Gossip Girl, Episode 1: “Just Another Girl on the MTA” Brings Us Back To Constance Billard, But We Are Off To A Clumsy Start – Recap
Guess who’s back? A decade has passed, but as if it was yesterday HBO Max has taken fans back to Constance Billard with its continuation of Gossip Girl.
The sensationalized favorite of many a millennial detailed the lives and scandals of wealthy socialites Blair, Serena, Nate and Chuck, and their less wealthy (but well off enough to live in a massive 3-bedroom apartment in Williamsburg, Brooklyn) classmates, Dan and Jenny. The original run lasted for six seasons taking audiences through the cast’s tumultuous relationships, high-end escapades, and navigation of Gossip Girl’s grip on the lives and social standing of each teen.
Now, the show has returned on a new platform with a brand new cast of wealthy, teen socialites to follow. Newcomers Zoya, Julien, Monet, Luna, Max, Audrey, Aki, and Obie round out the cast in a Gossip Girl world where Brooklyn isn’t seen with disdain through expensive glasses, teachers play a greater role but are also seen as expendable and fragile, and Gossip Girl comes with a new twist. But as things change, so many things stay the same with everyone being enveloped in the glamour, access, and power of the upper crust.
The first episode starts us off with a recap of the influence of Gossip Girl and the brief stories of original cast members most impacted by GG’s surveillance through conversations between Constance Billard’s frustrated and frightened group of teachers. These adults are bullied by the ruling class at school and find a new sense of determination towards thwarting their tormentors. From there, we are introduced to the ruling class at Constance Billard, led by queen bee Julien. This friend group consists of our resident mean girls Monet and Luna, the couple Aki and Audrey, altruistic rich boy Obie, and hedonist Max. Together, they are the social standard in their high school without any worries, until they’ve met with the new “Dan Humphrey” in the form of Zoya.
The episode mainly focuses on the relationship between Julien and Zoya, sisters from two different worlds connected by the mother whose absence lingers over them. With warring fathers, the disconnected girls finally find a connection at Constance Billard. Here, Julien attempts to include Zoya in her friend group and educate her on the social standing that the crew upholds. That all crumbles with the resurgence of Gossip Girl’s machinations, paired with the disdain and indifference towards Zoya from Julien’s friends. Needless to say, the seeds of war, mixed with class, glamour, access, and power are sown.
Along with the glitz, glam and social warfare, Gossip Girl brings new things to the table. What the OG Gossip Girl lacked in diversity, the new version makes up for it with the majority of the ruling class being Black and Brown. With a focus on two Black leads it becomes a far cry from the little diversity the OG Gossip Girl threw in. Additionally, playboy Max makes it quite clear he’s very queer, which is a nice touch away from the surface-level queerness the OG version incorporated.
On an artistic note, the filming is beautiful. The sweeping shots of the city and cast members add to the ever-watching theme that Gossip Girl brings. It allows for the viewer to feel like they, too, are a part of the show’s surveillance. Not to mention, kudos to whoever supervised the music. Frank Ocean, Ariana Grande, Tinashe, and Rosalía resonate throughout the episode as the teens navigate the social scene and the Big Apple.
Multiple truths can exist and what’s truthful about this reboot of Gossip Girl is that the acting needs some work, primarily from the teachers. Where the majority of the Constance Billard crew strive for HBO acting chops, the teachers lean into Disney territory with an over-the-top delivery. Additionally, the relationship between the teachers and the students feels off. These adults are bullied by the young minds they are meant to support and cave into the pressure of their influence. Doesn’t feel realistic, but then again, we are meant to be within a high-end fantasy.
Also, the drama that’s taking place within the first episode feels more like a misunderstanding being exaggerated into a much larger debacle. The hot gossip of the first episode feels tepid at best. Of course, the unity of the “inner circle” is appreciated. It’s refreshing to see genuine comradery, but character development is needed to prevent characters from being one-dimensional and to give more weight to the connections and (potential) breakups within the crew. That was a part of the beauty from the original. Hopefully, it’s on the way, as the story unfolds.
It’s just the first of more episodes to come and a second season is also on the horizon. There are big, designer shoes for this reboot to fill and audiences are expecting this iteration of Gossip Girl to do so effortlessly. As premieres can be, we’re off to a clumsy start, but a lot can balance out in a few episodes. In the meantime, I’ll keep an eye on how this all plays out, just as much as Gossip Girl will.