How I Feel About the "Gossip Girl" Spinoff
Given how I feel about “Beverly Hills, 90210” and “90210,” you’d probably assume I’m against the upcoming “Gossip Girl” spinoff too. That’s actually not the case.
Don’t get me wrong — I still prefer this new series wasn’t happening. I truly believe successful, iconic shows, which “Gossip Girl” is, have their time and place. To keep its legacy intact, I feel the property should remain untouched. To expand the universe, whether through a spinoff like this, a movie with the original cast, or even more books, you risk tarnishing the “Gossip Girl” legacy. It’s not a risk I’d like to be taken. But, of course, it’s not up to me.
So I was far from happy when it was announced in the summer of 2019 that a “Gossip Girl” “reboot” was ordered straight to series for HBO Max. After all the issues with nu90210, I didn’t exactly take comfort in the news that this new show would share the same universe as the original, with the official description stating, “Eight years after the original website went dark, a new generation of New York private school teens are introduced to the social surveillance of Gossip Girl. The prestige series will address just how much social media — and the landscape of New York itself — has changed in the intervening years.”
But the more I thought about it — and I’ve had more than 12 months to think about it since production was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic — the more I realize this situation is different from the “90210” debacle in considerable ways. And it starts right at the top.
RELATED: Why I Owe Josh Schwartz an Apology
The CW’s “90210” was developed without any input from the masterminds behind the original series. None of the “Beverly Hills, 90210” producers or writers were invited to take part in crafting the spinoff. As a result, poor decisions were made that not only led “90210” to be badly conceived, but also characters and storylines from the original series to be bastardized. In contrast, Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage, who created “Gossip Girl,” are serving as the executive producers of this spinoff series. It’s even being produced by their production company, Fake Empire. Furthermore, the showrunner for the spinoff is Joshua Safran, who was also an executive producer on the original “Gossip Girl.” Also back in the mix is Leslie Morgenstein, who not only facilitated the book-to-TV adaptation of “Gossip Girl,” but was an EP on the series as well.
In other words, there is reason to have faith that the property is in good hands. Who knows the world of “Gossip Girl” better than Schwartz, Savage, Safran, and Morgenstein? All four of them were involved with the show from day one. Even the original’s revered costumer designer Eric Daman is on board again. That makes me infinitely more comfortable with this expansion of the “Gossip Girl” universe than I was with “90210.”
Another significant difference between the “Gossip Girl” spinoff and nu90210 is this new series will not be bringing back any of the original characters onscreen (at least so far). That means fans needn’t worry about happy endings being undone or new plot twists that break continuity or changes to the personalities of the characters we came to know and love and love to hate. At the same time, it seems there will be one through line for fans to appreciate: Though it hasn’t been mentioned recently, it was announced last year that Kristen Bell would narrate the spinoff as the titular Gossip Girl just as she did the original. At the same time, Safran has promised he has no intention of repeating the past.
Safran has also adamantly explained why, despite the press initially and continually branding the new show as such, it is not in fact a “reboot.” Truthfully, I see it as a “requel,” just as I did “90210.” It is partially a remake because there is the same basic premise, but it is also a sequel because it is set in the same universe. But I digress.
Even with all the above said, there are still reasons to remain skeptical and have concerns. The original “Gossip Girl” didn’t exactly stick the landing, with the revelation that Dan was Gossip Girl — and Serena marrying him anyway in a flash-forward — being derided by much of the audience. Naturally, fans hold the producers responsible for this. There is also the pandemic factor: All TV shows right now are grappling with if and how to incorporate the coronavirus. There is a lot of potential to screw that up and we may be left wondering what the finished product might’ve been like had there not been a production delay, limitations on filming setups due to on-set safety, and pandemic-driven story decisions.
There’s also the possibility we may just not like the new group of characters. To date, practically nothing is known about this new crop of high school students at Constance Billard School for Girls and St. Jude’s School for Boys, leading fans and media outlets alike to speculate merely based on paparazzi photos of the actors shooting scenes in which we pretty much have no idea what exactly is taking place. Yes, they’re sitting on the Met steps just like Blair and Serena! But what’s actually going on? Who knows. And even when we do know, we will all inevitably compare this new generation to the old, much like the characters on “90210” were perceived to be updated versions of the “Beverly Hills, 90210” gang. Already, Safran has responded to one person on Twitter asking “which character is the the [sic] ‘Blair’ of the series.”
And then there’s the simple fact that times have changed. A lot. Blogging and social media today are far different than they were during the heyday of the original “Gossip Girl.” While that seems to be part of the point of the spinoff — as the aforementioned logline noted, the show will “address just how much social media — and the landscape of New York itself — has changed” — the concept just may not work as well as it did in the original. It may not be as enjoyable or as novel. After all, there are more TV shows today than ever before, there are more social media platforms today than ever before used by more people than ever before, and there are current teen drama series like “Euphoria” and “Elite” that have been credited for raising the bar and taking risks not previously seen in the genre. What will this new “Gossip Girl” do to set itself apart in a good way?
I’ve also been wrestling with another question: Do I get HBO Max so I can watch?! For most of the last year, my answer has been… no. I don’t have a single streaming service, if you can believe that. It has not been something I’ve wanted to work into my budget. I love television, I love following the news of television, and I love keeping up with dozens and dozens of shows I don’t actually watch by simply reading about them. So I really had no intention of getting HBO Max just to watch the “Gossip Girl” spinoff.
But since restarting TeenDramaWhore, I’ve been reconsidering. I spent several years live-blogging and live-tweeting the original show for the original TDW. Now that TDW is back, how could I not also recap and react to each new episode of the spinoff? Furthermore, how I can consider myself the ultimate TeenDramaWhore if I don’t even bother to watch a continuation (of sorts) of one of the core six teen dramas?!
So the only path forward is clear: As nervous as I remain for how the “Gossip Girl” spinoff will reflect on the original, I will sign up for HBO Max, I will watch each episode, and I will do reaction posts. And I will hope for the best.*
*Such optimism is subject to change, for better or worse, when we FINALLY get a trailer. C’mon, already!
Update 12/19: Safran tells me in response to an inquiry about when a trailer will be released: “No idea when! Not for a while, I assume since we just wrapped the premiere.”
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