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In the early moments of this week’s Gossip Girl premiere, the image of our Serena van der Woodsen on a train, seemingly battered by a lifetime of pampering and poor decision making, bleeding from her nose like her cocaine had been laced with shards of glass, highlights mortality as a theme in this farewell run of the series that has put the Upper East Side and its scandalous denizens on the map (of everyone who hadn’t previously owned a map.) Our sweetheart has apparently fallen victim to a Princess Diana amount of spotlight, extensively narrated, if not prompted, these past five seasons by the titular voice-over blogger. But these are the first minutes of the first episode of the final season of Gossip Girl, a show as much a vehicle for Blake Lively’s youthful leggy blonde-ness as Gossip Girl is an implicit euphemism for Serena and the girls in our world like Serena, those that solicit and inspire gossip through glamour and celebrity. And smart viewers know that Serena isn’t going anywhere. However, the series does make an effort to go somewhere. Towards a hopefully satisfying close.

As I’ve discussed before, no one actually likes Gossip Girl. Even self-proclaimed fans must also proclaim just how disgruntled they’ve grown over the years and how disenchanted the series’ reluctance to even feign character development or growth has left them. The end of season five felt very much like a culmination of dead horse beatings. Serena once again outed herself as plainly everything bad about the trope she represents — the self-centered, self-destructive, socialite seeking attention — when she discarded both her relationship with Blair and Dan to pull a final ‘Hey, look at me. I’m someone. Love me.’ Coupled with the return of father Bass, because apparently we were all secretly pining for that, and Blair and Chuck reinstating their relationship, or something like that, the series had hit the reset button in various ways. The question remained, however, if the refresh would do us any good or would we find ourselves somewhere uncomfortably similar to where we’d come from when the show started. The van der Woodsen women are manipulative and oblivious. The Humphreys are sulking over heartache. Chuck has full-fledged daddy issues on display. Blair follows him blindly into calamity. Nate is ineffectual. The core of the show remains unchanged.

Season six begins with a reminder of how that may be in fact what we needed. A look back to the earlier seasons. Where’s Serena? proves to be a potently reductive, stripped down way of revisiting classic Gossip Girl. Reluctant alliances. Arbitrary competition. Horribly poor parenting on Lily’s part. All classic staples of the best GG storytelling. The group is back in full form and Dan, for all his faults, is apparently best utilized as the dark horse, the outsider, “Lonely Boy.” He reinforces the core group better than he plays nice amongst them and while his sulking may frustrate some, it establishes the UES as a place incomparable to the rest of the world, especially Brooklyn. While things may happen to Dan like breakups or disappointment, the Upper East Siders are apparently events in and of themselves that can resurrect from the dead as Vassar alums named Sabrina or crash civil union ceremonies and turn them into interventions. Dan is the straight man to this road act. With his self-righteousness and brooding in moderation, and everyone else willing to let go of the silly notion that they’re reasonable, responsible adults (Marriages? Pregnancies? Careers!? How gauche!?), we’re back on track. These are rich, spoiled, outlandish characters and these are their stories.

It’s even clear that relegating Ivy to hijinks with Rufus is a healthy decision consistent with Gossip Girl procedure for deviant characters. It’s not unlike sending problematic characters like Eric (or actresses like Taylor Momsen) to boarding school in London or Spain like Vanessa. And Ivy does well in the premiere to basically stay out of the way and plant seeds that can bloom within the next nine episodes (wow, it’s really almost over) without derailing anything important longtime fans would expect from a final outing with the gang that may never have fully matured out of their Constance Billard-St. Judes uniforms. It seems only right then that the final season start off feeling like they’ve almost put them back on.

