The original Gossip Girl captured the cultural zeitgeist of the early 2000s—the excess, the dubious morals, the chunky bracelets. When Blair Waldorf and her glitzy jet set first graced our screens, they created the blueprint for the perfectly messy teen drama that viewers just can’t stay away from.
It’s no wonder then that people had a lot to say when HBO announced that they’re rebooting the show. Some argued that the original is too iconic to touch, while others were curious to see how the drama-fueled show would reinvent itself in a more socially aware world.
Promising even more scandal, glamor, and a little wokeness, the Gossip Girl reboot debuted with the whole world watching. Larger than life and richer than Midas, the reboot comes with all the fancy trappings: the full media coverage, fancier sets, even a fashion show for its premiere night. But when all is said and done, can the reboot stand on its own two feet—and put on Louboutins too?
Did you miss me?
The reboot introduces new characters played by fresh-faced actors. Bringing the familiar B and S power struggle are half-sisters Julien Calloway (Jordan Alexander) and Zoya Lott (Whitney Peak). Like Serena before her, Julien is the golden girl adored by the spotlight. Alexander’s portrayal of Julien is solid, often giving a nuanced portrayal of the vapidness and tragedy of the influencer culture. But she isn’t given the right material to take things to the next level, and her performance isn’t as noteworthy as the original’s lionized main characters.
Zoya, on the other hand, is supposedly the opposite of Julien. Where Julien was born as a Manhattan sophisticate, Zoya grew up in a much simpler lifestyle. She is far from a Waldorf facsimile; she is an idealistic crusader who is thrown into a world of glitz, glamor, and endless backstabbing. While initially refreshing, it often feels like Zoya is just there to be the show’s token moral backbone, ending up one-dimensional in the process.
The rest of the ensemble consists of Otto “Obie” Bergmann IV (Eli Brown), Max Wolfe (Thomas Doherty), Audrey Hope (Emily Alyn Lind), Akeno “Aki” Menzies (Evan Mock), Luna La (Zión Moreno), and Monet De Haan (Savannah Lee Smith). On their own, these characters are intriguing additions, bearing similarities to the original’s characters while also bringing new and exciting aspects to the reboot.
On their own, they are conniving and armed to the teeth with barbs and quips that never miss a beat. Compared to the original, however, this cast didn’t seem to have any chemistry at all. Most of the time, they are occupied with their own storylines, and all their friend group interactions seem forced. The clear stand-out would be Doherty’s Wolfe, who chews the scenery and delivers camp and charisma at every turn. Unfortunately, Luna and Monet, Julien’s scheming minions-slash-puppet-masters, are terribly underutilized—something the show should address, stat.
All the flaws in the reboot lie in the pacing. Every single problem the showrunners threw at the characters was resolved at the end of each episode. Plotlines like Max’s downward spiral or Zoya and Obie’s romance would have been more engrossing if they were given time to bear fruit. A big part of the reason is HBO Max’s staggered rollout; season 1 is divided into two parts with a three-month break in between—there was little to no time for any character development or fleshed-out story arcs.
The original took us on a five-year journey, with Gossip Girl’s identity a mystery until the end, although the satisfaction of that ending is another matter altogether. In a daring move, the reboot reveals who is behind the Instagram account in the pilot’s first 10 minutes—it’s the teachers of Constance Billard and St. Jude’s School led by Kate Keller (Tavi Gevinson). Seeing adults blackmail, stalk, and bully minors just leaves a bad taste in the mouth.
What’s worse is that the show depicts teacher Rafa Caparros (Jason Gotay) grooming an emotionally unstable Max into a predatory relationship. While HBO has constantly pushed the envelope with bold and imaginative content, going with this dangerous and tired trope is simply disappointing, and it makes the same errors the original did when they went with a similar storyline more than a decade ago.
You know you love me
Perhaps one of the few things the reboot did better is its marketing strategy. Really leaning into the social media aspect of the show, the creative team went all out with their promotions; each of the main characters has their own full-fledged Instagram accounts—with Aki even having a Letterboxd—a hotline that texts viewers with Gossip Girl blasts, and Vogue tie-in videos.
These details make the show all the more immersive. But then again, it’s all window dressing—all this flash and yet substance is nowhere to be found. So it begs the question, do we really need a modern-day Gossip Girl? Maybe the original was such a success because it was a perfect storm—hitting the right milieu and context to be audacious and unapologetic in all the right ways.
Even so, when we now look back at the original, we can clearly see that many of its elements—and characters—didn’t age well. However, we can also acknowledge that the show is a product of its time—preserved in amber and pretty to look at. Gossip Girl was iconic because it was the first of its kind, flaws and all.
That’s one secret I’ll never tell
Hence, when a reboot is brought into a world that has already seen so many cookie-cutter Gossip Girl-style shows, the odds are stacked against it. Riding on the coattails of the original, it’s not groundbreaking at all. Ironically enough, “your one and only source into the scandalous lives of Manhattan’s elite,” gets lost in its own glossy visuals and trendy references, neglecting to actually let the audience into the lives of these characters.
At the end of the day, viewers are left asking, “Why should we care?” After all, the original didn’t keep us all watching for six years because of the drama and the excess—we tuned in because we were actually rooting for these complex characters. While the reboot is still far from this, we can only hope that this is the one surprise they will drop sooner or later.