It’s been 10 years since Gossip Girl arrived on the scene to change the way we perceive “teen” shows forever. Well, at least New York Magazine seemed to think so, and obvious hometown pride bias aside, I can’t say I disagreed with them.
At first glance, nothing about the actual premise of the show was terribly original – aside from the fact that its viciously nosy namesake narrator and frequent troublemaker is a blogger whose identity remains a secret until the final episode of Season 6.
Instead of following the lives of the rich and privileged youngsters of L.A. like most teen shows before it, Gossip Girl relocates to NYC and casts the city as another character, much like Sex and the City did a decade before – in fact, the same people responsible for the SATC tour of the city targeted towards eager tourists have since organized a similar GG tour of the Upper East Side. The quippy dialogue, outrageous outfits, opulent lifestyles and copious amount of scandalous (teen) sex could have easily turned GG into a Sex and The City clone for the Y generation, but it was so much more than that.
The pilot episode that set the stage for what was to follow was really nothing more than a modernized version of (the original) 90210, with the Beverly Hills mansions swapped for penthouse suites on 5th Avenue, private schools, limos and updated wardrobes. The Minnesota twins in this case were Brooklynite siblings struggling to fit in with the it crowd, and instead of wrapping up each episode with a moral lesson, after-school-special style, we got scandal, bitchiness and hardly any redeeming qualities showing through in each protagonist.
Despite the fact that the show quickly progressed from a school teen drama to almost soap-opera territory, it was always more than the sum of its parts. It wasn’t just the ridiculous outfits or the heroes’ sexploits, nor was it just about depraved privileged kids with money to burn and minimal WASP parental supervision.
The show broke ground in more ways than one: not only was it the first show to depict what has since become the preferred way of communication between teens, but it was also the first network show to amass a larger viewership on non-traditional outlets such as online streaming, back when Netflix & Chill wasn’t the norm.
Guilty pleasure shows aren’t really idea re-watch fodder – after all, what’s the point in indulging, if you’re just going to deconstruct it to death? In fact, I actively refrained from re-watching since the final episode, which not only wrapped up the series but finally answered the question, who the hell is Gossip Girl?
However, now that we know that [spoiler alert!] it was none other than Dan Humphrey, aka Lonely Boy, binge-watching the whole thing again becomes an even more interesting experience.
I started from the first episode and worked my way down, fully expecting to come up with a lot of discrepancies that would prove what I suspected after the revelation of the finale: that the writers were trapped in their own convoluted plot lines from the get-go, and no answer to the “Who is GG?” question would hold up under scrutiny.
Funnily, however, it actually works. Even though the writers hadn’t intended for Dan to be the elusive blogger right from the start, watching the show again knowing full well he was the one behind the blasts doesn’t seem as far-fetched as you would expect.
You do, however, have to make one serious concession: even if GG is portrayed on the show as the all-knowing narrator, privy to information that would be impossible to know (such as one-on-one conversations/hookups/shady deals and alliances, all taking place behind closed doors), “her” actual function in terms of the protagonists’ lives was to receive tips and post them at will.
Granted, that would have worked for any one character, provided they’d be willing to sacrifice their own reputation to do it. What always made GG’s identity impossible to figure out was that “she” was always an equal-opportunity offender, never discriminating for or against any one victim of the blasts she systematically unleashed upon the Upper East Siders. Even though each and every character had a lot to lose by airing their own dirty laundry in public, the one person who actually had something to gain was Dan Humphrey, the perpetual outsider who managed to worm his way into the in crowd.
Even though I enjoyed the various fan theories during the show’s run, particularly the one about Dorota, perhaps the one that seemed most plausible was Jenny as GG. Her motives were similar to her brother’s, and let’s face it, we were all meant to assume that Gossip Girl was, you know, a girl. Her banishment (and, later, her self-imposed exile) to Hudson, however, made this theory less and less probable. In addition, much like her former idol Blair, Jenny was always more interested in playing the game and plotting or participating in elaborate schemes than outright exposing secrets.
In the end, the one member of the group most benefiting from GG’s blasts in the long run was Dan Humphrey: they put him on the map, made him what GG succinctly described as the ‘ultimate insider’. His reputation wasn’t really hurt by GG, because it had been non-existent to begin with. The one thing that made the group turn against him was his tell-all novel, which was Vanessa’s doing.
Despite all the “Who is GG?” drama, however, this central theme sort of fell by the wayside along the way. And that’s not a bad thing. While the titular gossip queen was blasting people left and right, we were simply engrossed in the real drama. Was it over-the-top and completely unrealistic? Not having had the pleasure of growing up as a filthy rich, late 00’s teenager in NYC, I can’t really say. But damn if it wasn’t so. much. fun!
If there was ever a show that changed teen TV forever, it was GG. All the usual teenage stuff was still there, but turned up to 11. It was the most adult teen show I’ve seen, and spawned so many other cool guilty pleasures: Pretty Little Liars, or even Thirteen Reasons Why wouldn’t have existed without Gossip Girl. Neither would Riverdale, for that matter. The darker tones and controversial subject matter transformed these shows from strictly teenage fodder to the kind of TV anyone can enjoy.
And for that reason alone, I’m with NYMag on this one: it really was the greatest show of our time!