Gossip Girl -- An early look
One of the first out of the gate is Gossip Girl, which premieres next Wednesday at 9 on The CW. They were nice enough to send a copy of the pilot over to TV Squad HQ, and I couldn't resist the possibility of a good teen drama, so here is an early look at what the fifth network has cooking.
A little background to get us started: The show is based on a popular series of books by Cecily von Ziegesar. To date, there have been eleven installments to the series. Helping to make the transition from the page to the small screen are writers Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage, from The O.C. They also have Mark Piznarski on board to direct. His credits include Everwood and Veronica Mars. It's a pretty solid team.
That experience shows in the pilot, as it is very good at being a pilot. In the first hour you meet all of the major players and seeds are planted for a variety of stories to be told. First and foremost is the titular Gossip Girl. Voiced by Kristen Bell (Veronica Mars), she serves a couple of purposes. We never see her, and I am assuming we never will, but she floats in and out of the proceedings adding her thoughts, through her popular blog, to what is going on with the characters. She is the subtext come to life. She asks the questions that foreshadow events. In addition, she represents what it is about the show that I think makes it actually work.
Fans of the genre are not going to find any new themes that shock or surprise. If you have a few hundred 90210, Dawson's Creek, South of Nowhere, etc. episodes rattling around in your noggin somewhere, you've seen all of these things before. The love triangle, the nice guy pining for the popular girl, overbearing parents... team Gossip Girl is playing the hits. What they have done with all of the classic bits of the genre is modernize them and give them a new frame. With the blog, the text messages, and the ever present Gossip Girl, it's different enough to keep them from feeling rehashed.
As to the rest of the characters, the pilot focuses a lot on the return of Serena van der Woodsen (Blake Lively). She disappeared suddenly a year earlier, running off to boarding school in Connecticut, for reasons that remain a mystery to most. She comes back wanting things to be the way they used to be, but I think we all know that just isn't going to happen. Adding to the stress from her now up in the air social status is a mother, Lily (Kelly Rutherford), who is of questionable parenting ability and a brother who is currently hospitalized after having attempted suicide.
Serena's former best friend, Blair Waldorf (Leighton Meester), is less than thrilled to have her back. She was hurt by the sudden disappearance, but has now settled in as the new queen of the popular girls and is in no hurry to give that up. We also have the circumstances of Serena's disappearance to consider, a mystery which seems to involve Blair's boyfriend, Nate Archibald (Chace Crawford). Much of that becomes clearer by the end of the pilot, but I'm sure there is more to the story.
Handsome Nate has his own troubles, unsure of what he wants to do. He asks a friend early on if they ever feel like their whole life is already planned out for them. Something we see evidence of when his father explains where he is going to college. And again later, when Pa Archibald tells Nate that he can't break up with Blair, because it could have an adverse effect on a business deal.
Grounding, somewhat, all of the New York socialite drama is the Humphrey family. They don't have the seemingly limitless means that many of the families do, but the two Humphrey kids, Jenny (Taylor Momsen) and Dan (Penn Badgley) go to the same private school, for the education. Jenny is a cute freshman that is poised to become one of the popular kids, although she does seem to have her father's sensibilities about the whole thing. Dan's shot at popularity has long since passed, or so it appeared. Events transpire that would seem to elevate Dan's status among his peers. Their father, Rufus (Matthew Settle), was a reasonably successful musician in a now forgotten 90s band called Lincoln Hawk. And because this is quasi soap opera territory, Rufus the musician had a relationship with Lily, before she traded up from musicians to billionaires.
As the pilot moves along, fate puts Dan and Serena together and we see what are the beginnings of some drastic changes for both of them. It's a paring that works well, and one that I look forward to seeing more of. I thought Badgley was the standout of the pilot, so the more of him the better.
So, at the end of the day, what's the verdict? I'm giving this one two conditional text messages up. Taken for what it is, I think it's a very well done pilot with a lot of potential moving forward. However, it is still firmly entrenched in the teen drama genre. If you didn't like those before, this one isn't going to woo you over to the angst side. The plus for the show is that the bar for success is relatively low over at The CW right now. It also doesn't hurt that they will be getting that Next Top Model lead in. It's not like getting a post-Idol slot or anything, but at The CW, it's the best time slot they could have hoped for.