It’s a hit show on the CW about a pack of poor little rich boys and girls.
That alone seems like reason enough for any rational adult looking to pass an hour to run screaming the other way — or, at least, to change the channel. But Gossip Girl has morphed into a major cultural phenomenon since its debut in 2007. It introduced Hollywood to seven young up-and-comers who up and arrived out of nowhere only to be found everywhere. There’s no doubting that Gossip Girl‘s star is on the rise and won’t be leaving us anytime soon.
You know you love it.
With just two weeks left before the show’s return, PCR counts down ten reasons why that should be.
10. Vanessa Abrams and Hilary Duff.
Oh, yes, I went there. I’m not kidding either. It looks as if Vanessa Abrams will finally be getting her comeuppance for a misspent youth of climbing in windows rather than using the door: that’s right, she’s stuck rooming with Hilary Duff. With the assurance that this arc IS just an arc and Duff — playing a Hollywood actress whose big hit is a vampire series akin to Twilight but who Just Wants to be Loved For Herself, Okay — will eventually go away, I so look forward to this.
For all those non-Gossips out there, though the pleasure of seeing professional high horse rider Vanessa knocked off her saddle might be lost on them, there are a couple things that can’t be anything but good about this. Didn’t we all have an absolutely terrible roommate in college at some point or another? Nostalgia, meet schadenfreude. I think you’ll be good friends.
9. Insert pop culture reference here.
From the title of every episode to the evident Twilight teasing due to take place this season, Gossip Girl is steeped in pop culture. While it lacks the richly self-aware humor that made its California counterpart The O.C. such fun TV, Gossip Girl nevertheless proves time and again that it knows the right reference to make. Whether it’s Lily namedropping Murakami in the first episode or Blair’s dreams of an Audrey Hepburn world, all of the seniors dropped into a performance of Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence or Blair and Chuck willfully imitating Merteuil and Valmont, it’s not just rampant referencing for the sake of looking clever. It actually is clever. It seems only fitting that Gossip Girl has become pop culture in its own right.
Although someone needs to remind Blair and Chuck how Merteuil and Valmont ended.
8. Mirror, mirror on the wall.
One thing I’ve admired about Josh Schwartz’s work is his focus on making the parents interesting, fully-developed characters in their own right. Here on Gossip Girl, the plight of the adults so often mirrors that of the teenagers, which could be annoying and gimmicky, given its obviousness as a device. Instead, the writers make it work. Rather than being irritating, it proves a delightful way to underline how very much Dan and Serena are their parents’ children, how Nate is time and again the only real adult in his family, how Chuck Bass became… Chuck Bass. Family means something on Gossip Girl and it’s rarely sunshine and daisies.
Bonus on this front: Eleanor Waldorf. Guys, I know she can be a real bitch, but she’s kind of my hero. She married for love twice, she’s got the most awesome best friend (I love you, Roman, come back!) and you actually know what her career is because she’s so fiercely devoted to it. Or just plain fierce.
7. Hot couture.
Alright, so it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but some of us just can’t resist how good the clothes look (and how good the actors look in them). We’re all entitled to a little shallowness, guys. You can’t be smart and insightful all the time. Sometimes you just have to sit down and really, really long for Blake Lively’s shoes. And it’s not some little thing, these clothes. They’ve had an impact. When the show began, designers went out to the real UES to see how the kids dressed, then amped it up and added character detail. A year later, they went back and found everyone dressing like their characters.
Diving back into the deep end, though, the clothes really are one of my favorite parts of the show, not simply because they’re cute and an envy-enducing method of vicarious living through wardrobes I will never be able to afford or fit into. No, no, I love it because of the sheer amount of work costume designer Eric Daman puts into every outfit. As it should be in a show set on Manhattan’s glamorous Upper East Side, the clothes mean something. They’re reflections of character, of background, a way of putting on display not just Serena’s personality but her ambitions.
6. Eric van der Woodsen.
The littlest van der Woodsen is oh so underrated. Why should that be? Connor Paolo is absolutely precious in the part, which is tragically small any given week. He knocks his lines out of the park with a sweet, understated dryness that makes him the most genuine character on the show — not to mention, probably, the smartest one with the most common sense. Although I’m always disappointed by how much of his interaction with his boyfriend Jonathan takes place off screen, I have to admit, too, I’m still really glad they’re together in what seems to be a perfectly loving, easy relationship. Eric deserves a little happiness. Or a lot.
