The Drama Club: How ‘Gossip Girl’ Flunked Freshman Year

Taylor Momsen as Jenny in Gossip Girl (The CW)

Taylor Momsen as Jenny in Gossip Girl (The CW)

The ‘Gossip Girl‘ season finale was a fitting end to the season; it was an unsatisfying mish mash whose allusions to past episodes only served to remind me of how much better the show used to be.

Thanks to the episode aptly titled Last Tango, Then Paris, I can add another entry to the list of television’s grossest sex scenes.  Joining Izzie’s hallucinated sex with Dead Denny (‘Grey’s Anatomy‘), Violet hooking up with her adopted brother (‘Melrose Place‘) and every single episode of ‘Law and Order: SVU‘, are GH’s Chuck (Ed Westwick) and Jenny (Taylor Momsen).  Watching an underage virgin and a notorious manwhore sleep with each other to satisfy their self destructive urges might have worked if it were the culmination of a fully developed storyline.   But Jenny has spent the second half of the season trying to get Nate (Chace Crawfors) to punch her V-card.  Chuck has been busy trying to win Blair (Leighton Meester) back.  Yes, they schemed together in the prior episode.  But that was not enough of a foundation for what transpired. When, after Blair predictably failed to meet him at the top of the Empire State Building due to a series of events that were not her fault, Chuck went into a predictable depression.  Jenny, angry that her father wanted to ship her out of town for her hideous eye make up (or perhaps her drug dealing), and hurt after Blair brutally told her, “Nobody loves you,” showed up at Chuck’s door.

Can ‘Gossip Girl’ Avoid The College Curse?

Then the Voldemort happened — that hideous event which should not be named.  It’s not just that she was an underage virgin and that he was a notorious manwhore.  It’s that he nearly raped her in the pilot.  Though the character of Chuck was originally supposed to be a short term villain and was reconceptualized when Ed Westwick  proved to be such a strong actor, the scene is still  part of the show’s canon.  Most of the scene happened mercifully off camera. But the disgusting quotient went up by a thousand percent when Blair showed up and Jenny, eager to cover her tracks, stripped the bed because the sheets were dirty.

Taylor Momsen, in happier times:

[iframe—Taylor-Momsen/embed 580 476]

The rest of the storylines were trifles, given that it was a season finale.   Nate and Serena (Blake Lively) broke up (again) because Nate found out that Serena kissed Dan.   Yawn.  Georgina (Michelle Trachtenberg) returned. She was fleeing her crappy NBC series — AKA the Russian mob.  The big reveal is that she’s pregnant, allegedly with Dan’s (Penn Badgley) child.  I liked that ‘Gossip Girl’ avoided the cliched pregnancy storylines.  Oh, well.  At least Georgina’s funny.  In what was supposed to be the shocking twist ending, Chuck was mugged, shot and left for dead in Prague.  Whatever little bit of suspense there would have been about his fate was eliminated by showrunner Stephanie Savage giving an interview revealing that Chuck will be in Paris with Serena and Blair next season.   On the positive side, Jenny left town and Vanessa (Jessica Szohr) was still in Haiti.  I certainly won’t be holding my breath waiting for the season premiere.

It was just a year ago that GG was one of the most talked about shows on television.  Its OMFG billboards helped cement the show’s reputation as the sexy guilty pleasure that pushed the envelope and was singlehandedly corrupting the youth of America. Ratings were strong by CW standards.  It was also a show that seemed to be as popular, if not more, with twenty and thirtysomething media professionals, many of whom attended fancy prep schools,  than actual teenagers. The New Yorker compared its social satire to Evelyn Waugh. It was smart and sophisticated popcorn viewing.

This season, GG was far lower on everyone’s pop cultural radar.  There were some terrific episodes, but overall the season was a mess. The shift to college and away from the insular overprivileged world of the UES and high school took away much of the show’s narrative tension.  Even what should have been the earth shattering appearances of Chuck’s mother and Serena’s father fell flat.  Though the show’s ratings were still strong enough to garner an early pick up, the show seems — quelle horreur — out of fashion.  What went wrong?  I have a few theories:

1. When GG began, the nation was riding the real estate bubble and overextending their credit cards and buying tons of luxury goods.  In the midst of the recession, Manhattan’s elite are no longer the aspirational figures.  They’re the jerks who made shady derivatives deals.  Watching young people talk about couture is no longer as entertaining.

2. Making Blair a social outcast and NYU stripped the character of her appeal. Watching Blair kick ass — as she did in the finale when she ordered Jenny to leave Manhattan is amazing.  It was no fun to watch NYU hipsters snub her.  It was also implausible.  Socially adept Blair would have won them over in no time.

3. GG, like so many other teen shows, succumbed to the college curse.  The insular universe of a prep school, with its rigid cliques, is more dramatic then college, where everyone is free to be themselves.  If the show had sent everyone to Columbia instead of NYU, they could have treated the Ivy League with the same satirical bent as private school.   But Nate, the sole Ivy attendee, was never shown in college. The new characters that were introduced were all boring and disappeared after a few episodes.

4. Josh Schwartz is better at launching a show then sustaining it.  The first season of ‘The O.C.‘ was brilliant.  Then it all fell apart.  He is stretched thin running both GG and ‘Chuck‘ as well as starting a new production company with Stephanie Savage.  It shows.

5. There can only be a couple of buzzworthy teen shows at any given time. ‘Glee‘ and ‘Vampire Diaries‘ have stolen the crown.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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