Gossip Girl was already a throwback 10 years ago – EW.com
But weirdly, Dan-as-Gossip-Girl retroactively gives the show a timely quality that it never really had. It suggests a deeper, weirder perspective on the internet and modern life, vastly more disturbing, darkly funny. An unhappy young man flees to the internet, where he echo-chambers unsourced rumors and unwanted photographs into ruinous media narratives? He’s a troll, sure, but maybe you think he’s a troll for truth, a class warrior embedding himself amidst the one-percenters, destroying them from within (and getting the girl!) Wasn’t Gossip Girl his Mr. Robot?
Hell, Gossip “Girl”: There’s a five-steps-cooler notion of the show that identifies Dan as some archetype of gender transition, a young man whose inner voice sounds like Veronica Mars. “I don’t read Gossip Girl,” Dan tells his little sister, “That’s for chicks.” That line’s retrograde even in the show’s own dude context; when slithery Chuck Bass spots a new conquest, he asks, “Anything about her on Gossip Girl?” And you wonder if Dan is throwing his little sister off the scent, no no sis, I’m a guy’s guy, I rock flannelcore khaki.
And, with eyes toward a retcon, the Gossip Girl pilot leaves room for the possibility of Dan as some kind of stalker. He looms over Nate Archibald and Chuck Bass in a bus, and Chuck can sense some unusual interest: “Are you… following us… or something?” He runs into Serena while she’s fleeing a hotel bar, and she “drops” her phone — or did she drop it, or did he pull a Tom Ripley and snag it right out of her purse? Much of the show’s initial concept depended on Dan as a more relatable figure, a regular Cinderella Boy among princes and princesses — though anyone who has ever lived in New York can only marvel at the deconstructed grandeur of the Humphrey Loft.
But if Gossip Girl still has a real, urgent pulse, it’s the total inversion of that plot. Was he the modern puppetmaster, destroying lives with a keystroke? Did he win Serena’s love, or trap her?
Because Gossip Girl involved the internet, and because it depended so much on a new kind of TV-devouring internet culture, the typical decade-out read has the show as some generational marker, a sign of things to come. As my colleague Ruth Kinane hilariously points out, this renders certain elements of the show as obsolete as a flip-phone. But rewatching the pilot today, you wonder if it was always a nostalgia trip, one final look back at a much more coherent era.
Gossip Girl is a blog, sure, but it’s also a single news source, the monocultural rumor mill. You imagine dead movie stars turning on a radio, hearing “It’s Hedda Hopper here!” at the just-right plot moment. And there’s a strange, oddly endearing baseline plot foundation that Gossip Girl is always telling the truth, that — if you obey the tenets of the original time before the universe collapses and Serena moved to Los Angeles — Gossip Girl is an unbiased observer of her beloved Upper East Siders. This is maybe a relic of something particular to New York culture circa-2000s, the era of Socialite Rank. Characters on Gossip Girl treat the Gossip Girl blog the same way journalists treated Gawker in its early days: half industry rag, half blind-item launchpad, desperate to not appear on it, a little bummed if they don’t appear on it.
But Socialite Rank and Gawker had a perspective and an agenda. On Gossip Girl, “Gossip Girl” is a plotline facilitator, an information provider. It’s old media, omnipresent and essential. (Us here in the media loved this show.) It’s also the only essential plot element that time-locks Gossip Girl anywhere past the millennium. In the pilot, Nate’s dad demands that he stay in a relationship with Blair because he’s negotiating with her mom, not the first time a parent on Gossip Girl would go all Thomas Cromwell with their childrens’ love lives. And characters on the show have a tendency to lurk around corners, or See Things They Shouldn’t See from a hidden vantage point, like actors lurking on the Upper Stage of the Globe Theatre.
It’s fun, of course; Serena decides to go on a date with Dan because, um, her mother wants her to go to a party, and me and my pal what’s-his-name here, oh yeah, we’ve got plans! And Serena and Dan’s random meet-cute immediately achieves Skywalker-sequel levels of destiny. Their parents dated! All this has happened before, all this will happen again! These aren’t even rom-com contrivances; they suggest some long-ago courtly romance.
The show’s best moment happens early, when Serena arrives back in New York at Grand Central Station. She thinks her return is a secret, but there are no more secrets. She pauses for a moment, dappled in windowlight, and some casual paparazzo (Melanie91!) snaps her picture. The show’s timely enough to clock some — everyone is watching! — but also square enough to imagine that Serena would pose so perfectly, that the Melanie91 would carefully discover a perfect angle.
This was in 2007, when — as recounted in Vanessa Grigoriadis’ essential Rolling Stone profile — Britney Spears was engaged in a kind of besieged romance (symbolically and literally) with the paparazzi. The Gossip Girl pilot captures some idea of the internet, but only to serve a throwback dream of New York, grand hotels and high families, champagne in the limo and the notion of “Brooklyn” as anything but desirable. It’s decadent, with a lily-white main cast. Credit Gossip Girl for hipness all you want, but never forget that the pilot closes with a song by Angels & Airwaves.