This review contains spoilers
Last Thursday, the first episode of HBO Max’s “Gossip Girl” reboot premiered and it was … weird. While the hierarchical energy of its predecessor was evident, this new iteration lacked the charm and intrigue that gave the original version from 2007 its massive success.
The new series revolves around a group of friends that rule Constance Billard School for Girls, the same school that Blair Waldorf and Serena van der Woodson ruled 14 years ago. The highly exclusive private institution is riddled with money, drugs and frantic power grabs from anyone and everyone.
The immediate problem with this reboot is the entity of Gossip Girl herself. In the original show, Gossip Girl was a mystery voice and drama instigator in the school halls, with an insight into the lives of everyone that mattered. Part of the fun was trying to figure out who it was — who was really behind the scandalous posts? Fans waited six seasons for an answer, and while the answer wasn’t satisfactory for most, at least the mystery was entertaining.
So now 2021’s “Gossip Girl” premieres and almost immediately we know exactly who Gossip Girl is. It’s a huge blow to the main appeal of the plot, but that’s not even the worst part. The worst part is that Gossip Girl is a group of teachers at the school who are being victimized by their students.
Clearly, these super-rich elite students are manipulative monsters, and I can sympathize with the teachers. However, following underage students around to get dirt (and even taking compromising pictures of them half-naked) is just plain creepy, and I find it hard to engage with the people we’re supposed to root for.
The students themselves are roller coasters of personalities and emotions. Although half-sisters Julien Calloway and Zoya Lott are immediately endearing, overbearing villain Monet de Haan and jealousy-stricken Audrey Hope make scenes uncomfortable with their constant eye-rolling and snarky comments. Nice guy Otto "Obie" Bergmann IV is a dead ringer for the original show’s Dan Humphrey; he seems great now, but I have a feeling that Obie will be fated to the same terrible character development Dan was.
Another issue the new series faces is its target audience. Sure, some Gen Z-ers have binged 2007’s “Gossip Girl” in a couple of weeks (we all make mistakes, okay?), but the majority of us were too young to watch it when it first aired. The new show is littered with Gen Z slang and attitude, which makes the show feel like it’s for us, but with its gratuitous sex scenes and profanity, I can’t imagine 12- to 15-year-olds are going to be watching (not with their parent’s permission, anyways).
The TV-MA rating (ramped up from the original’s TV-14 label) gives “Gossip Girl” a chance to try some edgier subject matter that the original “Gossip Girl” couldn’t. So far, the show seems to be trying (and failing) to channel HBO’s smash hit “Euphoria” — it completely misses the mark. Why are children allowed to go to a club and drink martinis? How do the characters wordlessly accept marginalized groups (BIPOC, queer, etc.) but fail to see their blatant class discrimination? I couldn’t tell you the answers to these questions, and to be honest, I don’t think the showrunners could either.
I’m not saying 2007’s “Gossip Girl” was perfect by any means (kids drank in that one too!), but what I am saying is that it worked in 2007 — that audience wasn’t picking apart whether this or that was up to society’s social standards, but now, the slightest offense can ruin a show’s reputation. Less political correctness isn’t a good thing, but for “Gossip Girl’s” concept, it’s necessary. Trying to repurpose an idea that already made huge waves 14 years ago is lazy, and is a huge part of why it doesn’t land in the climate of 2021.
Before the show premiered, co-creator Joshua Safran wrote on Twitter that the new “Gossip Girl” would have “no slut shaming. No catfights. Those are not the things I believe need to be in this show for it to be fun.” However, this statement was immediately cast aside as the pilot episode shows a female character getting slut-shamed for allegedly hooking up with a male character, so I’m not sure what the rest of the season has in store if even the co-creator himself is unable to get his story straight.
In 2021, a new version of “Gossip Girl” is tone-deaf and unnecessary. While I recognize that the key elements of the reboot are different, a lot of the problematic factors are not. The new “Gossip Girl” failed to learn from the original show’s mistakes in its very first episode, setting expectations low for the rest of the season. I truly hope that Safran and his peers can turn this trainwreck around and save this reboot, or at least do some justice to its iconic predecessor.
Emma Trevino is the culture editor at the Daily Lobo. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @itsemmatr