Sure, the demographic of the show seems entirely teenaged, classist and synthetic but this show has become a guilty pleasure of sorts.
My thing about the show is that it’s this uncanny mash-up, patched together from disparate precedents — specifically, Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel franchises and the Cruel Intentions movie franchise of the ’90′s, both of which Sarah Michelle Gellar circulated, just as did her foes. Eliza Dushku (Faith in BtVS, Echo in Dollhouse) made various appearances as the central blonde’s raven-haired antagonist, while Gellar was a brunette in Intentions, playing opposite the always-already blonde Reese Whitherspoon.
What’s new in Gossip Girl is the inclusion of a new, male archetype — all of the boys on this show, look like either Joaquin Phoenix in ‘Gladiator’ or Josh Hartnett. And none of these guys seem to own a hairbrush.
The central protagonist in Gossip Girl is Serena van der Woodsen (Blake Lively) whose supermodel good looks puts Gellar out to pasture.
In keeping with the Whedon legacy, the girl who plays Serena’s opposite number at her Upper East Side Prep school, Blair Waldorf (Leighton Meester), is a ringer for Dushku, the anti-Buffy, the streetwise, riot-grrl slayer, Faith on both BtVS and it’s spin-off Angel.
As a matter of bland signification, many of the wealthy characters on the show seem to be stolen off of some fantasy-league Monopoly board — Waldorf, van der Woodsen, Archibald, Bass — while the token middle-class characters bear the frumpy names Humphey and Abrams. And then there’s a token Asian girl and a token black girl at Serena’s posh prep-school. (In a city of some 8 million people, they can only make room for 2 upwardly-mobile minority students? Thanks, CW…)
But of course, the show is derived from a series of 12 novels by Cecily von Ziegesar, about teenagers attending single-sex preparatory schools on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. The eponymous title of the first novel refers to the omniscient narrator who sees and reports upon all of the characters’ trials and tribulations, first and foremost, those of once-troubled glamour gal Serena van der Woodsen.
The other zeitgeist that this show is mining the late ’80′s teenage and adult fare. These rich, spoilt, Upper East side kids are all enacting their very own ‘Dangerous Liasons repertory theater — you know, the version that starred Gellar and Ryan Phillipe and came out in 1999 under the title ‘Cruel Intentions‘? Of course, the ‘Cruel Intentions‘ franchise only made three installments, but with television, you can go on and on, week after week, hatching numerous schemes for audience entertainment.
The other shows that Gossip Girl implicitly reference are the Marshall Herskovitz/Edward Zwick thirtysomething (1987) and Melrose Place (1992) by brining back the now-40 Kelly Rutherford, as Lily van der Woodsen, mother of Serena. Call it a passing of the blonde…
Okay, that’s a long run-on sentence but by now I’m sure you get the idea — it’s all guilty pleasure and numerous mischaracterizations about living in New York. Parent Dan Humphrey operates a pre-2000 SoHo-style gallery out of Williamsburg, while the Upper East Side is depicted as some sort of super-wealthy, 40=something family neighborhood and not the Septuagenarian Trust Fund neighborhood that it really is.
As someone who’s spent time in Williamsburg artist subculture and the Upper East Side, I find the show’s characterization on New York both laughable and absurd. Serena’s boyfriend, Dan Humphrey has a Dad that’s ‘middle-class’, yet he’s a former artist who now shoulders the aforementioned gallery in Williamsburg. And the Upper East Side where all of the other characters reside is some sort of Californiafied Manhattan where all of the streets are wide and nobody ever even considers taking the subway or avails themselves of the city’s numerous cultural venues.
The guilty pleasure is all about watching the distortions they’ve rendered upon both wealthy New Yorkers and the city’s creative class.