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Apologies for the hiatus during the warm months. It was certainly not for a lack of great viewing options. In fact, this summer brought to mind how much we’ve progressed from the dark and dreary, pre-ubiquity of cable past of not having anything at all to watch between the season finales of May-June and the premieres of September-October. I once spent a whole summer just watching reruns of Xena: Warrior Princess. Oh, how I miss Lucy Lawless and the New Zealand countryside. But it was a tragedy nonetheless. These days, the bounty of new offerings on summertime television work, along with climate change, to tear down whatever semblance of seasons we once had — way back when we had ice in the arctic or when social media was just for the living. Times are a’changin’, premieres are a’premierin’, but before that, let’s look back at a summer show that The CW feigned interest in as they waited for Gossip Girl to return. Shall we?

I want to discuss The LA Complex for two reasons: 1. Canadians are pretty much our summer saviors here in the states whether we like it or not; and 2. Degrassi: The Next Generation. The second reason pointedly alludes to television’s yesteryears in that, as many of us know, Degrassi: TNG, the most recent installment of a Canadian teen drama franchise that stretches as far back as 19791, was a angsty, rapey, stabby-shooty gem of a series that completely ended after its seventh season — completely1 — but before then, it brought the lovely Cassie Steele into our lives as the incorrigibly adorable Manny Santos. Fundamentally, Manny is back in The LA Complex. She has the same penchant for making poor romantic decisions; same confusingly misguided Hollywood aspirations; same infuriatingly naive disposition; same Manny. And we love her for it through thick and thin. But somehow she manages to find herself again playing second fiddle to the rest of the ensemble despite The LA Complex being transparently a vehicle for her to shine. Her character Abby Vargas (subtly, almost repentantly Latina, same ole Manny) galavants around town in a way that actually gives me pause to criticize because I would hate to get caught up in something like slut-shaming. Because it’s not her sexual body count (which is high and rising) that is an issue, it’s more so that as a character and as a storytelling channel for the show, her hook ups and the usage of her sexual body seems primary to her contribution to the show. And that comes across to me as either lazy or demeaning; demeaning maybe to women, but definitely to those that wanted to see Manny as a full-fledged adult, as the series was implicitly billed.

Luckily, The LA Complex offers Jewel Staite as Raquel Westbrook for our fix of all-grown up favorites. (She’s Canadian. Did you know? See the first reason above why this series is worthy of note.) With Stargate Atlantis and Firefly not too far from anyone’s mind (read: nerds), Staite portrays a bitter has-been actress down on her luck but very much up on her scheming. In fact, she plays the role so well that I’ve bookmarked her IMDB and Wikipedia pages just to remind me not to despise her.3 The premise of the series, young people struggling to make it in the city of angels, is legitimized through Raquel Westbrook. Her ofttimes noxious and wicked interactions with the wide-eyed other characters is at points the only way to distinguish this Faux Angeles from the soft-pedaling melodrama of Degrassi Community School. And then like a cute toddler with a sharpie in an all white upholstered room, the viewer is almost forced to forgive Raquel’s misdeeds. She’s too cute. She’s still young (sort of). She’s an imperfect vessel, like us, after all, and she just wants to be loved and have nice things, like we do. She aggressively pursues ends like the woman-of-action we wished Manny had grown up to be, and suffers for it each step of the way. Raquel Westbrook is the most LA the show has to offer, as well as one of the most complex characters the show has bothered to roll out up to this point, and she is the unexpected heart of the series — not the whiney children running around humping one another. And she’s damn good at it.

But then there’s Kaldrick King. Besides filling the series to the brim with just the right amount of heated man-on-man-against-wall-or-floor make out scenes and (literally) explosive sequences of violence, the hip-hop superstar caricature, played by Andra Fuller, brings a dimension to the series that — while so distant from the rest at times it seems like its own show — is needed to dilute the white whines. At its core, The LA Complex is about a bunch of self-indulgent dreamers living and building their dreams — gigs, parties, big city, sex aplenty, ostensibly cheap rent — but blinded to it by their self-indulgence. It’s an interesting contrast to see the Black man with all the money and fame, taking indulgence to another level, struggling with it so much, and desperately seeking repentance and acceptance. His kisses appear distinct from the other kisses in the series, not because they’re with other men, but plainly because they mean more. They speak to indulgence in more than flesh and conflicts of interests that are more than just fame and fortune and glitz and glamour. Not to give the super two-fer tokenism too much credit, there’s certainly a lot of unflattering discussion happening over this story arc of the show, but Kaldrick King and his new budget Obama love interest is surely compelling, provocative drama if not just an unconventional sexual aesthetic for primetime network drama. He also doesn’t look too bad in a tank top. I definitely look forward to seeing him the season finale next week.

