|Chace Crawford (left) and Leighton Meester in the soapy CW show "Gossip Girl." (K.C. Bailey/The CW via associated press)|
Snarky rich kids make for fun 'Gossip'
The CW's "Gossip Girl" makes "The O.C.," which debuted in 2003, look like innocent nostalgia. Hey, remember those ironic rich kids with their emo angst and their pools! Remember boney Mischa Barton and her Daddy complex! Remember land lines! Ah, life was so simple back then.
"Gossip Girl," which is also from "O.C." creator Josh Schwartz, is the newest soap opera hoping to wrap teen cliques in fresh packaging. The sudsy action on the show, which premieres tonight at 9 on Channel 56, is all bound up with the characters' feverish texting sessions, their invasive cellphone photos, and their addiction to a dishy blog written by the titular snoop. More intensely status-conscious than the "O.C." kids, these trust-fund babies are quite snarky and, thanks to Gossip Girl, legends in their own minds. In the parallel world of celebrity, they are Paris Hiltons.
They're Paristocrats. And, Lord help me, I loved spending an hour hating them, their pedigrees, and their unlimited credit cards. It was like studying the peculiar mating rituals and shopping habits of the species Manhattanus Elitus.
The series, based on the "Gossip Girl" novels by Cecily von Ziegesar, is set amid extremely wealthy prep schoolers on New York's Upper East Side. With such last names as Waldorf and van der Woodsen, they appear old enough to sip martinis at hotel bars without attracting attention. Indeed, they could easily pass as their young parents' friends. They inhabit the same rarified New York so vividly portrayed in the movies "Metropolitan" and "Igby Goes Down," but they aren't intellectual and cultured so much as wily. Their sophistication is all on the surface, below which they hook up and blow off and make up just like every high-schooler in America.
Serena, played with willowy wariness by Blake Lively, is the premiere's returning heroine, back from boarding school to tend to her younger brother, who attempted suicide. Serena's best frenemy, Blair (Leighton Meester), knows her boyfriend has a thing for Serena, and so she shamelessly snubs her. From whom did Blair learn to dis so ruthlessly? None other than her arch mother, Eleanor (Florencia Lozano), who spits lines at her such as, "Put some product in your hair, your ends are dry." Oh, ouch Mummy.
Into this wasp's nest comes the less-wealthy Humphreys - Dan (Penn Badgley), younger sister Jenny (Taylor Momsen), and dad Rufus (Matthew Settle), a rock singer who just rated number 9 on Rolling Stone's list of best forgotten bands of the 1990s. The Humphreys live in a massive loft, but comparatively speaking, they're from the wrong side of the tracks. Dan and Jenny hunger to run with the old-moneyed kids, but at what price?
Chuck Bass is the show's snake in the grass. He is filthy rich, and he feels entitled to have whatever - or whoever - he wants. He trains one cold eye on the naive Jenny, the other on Serena. As Chuck, who drinks and smokes pot and takes Viagra for fun, actor Ed Westwick is perfectly creepy. Like Jonathan Rhys Meyers, he has "bratty bad guy" written into the very shape of his face.
Your feelings about "Gossip Girl" will depend on just how guilty you are willing to feel about your guilty pleasures. It can be entertaining to watch adults throw around money, attitude, and alcohol on soap operas; it can be grotesque to see teenagers doing the same things, as those who've taken in MTV's "My Super Sweet 16" may already know. And in terms of presenting role models for young viewers - well, the parents of CW-watching children are out of luck. I'm willing to give "Gossip Girl" a chance, especially to see if Schwartz can invest it with some of the sparkling wit he brought to "The O.C." Nothing helps a guilt attack better than laughter.