Gossip Girl series premiere recap: You know you'll love me
Fourteen-year-olds with crystal-clear skin? Bike shorts somehow looking glamorous? Adults trolling children in the comments? So much Kristen Bell? No, I'm not talking about your Instagram Explore page; I'm talking about the Gossip Girl reboot, which is here, delightfully queer, wealthy, woke, and weird—and you better get used to it.
Will the adjustment period be challenging for Millennials who grew up sneaking episodes of the O.G. Gossip Girl onto the TiVo after their parents caught wind of the raunchy marketing campaign and banned it from the house? Maybe so. But surely this line, delivered in the first five minutes of the reboot, will be enough to abate them: "This school produced some great people… Caroline Kennedy, Colson Whitehead… Nate Archibald!" Anyway, let's face it: Gossip Girl has always been — and always should be — for the teens.
Not the teens we know, or the teens we were, but the teens we want to see on TV: aspirational, as comfortable with their sexuality as they are with their hashtags, and permanently played by 28-year-olds. In these areas, this reboot more than succeeds. This is one of the most beautiful collections of TV teens I've ever seen. Their skin? Flawless. Their jawlines? Chiseled from the same stone as the Met steps where they drink their Sakara juices. The tattoos they gave each other with seam rippers? Still regrettable by episode's end, but discreet enough to cover with a necklace. It is easier to imagine them flying on a private jet than eating a slice of rectangular cafeteria pizza.
And for that, we can thank the Gossip Girl reboot. For other things, however…
Well, let's just say, this premiere opens with one welcomed surprise twist, and another I'd like to drop-kick across the Hudson. First, it's revealed via wistful kiss-blows to the same old photo in two different boroughs, that the new scholarship student at Constance Billard, Zoya, actually shares a biological mother with Constance's resident Instagram influencer and queen bee, Julien. And now for the real twist: these half-sisters aren't nearly as estranged as their feuding fathers (and everyone else) believes them to be.
Julien and Zoya have been in communication for years; they plotted Zoya's move from Buffalo to New York City so they could be closer to one another. Zoya applied for the scholarship and convinced her dad to move them to her grandmother's Brooklyn apartment, and Julien sent her the "Bey Superstars" that will earn her a spot inside the Constance elite on the first day of school. It's a truly unexpected twist on the "new girl vs. queen bee" that the premiere smartly waits to reveal until Julien and Zoya find themselves alone in the school bathroom and begin jumping and squealing — a rare moment where they seem like actual teen girls. (By episode's end, they will be enemies — but, I ask you, if a relationship cracks irreparably in a "regular Lyft," could it really be so irreparable?)
As for the other pre-title-card twist, we find out who this go-round's Gossip Girl is from the jump: the Constance teachers. As in, the adult teachers of these teenage students are out here, at their big age, posting semi-nude photos of their students, and exposing their family traumas. On JoJo Siwa's internet! It is definitely a choice; one that's not only problematic but makes negative-zero sense. In the pilot's opening scene, we meet Kate Keller, a Constance teacher commuting to work on the MTA after a year of remote teaching. On the train, Miss Keller nervously watches Julien Calloway's Instagram stories, only to arrive at the school and run directly into Julien's photoshoot. Julien apologizes, but her sidekicks and creative directors, Monet and Luna, scoff at Miss Keller, noting it would take her a full month's salary to replace the Louis Vuitton bag Julien was modeling.
"We should have a no-Zara rule at school — east of Lex only," is the kind of line I'd like to hear more of from this reboot.
In the teacher's lounge (full of more 28-year-olds who are actually playing 28-year-olds this time), it is drilled into us that the Constance teachers now live in fear of their powerful young pupils. They can't reprimand them, they can't fail them, and it seems that they can't get any other job in Manhattan, because they all hate this one, and yet, here they sit, complaining about how one harsh word from the students to their parents could get them fired. After one such firing happens on the first day of school, a teacher named Rebecca emerges from the shadows of the teacher's lounge to tell Miss Keller & Co. that when she went to Constance/St. Jude's with the likes of Nate Archibald and Dan Humphrey ("the novelist!?") in the Class of '09, the students "respected authority" because they "lived under constant threat" of an "Orwellian Big Sister" that called herself Gossip Girl: "If she knew your secrets — and she always did — she told them. She kept us accountable."
