Warner Bros. // 2007 // 1024 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Ryan Keefer (Retired) // August 19th, 2008
You're nobody until you're talked about.
Hot on the heels of the success of his first television creation The O.C., Josh Schwartz decided to go back to the well and make a show that on the surface, might be kind of the same as The O.C., but set on the East Coast. So that's where Gossip Girl comes in. And the first season caught on like gangbusters and made some of the cast into recognizable names. With Season Two about to air, Season One gets its DVD release. So what doth it look like?
To sum Gossip Girl up in 217 words, Serena (Blake Lively, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants) returns home to New York after dropping off the proverbial grid for a few months. When she returns, she finds that her mother Lily (Kelly Rutherford, Melrose Place) has virtually committed her brother Eric (Connor Paolo, Alexander) to a treatment facility, and her best friend Blair (Leighton Meester, Killer Movie) has become a cold, calculating manipulative bitch. Perhaps the reason for Blair's chip on her should is because her dad left her mom for another guy, I don't know. Serena, Blair and the others go to a prestigious school with an eye towards an Ivy League education, while Serena seems to take the friendship of Dan Humphrey (Penn Badgely, John Tucker Must Die) more seriously. Dan's roots are more blue-collar, and his dad Rufus (Matthew Settle, Band of Brothers) is a little bohemian, despite his possible ties to Lily. Dan's sister Jenny (Taylor Momsen, How the Grinch Stole Christmas) has her own aspirations of rising past those roots to be one of the "rich girls," so to speak. Serena also has to deal with the feelings of Nate (Chace Crawford, The Covenant), who Serena hooked up with one, and who is Blair's on again off again boyfriend who struggles with doing what he wants against what his dad wants for him. Get it? Got it? Good!
The episodes are spread out over five discs, with the bulk of the supplemental material on the last disc. The episodes are as follows:
* "The Wild Brunch"
* "Poison Ivy"
* "Bad News Blair"
* "Dare Devil"
* "The Handmaiden's Tale"
* "Seventeen Candles"
* "Blair Waldorf Must Pie"
* "Hi, Society"
* "Roman Holiday"
* "School Lies"
* "A Thin Line Between Chuck and Nate"
* "The Blair Bitch Project"
* "Desperately Seeking Serena"
* "All About My Brother"
* "Woman On The Verge"
* "Much 'I Do' About Nothing"
IMDb lists Gossip Girl as having a baker's dozen nominations for its work. Upon further review, 12 of the 13 nominations are from the Teen Choice awards, which should illustrate what demographic that Schwartz is shooting for. Needless to say, I was a little bit skittish about asking to review the show, for fear of getting a knock on the door by local authorities. But I went to the San Diego Comic Con recently, and sat in on a panel with Schwartz and several other show runners, including Lost producers Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof. And while everyone was asking questions about Lost, I couldn't help but feel a little pity for Schwartz and the others. But they were pretty funny guys who broke up the awkwardness rather well, so while quite frankly I could have cared less about The O.C., I said to myself, "what's this Gossip Girl all about?"
And about twenty minutes into the show, I was watching it with the lovely Mrs. Keefer, and we both exchanged this look that's familiar to us. While Gossip Girl doesn't attempt to reinvent the episodic television wheel, it acknowledges this and is comfortable in its own skin. What it does is that is capture the allure or even charm of a lot of its characters much like Dawson's Creek did in the early '90s, and set that against the backdrop of a Sex and the City-like superficiality. When I think about it, I think I now understand why my wife and other married women used to watch the Super Sweet 16 show when it used to air on MTV. The reality of those kids is so insulated by what goes on in the real world that you hope to see them fall on their arse for something potentially stupid.
Gossip Girl gives you that chance to some degree. The kids are pretty spoiled (they'd have to be since they all go to private school); their parents are socialites, fashion designers and/or white collar businessmen. Working at your local Quick Stop isn't in their futures anytime soon, so in the world of evening soap operas, you're forced to look at the relationships and the drama. And unlike the kids of the Creek, because Blair, Serena and gang are in a metropolitan area, there is a little bit of image-heavy consciousness that I think hasn't been captured since the days of Melrose Place, which might be the Holy Grail of trashy soap operas that people wouldn't admit to watching openly, yet huddled over their sets. There, I said it.
(Slight spoiler territory here. Avert your eyes!!!)
