October 17, 2021

Zolls Show

Show The Baby

God, It’s Brutal Out Here

Photo: Karolina Wojtasik/HBO Max

Have you heard? The prettiest little one-percenters you ever did see have gathered again on the Met steps. Gossip Girl is back in session and somebody needs to keep these entitled, beautiful brats in line. Supposedly this will be @GossipGirl’s job, but I can’t just leave her to it. I bring my power-ranking expertise and the many, many hours I devoted in my youth to watching the original Gossip Girl to bear on this vital project: The Gossip Girl Report Card. 

In the words of the great prophet Tyra: You wanna be on top? You — you being the Gossip children, their rich, hapless parents, and their broke, scheming teachers — will be subject to my totally accurate, absolutely scientific evaluations of your successes and failures in your efforts to secure, or just cling to, the highest status in these halls. This week’s area of study is the series premiere, “Just Another Girl on the MTA.” Unlike the underpaid, overworked educators at Constance Billard, I answer to no teens and all my grades are final. XOXO and let’s get to it.

Obie: Thank GOD when he and Zoya went inside his family’s building (!) to get safe from the rain, he was actually a nice not-creep who did not peek when she was getting changed, who really was just helping her dry her dress and even sat an appropriate distance from her on the couch, etc. etc. etc. I was getting some terrible energy from “my mom will kill me if you don’t strip at the front door” because my brain has been TRASHED from many moons spent simmering in the pre-cancel-culture world of the original series. Anyway, Obie gives donuts to striking workers, is always too rumpled for Insta Stories (though Julien’s standards seem a little silly? It’s not like she’s posting these to the grid), genuinely cares that his teachers make near-poverty wages, and emerges from this episode free from a relationship that was clearly not working for him and with a new friend who shares his values. Good on you, Obie. Going to overlook how gross it’ll be if/when he and Zoya eventually hook up because I can’t tell how old he’s supposed to be, but it’s probably too old to be messing around with a 14-year-old. For now, I feel safe giving him an A. 

Monet and Luna: Lackeys One and Two start the episode mostly as support staff — staging Julien’s Insta Stories, getting that teacher fired — however, when push comes to dick pic, they are ones who (1) have a clear goal, (2) set their scheme into motion, (3) achieve their desired outcome. Do I support their efforts on the merits? No, but I can’t argue with the results! I also love Luna’s commitment to the bit of “I can’t see freshmen.” A

Max: Every generation gets the Chuck Bass it deserves, and Gen Z’s version is queer, full of good quips (“Family drama is not my thing; I’m more of a medical procedural guy”), and doesn’t spend the premiere attempting a date rape. You simply love to see it! His character has me thinking about how much juicier this version of the show can be, seeing as last time around, all the love triangles (with that one exception; you KNOW the one) were limited by the presumed straightness of all involved parties. He does volunteer his body as tribute in order to sabotage the rise of a freshman girl he barely knows, which is rude, but he is the only character in this episode who seems to be having fun from start to finish, and when you are so handsome and rich that your actions basically never have consequences, why NOT be a happy, sultry hedonist? A-

Audrey: The only one who smells a rat from the start and her bangs always look perfect (HOW). We are for sure intended to get some Blair feelings from her lush pink bedding, plus naming her Audrey, after Blair’s movie-star objective correlative, is a wink too, no? Presumably, we’ll be seeing some Blair attitude from her soon, though B set that bar very high. Also, I’m dying at the idea that these kids who were 15 years old during COVID apparently spent all of quarantine having sex (where are their parents?? Excited to meet them!!) and have already reached the point of their relationship where they’re having married-couple conversations about how it’s taking her “so long” to finish. What’s the over/under on her hooking up with Max? Meanwhile: B+

Zoya: I can forgive a lot of her foolishness in this episode because she is supposed to be 14 years old, and she’s the outsider coming into town, and she’s so excited to finally have a relationship with her big half-sister, so I guess I believe she would willingly participate in staged meet-cutes and arguments and such in outfits she did not pick out for herself. And though it’s a little on the nose for her to slowly look more and more like her true self as the episode goes on, I am very happy to see her roll up to school in the oversize hoodie with her natural curls out. (But how did they dry so frizz-free with no product after the rain?! Zoya, share your secrets!) And I respect that, when confronted with Julien’s batshit explanations for how everything went down at the fashion show, Zoya replies with the unimpeachable, “You hurt me!” The truth: always an underrated power move. B+

That HBO budget: Oooh, look how expensive everything looks! CW who? B+

Aki: The character with the most intentionally look-at-me aesthetic (hello, hot-pink hair) says he doesn’t want to get anyone’s attention by … wearing a brightly colored shirt? Sure! Our sober, queer-curious teen just wants to go down on his girlfriend while she stares longingly at someone else. He is drama-adjacent. I assume he is popular just because he is rich and hot (not the worst reasons), but thus far, his role in the clique ecosystem remains unclear. Also, I will have more to say about this lower down on the report card, but he and Audrey make no sense as a couple. Anyway, for now he can have a B.

The original Gossip Girl: I feel like the show handled the whole “we get it, the original was super-white and pre-cancel-culture” of it all with relative ease here, don’t you? I also appreciated the wink to, but quick removal of, the headband; “that time Blair was princess of Monaco for six months”; and the idea that, among the list of luminaries this fine school produced, Nate Archibald fits in alongside Colson Whitehead and Caroline Kennedy. B

The new Gossip Girl: “No good secret goes unpublished” is a solid line. I am curious to see how this extremely chaotic choice by the Zara-clad faculty of Constance Billard plays out. I do find it hard to believe that the introduction of @GossipGirl into the lives of these teens will have some moderating effect on their conduct toward teachers, seeing as the students do not know the teachers are behind the account, and the supposed proof of concept doesn’t check out because it was Monet, “the school villain,” who was rude to Tavi at the start of the episode, and Julien, whose whole thing is acting nice to everyone, who was kind to her at the end. Probably that kindness had less to do with the threat of a Gossip Girl post and more to do with Zoya telling her that Tavi dresses like she does because she makes less money than if she were working retail. In my benevolence, I will withhold harsher judgment and for now grant this ’gram a B-. 