You're hearing that right: Gossip Girl… made the students… respect their teachers?
"Maybe we should try it," one teacher teases after Rebecca leaves the room, and they all laugh. But then they… do it? A gang of young teachers gathers at Miss Keller's apartment that night, studies up on the old Gossip Girl ("this Chuck and Blair thing is out of control, definitely pre-cancel-culture" "did you get to the part where she was Princess of Monaco for six months?"), and decides to resurrect Gossip Girl as an Instagram account, targeting and tagging the most popular kids in school to… teach them to respect authority? It's nuts, man.
Which brings us to the most popular kids in school. In an interesting reshuffling of the protagonist deck, and despite what the trailer may have led us to believe, it seems that Julien is more of a Serena, Zoya is more of a Little J, and rule-enforcing Audrey is actually the heir apparent to Blair Waldorf (ahem, the Blair-apparent). The fellas are a little more obvious: scruffy, burdened Obie is a near-identical match to Dan; beautiful arm-fixture Aki is beautiful arm-fixture Nate reincarnate; caddish Max is caddish Chuck with all of the charm, and none of the attempted sexual assault. (Monet and Luna are what would happen if Blair's Headband Brigade actually became main characters with enough power and screen time to really get to schemin'. And get this — they hate headbands! The sands of time, they do keep it moving.)
But at the core of this Gossip Girl reboot is the greatest departure from the original: the secret-sister plot, which Julien decides to make as unnecessarily complicated as possible. (Teens — can't scheme with 'em, can't scheme without 'em!) She tells Zoya that she has "a whole plan to incorporate you into our friend group … they'll like you for you, not because you're related to me." That plan involves all of Julien's friends already knowing that Zoya is her estranged half-sister, but not knowing that they've reconnected. No, instead of Julien giving Zoya her explicit validation as a family member, she… gives her a cool pair of shoes, which she pretends to spot for the first time on the Met steps, asks for a photo for her famous Instagram page, then invites Zoya — a 14-year-old! — to hang out with her crew at Dumbo Hall that night.
Julien's friends don't want Zoya to come, but they stand down because Julien is being weirdly nice to her estranged sister… almost like if Julien had just said, "this is my sister, who I like," they would have also let her hang out with them. Instead, everyone scowls at Zoya when she happens to walk into Dumbo Hall (in an Alice + Olivia dress Julien couriered to her) at the same time as Julien's boyfriend Obie, who just so happens to share Zoya's passion for… vague social justice.
None of it makes a ton of sense, but it doesn't have to — teenagers are drinking martinis, and popping Molly, and watching their friends go down on each other, and all is right on Gossip Girl. Plus, at Dumbo Hall, we discover the pilot's most titillating plotline: something is going on between Audrey and Max… and Aki and Max… and Audrey and Aki and Max! Aki and Audrey are an item, but they both keep making eyes at Max in between their sex scenes where Audrey keeps apologizing for taking so long to orgasm, and Aki keeps saying it's fine, and getting it over with…
Which is honestly hilarious. Excluding Monet and Luna, who clearly revel in being beautiful, rich, and mean — and Max, who is ready to bone absolutely anyone he makes deep, meaningful eye contact with — everyone else seems to be sullenly going through the motions of life at the ripe old age of 16. Their entire night at Dumbo Hall seems like a chore, and it only becomes more of a drag when Gossip Girl (again, a group of these children's teachers) drops her first bomb, along with Kristen Bell's first voiceover: "Zoya's entrance to Constance was signed, sealed, and deceitful. Or didn't you know — on the Upper East Side, scholarships aren't granted, they're gifted."
