Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Gossip Girl season finale thoughts

A wonderful thing happened earlier this year when my good friend Professor Sean T. Collins joined me and several other of our heterosexual mid-20's/early-30's male friends in becoming a fan of the TV show Gossip Girl. Not only did I have another chum with which to discuss the guilty pleasure I never feel guilty about, but I also got the added bonus of being able to read Sean's insightful dissections of each new episode ever Tuesday morning.

I was thus disappointed when I sent Sean a text last night saying how excited I was to read his report in the season finale and learned he would not be viewing it until Wednesday (he had to fulfill his cultural imperative to Crank: High Voltage instead).

So I've decided to do my best and try to fill the gaping vacuum currently out there by offering my own humble thoughts on last night's episode. I'm actually feeling the task a bit daunting given in what high regard I hold Sean's work and his ability to cut through, as he calls it, the "dense and nuanced mythology" that is Gossip Girl, but nonetheless, I soldier on.

Oh. Needless to say...

SPOILERS

-Most episodic TV shows spend at least the second third or half of their season setting up storylines building into the finale. Some shows like LOST save payoffs even longer in the works for their final episodes of the season. Not so with Gossip Girl, a show clearly paced for a generation with ADD, as resolution and game-changing moments are rarely more than two or three episodes away at any given time. Case in point: the relatively slow-burning plot that had Serena's frenemy Poppy Lifton extorting millions of dollars and the gang teaming up with archnemesis Georgina Sparks to gain revenge would on a normal show be driven through into the finale, but on Gossip Girl, it was resolved two weeks ago. Instead, this finale relied on only one real long-awaited dangling thread (Chuck-Blair) and more or less treated the rest of the episode like business as usual, relying on character and performance to make it seem special. It's a gutsy approach, but for this show, it absolutely works. Creator Josh Schwartz' last show, The O.C., burnt out because of a similar breakneck pace, but the difference is on Gossip Girl is they seem quite aware of the absurdity of it all and don't mind winking to the audience about it from time to time.

-The one sorta-shocker was the actual involvement of Gossip Girl as an almost active character as opposed to just an omniscient narrator/plot device. Making GG the big bad for lack of a better description was a neat way to unite all the players against a common foe and also set the episode apart, making it seem a bit more special. I was not completely unconvinced Kristen Bell herself would not make a cameo (though I'm glad she didn't). They also did a nice job swerving at least me by showing up front Georgina would be in the episode and having Gossip Girl's assault be so focused at Serena, making it seem as if she'd be the obvious guilty party and then not going there.

-Glad they got graduation out of the way in the first act, because obviously nobody wants to see these character in caps and gowns, we want to see them done up and getting drunk! On one education-related note though, I do want to praise the show for making the process of putting every important cast member at (more or less) the same college next year seem at least kinda organic. I remember even as a kid calling bullshit when everybody on Saved By the Bell just decided to go to college together; here at least there are explanations for why Dan and Blair are "stuck" at NYU and they also utilize the fact that there is, y'know, more than one college in New York by having Nate at Columbia (though he could easily end up at NYU as well since he blew off his internship). Obviously there will still be some sort of hijinx to relocate Serena from Brown, but I'm hardly asking for hyper-realism on a show like Gossip Girl, so even some semblance is just gravy. I also loved how outraged my fiancee got when Blair called NYU a "glorified state school."

-It would have been a very disappointing season finale without a Wallace Shawn sighting, so thank goodness we didn't need to face that grim possibility.

-One thing I didn't dig was how, just like with the Poppy caper, Dan was left out of the group scheming. I know Dan is a lot of people's least favorite character, but I've always liked him. Obviously the big hook of the show is watching super rich people be super rich, but I thought having the poor kid outsider as a POV narrator was a nice touch and I really did like his and Serena's relationship. I don't mind that the primary focus of the show has moved away from Dan/Serena (maybe for good), because a lot of shows fall in the trap of just getting the same tow characters together again, but I wish he could still be more than just the whiny narc even if he's not dating her; some of his best episodes were with Chuck and Nate, so it would be nice for him to remain looped in as opposed to always off with Vanessa or his sister. Hopefully they'll move in a better direction with him next year, but I've been kinda disappointed with where the character headed in the second half of this season.

