Review: HBO Premieres First Episode of ‘Gossip Girl’ Reboot Series

HBO Max’s Gossip Girl reboot is sure to attract new viewers while including just enough nostalgia to bring back former fans.

by Veronica Winham | 7/16/21 1:00am

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by Annie Qiu / The Dartmouth

Spotted: HBO Max’s new show. Will ‘Gossip Girl’ be successful? Or is this just another failed reboot waiting to happen? You know you love me. XOXO

December 17, 2012 marked the series finale of “Gossip Girl,” the last time viewers saw the students of Constance Billard and St. Jude’s manipulate one another using status, seduction and secrets. That is, until now. On July 8, HBO Max released the first episode of their ‘Gossip Girl’ reboot series. Despite a few stumbles, the show has promise: as with many reboots, its success will come down to the show’s ability to use its namesake to attract viewers while still feeling fresh. 

‘Gossip Girl’ returns in 2021 following a group of high school teachers who are abused by their rich, privileged students. Led by Kate Keller — played by Tavi Gevinson — the teachers retaliate by creating a Gossip Girl Instagram account to stalk their students in order to gather content that they can then use to their advantage. As the teachers manipulate situations through their fabricated online presence, they succeed in turning their students against one another. Fans watching the reboot drama might notice that it is different from the original, in which the identity of Gossip Girl is unknown until the end of the series. Making the identities known from the start of the reboot will allow it to significantly diverge from the original. 

Having “Gossip Girl” return via a social media account also adds a new dimension of gossip-spreading to the plot and appeals to younger audiences. The main characters of the show — particularly Julien Calloway, played by Jordan Alexander — care more about their carefully-cultivated social media presence than their real-life relationships. As such, when Gossip Girl tags their accounts in her posts, their followers quickly notice and their brand is consequently hurt as Gossip Girl’s feigned reliability increases. 

The ‘Gossip Girl’ name alone is enough to draw in former fans, who will appreciate references to the original interspersed throughout the show. However, in order to attract new viewers, the series appeals to a new generation. It features characters who are socially-conscious and queer, and the cast itself is diverse. This will hopefully connect to a larger range of viewers who would have previously not been able to identify with the practically all-white cast of the original, while being much more reflective of the current makeup of New York City. 

As expected, the series hit the ground running, fitting several major scandals into the hour-long episode. Julien Calloway’s half sister Zoya Lott, played by Whitney Peak, moves to New York City and enrolls in Constance Billard, an all-girls private school. Julien tries to subtly integrate Zoya into her friend group to reconcile the secret she is keeping from her — that she played a role in getting her scholarship to the school. But it all turns sour when everyone finds out — through Gossip Girl — her true intentions. Calloway’s perfect world continues to break apart when her long-time boyfriend Obie Bergman IV, played by Eli Brown, dumps her at the end of the episode, an event that came as no surprise considering their relationship never quite developed; the break-up itself was the longest we ever saw the couple interact in the show. 

Also unsurprising is Obie’s obvious interest in Zoya, which will undoubtedly create future division between the sisters. The other romantic relationship in the show is equally tumultuous. Audrey Hope, played by Emily Alyn Lind, and her boyfriend Aki Menzies, played by Evan Mock, are both attracted to Max Wolfe, played byThomas Doherty, the clear “Chuck Bass” figure of this reboot, which is sure to either set up a dramatic blowup, a polyamorous relationship or — most likely — both.  

The main scandal at the end of the episode, however, is ultimately perpetuated by Julien’s friends, not Gossip Girl. Since the characters are more than capable of infighting and manipulating one another, they prove they do not need Gossip Girl — the Instagram account serves as more of a nuisance than a catalyst for conflict. The rebirth of Gossip Girl through Instagram helps the show diverge creatively from the original, but it should be interesting to see if the role of the account expands throughout the series. Not having Gossip Girl as the primary driving force for gossip seems like a missed opportunity.

I appreciate how this episode pays homage to the original series without overstating its predecessor. I think this will be a fine line that the showrunners have to navigate throughout the season. For instance, the “it” group still sits on the steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art for lunch and the name “Nate Archibald” is thrown in for those of us that watched the show more for Chace Crawford than the plot itself. 

Also worth noting is the setting of a beautiful, busy New York City, the return of Kristen Bell to voice Gossip Girl — which will definitely give viewers a rush of nostalgia — and just as many references to pop culture and fashion labels as before. These have been modernized — now including names like former President Barack Obama and Lori Loughlin’s daughter Olivia Jade — but serve the same purpose of creating the luxurious, untouchable world of New York’s elite. 

Overall, episode one stumbled a bit, but that is to be expected in any pilot, let alone a show trying to create its own identity. The episode was fast-paced and entertaining, and shows promise for the rest of the season. If the series continues to forge ahead on originality and makes the Instagram account more of a catalyst for drama, this show will be extremely successful as its own entity rather than just an enticing reboot banking off its predecessor’s success. 

Rating: ★★★★☆

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