I'm more than willing to admit a slight fondness for the CW show Gossip Girl, which focuses on a bunch of white-collar kids in New York City. I say this because my television- watching past includes the first Melrose Place, and along with that, having discussions with friends about what happened on the previous night's Gilmore Girls and Dawson's Creek. I decided to check out Gossip Girl after sitting in on a Comic Con panel that included show co-creator Josh Schwartz (The O.C.), along with show runners from Lost, Pushing Daisies and Terminator Salvation.
After cramming in the first season on DVD before I started watching Season Two in 2008, I found that I liked it quite a bit. It is based on the series of books by Cecily Von Ziegesar of the same name. The title is less about a character in the show and more about a TMZ-like waifish voiceover for the show's segments that introduce the show or throw it to commercial (the voice is Veronica Mars' Kristen Bell).
The cast is rather large in number; Serena (Blake Lively, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants) came back to New York after being sent away by her mother Lily (Kelly Rutherford, E-Ring for her bad behavior. Serena has an on-again, off-again friendship with Blair (Leighton Meester, Killer Movie), and they are the popular girls at an exclusive school in the city. Lily has had her own colored past, which includes a relationship with former grunge rocker Rufus (Matthew Settle, Band of Brothers). Rufus has two kids; the older one is Dan (Penn Badgley, John Tucker Must Die), Serena's blue-collar, occasional boyfriend, and Jenny (Taylor Momsen, Underdog), who has aspirations in the fashion industry. Dan's friend Vanessa (Jessica Szohr) is also part of the working class and has trouble trusting rich guys, though the one she seems to trust most is Nate (Chace Crawford, The Covenant), Serena's and Blair's ex-boyfriend. And hovering over all of them in one facet or another is Chuck Bass (Ed Westwick, Children of Men), who is a fan of all things self-destructive, be it wine, women or something stronger.
Though this review is for Season Two, some notes before we continue; the storylines that drove Season One were good; Serena was trying to make things right again by mending the bridges she burned with friends and family. Dan was a nice guy and well intentioned, and he wanted to get the girl (Serena). Serena had to win back the friendship of Blair and eventually they drifted back toward the friends they used to be. Chuck was a bit of a bastard in the first season, with little redeeming quality, but he was harmless enough. It wasn't a bad first season. Was I a little ashamed of watching it? Sure, but I'm the married guy having discussions about teen soaps with other married thirty-somethings, so I didn't think it was a big deal.
Then the second season came along, and as I was watching it, I could sense that the writers were pushing the boundaries of taste and reality. Moreover, many of the characters became caricatures, starting with Chuck Bass. Sure, the plot arc of his dealing with his father's death was interesting and, for a lack of a better word, eventful, but let's face facts; what 18 year old wears bowties, drinks martinis and tries to piece together an evening of Eyes Wide Shut-type sexual debauchery? For whatever reason Westwick channels David Caruso when reciting dialogue, so I halfway expect a musical outtro of "Won't Get Fooled Again" when he finishes a line. The endless and tiring flirting between Chuck and Blair in Season Two was one of the bigger wastes of airtime in Season Two.
The biggest nuisance to the series, by far, would be the emergence of Momsen. The most irrelevant character in my recent memory since Jack on Dawson's Creek, Season Two has her wearing her hair as if she was related to Daryl Hannah's Pris from Blade Runner. She portrayed herself as a sort of "punk rock" element to the glamorous world of the Upper West Side, but in that attempt, she became the most annoying character in recent memory since, well, Jack on Dawson's Creek. This culminated in the interruption of a gala honoring Lily with a guerilla-style fashion show put on by Momsen, set to the soundtrack of a cover version of "Sheena is a Punk Rocker" that was so horrible, Joey Ramone would have killed himself after hearing it, if he wasn't dead already. The good news is that considering most of the cast is moving on to college and Jenny isn't, I'd hope they reduce her presence in Season Three. But at this point, who knows?
Sadly, there's nothing of substance or interest going on with the main cast in Season Two, so what is there to do? Some of what occurred in the season that I haven't mentioned already includes someone falling for a member of a royal family, another falling for that person's mother, civil disobedience, hirings, firings, betrayals, familial conflicts, death. And that's all by a bunch of spoiled rich kids who went from being fun to watch to being people you want to punch. I didn't think I could go to kind of liking them to loathing them so fast, but congratulations Gossip Girl, way to set the new land speed record for creating distaste.
Presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, the episodes of Gossip Girl closely resemble those that aired in late 2008 and early 2009. Flesh tones look accurate and are replicated well. There appears to be a little bit of edge enhancement, but the print looks pristine. Artifacts are kept to a minimum and the image is free from compression issues that I noticed. It's straightforward and without complaints.
The episodes are broadcast in Dolby Digital 5.1 surround, and include English, Spanish, French, Chinese and Thai subtitles. It's a musical show, and the dialogue sounds strong and doesn't waver from the center channel. The show's introduction comes at you from all channels and includes a fair amount of subwoofer involvement, and the low end is a little more active than I was expecting. The soundtrack lacks a little bit when it comes to speaker panning, but it does immerse you in the music; I'd consider it a solid presentation.
Season Two's 25-episode run is spread out over seven discs, with deleted scenes from thirteen of those episodes. Happily, the scenes don't really add anything to the show. Most of the extras are on the seventh disc, starting with "5th Ave. Meets Gossip Girl." This covers the New York locations used for shooting, and includes crew recollections on those spots and any specific production challenges in getting a scene ready. It covers the site design portion of the show pretty well. "Faces Behind the Design" (17:03) examines the makeup, fashion, style and any couture- related iota under the sun. The transformation of Jenny into a teenaged raccoon is touched on (that's how she looks; yeah, I said it). Clothes for the other characters are highlighted, along with any particular anecdotes about how the character was matched with the dress, jacket or accessory. The cast shares their opinions on why the wardrobe and style members of the crew are so vital to them periodically. The segment wraps with everyone discussing his or her thoughts on working for the show. "Gossip Girl: Chasing Dorota" is a series of webisodes with Blair's maid as she (in character) mucks about on set with other irrelevant characters. "LOL" (10:40) is the gag reel for the season, which has some funny moments (in Settle's ringing iPhone and Badgley's tendency to look into the camera lens). A music video for Jenny's fashion shoot is next (3:18), and it's about as annoying as you'd expect it to be. Von Ziegesar gets a little bit of love on this set as well, with an audio book of "You Know You Love Me," one of the books from the series, available as a download. There's also a printed sneak preview of the latest Gossip Girl novel, titled "I Will Always Love You," which is due to be released in November 2009.
The second season of Gossip Girl is kind of equivalent to an athlete who does well in his first professional year and impresses. In the second year, he believes in the hype and the sophomore jinx soon follows.
Things started out good for the show, but it's become a grandiose experiment in inactivity and tackiness. To be fair, it makes no excuses for itself, but it's gone from a guilty pleasure to, well, what it should have been in the first place, which is silliness, even by teen soap standards. Instead of watching this, I'd suggest you go retro on teen soaps if you're a fan of the genre for some more refined work.