(Note: Alas, this isn’t the return of the Gossip Girl blog, but a check-in on the beginning of Season Two. Much as I enjoyed writing the GG recaps pre-strike and tried to lobby our readers into watching along with me, response was too tepid to justify the weekly labor. Unless there’s a sudden surge of interest—in which case, we’ll see if something can be worked out—I’ll just weigh in now and perhaps at the end of the season. XXOO)
Boy, I’m really thirsty, aren’t you? Except lately, water really hasn’t done it for me. Sure, it’s essential for sustaining life, but based on tonight’s episode of Gossip Girl, it’s clear that plain old H2O has become a little passé. If you want to hobnob with the Hamptons elite—and perhaps bag that well-preserved minx from Twin Peaks—then water isn’t going to get it done. It’s got to have stuff in it, like triple antioxidants and some vague fruity taste, such as Peach-Mango or Acai-Blueberry-Pomegranate.
All kidding aside, despite the blatant and incongruous product placement—why do the superrich need VitaminWater to sponsor their foo-foo white parties?—“Summer, Kind Of Wonderful” is a strong, confidently executed Gossip Girl episode, featuring just the right balance of earnest and trashy, and romantic and diabolical. Coming off a first season filled with what co-creator Josh Schwartz calls “OMFG moments,” the show has to walk a pretty fine line every week. The bar has been set high for “every parent’s nightmare” material, but since bad behavior is the show’s chief selling point these days, it has to keep provoking. At the same time, the writers have to bring these characters back down to earth and make them identifiable as people, not just the schemers and the schemed. That’s a tough task—and without reliable presences like Adam Brody, Peter Gallagher, and Rachel Bilson around, it may be impossible in the long term—but Gossip Girl seems up for the job, at least for the time being.
Season Two opens with the OMFG image of a May-November tryst involving Nate and a married woman played by Mädchen Amick, who somehow looks more attractive now than she did on Twin Peaks, perhaps because she no longer has to vie for attention against the likes of Sherilyn Fenn, Joan Chen, Lara Flynn Boyle, Sheryl Lee, and Peggy Lipton. It doesn’t appear that the show will do anything with Amick long-term (she’ll have a regular role on the dire-looking Christian Slater show My Own Worst Enemy), and I have mixed feelings about it. Developing a relationship between a married woman and a high-school kid sounds potentially scandalous, but this has been conceived as a one-and-done summer fling and not a particularly interesting one at that; the scene where Nate slips out the window in boxers when Amick’s hubbie comes home is as standard-issue as these things get.
That said, it’s clear that the writers are well aware of their bread and butter, because this was a terrific episode for Blair and Chuck, an unholy duo that now seem devoted to driving each other crazy. Chuck has somehow coaxed three Portuguese beauties into observing European beach customs and more (“Mr. Chuck, is there something that needs caretaking of?”), yet he’s still brooding over Blair, who has decided to make him jealous by trotting out an Ivy League stiff named James. There’s a wealth of great material here, most of it (as usual) from Blair, who complains about the shaky quality of her ruse (“Do you know how hard it is to find a fake boyfriend on short notice?”), attempts to shed him via dubious swoon-y compliment (“the past six days have been exactly what I’ve needed them to be”) and blunt insult (“you’re kinda boring”) and then has a sudden change of heart when James reveals himself to be a British Lord (with a hilariously terrible accent) who just wanted her to get to know him as your average blueblood. (This last revelation was pure stupid writerly contrivance, right out of a bad romantic comedy. It was also genius.)
As for Chuck… well, the clothes make the man, don’t they. There are times when I think the wardrobe department must have raided Peter Bogdanovich’s closet, what with all the ascots and fedoras. But Chuck takes it to another level: He’s like a more charming Tucker Carlson, a parody of a snooty rich guy who seems to transcend the fashion trends of the day. (Unless those trends include a light green sportcoat over a polka-dotted shirt and a bowtie with design seemingly inspired by paramecia.) There is, of course, a heartsick romantic under all those layers of pomposity and you can’t help but feel for him as he tries (and fails) to express his feelings for Blair.
The summer has also passed without reconciliation for Serena and Dan, though they’ve acted opposite to their natures: Serena, who hasn’t been above a few flings in her notorious past, has remained celibate while Dan has been tomcatting around New York. While they eventually get back together and end the episode on a soaring note—the beach, fireworks, et al.—there are all sort of semi-irritating contrivances that get them there, most involving Dan. For one, I’m don’t buy Dan as a lothario any more than a I would buy Adam Brody’s Seth Cohen doing the same thing; it’s just not in his monogamous nature. For two, there’s no way this guy gets stories published in The New Yorker and the Paris Review; Highlights For Children maybe, but not those august literary institutions. And three, since when does Serena’s super-evil grandmother have a change of heart? Couldn’t the writers have found another way to get him into The White Party?
But let’s not end on a sour note. Getting all the pistons grinding on a 22-episode season isn’t the easiest task in the world, and Gossip Girl has mostly pulled it off extremely well. At this point, the show has found its formula—sex, duplicity, and moneyed excess, with a sliver of heart—and delivered on it irresistibly.
• Completely forgot to mention Jenny, who could well be the wild card this season, since she’s still young enough not to have a strong sense of who she is yet. She can be sweet or naughty, and tonight she was both, reconciling with Eric in part to show up her Anna Wintour-like boss at the White Party.
• Favorite exchange, on the White Party: “Last year they even turned Jack Johnson away” “Sounds like a party with taste.” It’s not so much the zinger at the end that amuses me, but the image of Jack Johnson coming to a party uninvited in his best whites and being told to go home.
• Funny stuff with Serena and the townie lifeguard guy. Blair: “A hot lifeguard is like Kleenex: Use once and throw away.” Then she finally agrees to a date, she’s immediately mortified: “Oh my God, the lifeguard’s got a Camaro!”