1Apparently TVs did exist back then. Whodathunkit?

2Yup.

3 OMG, she was in Flash Forward too!

As the warm season approaches, networks often have difficult (and not-so) decisions to make regarding their schedules and roster of programming. Surely the ratings have a lot to do with the decision making processes, but, as fans, we like to believe other factors come into play to some extent — whether it’s product placement monetization, #hashtag trend prominence, or executives possibly playing favorites hopefully with our favorites. We choose to believe in these less quantifiable and more unconventional series success variables so to justify our hope in the future of a favorable TV landscape, a future of fully packed DVRs and neglected loved ones. The hope fuels the ubiquitous social media campaigns, the zealous written pleas mailed to the network in bulk (do people still do that?), and manic financial support for commercial sponsors. Whatever the cause for each decision, cancel or renew, either a fandom finds corroboration in an x number of episodes commitment or viewers curse the callousness of network suits and their unwavering reverence to whims of Nielsen homes.

And all of that is simply to say this — listed at times with brazen bias:

  • Community has been renewed by NBC for a fourth season of 13 episodes. Not a surprise necessarily but surely a relief to many. This season has been filled with ups and downs for Community fans — consistently low ratings followed by a long impromptu mid-season hiatus, then a solid return with quality episodes that appeared to showcase creator Dan Harmon’s pointed response to the show’s received criticisms and uncertain future. To top it all off, it’s funny as fuck. The recent episode “Curriculum Unavailable” provided a ceremonious goodbye to the paintball episode tradition and, in essence, the Community of old. Times are a-changin’. And Community still has time (a new time actually, on Fridays come Fall), even if, rumor has it, Dan Harmon doesn’t.
  • FOX is giving Fringe a fifth and final season of 13 episodes, 13 more opportunities for Peter-Olivia shippers to be simultaneously placated to and kept in a persistent state of unease. That Fringe.
  • NBC has also given 30 Rock the go ahead to produce 13 more episodes for what is being labeled the final season. The guarantee is more that Tina Fey and the gang will be returning, not necessarily that the amount of episodes is set in stone or in this being the true last season, last inevitable live episode, last batch of Donaghy-isms, etc.
  • TBS has successfully acquired Cougar Town from ABC, saving the comedy from certain cancellation. Another opportunity for comedic relativism (“You just don’t get it. It’s funny.”) to gain some traction for those that stand by Courtney Cox’s ability to deliver on humor.
  • A bunch of no brainers were renewed including: ABC’s Happy Endings and Shonda Rhimes stuffs; an assortment of CSINCIS’s on CBS; Parenthood, Smash and Law & Order:SVU on the peacock network; and Bones and New Girl on FOX.
  • New shows The Secret Circle, Ringer, both on the CW Network; GCG on ABC; The Finder and Breaking In on FOX; NBC’s Awake, Best Friends Forever, and Are You There Chelsea? have all been canceled, Awake due to its overly advanced brand of storytelling, the rest because they sucked. But to be fair, there’s no guarantee Breaking In will stay canceled — that sly Christian Slater.
  • Have you ever watched NYC 22? Good. And now you won’t have to.
  • TV by the Numbers has a handy list of all other cancelations and renewals for the whole season.
  • Finally, Community and Fringe have been renewed! (Still great news the second time around.)

from left to right: Hanna, Emily, Aria, and Spencer

A long time ago in November of 2000, the WB Network, the frog that would eventually lip-lock with Viacom/CBS to become toady’s CW prince, aired a particularly absorbing episode of its hit teen drama Dawson’s Creek. The episode, season 4’s “The Unusual Suspects”, begins with a mystery – a dog set on a boat afloat in Capeside High School’s indoor swimming pool. Student and staff spectators alike were in awe. Remember 2000 was a simpler time. The novelty of such a prank may be lost on an audience jaded by a fairly rough decade of war and recession, but back then, a wily Clinton was still in office and No Strings Attached was on repeat in all our discmans (“What’s an mp3?”) A boat in a pool was rightfully awe-inspiring, and the mystery and intrigue of the episode was palpable.

