The new season of Gossip Girl reviewed.

What you're watching.
Aug. 31 2008 7:34 PM

Gossip Girl

So trendy it's authentic.

Gossip Girl.
Blake Lively and Chace Crawford in Gossip Girl

To repeat one of the most pressing questions of our era: Who is Gossip Girl (the CW, Mondays at 9 p.m. ET)? People who like TV but do not watch Josh Schwarz's teensploitation soap (that is, most people) know her as a pure media phenomenon. She gives good spectacle.

The circus of paparazzi stalkings, Page Six items, obsessive-compulsive blogging, and New York self-regard that characterizes the show's publicity is its own tasty diversion. Without even trying, an innocent member of the public can follow the alleged feuds and love lives of the cast's wide-smiling starlets and brooding young studs, all of whom seem to be made out of exceptionally high-grade plastic.

Meanwhile, casual admirers—those of us who occasionally, but only occasionally, help ourselves to Gossip Girl's sumptuous buffet of classic junk-food—know her to be the omniscient narrator whose perspective combines a God's-eye view of the story's expensively educated brats with a Devils Wear Prada-level vision of their New York. We like to fantasize, every now and then, about rich people looking good while behaving badly. That kind of escapism will never go out of business, and Gossip Girl delivers it in of-the-moment fashion. From its parent-baiting promotional campaign to the name-dropping and status-shopping of its stories, the series is so desperately concerned with trendiness that it catches a current mood. Its cravenness has the accidental benefit of making it authentic.

Hard-core addicts recognize Gossip Girl as a kind of eye-candy train wreck. I mean, the CW sent out the screener bearing the first three episodes of this second season in a box bearing the image of Chuck Bass—the big villain, the leading heel, the dashing, thwarted date rapist. On the DVD, Chuck turns his stare to high and holds a sickly sweet slice of cherry pie in his open hand, threatening to smash it. The image—it approximates the aesthetic sensation of a
crushed-velvet painting or a serving of cotton candy—captures the feel of what happens when you put the disc in the machine.

The plots, being at once convoluted and beside the point, are actually difficult to spoil. There's a nonstop braiding of revenge, back-stabbing, hooking up, smoldering, simpering, and long walks in Central Park. When the writers' room is in doubt, it plunges into nonsense boldly: In coming weeks, Chuck will tamper with a deliciously ridiculous May-December romance (featuring that sexual construct of the year, the "cougar"), and that story will cross with another self-consciously silly plotline about Blair wooing a handsome Englishman. How noble is he? "Tom Hanks gave him a Kleenex at Lady Di's funeral."

Gossip Girl, all in all, is the heiress to the Claire Standish fortune. Creator Josh Schwarz makes no secret of his debts to John Hughes, and the queen bees buzzing through the all-buzz show are homages to The Breakfast Club and Molly Ringwald's high-school princess. That type is an American classic, but it's this show's singular knack to turn the princess into a camp queen.

Troy Patterson is Slate's writer at large and writes the Gentleman Scholar column.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Smash and Grab

Will competitive Senate contests in Kansas and South Dakota lead to more late-breaking races in future elections?

Stop Panicking. America Is Now in Very Good Shape to Respond to the Ebola Crisis.

The 2014 Kansas City Royals Show the Value of Building a Mediocre Baseball Team

The GOP Won’t Win Any Black Votes With Its New “Willie Horton” Ad

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?

Technocracy

Forget Oculus Rift

This $25 cardboard box turns your phone into an incredibly fun virtual reality experience.

One of Putin’s Favorite Oligarchs Wants to Start an Orthodox Christian Fox News

These Companies in Japan Are More Than 1,000 Years Old

Trending News Channel
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM Watch Flashes of Lightning Created in a Lab  
  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 20 2014 8:14 PM You Should Be Optimistic About Ebola Don’t panic. Here are all the signs that the U.S. is containing the disease.
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 20 2014 7:23 PM Chipotle’s Magical Burrito Empire Keeps Growing, Might Be Slowing
  Life
Outward
Oct. 20 2014 3:16 PM The Catholic Church Is Changing, and Celibate Gays Are Leading the Way
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM I Am 25. I Don't Work at Facebook. My Doctors Want Me to Freeze My Eggs.
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 20 2014 7:15 AM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 9 A spoiler-filled discussion of "Flatline."
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 20 2014 9:13 PM The Smart, Talented, and Utterly Hilarious Leslie Jones Is SNL’s Newest Cast Member
  Technology
Technocracy
Oct. 20 2014 11:36 PM Forget Oculus Rift This $25 cardboard box turns your phone into an incredibly fun virtual-reality experience.
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Oct. 20 2014 11:46 AM Is Anybody Watching My Do-Gooding? The difference between being a hero and being an altruist.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.