Thursday, September 20, 2007

"Smoke up and seal the deal with Blair because you are entitled to tap that ass.": Gossip Girl

On the surface, Gossip Girl has everything a show needs to hook me immediately: pretty, angsty teenagers, decent music, soapy plots, and Penn Badgley. Why, then, did this leave me so cold?

As I'm sure most of you already know, Gossip Girl is adapted from a series of popular young adult novels which seem to be a sort of Sweet Valley High series for the Prada purse toting, Paris Hilton-loving, text messaging set. God forbid. The pilot revolves around erstwhile social butterfly Serena van der Woodsen's return from a mysterious absence, much to the chagrin of best friend Blair Waldorf. Blair is in a tizzy because it seems Blair's caught on that her long-term boyfriend Nate Archibald is secretly in love with Serena. Those names are a mouthful, y'all, which is probably why Gossip Girl (narrator Kristen Bell, more Madison Sinclair than Veronica Mars here) sticks to calling them by their first initials in embarrassing VOs like "Word is that S bailed on B's party in under 90 seconds and didn't even have one limoncello." Gag.

Also interested in Serena's return is Chuck "James Spader in Pretty in Pink" Bass, resident bad boy and apparently a serial date rapist as well. He's so complicated! Chuck knows Serena's secret: she slept with Nate and left because she felt super guilty about it. The charming Chuck uses this knowledge to basically try to blackmail Serena into sleeping with him and continues full-on to date rape territory when he keeps after her even though Serena tells him to stop. Luckily for the audience this attempted attack does more than just establish Chuck's character: its foreshadowing! Also, is it weird that the date rapist is my favorite character? He's the only one that gets any decent lines.

Decidedly happier with Serena's return than Blair is nice guy Dan Humphrey, the resident "poor loser" of the cast. Much like Seth Cohen, he's not so much a loser. He's actually a super-hot guy with a former rock star Dad and a pretty damn decent pad for New York City. Compared to the rest of the characters, however, he's practically destitute. Also? He's in love with Serena. She doesn't know he exists, so she's totally Summer to Dan's Seth. Serena and Dan meet-cute and end up on a date together to see one of Dan's father's shows and actually have pretty decent chemistry. They are interrupted in the middle of the date, however, by Dan's younger sister Jenny who text messages 911 to her brother because creepy Chuck is all over her at the "Kiss on the Lips Party" (yeah) and she needs Dan's help to get out of it. Why Jenny doesn't kick Chuck in the nuts and run is beyond me, but Jenny's a freshman. You don't learn rape defense until sophomore year in prep school. Or so I've heard.

Serena and Dan come to Jenny's rescue and Dan punches Chuck in the face, but unfortunately there's no "Welcome to the upper class, bitch" moment. Josh Schwartz is slipping. Dan, Serena and Jenny leave while the rest of the party gapes at them, and it's a nice "us against them" moment that I hope establishes a dynamic for the rest of the season. However, I think instead we're going to have to hear a lot more about Nate and Serena's secret love, and asdkfjadfl;kajejrawerfjiazzzzzzzzzz. Sorry. I dozed off there for a minute.

Maybe (probably) I'm just old and out of touch with today's youth, but I absolutely hated the framing device of using Gossip Girl's blog postings as VO. Part of this is because they were just so stupid and shoehorned in, but mostly I think it was just uncomfortable to hear Veronica Mars saying such. idiotic. things. It's like that seriously annoying television commercial where all of the kids speak only in text messaging lingo (OMG, WTF? TTYL!) that makes me want to pull my ears off. It worked to set up the beginning of the show until the title card, but after that it completely dropped off and only appeared to send the show off into an act break with a kicky little punch. Poorly.

Another reason this fell flat is that there was absolutely no character development. By the end of the pilot of The O.C., I really had a sense of who those characters were and cared about what happened to them. By the end of the Gossip Girl pilot, I just sort of wanted everyone to go away. Well, I kind of wanted Chuck to make me a grilled cheese sandwich with truffle oil because that sounds delicious, but otherwise I wanted them to go away. The backstory that Serena left mysteriously because she slept with Nate? Don't care. Serena and Blair's bitchy best friend relationship? Don't care. Nate and Serena's secret love complete with longing looks? Really, really don't care. Everything is so SERIOUS as well. Lighten up, kids, your lives are not that tragic.

I hate to be so negative because it's really tricky to tell the trajectory of a show like this from the pilot, but if things continue at this clip I am going to be one very unhappy reviewer. I keep telling myself that I hated the One Tree Hill pilot, and yet season one of that show turned out to be quite good. Not that it's still good, mind you, but season one had some quality moments.

