You Know You Love Her: Gossip Girl Reboot S1E1 (Review)
Gossip Girl is back in all her glory, but does she still have her Midas touch?
Long time no see, Upper East Siders. It’s been closer to nine years since the original Gossip Girl finished airing and our favorite Upper East Siders received their last blast of gossip. Today, the beloved series returns in a different form on HBO Max accompanied by a brand new set of entirely too-rich teenagers dealing with their own drama brought about by our favorite anonymous blogger — Gossip Girl. Our current ruling class at Constance Billard have big shoes to fill if they want to earn the respect of fans devoted to the drama the original showed us the Upper East Side is good for; can they do it? That’s a secret I’ll — too much, right? Okay. Let’s just jump right into my review of Gossip Girl (2021), Episode 1.
I should preface this review by saying that I’m a huge fan of the series, thus I am inherently biased in my writing this. Yet, it should also be understood that like most fans, I am protective of this series and desire for this reboot to do the brand justice. With that being said, Gossip Girl (2021) does just that. We are reminded from the very first scenes of the show that, like in the original, we will not be dealing with a normal group of teenagers. This is initially made evident when we witness Kate Heller (played by Tavi Gevinson) watching the Instagram story of one her students, Julien Calloway (played Jordan Alexander), as Julien reports her daily life to her thousands of followers. Following that we are treated to flashes of Grammy awards, penthouses, and of course the first sex scene of the series. It is in these flashes that several parallels are drawn to the first episode of the original series, however not so much as to pay tribute, but more in line with making a statement of: the times have changed, but the children of the Upper East Side haven’t. What has changed, however, are the dynamics within Constance Billard — the highschool of the original and current casts of Gossip Girl.
The reboot explores an interesting dynamic — one where the children of the Upper East Side are allowed to roam free without the leash of Gossip Girl. As a result, the teachers of Constance Billard live in fear of the students. In one of the earlier scenes, we witness the termination of a teacher who foolishly decided to fail a student in the previous semester. I wasn’t quite sure about how I felt about this dynamic, one where students hold that much power over their teachers, but it is certainly an attempt by writers to move away from the original Gossip Girl’s focus on student versus student drama. Instead of Jenny Humphrey being treated to a classic Blair Waldorf takedown, it is Kate Heller being fashion-shamed by her own student Monet de Haan (played by Savannah Lee Smith) — the richest girl at Constance Billard. The centering of this dynamic is unique to the reboot, and remains important in that not only does it lead to the return of Gossip Girl herself, but it helps to separate the reboot from the original series.
On that note, the way in which Gossip Girl (the character) returns to the series stands to be one of my only issues with the plot thus far. Gossip Girl is not a series necessarily known for being, well, realistic. Yet, I find it still a bit off putting that (spoiler) Gossip Girl is run by a group of teachers (please throw them in jail) fed up by the way their students treat them. This also stands to be the other prominent difference between the original and the reboot, since we know immediately who Gossip Girl is and what her motive is. I wouldn’t be the least bit shocked if ownership of the Gossip Girl account shifts to another character who then remains anonymous, but for now I’m on the fence about this plotpoint.
I will say, however, that our new Gossip Girl’s blasts do not fall short of the old’s, and do a great job in stirring the pot in order to move the plot forward. I enjoyed how, like in the original, nothing ever goes as planned by our Upper East Siders when they try to use Gossip Girl to their advantage. Julien and Zoya’s plans to mitigate the drama started by Gossip Girl instead leads to an intense clash outside of a fashion show reminiscent of one of Blair and Serena’s classic showdowns. It is because of this that, as a fan of the series, it became easy to find myself immersed in the lives of the new ruling class at Constance Billard. As all fans of the series will tell you, no matter what our Upper East Siders do, Gossip Girl is always in control.
