The third season of “Gossip Girl” was a bit of a disjointed mess.
There were still high points within the season, but for 22 episodes, it felt like the writers were steered much more by certain very valid character objectives than by any sort of compelling narrative.
Among those character objectives the writers seemingly tackled:
*** After a couple seasons of mooning over Dan and straightening out her reputation, Serena ceased to be Serena. How much wacky stuff can we put her through in a single season to remind you that she’s still Serena? Let’s just forget about that whole dalliance with the married Congressman, shall we? That was just dumb.
*** Everybody loves Chuck Bass and his rakish charm. How far can we push that? And is there a place where he can do something so bad that not even a well-timed “I’m Chuck Bass” can save him? Normally using your girlfriend as a sexual bargaining chip and then deflowering Cindy Lou Who would be damning for a character but, as you may have heard, he’s Chuck Bass.
*** Along the same lines, how pathetic can we make Blair, while still convincing you that she remains Blair Waldorf, Once and Future Queen Bee?
*** How much can we make you hate Jenny Humphrey and how grateful will you then be when Taylor Momsen goes on sabbatical?
And then, of much less interest to everybody, we had extraneous plotlines like Dan and Vanessa finally finding love despite a total absence of chemistry (marring even a threesome involving Hillary Duff), like Dorota getting pregnant and married, like whatever soapy show Billy Baldwin wandered in from for a few episodes and like whatever terminally mopey show Chace Crawford is still sometimes a part of.
When it comes to the objectives, the one that was most successfully executed was making Jenny Humphrey into an unbearably toxic character. Momsen became such a vortex of faux-arty, black eye-lined bitchery that her mere absence is sure to elevate Season Four immeasurably.
As for the rest? Who can even remember.
With that in mind, it’s a pleasure to report that “Gossip Girl” launches its fourth season with two confidently satisfying episodes, returning to The CW on Monday, Sept. 13. Because the episodes are designed almost as a stand-alone chapter, I can’t say for sure if this bodes well for the season to come, but hey… Good “Gossip Girl.”
[More on the “Gossip Girl” return, with some minor spoilers, I suppose, after the break…]
Part of the Season Three struggles for “Gossip Girl” came from the inevitably difficulties of moving a high school-set show into college. And part of why the first two episodes of Season Four work are because they take place during the summer and nobody’s dealing with education at all. Nobody’s trying to get into Tisch. Nobody’s inventing an NYU secret society they’d like to be a part of. Nobody’s lamenting about internships or fellowships or whatever silly things the characters kept talking about last season to obfuscate the sense that nobody really went to a single class all year.
Nope. It’s summer and although we’ll get to what the other characters have been up to, the important thing is that Blair and Serena are in Paris.
Somehow, “Gossip Girl” executive producers Stephanie Savage and Josh Schwartz convinced The CW that the show’s premiere episodes absolutely, positively had to be shot in Real Paris and not in that “Paris” that Schwartz whisked Chuck and Sarah off to for their first intimate moments on “Chuck.”
And give the “Gossip Girl” team credit. The show got tremendous value out of its Parisian sojourn, making the City of Lights into a setting as well and naturally used as the valuable location shooting in New York City. As you would guess, the first two “Gossip Girl” episodes don’t find Blair and Serena climbing the Eiffel Tower, examining the flying buttresses of Notre Dame and making pilgrimage to Jim Morrison’s grave. That wouldn’t be true to the “Gossip Girl” ethos. Instead, we get art galleries, expensive storefronts and comfortable high-end bistros. These characters wouldn’t go to Paris as tourists. They’d hit Paris with a sense of entitlement and the premiere reflects that. This is Paris that couldn’t have just been shot on the Warner Brothers lot, but it’s not Paris that’s calling attention to itself just to sell postcards.
What are Serena and Blair actually doing in Paris? Dressing nicely, for one thing. It’s no coincidence that “Gossip Girl” dedicates an inordinate time to montages of fashionable clothiers. That’s a part of Paris and a part of “Gossip Girl” and a part of the lives of these characters and perhaps even moreso than usual, the season’s first two episodes find the leading ladies looking pretty smashing. As to what they’re doing plot-wise? Blair’s trying to get over Chuck and Serena’s trying to get over whatever narrative blender the writers put her through last season. There’s something involving Blair hoping to romance a French nobleman and Serena trying to cover up a secret about her academic future but… Who cares! Paris!
The Paris section of the premiere episodes makes up less than half of their overall screentime, but they loom large because they feel like the show exercising its birthright. A jaunt to Milan or Tokyo or London next fall could produce the same welcome effect. Bring it on.
Back in New York? Dan is dealing with the ramifications of the finale bombshell featuring the arrival of a very, very pregnant Georgina Sparks and although enough time has passed for him to being playing Mr. Mom, he’s kept his new circumstances a secret, one that doesn’t last for long. But is there more to Georgina’s offspring than meets the eye? Of course. It wouldn’t be Georgina otherwise.
And Nate? Oh, he’s off moping his way through Chuck’s Little Black Blook, a debaucherous revelry that’s only interrupted by the arrival of Katie Cassidy as a character who’s never even slightly trustworthy, because nobody new to the “Gossip Girl” universe is ever trustworthy. And if you were going to bring somebody earnest and trustworthy into the “Gossip Girl” universe, you wouldn’t have that person played by Cassidy, who has repeatedly earned her Blonde Bitch Bona Fides and who can always be proud of her status as one of the two or three least awful parts of The CW’s ill-fated “Melrose Place” reboot. I don’t know yet what the character’s up to, but my hunch is “No good.”
Best of all, though? No Jenny. None. Not a single second. I know that’s a spoiler, but it’s a good spoiler, right? She’s mentioned in dialogue as being off with her mother somewhere, but it hardly matters.
[Note that I conspicuously haven’t mentioned Chuck Bass, who was last seen bleeding out in an alleyway, seemingly flirting with death. Guess what? He doesn’t die. That’s all I’ll say.]
Once this Paris jaunt is over, “Gossip Girl” still has some hard tasks ahead of it. For my money, Leighton Meester and Ed Westwick are the only two castmembers who I find to be reliably compelling. Blake Lively definitely has her moments, though her burgeoning movie star status has more to do with her red carpet clickability than any nuance she’s brought to “Gossip Girl.” With all of her big screen extracurriculars, Lively may not even want anything more challenging to occupy Blair’s time. With that in mind, something has to be done about (or for) Crawford and Penn Badgley, lest the writers just give up and rename the show “Gossip Girl Presents The Blair & Chuck Show.” I mean, Katie Cassidy’s good at what she does, but she’s not going to be the lynchpin for the entire season, is she?
But, as the Fraggles used to tell us, those are worries for another day. “Gossip Girl” returns on Monday night with the first of two episodes filmed in Paris. They are… um… tres bien?