Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The 2000s, A Decade in Retrospect...Gossip Girl

[from the "Vanity Fair" August 2008 photoshoot]

The 2000s, A Decade in Retrospect is a series where I will be professing my love to the pop culture wonders that I discovered during this decade, but not specific to this decade.

Teen drama has never been so sensationally addictive and relentlessly glamorous until Gossip Girl entered my life in the summer of 2009.

When the ultimate Upper East Side teenage high society queen, Blair Waldorf (Leighton Meester) and the sunny, charming "it" girl Serena van der Woodsen (Blake Lively) finally meet eye-to-eye on a rainy day in Central Park, I was sold. Blair spills her heart out to Serena: Blair's father left her mother for a male model, her boyfriend has been acting weird...and her best friend wasn't there for her as all this unfolded.

Bitching, back-stabbing, and uncomfortable confrontations. All that comes to an abrupt halt. Instead, we see Blair and Serena as who they really are and who they really want to be: best friends. Could Gossip Girl be a show with a...soul?

After years of rejecting the glitzy teen phenomenon, I became a fan. Gossip Girl turned out to be less shallow than I initially thought it was. Oh, yes, it may take place in a delusional universe of impeccable fashion sense, poreless skin, lovely make-up, drool-worthy shoes, and last but not least--perfect hair! served with a fair share of teen drinking and sex. But it's also a show with surprisingly likable characters and a cast with young, attractive talents who can deliver surprisingly engaging performances.

And to top it off, the picturesque New York cinematography and hip-chic soundtrack is literally to die for. Kristen Bell's narration as the mysterious title blogger adds to the scandalous! factor to the show, just like sugar and spice does to any dish.

On an aesthetic level, Gossip Girl completely dominates.

But underneath all those fabulous designer items, it's really, a superbly entertaining television show. Especially season one. I'm sad to say that it has gone slightly downhill, or, slightly crooked, in terms of quality. But season one is blessed with so much pure, melodramatic fun to a point that it's deliciously irresistible.

I was familiar with Gossip Girl producer, Josh Schwartz's previous project, The O.C., a teen soap focusing on the privileged youth of Orange County. I didn't watch the show religiously, so naturally, I didn't have high expectations for Gossip Girl. I also knew that Gossip Girl was adapted from a series of books by Cecily von Ziegesar, but trashy teen novels were never my style. If I had to spend time pouring over hundreds of pages of words, I prefer to read something that would stimulate my mind, thank you very much.

(I did admittedly finish the first book in the series recently. So why are people complaining about Twilight being a literary atrocity when Gossip Girl exists? Thanks for the idea, von Ziegesar, but thank goodness Schwartz and co-creator Stephanie Savage came in, like the TV superheroes they truly are, and reconstructed von Ziegesar's ridiculous UES world from an annoying toxic wasteland of robotic idiots to a world that's a little more...human.)

The pilot episode of Gossip Girl drew me in immediately. Peter Bjorn and John's "Young Folks" always remind me of that alluring opening sequence. The entire cast is fueled with endless chemistry.

The fairy tale romance between middle-class loner, Dan Humphrey (Penn Badgley) and redeeming party girl, Serena van der Woodsen is the most endearing romance since the mini love story in Billy Joel's "Uptown Girl" music video. Their romance was briefly threatened by the arrival of Dan's blatantly boho-styled friend Vanessa (Jessica Szhor), but then Dan and Serena just continued being awesome. Too bad the refreshing take on the Ross-and-Rachel concept only lasted one season until it all went downhill.

The troubled golden couple, Nate Archibald (Chace Crawford) and Blair Waldorf added some tension to the seemingly pitch-perfect landscape of lovely penthouses and sparkling martini glasses. While I originally thought Serena may be the continuously threatening corner of the central love triangle, it turned out to be the notoriously boozed-up local bad boy, Chuck Bass (Ed Westwick), who has his hard-to-crack heart set on Blair.

Then there's Dan's ambitious, social-climbing little sister, Jenny (Taylor Momsen), who tries to fit into her snobby private school--especially Blair's inner circle--without a pricey outfit from Bendel's. And it wouldn't be a proper teen soap opera without some middle-aged romance added into the mix: Dan's ex-rocker father, Rufus (Matthew Settle) and Serena's socialite mother, Lily (Kelly Rutherford) were once old lovers in their wilder days. They inevitably reconnect.

Season two happened. The sometimes-frustrating, sometimes-interesting will-they-won't-they cat-and-mouse game between Chuck and Blair commenced in a style that even John Hughes would have found to be too angsty. Then Jenny destroyed her pretty face and hair with a heavy load of eyeliner and a constant bad hair day. Then Dan had an unnecessary affair with an English teacher that I didn't give a damn about. Yet Nate was useless (as usual), until we met his horrifically devious family that happens to include the most badass grandfather ever.

There goes a completely unbalanced season. Ended on a fairly high note, though.

Unfortunately, the first ten episodes of season three didn't do any favors for the show. But with the amazing mid-season cliffhanger, there may be hope for Gossip Girl after all. The most recent episode brought back what I loved about the show in the first place: blackmail, back-stabbing, bitching, the great relationships, and the surprisingly good acting.

Ed Westwick continues to be criminally underrated, simply because he's on a CW teen soap opera. He has convincingly molded Chuck from the bad boy/date rapist he was back in season one into this mature, caring young man who is destined for great things. There were moments in season two, despite the overly angst-up writing, where I just thought, damn, why doesn't Ed Westwick get major award recognition for this? This is character development done right. His achingly touching performance in "The Debarted" (3x12) proves that he can strike gold twice. Just like any good actor would.

While I wouldn't call myself a super-duper "Chair" (Chuck/Blair) obsessive, I do like their scenes together. Westwick and Leighton Meester have this electrifying, passionate chemistry that I can't deny. Their unforgettable limo scene in season one, ingeniously set to Sum 41's "With Me," has been etched in my memory forever. But I prefer to see Meester's Blair as a lone warrior, fearlessly tackling her enemies on her own, with vulnerabilities to boot. That is when Meester is the most fierce and interesting. The funny thing is, Blair's a bitch, but she's just too human to fill us with despair.

Another thing I adore about the relatively impressive latter half of season three (so far) is Taylor Momsen's Jenny. She may have the drabbest outfits (and isn't she supposed to be rich now?), but her gradual rise to teenage queendom is completely enticing. I love that Jenny is becoming a bitch--a drug-dealing bitch, no less. I love that she practically has no friends since she alienated her gay stepbrother Eric (Connor Paolo) from her queen bee lifestyle. And since they called truce, it makes you wonder: Did they really mean it? In short, I love Jenny's storyline this season and I don't care if you disagree.

And...who knew Chace Crawford had such good comedic timing? The days where Nate constantly looked stoned, confused, and clueless are officially a thing of the past. I welcome the randomly lovesick Nate who learned to emote and do heroic deeds that I actually want to root for.

While season three may be looking up, season one is still one of the most perfect seasons I've ever witnessed, especially by teen soap opera standards. Even if Gossip Girl never returns to its former glory, it will still hold a certain place in my adolescent heart. Every teenage girl needs a show in her life that's totally corrupt, full of random love triangles, and acted out by gorgeous people. Gossip Girl successfully fills that void to the very brim. With sin, squalor, and lots of xoxos.

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