HBO Max’s Gossip Girl reboot is essentially two shows. One is a traditional high-school soap following the trials and tribulations of New York City’s wealthiest and most unexciting teenagers, attending the prestigious Constance Billard-St. Jude school. The other is a scammer story/mystery featuring the school’s faculty, which secretly operates the titular Instagram account.
Neither plot nor the characters that inhabit this blandly designed world are particularly compelling. Julien’s (Jordan Alexander) second-season pivot from Queen Bee to Mother Teresa is a total snooze. The series’ “sexy” throuple storyline, involving Aki (Evan Mock), Audrey (Emily Alyn Lind), and Max (Thomas Doherty), is ironically anticlimactic. Zoya (Whitney Peak) and her father Nick’s (Jonathan Fernandez) boundaryless relationship is getting weirder with each episode. And the choice to cast hot, innocent Canadian actor Luke Kirby as a sexual predator is, frankly, unforgivable.
Still, of all my issues with the new Gossip Girl, none of them make me want to throw my laptop into the ocean more than the series’ dim-witted posse of millennial teachers and their “eat the rich” fantasies acted out on literal children. The plotting alone makes for a deeply bizarre and poorly constructed storyline. But it also represents the reboot’s annoying obsession with pointing out the obvious about its characters: Wealthy people are bad.
I never thought I’d issue a complaint like this as a leftist media consumer, but Gossip Girl hates rich people way too much. I’m not objecting to the act of hating the super wealthy, by the way. It’s an emotional exercise I partake in and strongly encourage. And yet, I don’t really need to see this heavy-handed criticism constantly expressed on a show where I’m ultimately supposed to empathize with the characters in one way or another. Not to mention that I and so many other fans consumed the original Gossip Girl as a form of escapism from our working-class lives.
In the series’ pilot, we see the class tension simmering between Costance Billard’s pompous students and the school’s newer set of teachers, who are oddly intimidated by the teens. After their co-worker is fired for not upping a student’s grades at a parent’s request, second-year teachers Kate (Tavi Gevinson), Jordan (Adam Chanler-Berat), and Wendy (Megan Ferguson) decide that they must protect themselves from termination and bullying from their students by rebooting the notable gossip blog, Gossip Girl, and essentially blackmailing them.
The teachers believe that exposing students’ personal indiscretions—mostly, who they’re sucking face with—to the world will somehow scare them into behaving… in the classroom. This theory makes little to no sense. And yet the entire show is structured around this bonkers setup.
In Season 2, the writers seem to acknowledge the teachers’ unhealthy obsession with and literal stalking of their students, when they primarily aim their unbridled class rage at Constance Billard as an institution and the shady adults who run it. Kate is still operating the Gossip Girl account, however, and she’s found a new partner: an extremely sus male teacher named Mike (Pico Alexander), who returns from a sabbatical with the same chip on his shoulder. He and Kate start working together to take down the fraudulent headmistress and become increasingly horny for one another over this mission.
While the teachers on the original Gossip Girl were barely seen or acknowledged, the ones on the reboot serve as a built-in, self-correcting device for the series and its more problematic elements. They remind us that privatized education is bad—although they voluntarily work at the bougiest private school in Manhattan—and that rich kids are spoiled brats and teachers are under-appreciated. All these things are, more or less, true. (I’d argue that the teens on this reboot aren’t that awful, and not all rich kids are necessarily bratty).
However, the revenge plot against the students and, now, Constance Billard as an elitist school is obnoxious and, frankly, unhinged. The absurdity of this project is somewhat acknowledged when Monet de Haan’s (Savannah Smith)’s mother airs Kate out for being a whiny, ultimately privileged white woman in the Season 1 finale. But I’d rather not have to be invested in this endeavor at all. At this point, I’d have way more fun watching these attractive young adults simply go outside, have sex, learn an instrument, read a book—anything!—then attempt to take down a random group of capitalists and their kids with no tangible reward.
In a Vulture profile ahead of Season 1’s premiere, the original Gossip Girl’s creator Joshua Safran repeatedly referenced HBO’s Succession as a source of inspiration when crafting a more class-conscious version of the show. However, that show’s brilliant satire succeeds in what it refrains from doing. Jesse Armstrong and Succession’s writing staff don’t instruct us on how to feel about these characters and their privileged problems but simply allow us to observe them in all their terrible-ness. Controversially, the show hardly even represents the voices of the people whose lives they affect. However, this speaks to Armstrong’s faith in viewer’ ability to interpret his art the correct way but, most significantly, smart and nuanced writing.
Gossip Girl, on the other hand, is so vigilant about rebuking the wealth it depicts that the writers end up making the poorest people on the show look like absolute buffoons. Overall, the show suffers from an unfamiliarity of how people in lower paying jobs express their frustrations about their workplaces and utilize that anger.
It’s easy to envision a group of aggrieved teachers organizing around issues of pay and poor treatment, maybe even ruffling the feathers of authority in funny, inconsequential ways, like the characters on The Office. It’s much harder to envision a bunch of supposedly bright educators following children around Manhattan and extorting them, with the hope that it’ll make their jobs a little easier. While the latter might seem more fun to watch on a silly teen soap, this storyline doesn’t serve the series at all. It also removes the thrill of Gossip Girl as an elusive threat, knowing it’s run by the goofiest adults on television.
While it’s hard to imagine a version of the Gossip Girl reboot that’s significantly better than it’s been so far, the show could improve somewhat just by axing the teacher posse altogether. During Season 1, I might have said that Katie, Jordan and Wendy could still exist in the show, as long as they gave up their affiliation with Gossip Girl. But at this point, I’d rather see them disappear in an Avengers: Endgame-style snap.
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