8 major changes in the rebooted ‘Gossip Girl’
The following contains spoilers for episode one of the new ‘Gossip Girl’.
The wait is over for Gossip Girl fans, HBO dropped the first episode of its reboot of the mid 2000s cult hit that launched the careers of Blake Lively, Chase Andrews and Penn Badgley among others. While the main premise for the new show has been kept fairly under wraps, we now know the primary storyline (at least after watching the first episode) is the rivalry between New York socialite and influencer Julien Calloway (Jordan Alexander) and her new-to-town fish-out-of-water estranged half-sister Zoya (Whitney Peak), all while the anonymous online persona Gossip Girl re-emerges after a nine year blackout.
The new series, created by Joshua Safran, a writer and executive producer of its predecessor, and executive produced by its original creators Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage, has largely reinvented itself to fit a different digital landscape and New York social scene, meaning there are a few key digressions from the original series.
Don’t expect the OG cast to turn up
Not a surprise since the showrunners have made it pretty clear that the original cast wouldn’t make an appearance, but since the series does take place in the same universe as the original we are treated to a few mentions of the OG characters, just not enough that we get any real update on where they are in 2021.
That said, we are relieved that Kristen Bell is back voicing Gossip Girl, with a slightly more menacing sound than she had in the original. We’ll take it!
Covid is a thing
The series picks up on the first day of school for the Constance Billard and St. Judes crew, who’ve spent a year in doors attending class via Zoom due to the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic. It was an interesting decision to make mention of the pandemic in the first episode, especially since it doesn’t seem to actually play a part in the story beyond mention of relief at being free of masks finally. Perhaps they’re trying to ground the show in reality a bit more than the previous series did? Who knows.
There’s more (graphic) sex
Sure the OG series was labelled ultra steamy and “every parent’s worst nightmare” back in the day, but by today’s teen series standard (ahem Euphoria), it’s actually pretty tame. Not surprisingly, HBO’s version of the show seems set to have more graphic sex scenes, like a 16-year-old junior in high school receiving oral sex in a public space kind of graphic, which is definitely every parent’s worst nightmare…
Gossip Girl’s identity is not a mystery
Perhaps the biggest deviation from the original show’s” whodunnit” mystery approach to the identity of Gossip Girl (do not get me started ok), this version is up front about who the tell-all behind the moniker is. In an unexpected twist, it’s the teachers, lead by Kate Keller (Tavi Gevinson), of St. Judes and Constance Billard who stumble upon the old Gossip Girl site and decide to resurrect it in social media format to scare the entirely out of control and ultra-rich teens into behaving. Exactly how that is supposed to work is a bit vague, but ok.
It’s an interesting take on the original format and I hope it pays off. While the mystery element is totally gone (not that the big reveal really paid off last time), it will be interesting to see how the teachers keep the ruse going and what they’ll do when it (inevitably) goes too far, especially since New York’s elite teens wasted no time in playing along and sending tips to Gossip Girl via Instagram.
Things feel a bit more…serious?
As intense as the old series could get, it felt fairly self-aware in terms of how ridiculous and occasionally outright soap-opera-esque it could be. I mean, Blair was briefly the princess of Monaco, Serena dated a former teacher she had previously put in jail on sexual assault charges (one of many weird boyfriends), Dan had a piece published in the New Yorker when he was 17, Georgina was essentially sold to the Russian mob, Chuck’s dad faked his own death, and Nate was editor of The Spectator and a mayorial candidate at age 25. And these are just the things we can think of off the top of our head.
This series (for the time being) seems a little more set in reality, and also seems to lack the silliness that could shine through in lighter moments of the OG series, no more “I’m Chuck Bass” glib smiles or comic relief in the form of Dorota on a fool’s errand for Blair. The shift in tone seems fitting since the show has moved from the CW to HBO, but it’s still early days.
The cast is more diverse
In a welcome change from the original series, the revamped Gossip Girl has a way more diverse cast, with the primary two characters played by black women and a more diverse supporting cast. Additionally, the show is set to feature more queer and fluid characters and storylines than the original.
It’s not all about the Upper East Side
Another huge shift from the original series to accommodate the changing New York landscape is a move away from the Upper East Side. In fact, Gossip Girl’s syrupy voice-over changes the iconic “Hey Upper East Siders” to “Hey followers” and updates “ the scandalous lives of Manhattan’s elite” to “the scandalous lives of New York’s elite”. In a nutshell, remember when Dan was considered poor because he hailed from a loft in Brooklyn? Well Brooklyn is cool now.
According to Safran: “In the original, Dan was the poor kid and he lived in Brooklyn, which was ridiculous then, of course…. And now the richest character of our show lives in Dumbo (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass).”
Social media is a major player
Understandably, social media is a much bigger part of the new show than it was in 2007 when MySpace was still around and Facebook was just in its infancy. Lead character Julien is an influencer with enough sway (and followers) to be a guest model in high-end New York fashion shows, and it’s pretty clear that her online persona is more important to her than her actual relationships (when her Dan-Humprey-type boyfriend Obie is storming off in a huff she’s more concerned that’s he’s supposed to pose for her insta story than the fact that he’s mad at her).
Additionally, Gossip Girl has moved from it’s very early 2000s blog format and is now on the gram as @gossipgirl2.0 (at least it’s not TikTok right?).This was a pretty obvious development for the story to have, but it’s exciting to see if the show will have any real insightful commentary on the power social media has over our lives (says the girl currently averaging three hours on Insta a day).
It’s early days for the new series and we’re excited to see how the story develops, even if it’s just because we can’t leave our homes and can’t do anything except watch television.