Expanding on this warped theory for a second, Blair is definitely the Amanda equivalent, and Chuck (Ed Westwick, Children of Men) fills the shoes of Michael, but I think it's a little more complicated than that. On Melrose, Amanda and Michael had been around the track a couple of times, and Blair and Chuck are manipulating and/or cruel on the surface here, but they also manage to show the teen vulnerability that you perhaps wouldn't expect from characters otherwise. They become endearing in this way, all the more surprising considering what Chuck does in the show's pilot episode. Does this mean that Serena and Dan are the Billy and Allison of our time? No, Serena's a little smarter than that for one, and second, there was a lot of drama thrown into the Billy-Allison relationship such that Allison kept taking it, over and over. Gossip Girl gives us the opposite. Not only is there a vacuum of relationship drama, but any element that get in the way are a little silly and distract from the inevitable. In the pilot, it's clear that Lily and Rufus have a history, and at some point they're going to get back together, and Rufus' wife returning to the house after leaving him for another man is a few weeks' of distraction. Having said that, as of this sentence, I'm not completely through the season yet, so who knows, it might not happen. Those kinds of creative decisions make some of the episodes a little bit of wasted time, if I was to be so bold.
(OK, back on your bike. Spoilers gone.)
Technically, the show's 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation and 5.1 surround sound is representative of the show's presumable high definition airings. You can point out some fine detail in the tighter shots, and there's not a lot of color bleed in the palette, and the sound stage is par for the course for television shows. Occasional subwoofer engagement and speaker panning, clear dialogue which is a little inconsistent are the hallmarks of the set. Extras are decent but probably are off because of a lack of episode-specific commentaries. Deleted scenes are sprinkled throughout all five discs, with the bulk of the extras on disc five, and aside from flushing out a character arc a little more, most of the scenes are bland. The novel which the show was based on is available as an audiobook download and read by Christina Ricci (say it with me now, "oooooohhhhhh..."), and there are a few featurettes to tide you over. "The Beginning, XOXO" (22:45) is a half hour production that presumably was made for television. The book's genesis is covered, along with the adaptation process into a show is touched upon as well. Schwartz discusses adapting it, and the cast and additional crew share their thoughts on the show and the characters they play, while Schwartz talks about his thoughts on the actors. Audition footage is even included, which is pretty cool, and the burden of shooting in New York is touched upon as well. All in all, it's your basic making-of piece. A look at the show's fashion (14:05) follows, and I'm not really one who knows or is with all this stuff, but I guess it's kind of nice. "A Gossip Girl Wedding" (5:24) covers the wedding that airs in the last episode. There's more focus on wardrobe and a little set design, along with discussion on a production problem, but overall it's a boring piece. Two music videos and a disappointing yet lengthy gag reel complete the set.
There are still aspects of the show where my cynicism takes over, and first off is the question of casting. I never really understood the whole reason for the existence of O.C. stars Adam Brody, Rachel Bilson and Mischa Barton. To be honest I don't understand the popularity of the Gossip Girl stars, so while Meester appears to be a nice kid and a capable actress, the fact that she looks eerily like Bilson is a little bit disturbing to me, almost like Schwartz is trying to replicate his success a little bit TOO much. And the voiceovers at the end of a lot of the segments are annoying. It's almost like a recap of the previous six to eight minutes of television in case the viewer didn't understand what might have happened. I know that the "Gossip Girl" is supposed to be mysterious and all, and yes, I know the voice of Gossip Girl is Kristen Bell of Veronica Mars fame, but please.
While Gossip Girl might not strive to be the bee's knees of evening dramas, it certainly does possess a quality that more polished soaps back in the day had several years back, and gives you a sense that you shouldn't be ashamed to watch it, despite some of their larger leaps over disbelief valley. The kids and the people they portray are innocuous in the end, so it's OK if you like the show. I think I do, and at least it gives me something to talk about with my younger female boss. Pay raise here I come!
The court looks both ways before crossing the street and finds for the defendants. What can I say, along with the first Charlie's Angels movie and black tar heroin, the court has a new guilty pleasure.
Review content copyright © 2008 Ryan Keefer; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 1024 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Deleted Scenes
* Downloadable copy of "Gossip Girl" the novel
* "Concept to Execution"
* "Gossip Girl Couture"
* "A Gossip Girl Wedding"
* Gag Reel
* Music Videos
* Official Site