By Jordin Watson
When HBO Max announced a reboot of the iconic show “Gossip Girl” in 2019, fans across all social media platforms were quick to judge whether or not the 2021 version would live up to the original.
The new “Gossip Girl” falls nowhere short of portraying the life of rich and privileged private high school students and the seemingly other worldly problems they face — dressed in everything designer head-to-toe, of course —under control of the internet spy “Gossip Girl.” Love triangles, sex, power, status, gossip, rumours, family and more still dominates the entire show.
In the revamped version, however, the audience knows who “Gossip Girl” is from the beginning. Whereas it is Dan Humphrey in the old, it is actually a group of middle-aged teachers in the new. The opening of the reboot mirrors the infamous Serena-Van-Der-Woodsen-Grand-Central-Station train scene, only in the new version, it’s the main teacher who starts running the account against the current class of Constance students.
It’s clear from the beginning that the goal is not to emulate the original show completely, but to entertain the same high-class society through a modern perspective. Although the show follows the classic G.G. luxurious lifestyle, there are stark differences that allude to the reboot targeting a different audience of a new generation that values diversity, activism, and social media.
The first note to make about the reboot is the diversity of the cast. The moving 360-degree group shot at the 8-minute mark in the first episode, with “Super Rich Kids” by Frank Ocean playing in the background, sets the tone for who this new, ridiculously good-looking class is.
Cast members include Jordan Alexander and Whitney Peak, the two breakout actresses and main characters; Evan Mock, social media influencer and model; Zion Moreno, actress and model; Emily Alyn Lind, actress; Thomas Doherty, Elijah Brown, Jason Gotay, and many more.
Within the plot of the reboot, status and popularity are now validated by social media resence (“Gossip Girl” now uses Instagram). One of the two main characters, Julien Calloway, who is played by Alexander, is a high-class social media influencer with millions of followers — everything she does is for or under social media presence. Nonetheless, she has seemingly infinite influence and power. The other main character, Zoya Lott, who is played by Peak, is a middle-class first-year transfer student from Buffalo, NY. The twist is that the two are actually sisters. The plot of the show essentially follows their contrasting backgrounds and perspectives and how each’s status dictates their power and presence within contemporary society. But it’s also intertwined with high school drama and love and the ultimate desire for popularity, which parallels the ongoing “S” and “B” feud from the original (Julien and Zoya also refer to each other as “J” and “Z”).
One of the main criticisms for the reboot was replacing characters and trying to imitate Chuck Bass, Blair Waldorf, Serena van der Woodsen, Nate Archibald, Dan Humphrey, etc. But after watching the show, it’s clear none even aim to replace the original because they all have different backgrounds and personal styles that shape these new characters. For example, Max Wolfe, who is played by Doherty, has certain characteristics that align with Bass’ early character in seasons one and two as he is a player. But Wolfe has a different upbringing that contrasts with Bass, and this shapes his sexual behaviors differently. Similarly, Calloway’s character has certain characteristics of Waldorf because she “schemes” and has “minions,” but it’s not a defining aspect of who she is. Another example, Lott’s character is an activist — she holds strong beliefs and isn’t afraid to directly challenge or question high-class society — and there’s not a character like hers in the original. Overall, it becomes clear the characters are too different to pinpoint or “replace” the original cast.
The show also wouldn’t be “Gossip Girl” without the infinite love triangles, conflicts and interests. Like the original, everyone dates everyone in the reboot and only six out of the 12 episodes of the first season have been released. Sexual orientation is a main focus and area of internal conflict for certain characters in the reboot, which again connects to our contemporary society and helps to understand the characters.
In no way can the reboot replace or top the original “Gossip Girl” from the 2000s, but it has the potential to leave its own mark because it’s set in a different era with a new generation.
The first part of the season is available to watch now on HBO Max and returns in November. It was also renewed for season two after breaking streaming-record viewership on HBO Max, according to Harper’s BAZAAR.
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