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Why the Gossip Girl Reboot Didn’t Hold Up to the Original Series

After two seasons on HBO, the Gossip Girl reboot has officially been axed. The original series based on the book series of the same name, ran for six seasons on The CW network, capturing over two and a half million viewers in its first season. The teen drama followed a group of self-indulgent Upper East Siders, instantly becoming a cultural sensation. Early advertisements and trailers for the series initially sparked outrage from concerned parents and conservative-leaning critics, who felt the show would be a negative influence on young viewers. In response, Gossip Girl launched one of the most iconic yet underrated marketing campaigns in television history, creating posters that boasted these concerns. Sensual images of the characters set the background to quotes such as “wildly inappropriate”, “a nasty piece of work”, and “every parent’s nightmare”.

After a successful run and significant impact on pop culture achieved, Gossip Girl aired its final episode in December 2012. It was the end of an era. Less than a decade later, a reboot series was announced, leaving many fans wondering if it was still too soon to mess with a good thing. It seems that it was indeed, with the HBO series failing to capture the same loyal fan base as the soapy original.

Gossip Girl gave viewers insight into an elite and exclusive world. These Upper East Side teenagers enjoyed lavish lifestyles with equally grave pitfalls, their adolescent blunders having far more weighty consequences than one would typically expect. This is in part because of the high standing and prestigious names from which many of them come, with a parent’s multi-million dollar business or political campaign at stake when their teens’ indiscretions come to light. This doesn’t stop the privileged students from indulging and experimenting, even despite the fact that their every move is subject to the public scrutiny of the mysterious Gossip Girl blog. Narrated by Kristen Bell, the elusive figure seems to have the inside scoop on the Upper East Siders at all times, exposing love affairs and betrayals that only those in exclusive circles would know about.

The series primarily focused on its two main “it girls”, Blair and Serena, played by Leighton Meester and Blake Lively, respectively. Audiences watched as the girls fell in and out of love, fought, made up, ate on the steps of the met, shopped til they dropped, and became embroiled in dramas beyond their norm. The ultimate revelation that Dan Humphrey of all people was the figure behind Gossip Girl, was a shocking twist that satisfied fans. Gossip Girl’s cultural impact has far outlived the series, with the aesthetic of the Upper East lifestyle continuing to inspire Pinterest boards and Instagram layouts to this day.

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The Gossip Girl reboot, which premiered on HBO in 2021, once again followed the lives of teens in New York City’s Upper East Side. The cast of characters was more diverse this time around, something that was largely celebrated on social media. The series builds upon the original premise of a tell-all gossip rag, except this time it has a modern update. Rather than a blog, Gossip Girl is an instagram account this time around. Like many hobby or blog accounts, this social media page is run by multiple people— this time by the very teachers of the teens. The oft ignored and underappreciated educators double as spies, reporting on the personal lives of their young pupils.

On paper, the initial numbers for the reboot series indicated a new hit. It debuted as the most -watched new series on HBO Max, a relatively new streaming platform breaking into the game. The series has since been supplanted in this rank. In fact, the series does not even hit the top ten most watched shows on HBO Max. Critics blasted the series, but not in the same way that they did the original series. While critics feared the sort of influence the original series would have on teenage audiences, critics of the reboot are more concerned with just how unwatchable they find it.

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The Gossip Girl reboot was rife with blunders from day one. It just didn’t feel authentic, as if the writers were scared to let their characters be bad people, sometimes— something the original series never shied away from. The dialogues and characterizations felt inspired directly by Twitter social discourse, with the entitled teens seeming to think that progressive politics precludes them from being fundamentally unlikable. The Gossip Girl reboot gives us rich kids preaching support for liberal causes while continuing to benefit from and indulge in a life of excess and frivolity. The series gives us the most obnoxious spokespeople imaginable for the causes of the everyday layperson, and does so with incredibly forced and unnatural dialogue. The characters of the original series were selfish and privileged, but they didn’t try to act sanctimonious at the same time. They did terrible things and often were unapologetic about it, giving the show a satirical element wherein it could criticize the misdeeds of the elite. Making the reboot characters socially conscious even as they continue to be out of touch and frivolous makes them hypocritical in a way that the show doesn’t seem to be self-aware of. Not to mention that the representation of Gen-Z seems to be a misguided pander to what older writers think Gen-Z is like and want to see. Teenage and young adult viewers want real drama with complex and flawed characters, not an inauthentic interpolation of internet buzzwords set to the tune of predictable and worn-out stories.

Furthermore, the show fumbled the mystery aspect of the original by revealing Gossip Girl’s identity right away. Being that it is a wildly unprofessional and inappropriate dynamic, teachers running a gossip page about their own students could have been a shocking twist for writers to delve into in later seasons. There was nothing to anticipate in the series; no big reveals to await. With the series officially canceled, perhaps writers will be more wary of misguided attempts to modernize material prematurely. With any luck, future Gen Z characters will also be written by people who have ever interacted with one in real life.



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