What did you guys think? I would love to hear opposing viewpoints.


David Sims said...

Really? I know what you mean about this leaving you a little cold, and the OC being way more involving character-wise, but I rather enjoyed it. Everyone in the cast was fully competent, with no signs of show-ruining, Mischa levels of badness. Everyone was extremely pretty (thank God). I was totally rooting for the super-awesome 'loser' guy. Blake Lively is hot and charming. The rockstar dad is cool.

It wasn't zeitgeist good, or anything, and neither was it that funny but I just thought it was rather expertly put together stuff. Amazing how Schwartz seems an old hand at this sort of material, given that his only experience is four years running one of the most shambolic, if sporadically brilliant, shows I've ever watched from beginning to end.

I'm sticking with it, anyway. It's not nearly as campy and dry as I feared it might be. Oh, and the Chuck guy sucks. He was my only problem with the pilot. That guy should be amoral and aloof and amusing, like Kaitlin Cohen. Instead he's a wanker rapist who wears the absolute WORST scarf I have ever seen, with a tux. Vomit?

Todd said...

"Is it weird that the date rapist is my favorite character?" = second T-shirt

Carrie said...

Chuck is really hard to look at. Something is just...wrong with his face. His teeth, maybe?

I definitely think your points are valid, David, especially that it was very well put-together. I think I was simply thinking of The O.C. and expecting more humor and less tedium and that's where I got tripped up.

Also, I really REALLY hate that VO and it's clouding my judgment of everything else.

David Sims said...

I can't believe I said Kaitlin Cohen. I mean Kaitlin Cooper. FORGIVE ME, SCHWARTZ!

The V/O is annoying, no two ways around it. I hate it doubly for soiling my memories of Kristen Bell's previous V/O.

"You know you love me..." shut up!

Bianca Reagan said...

I hated the One Tree Hill pilot, and yet season one of that show turned out to be quite good.

I liked the One Tree Hill pilot. I hated everything after Season Two, except the guest appearances by Jake/Bryan Greenberg. So cute.

Those names are a mouthful, y'all, which is probably why Gossip Girl... sticks to calling them by their first initials

If you read the books (how many times have I said that in my life?), you might see the initial using as a way to not be sued for libel or defamation of character. "S" and "N" and "B" could arguably be anybody.

Why Jenny doesn't kick Chuck in the nuts and run is beyond me, but Jenny's a freshman.

In the real world, I can understand that she was overwhelmed by the situation and unsure of what to do, esp. if she's never been in that type of situation ever before. He's a much larger, much wealthier, much more experienced senior, and this is her first fancy party with the in crowd.

In the TV world though, I was angry that The CW let the attempted rape scenes go on for so long. Hello, what if Dan and Serena didn't find her? What if someone like Jenny didn't have a brother, or a phone?! You can't just wait for some guy and his date to save you. I am so tired of seeing girls and young women attacked on The CW. And the ones that do have consensual sex often get pregnant (first Everwood's Madison, then GG's Lane), or have to get married (Haley from OTH), or have an special abortion episode (Everwood again), or have major drama ensue from their first time (both Serena, and Rory from GG). Why can't more young women have fun sex like Lorelai?

I especially disliked the montage of Chuck assaulting Serena spliced with Nate and Serena having sex. It felt like the show was saying it's the same thing, which it clearly wasn't. Nate and Serena were having consensual sex. Chuck was hurting Serena. I'm not sure what Nate thought he was doing with Blair, though.

Anyways, I'll be back next Wednesday for more drama. Carrie, send one of those grilled cheeses with truffle oil my way.

Long comment. :)

Carrie said...

Bianca, how does the series compare to the books?

(Oh, and Haley didn't get married because she was pregnant. They actually got married before they ever even had sex because she was "saving" herself. For like six whole months!)

Bianca Reagan said...

carrie, that is a question I can best answer near the end of the season. For now, the focus on the adults in the TV show is way too much. Who cares about what Nate's dad is thinking? In the books, the parents were there with their own personalities, but no one really cared what they were doing, unless it affected the kids. Josh wants to make Gossip Girl into The O.C.: East Coast Edition.

Also, in the book Jenny escapes from Chuck and hides in the stall of the women's bathroom. That's how she has the ability to text Dan. Then Dan and Serena bust in the bathroom to save the day.

Haley didn't get pregnant, but she did get married to Nathan so they could have sex, which was so lame. Just have sex; don't ruin your lives and my TV screen.