Photo:The CW / Andrew Eccles
Confession: I love Gossip Girl. There, I said it.
I have film critic friends who love it too, though the loathsome snobs won't admit they even watch TV. Screw them. Who doesn't enjoy watching the rich enjoying their privileges? The economy is broken. We need the escape. GG is accused of being morally irresponsible. I should hope so. Blake Lively as Serena Van Der Woodsen (S, for short) and Leighton Meester as her best frenemy forever Blair Waldorf (B to intimates) -- that's them licking an ice-cream dildo on the current RS cover -- negotiate their acrobatic teen hookups like oversexed Wallendas.
OK, Gossip Girl is not even in hailing distance of TV's Top 10. So what? Thanks to rabid DVR-ing and a brisk business on iTunes, the show is the "one and only source into the scandalous lives of Manhattan's Elite." Even when an episode stumbles by skimping on Ed Westwick's deliciously vile, 17-year-old billionaire Chuck Bass in favor of the humdrum Humphreys tucked away in the gentile poverty of Brooklyn, GG always rights itself with fresh displays of conspicuous consumption.
Confession 2: What tickles me most about GG is its movie madness. GG is omfg orgasmic about film. Just look at the movie-crazy titles of the shows:
Photo: The CW / KC Bailey
Episode 2 was called The Wild Brunch, evoking the brute force of Sam Peckinpah. Then there's Seventeen Candles (the show is John Hughes obsessed), Roman Holiday (Blair is Audrey Hepburn obsessed), The Blair Bitch Project (a horror movie from Sundance!), All About My Brother and Women On the Verge (two from Almodovar, could you die?), The Serena Also Rises (a Hemingway adaptation), Pret-a-Poor-J (unsung Robert Altman), There Might Be Blood (PTA said "Will" not "Might," but GG's violence is more verbal than gory), The Magnificent Archibalds (Orson Welles, jeez). OK, I'll stop.
I trace all this back to the show's co-creator Josh Schwartz who studied film like a geek at USC back in 1990s. But GG doesn't stop at cute word play. Cinema is in its bones. Last week on a show called The Age of Dissonance (a Scorsese shoutout!), the private-school girls at Constance Billard and the boys of St. Jude's hired a Broadway director to stage their high school production of The Age of Innocence, and had real New York Times critic Charles Isherwood come in to review it (ain't power grand?). The director tells his cast that "Scorsese actually said that The Age of Innocence was â€˜the most violent movie he had ever directed, much more so than even Taxi Driver.'" Better yet, that episode didn't stop at Scorsese's film adaptation of Edith Wharton's book about social traps. It dropped in an even more celebrated novel of East Coast wealth and its seductions -- F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby -- and had Vanessa (Jessica Szohr), the show's film geek, discuss what went wrong with Jack Clayton's 1974 film version, despite stars Robert Redford and Mia Farrow and a script by the Godfather himself, Francis Ford Coppola. I thought I was dreaming.
Photo: Rufino/The CW
Upcoming episodes are brimming over with intrigue and shrewd movie references: Monday's show, The Remains of the J (a Merchant-Ivory homage) involves a disastrous Sweet 16 party that S throws for Little J (Taylor Momsen). It's all a buildup to the big senior prom show, Eyes Wide Open, linking back to the episodes about Chuck Bass and a secret sex club, much like the one in Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut. The season finale, The Curious Case of Bart Bass, doesn't include Westwick morphing into an old man like Brad Pitt did, but it does force Chuck to confront his haunted past. A spicy new episode, Seder Anything, looses points for sending off Dorota for the weekend (are they insane?), but puts a clever spin on Cameron Crowe's 1989 debut film Say Anything about love and financial misdeeds. Seder Anything uses those tabloid headlines about Hollywood princess Anne Hathaway and her relationship with an Italian real estate developer who was later accused of fraud. It puts Serena in bed (literally), in Spain, with a smooth scam artist, who lands her in mucho trouble with the law. Those paparazzi shots showing Serena being led out of the Russian Tea Room in handcuffs are now explained. But, hey, no more spoilers. Just my own Top 10 reasons for being a slave 4 Gossip Girl:
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The Polish maid with a mission to serve and sass Miss Blair is considered a minor character, but only by those by those fools who watch GG and don't pay any damn attention. Snap out of it! An enchantress named Zuzanna Szadkowski plays Dorota with a choice Polish accent that Meryl Streep's Sophie would envy. No wonder Dorota has her own webisodes on Verizon. She is the conscience of the series. The ring tone of her cell is Britney's "I'm a Slave 4 You," but Dorota stays quietly in charge. Though "Mees Blair" can get snippy when her date deserts her and Dorota serves Dom Perignon on a tray with two champagne flutes ("Dump that Dom down the train, Dorota"), this maid sees and hears all and gets all the implications. She is my addiction because I want my own Dorota. Don't we all?