However, there would be no need for Gossip Girl without the secrets and lies of the Upper East Siders. While this era’s ruling class of students prides itself on being a tight-knit group, all it takes is one outsider by the name of Zoya Lott (played by Whitney Peak) to disrupt the status quo. Although this is clearly paying homage to Dan Humphrey’s role in the original series, it is executed very differently since Zoya is actually “welcomed” into the group by her half-sister and the (presumably) reigning “queen” of Constance — Julien. In this vein, Zoya can be also be likened to Jenny Humphrey, suggesting once again that this reboot, while a brand new story, is not afraid to repurpose certain tropes as love letters to fans. In general, the plot feels like one big love letter to the seeds planted by the original series and that is why it is so easy for fans of the show to gravitate toward it.
The story was one thing, but having to fill the shoes of the incredible cast of the original series is absolutely no easy task — and that is why the reboot avoids doing that. The producers of the show made it very clear to fans that Blair and Serena’s era is done. While yes, certain tropes from the original series reappear and manifest in the first episode, it is also made quite clear that this a group of Upper East Siders with slightly different morals, priorities and issues. There is hardly anyone who feels like they were directly pulled from the original, and that is because we’re simply living in a different time. Even Monet and Luna (played by Zión Moreno) who are clearly an ode to Blair’s minions (but done much better) from various seasons feel not only relevant to the story, but necessary to it as well.
As for their leader Julien, her character appears to be a bit more complex than Monet and Luna’s in that she doesn’t seem to be as active in her mean girl antics as the other two, but she’s certainly complacent to their behavior. She seems to want to be the humble and kind influencer/big sister, while also allowing Monet to threaten the jobs of several teachers. She exists at a crossroads in terms of how she can develop, and I’m excited to see which direction the writers take her. In regards to her younger sister Zoya, as I mentioned before she is deeply reminiscent of Dan Humphrey in terms of the role she plays — but certainly has Little Jenny’s knack for challenging the hierarchy. I’m not particularly fond of her yet, nor am I interested in watching her romance with Obie (played by Eli Brown) bud, but she’s another character than can go in a number of directions in terms of her development. Speaking of Obie — well I don’t have much to say about him. He reminds me of Nate from the original series in that he is a bit bland as a character. His role as the wedge Gossip Girl will use to drive Julien and Zoya apart is clear, however I hope he brings some substance to group dynamic in later episodes.
Audrey (played by Emily Alyn Lind), Max (played Thomas Doherty), and Ak (played by Evan Mock) seem to travel as a unit, and that’s obviously because there’s a threesome situation brewing between them — and I enjoy that. While Audrey and Ak come off as somewhat drab characters, the writers using them to push conversations around sexuality is well received on my end. Max differs from those two in that he is inherently more interesting as a character due to him being a clear homage to the iconic Chuck Bass. Him being sexually fluid and unable to be tied down is certainly how I would imagine a modern day Chuck Bass to be.
A Gossip Girl reboot wouldn’t be a Gossip Girl reboot without a stunning soundtrack. The music and fashion in the original Gossip Girl is what set it apart from its peers, and the reboot is deeply aware of this. With a mix of mainstream hits such as Super Rich Kids by Frank Ocean (the absolute perfect song for this series) and Positions by Ariana Grande, as well as lesser known bops like Rascal by Tinashe and Runaway by Rei Ami — the Gossip Girl reboot has produced a fantastic soundtrack for its first episode. I was unfamiliar with a fair amount of the songs included, but I was immediately captivated by the opening song All My Girls Like To Fight by Hope Tala. The song title alone is almost like a welcome back to fans of the series who went nine years without Gossip Girl orchestrated catfights.
The Gossip Girl reboot has successfully introduced herself as a worthy successor to a beloved franchise. While it will take time for many of us to fall in love with these characters, the current ruling class of Constance Billard have effectively captured the essence of the series. The reboot is also not afraid to pull from the original, but it somehow never allows itself to live in its shadow. Furthermore, the show’s attention to fashion, pop culture, and music (soundtrack) makes it immediately feel like home. I’m very much looking forward to the remaining nine episodes to see if they can keep this streak up.
Until next time Upper East Siders, you know love me…XOXO.