In honor of the formerly great-ish show Gossip Girl, my fellow brave Gossip Girl recapper for TV.com and colleague (and founder of) at This Was Television, Cory Barker and I decided to discuss the books, personal Gossip Girl highs, lows and lowest lows and our mutual love of Dan and Blair. Here’s the result of our epic email chain. You can find our respective thoughts on the series finale here and here.
Kerensa: The first thing I wanted to talk about is how you got into watching Gossip Girl. My personal GG narrative is pretty ridiculous. I read all the books while I was in high school (and well into college) and was automatically obsessed with them--not even sure why. They aren't that well written but I was immediately sucked into this world.
I remember hearing rumors of it being in development probably on ONTD and kept track of it from there. I had just started grad school and it was a weird thing we all bonded over, even so much as to start our own fake gossip girl Facebook group. So my emotional ties to this show blur a lot more than just being a passive audience another reason why I'm so pissed about how terrible it's become.
Cory: For me, the entry point was Josh Schwartz. I was a massive O.C. fan (like any True American) and when I heard that he was doing another teen show about pretty wealthy people, I just couldn't resist - even if I was still smarting over how Fox treated The O.C. and how Schwartz sort of let it die (he certainly got wrapped up in other projects, which happens, but ugh season three of that show was an abomination). But I actually didn't watch Gossip Girl right at the beginning, simply because I picked Chuck in the Great Schwartz-off of 2007 when both of his new shows were in the same timeslot. I didn't have a DVR at the time, so tough calls had to be made. I caught up with the show during the Writers Strike and was pretty much hooked. The show had such spirit and pep in the early going.
But you read all the books?! Please tell me more about them. I've never read a single word, nor I have I even managed to look them up on Wikipedia. I assume that the show diverges from them pretty heavily, correct? But I never recall much outcry over things being changed, which is interesting to me.
Kerensa: The O.C. was just the best. Except season three was so terrible.
Is it bad I can't even imagine the show having pep anymore? I rewatched the pilot last season before the 100th episode and it still holds up. It was just so good.
I have! Which might be a ridiculous thing to admit to but I'll go further and admit I own the majority of them. The show does extremely diverge from the books. The books read like a satirical novels of manners. And a lot of the characters couldn't be more different than they were characterized: Chuck is gay and owns a monkey, Vanessa is a punk-rock filmmaker with a shaved head, Blair and Nate were OTP, Dan and Serena never really happen and there are overt sexual vibes between Serena and Blair (which I still secretly hope that show ends with). The majority of the storylines from the books never actually happened on the show. Also because they were so outlandish that I honestly think that there was no way they could put them on television. Other than those, many of the characters are pretty similar to the original books—Dan, Blair, Nate.
And there really wasn't much outcry that I remember either. The thing I remember (again via ONTD) the most in terms of outcry was the casting of Jessica Szohr as Vanessa. People were pissed that they were turning this punk rock chick into your typically CW pretty (and bland) star. But since I read the books, I think that there wasn't that much outcry because Schwartz really captured the world of the books and made them translate so well for television. For me, it was extremely satisfying.
This could be a weird transition, but for you what were some of your high/low points with the show?
Cory: Oh my the books sound worse than the show. Somehow.
My relationship with the show has been tumultuous to say the least. I never felt that attached to it until, and here comes the inner shipper in me, Dan and Blair's relationship really became a focus in season four. I enjoyed the first few seasons well enough, but honestly, I can't remember too many specifics from those episodes. I remember the illegal pool party episode from season one; I remember hating Jenny; I remember thinking that Nate really had nothing to do. Glad some things never change. We talk more about the later seasons in a bit, but what were your big moments from the early going?
Kerensa: Yeah, they really might be.
