If Alessandra Stanley went to school with Serena van der Woodsen and Blair Waldorf, I suppose Gossip Girl would write something on her blog like, "A trashed B and S in the Times, but the whole school thought she sounded like a total moron. And if there's anything that Gossip Girl likes, it's a Times reviewer sounding like a total moron."
Stanley's review — which criticized the show for emphasizing the importance of the teens' parents in their melodramatic lives and thus veering too far from the series of books on which it's based — left me with a number of questions. First, why the hell has Alessandra Stanley been reading the Gossip Girl books? More importantly, though, who but the lamest 13-year-old girl cares if the show replicates the books at all? It'd be one thing if, say, a reviewer lamented that the Keira Knightley version of "Atonement" was nothing like Ian McEwan's acclaimed novel. But let's get real, here: "Gossip Girl" is based on the books, yes, but a better name for the TV show would be "The New York O.C." Which is exactly why we pestered the CW to send over a screener, exactly why the show has attracted so much press, and exactly why it will be, as Gawker calls it, "the most amazing show OF THE YEAR."
The show, as many of you will learn tonight, is nothing short of spectacular, and the parental subplots Stanley finds so disarming — "The blending of adult and teenage story lines was crucial to 'The OC,' but here it is a glaring violation of the genre," she writes — actually help drive the show's plotlines in important ways. If not for Blair's mother's painful divorce, we may never see B and S get back together over drinks at the Palace while catching up over their family troubles ("You're like my sister, and, you know, with our families, we need each other"). Without the pressure of living up to their parents' success and justifying their expensive educations, lifestyles, and trust funds, we might never see Nate and Chuck sharing a joint as they walk through the park, giving us choice dialogue such as:
Nate: Do you ever feel like our whole lives have been planned out for us? That we're just gonna end up like our parents?
Chuck: Man, that's a dark thought.
Nate: Aren't we entitled to choose? Just to be happy?
Chuck: Look, easy, Socrates. What we're entitled to is a trust fund. Maybe a house in the Hamptons, a prescription drug problem. But happiness does not seem to be on the menu. So smoke up and seal the deal with Blair cause you're also entitled to tap that ass.
And were Blair's mom not there to insult her daughter about her weight, her clothes, and her hair, Blair certainly wouldn't feel so much pressure to make her relationship with Nate work (and we wouldn't have the unadulterated joy of a Donna Martin-esque deflowering scene).
No, the pilot isn't perfect, and, yes, it has its faults — at times it overdoes it, what with the "I just want things to go back to the way they used to be. You know, walking to school together, dancing on tables at Bungalow, night-swimming at your mom's country house" kind of dialogue — but its inclusion of parents is anything but one of them. In fact, if anything, I think it only makes the show a more accurate reflection of the world "Gossip Girl" is portraying, and Stanley's claim that "only adult fiction indulges the grown-up delusion that children are interested in their parents' personal lives" makes me wonder if she has ever met a child who grew up on the Upper East Side. Stanley is right that "The O.C"-esque parents like Marissa Cooper have no place in "Gossip Girl," but perhaps I trust Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage to know that more than she does. And were the adults in "Gossip Girl" entirely absent, like the maid-diddling-but-otherwise-non-existent parent figures in "Cruel Intentions," the show would prove worthless and unrealistic. I can't tell, from only one episode, but I feel confident that "Gossip Girl" will strike a middle ground between the two extremes.
"Gossip Girl" is going to be big, and it has the potential to make household names out of Blake Lively, Leighton Meester, Penn Badgley, Chace Crawford, Taylor Momsen, and Ed Westwick. It also has the potential to define a young network still finding its legs as more of a major player than an also-ran. That potential, and not its departure from the "Gossip Girl" series of books, is what Stanley's review should have focused on. So, unfortunately, I can't say Stanley made any mistakes, per se — unless, you know, you count "just not getting it" as a mistake.
Photo and clip courtesy of The CW.