A little background for the episode: Pacey and Dawson, former longtime besties, are currently on the outs, due to Pacey and Joey’s, Dawson’s other bestie and perhaps crushie, recurrent habit of making out and holding hands. Jack, a jock added as a series regular along with his sister Andie barely a season prior, is a secondary character/friend and is gay, possibly closeted, maybe out, maybe not gay (Really, it was twelve very long years ago.) Jenn, the blonde, notorious Creek game changer, is significant too but not necessarily for the purposes of revisiting this particular episode.

Jack, Pacey and Dawson are immediately suspected by Principal Peskin – it was his boat and his dog in the pool – to be the most likely culprits. Specific reasons are given but it comes down simply to Pacey being the bad boy of the show, Dawson being ostensibly unlikely but having ample opportunity (and it is his Creek after all), and Jack being decided upon by the writers to be gay important to the series’ dramatic interests. So the investigation begins. There’s traditional film noir lighting during the questioning scenes, some good cop bad cop played by the Principal and Dawson’s father, and a sequence of flashbacks narrated by each suspect. Their alibis are airtight and their testimonies touch upon a lot of the A and B plots of the series to this point. Jack spent the time in question with Jenn coaching a soccer team, where Jenn has an introspective moment or something. When Dawson is reminded of a pact he and Pacey had made in the past to pull a prank of this magnitude, he coldly reminds everyone that their friendship has ended. Pacey was making out and hand holding with Joey. (In 2000, that was definitely enough to satisfy many devoted shippers, while sending others into a frenzy. Good television, people.)

The episode culminates in the audience and Joey’s discovery that they did, in fact, do it. They pulled it off cleverly and together. Whether the answer to ‘how’ is satisfactory, the answer to ‘why’, especially for Dawson and Pacey, forces the viewer to reconsider what we know about these characters and the dynamics of the series. It’s done surprisingly well too. The temptation to force square pegs into a circular hole to generate a new story or gimmicky mystery was rightfully resisted and the squares as a result became more fleshed out people – corny, small-town New England people with complicated relationships and an affinity for boating.

Pretty Little Liars on ABC Family is certainly no Dawson’s Creek, if only for the lack of a nautical element. But in 2012, Rosewood, Pennsylvania is the best simulacrum of Capeside, Massachussets we have; Capeside circa “The Unusual Suspects” especially, when it comes to using mystery as a vehicle for plot. The death of Alison DiLaurentis, an admittedly dark start to a teen drama but comparable to Dawson’s Creek killing its own troubled blonde girl on its way out in ’03, provides the framework for similar natural character development. Surely, that wouldn’t be nearly good enough to seize an audience and PLL (as the kids call it these days) outpaces the Creek (as the kids never quite called it those days) in its cliffhangers, mysterious reveals, and also hasn’t shied away from the record for adulterous parents and the incredulous teen vocabulary battle (“Kids don’t really talk like Spencer, do they?!”) that the Creek kids once made prominent.1

Pretty Little Liars functions under the umbrella of mystery in a way consistent with what television has discovered from years of experience teens want. Remember the nerdy and awkward girl next door Josephine Potter that matured with time? Pretty Little Liars does. Remember when Pacey hooked up with a teacher? Pretty Little Liars remembers. What the mystery of A and the death of Alison add to the series is an unrelenting ‘boat in the pool’ mode that allows us to follow more closely what these characters may or may not become, without the crutch of feeling that things are as they’ve always been so they must at some point return to that. This week, we were taught to even question family makeups themselves. The reveal that Jason, Alison’s brother, is also Spencer’s brother may have been genuinely surprising to some, but more importantly, it functioned in a way that, even though distressing to Spencer, didn’t distress the PLL world. To many, the reveal probably just made sense. The weight of the news has been rippling backwards through the series for some time now. The reveal simply provided an answer, while creating a multitude of questions in the PLL fashion. (Good television, people.)