Yeti: Product placement? So tacky. That said, Yetis are actually great and it’s weird that Tavi hasn’t yet invested in one for her commute. (Yeti, please sponsor me … unlike these cool high-schoolers, I am on Twitter.) C+

Rebecca: Okay, I have complained before about shows whose inciting incident is so obviously ludicrous and resolvable that the whole series suffers from its original sin. However, given that this show needs to just skip to the part where Gossip Girl is back and fully operational and terrifying the teens, I guess I can overlook the (totally absurd, I’m sorry but what) logic of Rebecca, class of ‘09, who claims the OG GG was “an Orwellian big sister” that kept her classmates in line?? Somehow this blog was responsible for curbing their most deviant behavior? Girl, Chuck Bass traded Blair Waldorf for a hotel. C

Kate Keller: A blonde approaches Manhattan by rail, wearing a camel-colored jacket over a striped top with a scarf around her neck. HOW VERY SERENA OF HER. (Why do I know this??? Could’ve spent college learning French … instead, I did this … just wait until we get deeper into the season and the Dorota callouts come, my broken brain and I will be ready!!) I find it more than a little pathetic that she devoted an hour to picking out an outfit she thought her students wouldn’t make fun of. The actual threat of looming unemployment because these kids are essentially customers and Keller and her colleagues are just replaceable service reps? Very intriguing, makes sense to me. The part where she still needs to be liked by these brats whose frontal lobes are about a decade shy of being fully formed? Eh. Looking forward to watching whatever moral compass she has just get absolutely shattered by the rush of power that comes from wielding the @GossipGirl account. C

Julien: I know she’s supposed to be the queen bee around here, but so far I’m finding her scheming and strategy a little underwhelming — not to mention a little tonally inconsistent with the character she’s supposed to be. If her whole thing is that she’s so vulnerable and open that everybody likes her (classic Serena energy), why does she think the best system for incorporating her long-lost half-sister into the friend group is this convoluted lie (aspirationally Blair, practically Vanessa) when she could just … tell her boyfriend and her “best” friends (taking her word for it) about it? Her mom is dead and her half-sister is the only person who probably understands the particulars of her loss. I feel like even her meanest friends would make an allowance. Also, it’s hard to believe that such an obvious try-hard could be the most popular girl in high school, no matter how rich she is. Also also, I do appreciate that there’s a latent bitchiness just waiting to pour out of her; “Why would you think someone else deserves something more than you?” and “Wouldn’t Ms. Keller be so much happier at Madewell?” give me hope for what’s to come. In the meantime: C

Julien’s dad: Bonus points to everyone who spotted Luke Kirby (The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’s Lenny Bruce) in this cameo I trust will be fleshed out into a larger role as the season progresses! He has a studio session with Billie, or maybe Billy — he does not clarify, but I feel like post-Olivia Rodrigo’s shout-out, Billy Joel’s cred with the Zoomers is on the rise? So anything is possible! All we know about him so far: very, very rich; did get cheated on that time and did NOT get over it; has a publicist run his Instagram; defers decision-making power over Constance Billard scholarships to his teenage daughter, who goes to the school and thus obviously has a major conflict of interest/this is such a violation of everyone’s privacy and rights/and so on. Underwhelming parenting isn’t a failing offense, but it’s that last egregious point of, “Oh, I don’t have time to read the scholarship applications OR check my own social media” that forces me to give this man a C-. 

Twitter: Accurately burned here as “a glorified chat room for meme-sharing, conspiracy theorists, and Lin-Manuel Miranda.” D+ 

Extremely implausible and therefore boring couples: Amazing how such beautiful people can have zero sexual chemistry! Not a ONE of these matches — pouty Audrey and super-serious Aki; influencer Julien and guilty-rich do-gooder Obie — make any sense, and I understand they are really just placeholder relationships whose sole purpose is to blow up spectacularly as the season goes on, but why should I care if these kids break up if I don’t really buy that they would ever be together in the first place? D

Dated and obvious music cues: Are we still scoring scenes of super-rich kids with “Super Rich Kids”? That song came out when the super-rich kids in question were fourth-graders. All due respect to Frank Ocean, but it’s too new to be retro and too old to be current, sorry! D

Zoya’s dad: Again, not a lot to go on here re: characters and consistency, but it IS weird that after his daughter spends the whole first day and night of school wowing him with how trustworthy she is — home before curfew! — he does not even have a real conversation with her about the sourcing of her scholarship. He just assumes she knew about it. Does that track with what we know about her and their relationship so far? Not really, but okay! I just think it’s kind of a dick move to say to your child (who is grieving, lonely, and attempting to connect with the only other family she has!), “Well, I guess we’ll never KNOW if you could’ve gotten that scholarship all by yourSELF now WILL we???” Sounds like someone is projecting! Excited to see what this daddy’s issues are. Today, he will be receiving a D.

The male teacher who takes Zoya and Obie’s picture through the window: ZOYA IS 14 THAT IS LITERALLY CHILD PORNOGRAPHY. Buddy, I know your job is rough and the teens are mean to you, but … no. Just, no. F

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