2:01pm... Um, scary, preemptive stories about the demise of my show Gossip Girl (aka The Greatest Show of Our Time) and finger pointing about the lameness of recent episodes have compelled me to write a brief ode dedicated to the many reasons why this show is witty, fun, satirical, avant garde, mature, and just all-around wonderful. My next two blog entries will be a brief primer for those not in-the-know. And, some suggestions about how to fix the show, and my predictions for things to come. I'm actually clairvoyant about this show.. so far, I've predicted the death of Bart Bass (happened), arrival of a skank named Rachel (happened), flight of the Chuck to parts unknown (happened) after he left Blair a note (totally happened), and Lily getting attacked by Chuck's cokehead uncle, Jack Bass (sad and scary, but it happened).
SETTING: New York City, present day or thereabouts. Mainly the Upper East Side of Manhattan (aka UES), stomping ground of the uber-wealthy... think verrry old Mellon/Vanderbilt money, or very rich (not racist meaning) Jewish families with last names like Bronfman. Little to no recession effects here, because it is a show about rich people and their "problems."
CHARACTERS: in brief
1. Serena van der Woodsen (VDW)... tall blonde sweetie pie who used to be rogue and slutty, but accidentally helped kill a guy so she had a change of heart. In love with Dan Humphrey (see below). Daughter of Lily VDW-Bass, socialite/skank. Sister to Eric, younger, gay, wise beyond years. Stepsister to Chuck Bass, heir to the UES, all-around badass (see below). Returned to the UES after year in exile, started the show off. Best friend of Blair Waldorf, tight-ass princess. Occasional rivals for the queen of the UES social scene. Effortlessly beautiful, but in general, effortless describes her perfectly. Has a tendency to let her zonkers hang out.
2. Blair Waldorf.... queen of the UES, semi-mean spirited bitch who really needs some Valium. Great zinger one-liners, smart, strategic, obsessed with evil plotting (tick that will not go away). Ex of Nate Archibald (see below). In love with Chuck Bass, who vacillates between adoring her and treating her like crap. Very pretty and intelligent, she's crippled by her insecurities, borderline paranoid. Probably due to her MIA mother, who could care less, and her father, who she's tight with but went gay and now lives in France with his bf. Has a loyal Polish maid named Dorota who acts as conscience/surrogate mom/henchman when need be. Blair became queen B when Serena left town after she slept with Nate, Blair's man at the time. Serena's best friend since birth, but occasional rival. Obsessed with going to Yale, her dad's alma mater.
3. Chuck Bass... social deviant, hot misfit, lothario, occasional VD carrier, and all-around bacchanalia king of the UES. Only son of dead Bart Bass, founder of Bass Industries, and a mom who died in childbirth. Has serious emotional issues. A loner, he drives around Manhattan in a limo and is basically the devil. Does have a weak spot for BFF Nate, although it can get hairy when it comes to Blair. Chuck thinks of money like water, and is the only rich character who didn't come from old money. Heir-apparent to CEO-ship of billion-dollar real estate giant Bass Industries. Billionaire when he turns 18. No direction, no focus, sometimes no conscience. In love with Blair Waldorf but will never stop finding ways to fuck it up royally. Father married Lily VDW, Serena and Eric VDW are his step-siblings. Used to live in a suite at the Palace Hotel, which he owns. Now lives with the VDWs. Has a penchant for expensive hookers. Rival to Dan Humphrey. Owns Victrola, a burlesque club.
4. Nate Archibald.... sweetie pie, resident Mr. Adorable, aka ManBangs. Only son of the Captain and Mrs. Vanderbilt-Archibald. Used to smoke pot, a lot. Token nice guy. Friend to pretty much everyone, he is without evil, pure of heart, and never vindictive. Ex-bf of Blair Waldorf. Screwed Serena VDW at a wedding because she was a hot mess, but felt crappy about it. Best friend to Chuck Bass since they were tots. Also BFF with Dan Humphrey and is only main character besides Serena to cross the bridge willingly to go to Brooklyn. Turned cokehead embezzler Dad into the feds. Currently dating Vanessa Abrams, Dan Humphrey's BFF.