5. Those bright young things.
Blake Lively, Leighton Meester, Taylor Momsen and Jessica Szohr. Chace Crawford, Penn Badgley and Ed Westwick. They’re everywhere, doing everything, and looking really freaking hot while they’re at it. But credit where credit’s due: they’re not just pretty. Although some of them took their sweet time, spending season one learning how to act, some of them were heavy hitters from day one (or maybe I’ve just always loved Leighton Meester. Shut up, you don’t know our love) while others came into their own with surprising skill.
Furthermore, while the writing on the show is so much better than anyone gives it credit for in terms of the deftness with which plot and continuity are handled, no one can say the dialogue does these kids any favors. They may get some deliciously snappy one liners and fights, but when the going gets tough, the dialogue gets tough to swallow. Remember the end of season one, when Serena comes to Blair all teary and “I can’t tell you”? Look at that scene on a page and you have to wonder who let it get filmed. Watch Meester and Lively in action, though, and cheesy as the content might be, the girls sell it with all they’ve got.
4. They know where to get good help.
The best, in fact. The Waldorfs’ maid Dorota (Zuzanna Szadkowski) may have started out as a bit part, but over time, it became clear that Dorota was more than just a hired hand. She’s nanny, confidante, spy, friend and mother to Blair, and Szadkowski brings the role a warmth and wide-eyed humor that makes Dorota a scene-stealer every single time. So much so, in fact, that the CW released a mini-miniseries of webisodes called Chasing Dorota, bringing light to bear on the maid’s mysterious past. Her ringtone for when Eleanor Waldorf calls is “I’m a Slave 4 U.” How can you not love her? Plus she has my vote when it comes to that epic question: Who is Gossip Girl?
3. The bad seeds.
At the end of the day, when all is said and done, it’s not our hometown heroes who have my heart. No, my real loves on this ridiculous spun-candy contraption of a show are our would-be villains.
As bad girl Georgina Sparks, Michelle Trachtenberg perfected a kind of soullessly evil emptiness of the eyes. Pretending to be good little Sarah during the first season, you always knew when the devil had returned by the way she went blank. Georgie’s got everything she wants and nothing to lose. There’s not much scarier than that. I can hardly wait to see what she gets up to as Blair’s roommate at NYU.
And then there’s Sebastian Stan, whose ability to balance vulnerability with pure evil is enough to make me tune in to anything he does (oh, Kings, we barely knew you). Carter Baizen’s charm is a smooth sort of smirking badness that lacks any real malice. He’s not out to hurt anyone, he’s just bad, and something about that is oh so appealing. Lucky for us all, in a recent interview with People, Stan promised that there’s a lot more Carter this season — including a storyline that reveals not only his background but just how close his ties are to Serena.
2. Gossip Girl herself.
She sees all, she knows all, she tells all. I don’t think I ever heard so many bad puns in one place short of an afternoon with my father until I watched Gossip Girl. Word is, Kristen Bell wanted the part so badly, she just kept calling Josh Schwartz to beg for it until he gave in. I’m not sure I believe that. After all, Schwartz would be crazy to pass up someone like Bell, who proved her voiceover chops as Veronica Mars. Who but Bell has the dulcet tones to make Gossip Girl so enticing? She’s all mellifluous malice, taking deliciously evident pleasure in every last terrible play on words.
1. The green light at the end of the pier.
I’m going to stop being shallow for just one moment here, so bear with me, okay? I know no one watches Gossip Girl because it’s brilliant TV or because they’re looking for anything but the ridiculous caramel corn crack we all know it is, that we can’t help loving without understanding quite why.
But here’s the truth: part of why Gossip Girl is so good, part of why it succeeds, is because it is exactly what it is — the story of beautiful, rich, young people who, despite being beautiful and rich and young, are empty and sad and desperate and lost, unfulfilled and yearning. It’s a world of intrigue and ambition, of sport and sex, the ultimate proof that even if you could get the things you wanted, they might not be the things you need. America’s always been obsessed with this story — the lost girl, the tainted vision, the broken dream, the Daisy Millers and Lily Barts of the world. From Marie-Antoinette to Les liasons dangeureuses, from The House of Mirth to The Great Gatsby, we can’t stop watching pretty people doing ugly things. Maybe it’s the consolation prize for not being wealthy and gorgeous. Maybe it’s just a cautionary tale gone awry. Things get bad, then they get worse, but damn, do the rich ever look good as they fall.
Gossip Girl returns to the CW Mondays at 9 pm starting September 14th.