I think a majority of my big moments usually revolved around Blair. She was my favorite in the books. I mean I was obviously hooked from the first episode, but one moment that always stands out for me was in the first season was when Serena and Blair finally talk about how hurt Blair was when Serena just left for boarding school and didn't tell her. It completely solidified my fangirl worship of Leighton Meester. FYI I watched The Roommate just for her, obviously. I also always like when they have Serena go "back to the dark side" so that stretch of episodes when Georgina comes around for the first time leading to the death-almost threesome reveal was super epic for me. And for totally lolz--I love in the second season when Serena dates hipster artist Aaron Rose, what happened to that guy? But speaking of the Aaron Rose storyline, maybe it was just my ridiculous optimism for the show, but clearly, the origins of the horror we are now witnessing were always there. In the early seasons, what are some of the things that were the most ridiculous for you?
Cory: I remember thinking that most everything in season two was pretty silly. The show was trying really hard to top itself and earn the WTF and OMG promotional monikers.
We've focused quite a bit on the early going, but generally speaking, that was the time the show was at its most popular. The ratings fell off the map in season three and only continued to plummet afterwards. Why do you think that is? We've both seen that recent Atlantic piece that suggested the economy was to blame for the show's declining buzz. I see that logic, particularly in regard to the show's escapist appeals. But that's not the only reason, right?
Kerensa: No, it's totally not. I feel like Gossip Girl aired in a weird transitional period for television, right on the cusp of Hulu, etc. And I think that the lack of online access to the show certainly didn't help. I would do extensive internet research to find an episode if I missed it. If you fell behind on the show there was no easy way to get caught up, so maybe people just stopped watching? Also, when they had them all go to college- that could have been executed way better. What do you think?
Cory: Both of your points are valid. The CW is great about getting their content online quickly now, but back then, it was a bit of a crapshoot - at least legally. That didn't stop the network from boasting about the show's online popularity though. And the college transition hurt, mostly because the show never really committed to it. The writers' interest in those stories was minimal, and while I think that transition is always tough on teen dramas, it bothered me that GG just dropped it all together. Apparently none of these idiots finished college? Would it kill them to reference it now and again?
But ultimately, it's been the bad writing that hurt the most. The characters were strong at the beginning but very few of them developed in compelling or purposeful ways in subsequent seasons. Most of them (Nate and Serena most notably) bend to the will of the plot to an amazing degree. And in the final season, all of them have acted more like 15 year olds than adults, to a whole new degree, and it's so troubling. So why did you stay with the show? Offhanded loyalty? Masochism?
Kerensa: I think it was probably mid S3/beginning of S4 where I began to check out a bit in my viewing. I still watched but I was pretty bored. However, the Dan and Blair relationship (which I know you are also a fan of) completely reinvested my watching of the show. While at first it seemed like an odd pairing, it was one that made complete sense. Penn Badgley and Leighton Meester are arguably the best actors on the show and they have such great chemistry, so I loved seeing any Dan/Blair interaction. When they ruined this at the end of season 5, it was basically too late to stop watching, I'd already stuck with it this far, so I figured I might as well watch it to the bitter end (Clearly, masochism). The end unfortunately enough may have changed my entire viewpoint of the show. Why did you stick with it? Also, what made you a big Blair/Dan fan?
Cory: I barely stuck with it. There are episodes of seasons three and four that I know I haven't seen and I will never return to them. There were enough reviews and/or Wikipedia entries out there that allowed me to read about what was happening without actually having to watch, which allowed me to keep some connection to the show without having to deal with the frustration of actually watching it.
Blair and Dan's relationship worked not only because of the actors' great chemistry, but also because it felt like the one pairing that the writers actually cared about. I know certain fans will feel much differently, but you could actually see in the show itself that Josh Safran had been slowly building up their relationship, how they respected one another, etc. There was an honesty to their relationship that the show desperately needed at the time (and needs now like never before). It just made sense that these two people would find each other and care about one another in the way that they did. Emphasis on the did. But I wonder: Both you and I are more or less glorified Dair shippers. Most of the other folks we talk to on Twitter about the show are as well. But the show, and apparently a "chunk" (talking about the size of any sub-section of Gossip Girl fandom is like multiplying a number by zero) of the fans, are head-over-heels for Blair and Chuck. Clearly, we can interpret the show however we want, just as those fans can, but I'm wondering if we were delusional to think that the show would actually keep Blair and Dan together for an extended period of time at the end of the run. Thoughts on that?