5. Dan Humphrey.... aka LonelyBoy, a self-important writer wannabe. Lives in DUMBO with dad Rufus and sister Jenny. Mom is MIA. Very smart, quick-witted, great one-liners, in love with Serena VDW since forever. Cycle of breaking up and getting back together. Accepted to Yale. General nice guy but has a tendency to be too judgmental. Goes to school with rich kids but is a scholarship student. Has nothing but resentment for the wealthy. Dresses better than most middle-class people. Best friend to Vanessa Abrams and Nate Archibald. Rival to Chuck Bass and Blair Waldorf. Makes romantic speeches and reads Rilke for fun.
6. Jenny Humphrey... aka Little J, younger sister to Dan Humphrey, only daughter to Rufus Humphrey and MIA mom. Wannabe designer and sophomore in high school. Former minion to Blair Waldorf. Former love interest to seriously confused Nate Archibald. Tried to get legally emancipated from her overly caring dad to start her own clothing line. Hijacked a charity gala and made it a fashion show. Very immature. Has questionable taste. Seldom eats. BFF with Eric VDW. Used to work for Blair's mom, a fashion designer. In general, very annoying.
7. Vanessa Abrams... homeschooled BFF of Dan Humphrey. Used to be obsessed with him. Runs Dan's dad's gallery's coffee shop. A beatnik with weird clothes. Kind hearted and Dan's shoulder to cry on when life is tough. Dating Nate Archibald. Enemy to Blair Waldorf. Ironically, friendly with Chuck Bass and Serena VDW, but not by much. Has far-out tastes in music and movies. Prefers to come and go through windows.
8. Lily van der Woodsen-Bass... mom to Serena and Eric VDW, stepmom to Chuck Bass, whom she adopted. Dating Rufus Humphrey off and on since she was a teenager. Once Rufus' groupie. Has married and dated several men, usually put them before her kids. Had illegitimate son by Rufus which she gave away for adoption, never told Rufus. Kid is alive, but family wants to keep him away from "rich people." Married Bart Bass, later found out he was Satan, but he died before she could call it quits. Very carefree and flaky, but overall an ok person. Her mother CeCe is a manipulative demon who usually controls her daughter's life. Owns 20 percent controlling stake in Bass Industries.
9. Rufus Humphrey.... dad to Dan and Jenny, dating Lily VDW-Bass. Totally in love with Lily and is the best parent on the show. Actually cares about his kids. Former rocker with grunge band Lincoln Hawk, now gallery owner. Wears cowboy shirts and has two eagle tatoos. An overall nice guy and good parent. Loves being a father. Divorced from Dan and Jenny's mom. Always cooking or in kitchen.
SHOW STRENGTHS...aka Why Gossip Girl Kicks Ass
Are amazing. Usually high-end designers that none of us can afford. Blair and Chuck are the most stylish of the bunch, Chuck notably so, and the guy wears stuff no straight man (and few gay men) would ever be caught dead wearing (i.e. velvet suits, cravats, scarves, sequins, bow ties, purple, metallic purple, etc...) Even the Humphrey kids manage to be somewhat stylish despite their lack of fortune. Blair's clothing tends to be stunning and sophisticated, feminine, and all around perfect. Her classy style is somewhat Hepburn/Grace Kelly. Serena dresses like a well-moneyed skank and even her stuff is trashy expensive.
This is why people really watch. And it's everywhere, to be sure. Chuck owns a luxury hotel, openly drinks in the bar, drops money on skanks. Serena and Blair shop constantly and live in penthouses. Lily has a penchant for primo-expensive art. Jenny once stole a custom Valentino gown. Nate lives in a townhouse with wrought-iron gates just off Central Park. They all have chauffeured cars. The kicker... Chuck gave Blair an Ericsson Beamon diamond necklace for sleeping with him in the back of his limo, worth $30,000. He also owns a downtown club. They have houses in the Hamptons, rooftop parties at the Hudson. Chartered jets. Helicopters. Basically the best parts of Fantasy Island with 500 million bucks.
Some of the relationships really do kick ass. You can tell these people like being on a show together.
