case of Julien-against-Monet, you can’t compare where you don’t even begin to compete.

But a cast of actors can only do so much with what they’re given, especially on a show like this, where you’re only as good as your last salacious plotline. The threads that connect these friends are frail at best; multiple characters would often show up in the same room, leaving me to wonder how they all got there after I was sure I had been paying attention. Convoluted dialogue appears more often on this show than did new phones popping up in Blair and Serena’s hands in the original. The writers are moving pieces around their own giant chessboard at random, and then switching seats to play against themselves.

‘Gossip Girl’ Creator: Why We Revealed Gossip Girl’s Identity

In the second episode of the season, there’s a reference to Bertolucci’s The Dreamers that perfectly synthesizes what this reboot thinks it’s doing. It thinks it’s appealing to a snobby, highbrow, wealthier tax bracket with its new home on streaming television, happily referencing semi-obscure arthouse films the average teenage viewer wouldn’t digest. It values itself as The Influencer, educating the masses about culture. But no one is here for that, and no one understands it. Dan Humphrey’s references to 16-hour German expressionist films in the original series were supposed to be viewed as pretentious, and effectively, it kept the viewer from feeling out of touch with Gossip Girl’s world.

Now, we’re merely spectators, watching New York’s micro-influencer elite jerk each other off about how great they all are. By sacrificing a sense of stakes for the onlooker who doesn’t meet the 20,000-followers point of entry for the new Gossip Girl, it has lost any and all emotional beats. Die-hard Gossip Girl fans are still posting about their favorite relationships from the original show on Instagram. There are moments in the original show that are so affecting, I can’t help but shed a tear or get chills just rewatching them on YouTube. You can find hints of those here, seeds of emotion planted that could grow if they weren’t buried in layer upon layer of artificial manure. But this iteration of the show would rather kowtow to verified badge Twitter personalities than deign to put in the effort to make itself remotely interesting.

But like the tried and true lover of teen dramas that I am, I remain cautiously optimistic that something good may be right around the corner. It’s really all I have left. In the five episodes of Season 2 provided for review, there’s a couple of fun sequences that recall the ridiculous mayhem of the original series, and even draw out a couple of giggles. They’re even bringing back the smartphone product placement, with characters using those heinous Samsung Galaxy Flips. And while some of the cameos we were promised in the Season 2 trailer have yet to appear, one would hope that injecting the show with GG 1.0’s signature shit-stirrer Georgina Sparks will be the television event of the season—whenever they get around to it.

With the reboot bringing back old characters from the original series, it’s safe to say that Gossip Girl is acknowledging at least some of the problems that made its first season such a harrowing disappointment. And at least there have at least been efforts to fix them. Though it’s a vacant endeavor, the fan service at least buys the show some time. But like the characters themselves say aloud in their cringey, internet-speak: Gossip Girl is in her flop era.

Read more at The Daily Beast.

Get the Daily Beast's biggest scoops and scandals delivered right to your inbox. Sign up now.

Stay informed and gain unlimited access to the Daily Beast's unmatched reporting. Subscribe now.