What happens when you have a trust fund at 17 and millionaire parents whose self-absorption rivals any preening adolescent? Teens are tuning in to Gossip Girl to find out.
Based on the racy young-adult novels by Cecily von Ziegesar, CW's Gossip Girl began by chronicling the exploits of über-privileged Manhattan adolescents—though the television show has long exhausted its original playbook. While the novels ended with the principal Upper East Siders heading off to college, the series followed them there, documenting their (ahem) growing maturity.
Sometimes we do see signs of growth from the girls: Serena van der Woodsen, once a boozy, drug-addled adolescent queen bee, is now struggling to reform her wayward ways. But for the most part, the only time we can use the word adult in conjunction with Gossip Girl is when we're talking about the content. Serena rival Blair Waldorf continues to prattle and scheme. Newcomer Juliet Sharp backstabs and blackmails. And the rest of Manhattan's beautiful, moneyed and still painfully young ruling class drink martinis, smoke joints and find themselves shuttled from party to party by limo.
It's all documented by an anonymous and nearly omniscient blogger known only as "Gossip Girl."
Soapy, syrupy, silly and sappy, Gossip Girl has tried its hardest to be one of network television's raciest programs—punctuating 2009 with an episode featuring a sexual threesome and scads of unduly provocative advertising. (One full-page ad bragged that The Boston Herald called the show "every parent's nightmare.") Such efforts often bury whatever merit any particular episode might have. Which is a shame, because Gossip Girl, however fleetingly, does have some.
Gossip Girl has never been a ratings winner, and each season the number of people watching it has shrunk, to the point at which fewer than 2 million people now regularly tune in. But the program's influence far outstrips its ratings. CW says it's the No. 1 show for women ages 18-34. And for three years straight, the Teen Choice Awards has honored it as television's Best Drama.
In a series typically dominated by fashion, fornication and fuming females, "Gaslit" is a plot-driven departure. "Um, what show is this?" wrote an Entertainment Weekly reviewer. Serena wakes up in a strange hotel room with a bevy of drugs by her bed and no recollection as to what happened. Her parents, assuming their daughter backslid, ship her off to a rehab facility, unaware that Juliet framed Serena. "I don't think there's any permanent damage. To her health, at least," Juliet says.
Nate tries to patch things up between his incarcerated father and mother, who are on the verge of divorce. Mom agrees to see Dad in prison, taking the time to tell Nate, "We made a ton of mistakes in our marriage, but you weren't one of them."
The rest of the hour is filled with blackmail, subterfuge, children disobeying their parents and loads of other problems. We see characters drink wine and there are multiple references to drug use, a few quick kisses and some foul language ("a‑‑," "h‑‑‑" "b‑‑ch" and misuses of God's name). Then, everything ends on a positive note with Serena and her high-strung mother trying their best to reconnect, and the rest of Serena's family sharing Thanksgiving dinner in her rehab room.
"They Shoot Humphreys, Don't They?"
Olivia (played by Hilary Duff), Vanessa and Dan engage in a ménage à trois—ostensibly the last item to cross off their list of 15 crazy things every college student should do before graduating. By the time the credits roll—and the three exhausted participants sack out together—the camera has spied several passionate kisses among the threesome (including one between Olivia and Vanessa).
The fact that the onscreen proceedings don't get more explicit than kissing and hugging hardly blunts the impact of the message: Having a threesome is just normal college behavior. In fact, you'd be missing out, it's suggested, if you skipped this pinnacle of collegiate debauchery.
In a case of unintended irony, elsewhere in this episode high school girls at a posh debutante ball receive designated mentors to help them navigate the potential land mines and faux pas that could be their social undoing.
The series opens with the return of Serena van der Woodsen, a captivating queen bee swept off to boarding school (at least that's her story) the year before. Now she's back, much to the consternation of her former BFF, the conniving Blair Waldorf.
Minutes in, Blair drags boyfriend Nate to her bedroom to consummate their relationship. Frenzied kissing and garment removal halt when Blair mentions that Serena is back. Soon we learn that Nate can't get Serena off his mind, thanks to a bodice-grasping flashback that reveals how the pair stumbled into a drunken sexual tryst the year before.
Arguably, even more poorly behaved are the teens' filthy-rich parents, whose bad examples in relationships, sex and financial stewardship offer virtually nothing positive for their children to emulate. Nor is there an intact, healthy marriage anywhere to be seen.
Commenting on the Hollywood-caliber train wrecks mirrored by characters on her show, star Blake Lively told CosmoGIRL!, "When you don't have someone to model yourself after, you're going to make mistakes. There's no one there to tell them what's right or wrong or who is a positive example."