Apparently, Zoya's scholarship came not entirely on merit, but on the recommendation of Julien Calloway, whose father's money plays a big hand in granting the school's fine arts scholarship, a task he often passes along to his daughter. Zoya is upset that someone more deserving may not have gotten the scholarship because Julien rigged the system, and Julien's friends are upset that she lied to them about how well she knew Zoya. For her part, Julien just keeps assuring everyone that everything is fine, and she's allowed to lie to them and trick them because she means well.
Obie and Zoya both storm out over being lied to in different ways, but end up walking side-by-side in the pouring rain. On the way to Zoya's subway stop, they just so happen to pass by Obie's Dumbo penthouse, and he invites her inside until the rain stops. It's almost sweet to watch these two connect over being (allegedly) kindhearted people, but the vibe gets killed a little bit when you realize that the moment they change out of their wet clothes back-to-back is being photographed by one of their teachers. This guy at least has the decency to act abashed when he hands the half-nude photos of teenagers over to Miss Keller, but Miss Keller is gleeful at the new Gossip Girl cheating scoop — which, again, is part of a plan to, uh, make these teens more cooperative students.
Surprisingly, Julien is unphased by the photos of Obie and Zoya together after hours. She believes that nothing happened — the only problem is that no one else in school does. When each person in this budding love triangle arrives at school the next day, they're either cheered on, maligned, or worst of all for Julien, pitied. Monet and Luna insist that Julien has to get the power back from Zoya, and Julien insists she knows how to do it while still partnering up with her sister to pull a fast one on Gossip Girl: "a page from the Blair and Serena playbook," she says.
Hardly, I say. Julien's plan is the saddest little scheme you ever did hear, arranging for Zoya not to be let into the afterparty of a runway show Julien is walking in, and tipping Gossip Girl off in advance about the snub. Monet and Luna know this will do approximately zero to re-right the power imbalance, so they tell Julien to let them handle it at the fashion show. As you can imagine, Luna and Monet's plan has a little more pizazz; it involves stealing Zoya's phone, taking a photo of Max's junk, and airdropping it to everyone at the fashion show during Julien's runway walk so that it looks like Zoya purposefully tried to ruin her half-sister's big moment.
It's baaaad. And it's also the best scene in the episode: finally full of color, and actually diabolical. After the dick pic drops, and the set — quite literally — goes up in flames while Zoya is escorted out by security, the creepy Constance teachers (watching the show virtually, natch) note that Julien looks utterly victorious standing at the end of the runway. That image isn't lost on Zoya either; she confronts Julien after the show and asks why she even brought her there in the first place, accusing Julien of only caring about how other people see her.
And Julien, who has spent this entire episode blazing ahead with a gracious, slightly panicked smile plastered on her face, finally snaps. She tells Zoya she has no idea how hard she's worked to become who she is today. Which is, of course, a 16-year-old influencer — and she does not mean that ironically! "I'm not just known, I'm influential," Julien cries out at her sister, who she's just humiliated after convincing her to move to New York City. Oh, it is a line for the ages. Only topped by this one, which makes little to no sense: "So, this can go one of two ways: you can either learn me, or you can leave."
Obie is, in general, a bit sanctimonious for my taste, but he gets it right when he tells Julien that he's been waiting for the moment when the "real her" would show back up after being masked by the influencer version of herself for so long — and, unfortunately, it seems like she just did. For her part, Zoya informs Julien that she won't be learning her, and shows up to school the next day looking cool as hell, and openly flirting with Obie.
Worst of all, Gossip Girl — again, four teachers wearing one extra-long trench coat — wasn't fooled by Luna and Monet's plan, and calls Julien out for her "callow ways." I don't even want to begin to imagine the self-congratulations that Miss Keller gave herself for that one. See you back here next week to see what new and sociopathic ways the teachers of Constance St. Jude's come up with to shape/ruin the lives of their pupils!