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British actor Ed Westwick has made "Meester Chuck" (I'm quoting Dorota) the power supply for the show's best juice. Listen up, Emmy. Chuck is a villain you love to hate and then love again. There's been too much strain this season to prove that Chuck has a heart. I can live with Chuck living without one. Luckily, the rogue is always at play in Westwick's eyes. Chuck is arguably the most appealing rat bastard since George Sanders sneered his way to an Oscar in All About Eve. Westwick has the mischief and the skills to forge a solid film career (check him out in Son of Rambow) when GG signs off the tube, hopefully long after I'm dead. To hear Westwick utter the immortal phrase, "I'm Chuck Bass," is TV nirvana.
Credit to Josh Schwartz and his co-creator Stephanie Savage. Also props to writers Felicia D. Henderson, K.J. Steinberg, John Stephens and Jessica Queller, who gets extra points for teasingly naming Constance-Ballard's ramrod, Headmistress Queller, after herself. I was hooked from Season One when Chuck listed his three loves ("Money. The pleasures that money brings me. And Nate Archibald"). Even the English translation of Dorota's recent Polish rant when Chuck tried to bribe her has style: "Are you crazy, you brat? I work for Miss Blair, not for you. What, do you think you can buy me?"
Several TV shows are shot in Manhattan, but GG really looks like it is. The office of Rolling Stone is just a few blocks from the Palace Hotel where the Bass/Van der Woodsen clans reside like they're in, well, a palace. The bar is posh, and the restaurant is the even posher Gilt, where Chuck took Serena into the kitchen to whip up a truffled grilled-cheese sandwich before he whipped out something else and got crotch-kicked. The sandwich is now on the Gilt menu and it's yours for a mere $30. It's a treat for all us slumdogs to watch these underage trust-fund babies sip martinis at Dorrian's or the Palace bar, shop at Bendels, club at The Box, rock out at Terminal 5, indulge in quickie sex at the Campbell Apartment in Grand Central Station, brunch at the Boathouse in Central Park, nibble sushi at Geisha and Haru, and dine at the mega-pricey Park Avenue Winter, the unattainable Waverly Inn, or the frosty, glass-enclosed bubble of The Modern at the Museum of Modern Art. You do not get glam on grubby old Law & Order!
BLAKE LIVELY'S SMILE
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The closest thing to sunshine in all of television. But those writers I just praised should write her a part with more shadows. Sometimes she's just decoration. Lively deserves better. Only Nate (Chace Crawford) is treated as more of an heirhead. When his connected grandfather gets Nate a job in the Mayor's office, Vanessa snarks: "Politics? Nate? The only time he ever votes is on American Idol." Ouch! Anyway, it was mean on The Age of Dissonance to imply that the only way Serena could have an intelligent conversation on the Arts would be to have Vanessa on her cell whispering bon mots into a bug in S's beautiful ear! Hell, how did S get into Brown if she's so dim?
LEIGHTON MEESTER'S POUT
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The pout is seductive enough to forgive her anything. And Blair exudes a bitchiness that needs a lot of forgiving. Still, Meester is an actress with the chops to go deeper. She makes me believe Blair wants to grow up, drop the Queen B act and become her delicate idol Audrey Hepburn, especially in Breakfast at Tiffany's. In a My Fair Lady dream sequence in an upcoming episode, Meester gets to play Hepburn as a street urchin and a grande dame. Sweet. OK, I still like Blair bitchy, as in:
Blair: Dorota, are you insane?
Dorota: I don't know.
Blair: You used the everyday china. Cyrus will think we're just common upper-middle class. Get the Auberge and hurry up!
Photo: The CW
The girls look great in and out of clothes. But it's the Chuck Bass wardrobe that drops your jaw. The red raincoat? Outrageous! No one but Westwick could pull that off. One caveat: For a show that gets the details right, couldn't the design team have found a defter away to disguise the pregnancy of Kelly Rutherford, the wonderfully sly actress who plays Lily Van Der Woodsen, Serena's very unpregnant mom? Rutherford is being forced to heave countless packages onto her bulging belly. Could no fashion solution be found? Has no one seen Benjamin Button or heard of CGI?
Gossip Girl herself does the talking. She has no name, no body, no nothin'. Just a voice. And what a devilish, dishy trill it is. The vocal magic comes courtesy of Kristen Bell (Sarah Marshall in Forgetting Sarah Marshall) and there's no forgetting Bell. I once got an advance screener of GG that was so unfinished someone else did the narration. OMFG -- Whaaat! I couldn't go on. That's how crucial Bell is to the total effect. "You know you love me," Bell announces at the end of every show. XOXO right back at you, sister.
THE GOSSIP GIRL BLOG IN NEW YORK MAGAZINE
Even the header is irresistible: The Greatest Show of All Time. The blog micro-examines every nuance in each new episode in exhaustively telling and hilarious detail, assigning plus or minus points for each moment. Plus 100 for this most recent entry: "Dorota's finally dropping her restraints and playing a role in these insane lives going on around her. Go girl! Self-actualize! We bet she's taking a class at Landmark in her spare time. Let's just hope she stops short of Kabbalah. Though, then again, she'd be friends with Madonna! Sorry, what were we talking about?
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I know, I already picked her as No. 1. But it bears repeating."