Basically, Pretty Little Liars is a damn good ride for those of us that don’t actually need to go anywhere. The comparison with Dawson’s Creek is mostly unnecessary, PLL can probably hold its own being merely compared to Gossip Girl, but is important only in that, if it holds, the gap between a generation of viewers, the space between Nielsen demos, the difference between the angst that matters and the inconsequential angst of yesteryear isn’t as large as it may seem sometime. And if Aria, Hanna, Emily and Spencer can live on screen as real persons with real drama, teen drama but real nonetheless, then maybe we won’t all be forced to grow up so quickly to gain more introspection and insight. Simply, I don’t wanna wait for our lives to be over. I want to know right now what will it be… do do do do

1Rory Gilmore being the closest competitor for the remainder of the decade.

No one actually enjoys Gossip Girl. No one. Currently in its fifth season on the CW Network, the half-baked schemes of the young and privileged of upper-east NYC have become a weekly chore for the show’s dwindling yet loyal viewership. Watching is an exercise in patience as well as masochism. Blair Waldorf’s unbridled, yet unfocused, angst-riddled affections remain frustratingly predictable, leading to probably some of the worst premises in the history of televised melodrama. Ms. Waldorf (Leighton Meester) literally became a princess in the latest installment, the proverbial riches to riches story, and somehow remained a caricature of a distressed damsel, clamoring for Hepburn’s legacy (overtly Audrey to top off this episode, Katharine where applicable.)

Elsewhere, Serena van deer Woodsen (Blake Lively) dreams of being Marilyn Monroe circa Gentleman Prefer Blondes – a gimmick so uninteresting that NBC is trying it out this coming mid-season with Smash. This 100th episode sort of meanders about from there, using old tricks to showcase old storylines and aging characters – Michelle Trachtenberg reprises her role as Georgina Sparks only to devise a relatively archaic plot to ruin Blair’s wedding. It’s then that five years begin to feel like forever. It’s too apparent that everyone on the show refuses to mature, grow, learn. Everyone from Nate to Dan to Blair to Chuck to Serena simply ignore past experiences and prove to be incapable of charting a new course – overtly represented by the barely half a season costly top-tier university educations even mattered to the gang.

Still, the show does such a great job of convincing the viewer that personal growth is in fact the enemy. Taylor Momsen grew up before the Gossip Girl cameras pretty much as Serena-light Jenny Humphrey – finding herself on paparazzi-riddled Hollywood red carpets and in smokey Soho nightclub stages. Promptly, she was berated then jettisoned because of it. Taylor Momsen’s exposed vagina on Perez Hilton or belligerent TMZ solicited quotes depict growing pains. Likewise, Serena struggling to tell Dan that she has feelings for him or Chuck and Blair’s perennial missteps of love depict the cyclical and unescapable pain of never growing up and actively fighting growth with each ounce of your very being.

So it follows then that Gossip Girl is for each of us that remain 2007 revisited weekly. The CW celebrates its birthday and flips through an album of photos and trinkets from its youth every time Serena flips her golden hair or Chuck pours a scotch. Luckily, they also have the benefit of moving forward to the Secret Circles and Vampire Diaries of its present (and foreseeable future.) As a Gossip Girl viewer however, we consistently find ourselves entrenched in the past, weary and dissatisfied.

Nonetheless, many will return for psychic time travel next week. To say this is surprising would be undermining how Gossip Girl and television drama in general can function on a singular level so well it simultaneously compensates for its faults and highlight its virtue. When the series first presented us with rich, self-indulgent high school kids having sex, lying and manipulating one another, the fiction was rich but more importantly the motifs were familiar if not palpable.