Kerensa: Maybe? I mean I don't know if it had anything to do with Safran going to Smash, but I guess I really wonder what was the point of the entire thing if they knew that Blair and Dan were just a temporary thing? To check off everyone on this show sleeping with each other? Although as we have both encountered on Twitter, Chuck/Blair shipper rage seems to be a pretty influential thing, so much so that in this end run even the stars of the show (Meester, Badgley, even poor Matthew Settle) have vaguely acknowledged the writers of the show pandering to certain, more outspoken fanbases. I guess I was delusional because I was hoping for more from the show (which I shouldn't have expected) in that Blair could always love Chuck, since he was her first love, but ultimately realize that he's terrible for her (and also a sociopath), like we've all experienced. But I guess not? Another thing I found curious was the breaking up of Rufus/Lily and Lily going back to Bart. I mean maybe we'll get some resolution of this in the finale. But of any pairing on the show, I really thought they were OTP, I mean hell, Sonic Youth married them. Do you have any thoughts about that? Also, what are you expecting from the finale? I assume about the same things I'm expecting--Chuck/Blair getting married, Dan/Serena reconciliation, Nate unveiling GG/finally having something to do?, some weird age flashforward? I really hope you aren't watching it alone.
Cory: Ha! I'm not watching it alone, though I am watching it with someone who despises the show, so that should be interesting. As far as predictions go, I assume the show will play it straight down the middle of Terrible Boulevard, where it's lived in the previous nine hours. I'd bet that on top of the Chuck/Blair and Dan/Serena happy endings that we get something with Rufus and Lily as well. Like you said, it was pretty clear that they'd be together and the show seemingly just needed something different for both of them to do. If Dorota isn't Gossip Girl, none of this will have been worth it. I assume that Nate will continue to have sex with a 17-year old because Why Not and they'll all live blissfully, ignorantly and unfairly happy together. I don't expect anything "surprising," do you?
And one final Q: What do you see as this show's legacy? It's not an all-time teen drama, right?
Kerensa: Ok good, I'm not watching it alone either. I don't think I could handle it. I really really hope Dorota is Gossip Girl. I'm not really expecting anything surprising either, maybe who Gossip Girl is? But probably not. I'd be really impressed if they did something to surprise me at this point even if it's terrible. (Note: This ended up happening in the form of Rachel Bilson)
Honestly, I'm not totally sure what this show's legacy will be. I think that at one point it really did have some cultural influence, but the rapid downfall may negate any all-time status I think that the show could have had? In terms of the CW's history (LOL), it was I believe their first really big success, so maybe in that sense it might be seen as a cornerstone of the evolution of the network. I also don't have much to back this up, but maybe it could be seen also as a beginning of successfully interpreting YA into TV? But I think if anyone wants to revisit it, it's going to be just watching season 1, which was so great. What do you think?
Cory: Yeah, there might be some value in the YA-to-TV point that you brought up. Other than that, I'm not sure. The CW is still so young that it's tough to say that Gossip Girl has any real definition in that regard but I guess it probably is the primary show people associate the network with (which is unfortunate on so many levels). It might get lumped in with the mid-aught escapist Rich People Doing Rich People Stuff sub-genre, or it might represent a certain era of kind of terrible teen drama. I'm not sure I'd advocate for anyone to watch this ever again. I'm just ready for it to be over. Anything else?
Kerensa: Not that I can think of. But the episode when Chuck sleeps with Jenny is on Style Network right now, and I don't really know how I deluded myself into thinking there was any good way this could all end.