Blair and Chuck are without question fan favorites. The way they skulk around each other is fun, sexy, passionate, and very cool. They literally feed off each other, and the way the plots have been scripted so that these two characters mirror each other step for step is well crafted. it's like watching someone be attracted to his/her counterpart of the opposite sex and wanting to eat them. With these two, it's stellar when they are venomous, but the tender moments are really the jam. it's not a conventional romance, but it's the best these two freakos can come up with. It's about the build up. It's full of teenage pathos and neurosis. But maybe the clencher is that the only thing standing in their way is themselves. Crushing.
Dan and Serena are awesome when they are together. One of the best episodes was when they split up and Serena went rogue again. The flash of her former bitchiness was awesome and blew LonelyBoy away. When things are bad between them is the best part of their dynamic.
Nate and Chuck are opposites who attract like fire and gasoline. Season 1 was really good at developing this idea. It was like Chuck was that creepy demon sitting on N's shoulder whispering the horrible things he could do if he wanted to. And Nate was weaker in Season 1... subject to the whims of Blair, who dominated his ass, and his parents, who want him to do what they want. Nate cheated on B with her best friend and you totally believed Chuck was behind it all. The Basstard even saw the whole thing happen from his perch on high. Nice. Season 2 has Nate doing more of his own thing, but some of his good-guy qualities rub off on Chuck, who continues to chafe under the will of being a decent guy.
Blair's family is so fun to watch. She and her mother have issues, probably because they are so similar. Both women are strong, willful, self involved, and vulnerable underneath. And have weaknesses for men that never quite match up to them. Eleanor Waldorf married a gay guy (Harold Waldorf) and is now married to a Jewish homunculus (Cyrus Rose) who is half her size but full of love. Blair loves a nasty narcissist who gets his jollies off on pitting people against one another. Similar lines there. Cyrus Rose brings some good ol' fashioned family love to the Waldorf abode, and it's awesome to see the two chicks melt for this guy. Should bring some warmth to the family dynamic.
The Humphrey family is your average family that genuinely cares for each other. The siblings have great rapport and the way they interact with Rufus is so normal, you almost crave it after watching the WASPs be indifferent to one another. The Brooklynites talk about their problems, help one another, spend quality time together, eat dinner together, walk to school with each other, and hug a lot. Plus, the kids are good kids. it's downright refreshing.
The overall themes.
Gossip Girl is your classic tale of good versus bad, or evil. It's a morality show like almost every other one out there. However, the money angle changes the dynamic... unlike most shows, where there's an outside person or problem that forces its way in to confront the characters, these people in essence have no outside problems. So the conflict... is within themselves! GG really is a character-driven show, so if a new viewer cannot find a character or two to identify with, then she would have problems liking the show and becoming a repeat viewer.
it's no wonder that every character has serious flaws and defects, some more so than others. Basically, what you watch every week are individuals learning who they are, what they are capable of, what they learn about themselves, and how they react to their environment. It's inner conflict externalized, and sometimes that can fall flat (Blair going black ops on an undeserving teacher), or get outlandish (such as provoking Chuck with a members-only orgy).
The scariest/best parts of the show (read: most entertaining) are when outsiders with agendas are introduced, usually as supervillains. Georgina Sparks and Jack Bass are two main examples. Or, when true problems do arise, such as impending poverty (Nate turning his father in when he had nowhere to live) or death (when Bart died and Chuck nearly burned NYC to the ground with his rage).
Watching the characters struggle with themselves and each other is where the money is (no pun intended) for GG. Power plays are an oft-used deus ex machina that sets most episodes in motion. GG herself as narrator deals in lording secrets over the heads of the characters. Knowledge is power, and these characters come to play.
When the main characters come together.
Because they each bring a certain something to the mix to complement the others. It's nice to see these varied characters align against a common foe, such as Georgina Sparks at the end of Season 1. It's where the heart really is, because they are all united, even though most of the time they act like they aren't. Most times viewers forget these kids go to the same schools and only live miles apart from one another. But they al share common wants and desires- love, friendship, respect, identity, trust. They just go about it very differently. When the writers keep them in isolation and throw them together, it's quite a sight.
In crisis mode, guaranteed to bring...
Blair... strategic plot and ambition to win.
Serena... can keep a secret so well, especially her own, and live with it.
Dan... his aw-shucksness to lure unsuspectingly.
Chuck... will do anything. Anything.
Nate... supremely loyal, even when he morally disagrees with what's going on.