Constance isn’t your high school, these aren’t your friends, but they can be if you want. You can hold on tightly enough to the series that it changes shape in your hands like clay. You may then call it ‘racy’ or ‘provocative’, buying into the marketing sluglines. Or you can hold it so firmly in your grasp that you no longer see what’s inside, too cynical or afraid to loosen your grip and ruin what you imagine to be in your hands, alternating between shamefully hiding the series from the world (and your friends) and loyally defending it from those that mean it harm.

Gossip Girl undeniably merits both sorts of adoration, along with its fair share of abhorrence. Like a lover you still see sometimes when it’s clear you shouldn’t. But it’s not really clear, is it? Not for those that stay. Whether you’re the scorned victim who should just let go or the serial heartbreaker who should finally do the right thing, clarity never comes easy. How could something that has Harriet the Spy becoming the new face behind Veronica Mars’ voice be in any way bad for you? The city of New York gave the show a fucking day for Szohr’s sake! You gotta love it (even when it’s most ridiculous, even when it’s truly unbearable, even if you really shouldn’t, for a 100 episodes more.) XOXO

[At this point, an ending as predictable as a Gossip Girl sixth season renewal]

Following the moderate success of ABC’s Once Upon a Time, the Mickey Mouse network has just given the order for a new Beauty and the Beast themed pilot, according to the Hollywood Reporter. The move marks the second possible Beauty and the Beast reimagining this pilot season, the first having been ordered by the CW Network. This may prove to be the Grimm vs. Once Upon a Time – identical premises that sound much better on (Fables’ comic book) paper than on Friday or Sunday night television, respectively – showdown of the next season. Are the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen the elite show creators that networks would have us believe? To be fair, their being dead is probably a very attractive quality when contract negotiations come around.

In somewhat related news, Shonda Rhimes, creator of Grey’s Anatomy (amazingly while still being alive), is aiming for her fourth creator credit this spring with new series Scandal also on ABC and starring Kerry Washington. The message here being that Grey’s Anatomy in essence is performing so well, ABC has chosen to give the show’s creator a heftier chunk of their airtime, for lack of anything better to do with it. (Little Bo Peep biopic, perhaps?) Sometime in the future, Summer Glau, the accursed one to many, is even scheduled to make an appearance on Grey’s. Yes. We get it. The guys over there feel very secure. Geez. They’re just rubbing it in now.

Security in the scripted television jungle is a rare thing these days but does occur now and then, and you know it when you see it. Giving someone behind one hit series a new series to stamp their name on is like giving out luxury cars they can flaunt or, just as easily, crash into a tree for fun. Shonda Rhimes seems to have more experience with the latter; Off the Map cancelled and Private Practice seeming to underwhelm on purpose. (She should probably learn to drive/write soon.) Bones guy Hart Hanson is also getting the treatment this season over on FOX with The Finder holding steady with recycled jokes originally written for David Boreanaz and the older Deschanel.

Interestingly, this level of safety and comfort seems to lead to a “Fuck it” attitude, the sort that more commonly comes out of desperation, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing in television.

Seinfeld, an example from the history books, displayed some “Fuck it”-ness on more than one occasion throughout its run. Initially people just hated the show, reasons ranging from the show being “too Jewish” to it being “too New York.” Only four episodes of the first season were ordered after the pilot by an optimistic (it was 1990) NBC exec. Those episodes, made with a supposed expiration date, are critically lauded these days and the second time the pilot aired ratings doubled to guarantee a followup season.

Later on, Larry David and Jerry arguably said Fuck it again when things were going too well. Larry stepped down as showrunner and Jerry decided to pick up the pace of the show, cut out the standup segments and drive towards the absurd(ly funny) – remember the one with bizarro Jerry or the backwards episode? Fuck it right?

So its possible that genius can be found in both comfort and unease. Perhaps the new Beauty and the Beast (on twice?) holds some surprises after all. Probably not. But if Summer Glau is getting work as a hail mary or an act of total indifference, then so be it. We can all use a bit more Summer. Curse Smurse.

Yup, this blog has an affinity for the beautiful people. Didn’t think you would mind.