101 - Everything feels new again

Underage drinking, drug-taking and sexual assault are interesting ways to start a new TV series.

 (Warner Bros.)

(Warner Bros.)

So, after sporadically watching old episodes since its early demise, I decided to take advantage of an offer on my Amazon account and start watching Gossip Girl from start to finish. I just hope I’m able to reach the finish line this time round.

For any of you uncultured types, Gossip Girl is about Serena van der Woodsen (Blake Lively) and her return to New York City’s elite Upper East Side after a year-long absence from boarding school. One of the strangest things you’ll try to decipher is how “boarding school” ends up being interpreted literally, metaphorically and even sarcastically by different characters in the show. Either way, it becomes clear Serena has returned after her younger brother Eric recently attempted suicide.

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Her return is noticed by wandering creepers who helpfully tip off the anonymous blog labelled Gossip Girl. Although the reception is one of both indifference and fascination by fellow high-school teens, it’s clear she’s not welcomed back by former bestie Blair Waldorf (Leighton Meester), who later learns her boyfriend Nate (Chace Crawford) slept with Serena before her departure to boarding school.

Amidst this drama is the fact Dan Humphrey (Penn Badgley) attends the same private school as the aforementioned characters despite being mostly anonymous, and has a few opportunities to gawp at Serena early on. Oh, he also has a younger, happy-go-lucky sister named Jenny (Taylor Momsen). And there’s also a future prisoner walking around named Chuck (Ed Westwick).

Okay, PHEW. I didn’t realise just how convoluted it would be explain the plot but at least it makes my newly-enlightened observations possible.

First of all, how the heck did I forget Chuck attempts to sexually assault both Serena AND Jenny? Of course, it’s impossible to avoid mentioning the real-life claims of (alleged) sexual assault made against Ed Westwick by three different women. So, there’s that.

Also, I forgot just how good the production values were. It’s shot majestically like an ad for a luxury brand and has an eclectic mix of good-but-not-ubiquitous artists on its soundtrack. I’m not sure whether this is how I was first introduced to Angels & Airwaves and at this point I’m too afraid to ask.

This makes up for Dan Humphrey’s sideburns. There’s nothing wrong with so-called mutton chops but they just look strange on someone who’s meant to be a teenager, right? It ends up being less forgivable than Nate’s dad pressuring him into staying with Blair because he wants a valued business contract. It’s a strange incarnation of nepotism and the originality is something to be applauded, right?

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Something else I forgot is that Blair’s Asian and Black sidekicks have speaking lines in the very first episode...? Blimey. It makes up for the fact Blair’s mother is portrayed by Florencia Lozano in the pilot but is subsequently played by Margaret Colin from episode four all the way until the series is over, which is great because Colin comes across much more authoritative and cunning.

You might be aware of a certain Nazi-with-melting-skin doing that stupid thing of wearing two collared shirts together as some sort of “fuck you” to the rest of us. Here’s the thing: it’s hard to unsee it, but Dan’s dad is wearing a collar-free buttoned shirt underneath a standard, collared shirt when he’s picking up his kids from the train station. Why, why would you do this to us? It’s even worse than seeing Serena stare aimlessly into the distance during certain moments in this pilot.

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Anyway, back to Dan Humphrey. The episode involves Serena telling Nate she didn’t return for him and then later gatecrashing Blair’s party (which she wasn’t invited to) thanks to good-guy Dan stopping his sister Jenny from being raped by Chuck.

In fact, Dan is such a good guy he gives Chuck another LinkedIntroduction before punching him...somewhere. It’s hard to tell as we see Chuck’s uninjured face looking on as Dan and Serena leave the party, hands clasped. I must have cringed the first time I saw this but it played off nicely and gave this chaotic opening episode a nice, sentimental moment to end with, helped by Angels & Airwaves’ song “The Gift”. Fuck. This is in fact how I was introduced to the group. At least they didn’t use that Timbaland song again. I’m so glad we’re all past that phase.