The oddest thing happened when the embargo lifted on reviews of HBO Max’s new Gossip Girl—the critics spent more time reviewing their nostalgia for the time in their lives when they watched the CW original than they spent on the reimagined, 2021 version.
For a certain type of viewer in 2007, Gossip Girl encapsulated a lot about life. Late 20somethings were likely on the cusp of living like these high schoolers (who lived and loved like post-college grads). And the actual teens watching sank into the fantasy as a way of escaping their own humdrum high school career, where few of us ever thought we’d killed a man, no one sold their show ponies for cocaine, and there were no guerrilla fashion shows pitting a freshman girl against an established designer.
The new Gossip Girl also encapsulates a lot about life in 2021, and while many critics carp that this is less fun and loopy than the initial iteration, one can only point out that life in 2021 is in many ways less fun and loopy than life in 2007–2012. Remember Obama-era America? No one else can either.
Joshua Safran, who wrote on and shepherded the initial series, revives the series with a new twist: the anonymous, teasing, all-seeing blogger Gossip Girl is back but this time she’s [spoiler alert] the teachers! Yes, infuriated by the casual (and studied) disrespect of their wealthy students, who coolly get teachers fired for not changing grades, a pack of teachers led by Tavi Gevinson resurrect GG as an Instagram account. By the end of the first episode, “Anon please!” tips are rolling in like it’s Deux Moi and Olivia Jade just yelled at a waiter.
If you don’t get that reference, you’ll still love Gossip Girl because the people are beautiful, the sex is steamy, and the tongue is firmly in cheek. Often someone else’s.
All the beloved high schoolers from the original exist in this new GG world, though we don’t spend too much time reminiscing when we have brand-new narratives like half-sisters Zola (Whitney Peak) and Julien (Jordan Alexander) first embracing and then warily circling one another. Then there’s monogamous couple Audrey (Emily Alyn Lind) and Aki (Evan Mock), both of whom spend a lot of time naked together and thinking about pansexual Max Wolfe (Thomas Doherty, who is thankfully in his 20s so the thoughts I think aren’t as bad as I feared). And Julien’s boyfriend Obie (Eli Brown), who cares about all the correct liberal causes in a way that makes you know he and his burgeoning influencer girlfriend won’t last the whole episode.
Of course they don’t, but of course knowing it is part of the charm of Gossip Girl in all its forms. For all its shocking twists, these are stories that date back to Edith Wharton, societal rituals that seem mundane to everyone but those participating in them. Where the series has always shined is in the ways it subverts our expectations. Teachers aren’t supposed to leverage social media to keep their students’ entitlement in check. Teens breaking bad aren’t supposed to offer Topo Chicos instead of martinis to newbies. But there are always new moves in the same social dances, and Safran and team have found all the right ones for the era in which we currently live—from influencer culture to AirDropping dick picks.
Because here’s the thing for all those people disappointed that this Gossip Girl takes place in a recognizable simulacrum of contemporary Manhattan—you already have your GG. Let Gen Z have theirs now.