Welcome back, Upper East Siders. We hope you enjoyed your Thanksgiving gatherings (as we all know, Gossip Girl invented Thanksgiving in the late aughts) because it’s time to return to your favorite set of rich kids. Gossip Girl is unveiling her sophomore season, and it’s good. Okay, well, maybe not good— but it’s significantly better than season one.
A reboot of the iconic CW teen drama, HBO Max’s Gossip Girl had a first season with a confusing thesis. It wanted its teens to revolutionize the original, to be socially and politically conscious Gen Z bots. But we don’t want to watch these kids check their privilege; we want to watch them scheme and backstab and hook up and spend obscene amounts of money on stupid things. Gossip Girl is an escape, not a reality check. Thankfully, the writers seem to have figured that out for season two.
We begin where we left off, with the characters returning from their New Year’s romp in Hudson. Julien (Jordan Alexander) and Zoya (Whitney Peak) are living with Zoya’s dad Nick (Johnathan Fernandez), unaware that their apartment is being financed by Julien’s sex offender father (Luke Kirby). Their conflicts, thank god, have started to actually make sense for two half-sisters, with them bickering about who gets the shower first or feeling resentful over who’s getting more attention from Nick. The writers quickly undo Julien’s nonsensical deal with Gossip Girl from the end of last year’s finale but keep her on the path of trying to turn over a new leaf—that is, until Monet (Savannah Lee Smith) declares herself the new queen of Constance.
To our eyes, Monet was the missing link all along. Gossip Girl had all the pieces to work last season but wasn’t deploying them in the right ways. Season two shakes the snow globe, Monet dons a headband and lands on the throne, and suddenly we have what we needed all along: a worthy successor to Blair Waldorf.
The show knows it too. “I can’t be Blair without a Serena,” Monet taunts Julien after she manipulates her into a power struggle. Julien, beautiful and self-absorbed and convinced she’s a better person than she is, makes a much better Serena than she ever did a Blair. As Monet, Savannah Lee Smith is a delight in every scene, clearly reveling in her bitchery. For one line in particular (“Do I look like Cupid for poors?”) she seems to be channeling Leighton Meester herself. It’s telling that in the five episodes provided for review, Monet (and Luna [Zión Moreno], who still needs more to do) are missing from just one, and it’s easily the weakest of the batch.
Along with her desire to rule with an iron fist, Monet gets saddled with some mommy issues (truly making her Blair’s spiritual heir), neatly tying into what is still the most deranged plotline of the show: Gossip Girl being run by the teachers, led by Kate Keller (Tavi Gevinson). Kate got dressed down by Monet’s mother, Camille, last season, so naturally this fragile white woman spends season two desperate to get dirt on who she now sees as her arch-nemesis. Season two also throws in a new teacher with his own Gossip Girl-related agenda into the mix, and while there’s still some moralizing about the rotten system, Gossip Girl at least moves away from trying to suggest the teachers have altruistic motivations.
Speaking of false altruism: Zoya continues to be more caricature than character, constantly on her soapbox, jumping to conclusions, and berating her father for trying to keep the roof over their heads. Her friend Shan (Grace Duah) from last season got bumped to series regular, and her character only functions as a foil to Zoya, but at least she’s less annoying. No one is worse than Obie (Eli Brown), who should honestly be written off. His sad-sack persona is dragging down his friends, but more importantly, the show. Whoever thought this boy was going to pass for the next generation’s Nate Archibald was tragically mistaken.
And our resident throuple—Aki (Evan Mock), Audrey (Emily Alyn Lind), and Max (Thomas Doherty)—is beginning to feel out their boundaries. While Doherty and Lind brought some sexual tension to the screen in season one, their storyline in season two is dominated by repetitive misunderstandings. How many times can we watch these three gorgeous people think their relationship is falling apart only to realize everything is fine by the end of the hour? If the show could let them be happy for a second, they could turn their scheming brains toward something more interesting.
But overall, the whole production seems much more comfortable in its second outing. Many characters feel more lived-in and less reductive, and the writing has gotten much funnier. In addition to classic lines like, “It’ll make The Spectator look like a Substack,” there’s subtle referential humor that you have to be tuned in to catch, such as Obie getting his conservative girlfriend a Chris Pratt cameo for Valentine’s Day, or Gossip Girl writer Hunter Harris appearing as herself.
The show is at its best when it’s having a good time, unafraid of letting the children misbehave. Toward the end of episode three, Julien says, “I’m sick of pretending I’m some great person.” It seems Gossip Girl had the same revelation—and as a result, we’ll all have a little more fun.
Gossip Girl season 2 premieres December 1 on HBO Max.