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Gossip Girl

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.

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]