[Contains co-opted restaurant reservations and SPOILERS!!!]
Before Taylor Momsen found her true calling as lead-singer/song-writer/succubus with hellbound rock band The Pretty Reckless, she was an angel-faced child-actress, best known for her role as ‘Jenny Humphrey’ in the swanky teen drama Gossip Girl (2008). When I saw the first season on sale in a charity shop, my curiosity got the better of me… and I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Momsen had a very natural and winning screen-presence back in the day, playing a naive new student at a fancy prep school in New York, who’s seduced by the glamour and glitz surrounding catty “Queen B” ‘Blair Waldorf’ (Leighton Meester) and her clique. Jenny and her older brother ‘Dan’ (Penn Badgley) are the children of a “forgotten” rock-star (turned art-gallerist), and relatively low-class compared to their super-rich-and-snobby classmates… but Blair and her bestie ‘Serena van der Woodsen’ (Blake Lively) take a shine to the wide-eyed ingénue, and induct her into their entourage… only for her to turn on them after a scandal-fuelled coup topples Blair from her priggish pedestal. Jenny grows far less likeable over the course of the season as she steals, schemes and snubs her way to the top of the social ladder… while Blair becomes more sympathetic as her haute couture world comes apart at the seams, and her arrogance gives way to tearful terror.
In fact, if I had to pick a fave female character, I’d probably plump for Blair, simply because she’s such an Audrey Hepburn fan-girl, and I felt so sorry for her when her bulimia started flaring up again (in an episode rather insensitively titled “Blair Waldorf Must Pie”! Tch!) On the grown-up side of thing, I did have a soft-spot for Serena’s snarky socialite mother, ‘Lily’ (Kelly Rutherford)… though the to-ing-and-fro-ing between her and Jenny/Dan’s father was kind of a shaggy-dog story, since she eventually chose to marry some generic old rich guy instead. Boo to her!
Besides Momsen, Meester and Lively, ep #1.12 (“School Lies”) also saw the introduction of Dreama Walker as ‘Hazel Williams’ and Amanda Setton as ‘Penelope Shafai’, two fair-weather members of Blair’s clique, who are quick to spit on her once she starts to stumble (not literally spit… instead they “accidentally” dump yoghurt on her!). Technically, they only appeared as featured extras in that episode, silently splashing around at an after-hours pool party and sweating through a school detention… but they came into full effect in the following ep, swearing and spiting their shallow little socks off. Although Walker’s presence here was a big draw for me, I couldn’t help feeling bad for Nicole Fiscella and Nan Zhang, who’d been playing Blair’s subordinate side-chicks since the pilot, and were passed over for promotion as soon as these new characters were parachuted in to steal the spotlight. In fact, Zhang’s character, ‘Kati Farkas’, mysteriously disappeared for three seasons shortly after their arrival, only to be replaced by by ‘Nelly Yuki’ (Yin Chang), an over-achieving academic rival who is sabotaged and then subsumed into the clique… apparently to meet some sort of unspoken ethnic quota Blair had instituted!
This same episode also saw the introduction of Michelle Trachtenberg as ‘Georgina Sparks’, a shady frenemy of Serena’s, looking to blackmail her former drinking/drugging buddy back to the gutter. Although I’m the only person I know who thought Trachtenberg was actually a boon to Buffy, she’s rather mis-cast here as a vindictive alpha-bitch… I mean, I totally buy her in the scenes where she’s playing innocent and lulling everyone into her web of lies, but when the switch on her back flipped to “Eeevil”, the limitations of her acting range were revealed. Ultimately, Georgina was such a cartoon villain, and her eventual undoing so ridiculous, the role really required a little Fairuza-Balk-style craziness or Lena-Headey-style camp-ness… in place of the blank-eyed glaring that we actually got. Serena’s episode-ending cliff-hanger confession to Blair that she’d “killed someone” in her past made me splutter with incredulous laughter, but I was still extremely disappointed when the meh-worthy truth was revealed, and Georgina’s supposed ace-up-the-sleeve turned out to be a secret video of Serena drunkenly fending off a strange man’s sexual advances by encouraging him to do a line of (his own) cocaine, which then caused his accidental death-by-overdose. Really the video was far more incriminating for Georgina, who’d rather idiotically left in the opening preamble that showed her setting up the illegal liaison between the man and her unsuspecting (and underage) gal-pal, as well as the aftermath where she skipped out on Serena, who dutifully remained in the hotel room long enough to call the emergency services!
Conclusion: Although the individual episode plots were painfully predictable and riddled with holes, the dialogue was pretty witty in places, and the performances were fun… I’m ashamed to admit I also bought into the aspirational “life-style porn” aspect pretty hard, what with all the gorgeous luxury goods and gratuitous A-Hep references… and overall I did find Gg very watchable, in a trashy sort of way. I might even consider picking up the second season sometime, if I see it on sale… though I’m not in any rush to lumber myself with the full boxset.
SEASON SIX SPOILER: Although Dan is pitched as a down-to-earth “white knight” chivalrously attempting to woo his long-time dream-girl Serena here, I was already aware that in the final season he outs himself as the mastermind behind the bitchy gossip blog that gave the show its title. If we’re to take everything we hear in the show’s narration (voiced by an uncredited Kristen Bell) as his handiwork, then it actually makes him seem like a stone-cold sociopath, or someone with a self-destructive split-personality disorder! One minute he’s professing his heartfelt affection for Serena, and the next he’s rushing home to mock and jeer her online… rubbing salt in everyone’s wounds and taunting the people he claims to care about… even chuckling over the prospect of his sister becoming the next “victim” of date-rapey rake ‘Chuck Bass’ (Ed Westwick)… all the while presenting himself as a sincere, stand-up guy in public. Interestingly, in the pilot, there’s a shot of him sat in front of his lap-top staring intently at the screen, just as the narrator teases viewers with the rhetorical question: “And who am I? That’s one secret I’ll never tell!”… though that may just be a coincidence. In other episodes (such as the one where a photo of Serena buying a pregnancy test is posted), he seems genuinely surprised by what by he reads on the Gg site, as if seeing it for the first time… and there are a several times when he couldn’t possibly have posted the updates that everyone receives, because he was busy doing other stuff away from his computer at the time (often with the very people that were being gossiped about!) Nonetheless, it put a very disturbing slant on the rom-com aspects of the show… knowing that this supposedly “likeable everyman” was hiding such a shameful secret, and harbouring such a bitter, corrosive contempt for all the other characters! It would have made far more sense, and been far less detrimental in retrospect, to say that Georgina was the one running the site, since she was such a sadistic schemer from the outset… and her name even has two G’s in it! D’oh!