-Nate's slow admission to his grandfather about the various levels of things wrong with his affair way back at the beginning of the season was classic Gossip Girl, because there's never just one thing fucked up with a situation, it's always three or four.

-Did not care about Jenny's subplot. Do not care about Jenny. Would rather Eric was a regular cast member than her.

-As Sean would would say, nothing wrong with scenes that involve Leighton Meester slowly taking off stockings. Nothing wrong at all. In related news, Blake Lively's dress seemed to be fighting to liberate itself from her chest all episode.

-The party scene with everybody's secrets being revealed at once was awesome. On the one hand, it reinforces what I said earlier the bonkers pace of the show, but on the other, it surprised me how many leftover secrets from the season that hadn't been revealed and was at least a nice attempt at manufacturing some sense of continuity. Granted it would have been nice for some actual consequences or conflict lasting more than 15 minutes coming from the Chuck-Vanessa tryst or Blair sleeping with Chuck's uncle, but you gotta just roll your eyes at the squashed potential storylines and enjoy the ride. The overlapping Kristen Bell narrative was great. Who didn't know Dan slept with that teacher though?

-Despite what I said earlier about Dan, I did thoroughly enjoy Blair calling him out on not behaving any differently from the rest of them despite his constant protestations to the contrary (and the fact that Nelly Yuki had a secret crush on him).

-The big payoff scene with Gossip Girl luring everybody to the bar and then letting them know she'd be following them to college was actually a pretty decent summation of high school: those four years can be pretty shitty, but the bad stuff bonds you to the people you go through it with, even if you only realize it in the final moments before you all head off to college. That scene with all these people who were probably completely disparate since they were kids coming together, sharing a drink and laughing over the shared experiences they never realized they had pretty closely resembled my senior year at least.

-I wish the Rufus-Lily reunion/resolution had been, I dunno, bigger, or perhaps grander is a better word for it. They've got a pretty epic love story (or as epic as Gossip Girl gets), and for them to come back together over getting stoned and eating popcorn seemed a bit anticlimatic. I wonder if the episode was written before the spin-off didn't get picked up and maybe they initially wanted Lily unattached going into next season. Oh well. I do find it hard to believe that they're completely closing the door on Dan and Serena, which their parents getting married would seem to imply, but having those two relationships somehow exist simultaneously without being too creepy has always been the challenge of this show.

-I'm glad Nate and Vanessa are apparently back together, mostly because I feel like their relationship is a sort of quarantine that keeps the two least interesting characters on the show from dragging the others down. Man did Vanessa get off the hook for sleeping with Chuck without a hitch though. Nate spent weeks getting on Chuck for flirting with Blair but says nothing in this instance to either of them? And his quitting the internship he spent so long agonizing over off-camera is, again, very this show.

-Jury is out on Dan's stalker half-brother. Kid playing him seemed decent enough, but we'll have to see where they go with it.

-It will be interesting to see if Michelle Tractenberg is joining full-time as Georgina next season, as her scene seemed to imply. She's been great on the show and she's been...not so great. I think she might be best taken in small doses, but we'll see. Her whole "Yeah, the Poppy thing is taken care of, I'm not going to bother explaining it" bit did make me laugh because, once again, very Gossip Girl. That thread could get picked up in the fall, but I feel like it won't. I'm not gonna lose any sleep.

-I am excited about Serena's dad possibly being on the show. Why? Because Gossip Girl rocks at stunt casting adult characters! I'm pulling for Anthony Michael Hall or one of the Coreys.

-And of course we end with the long-awaited Blair-Chuck "I love you" scene. In the moment, I was giggling like a schoolgirl and applauding because I'm pretty gay and it was a nice moment. In the longterm, it's tough because they're an incredibly compelling couple and they've already put them through every conceivable hurdle, but having them together robs the show of its two primary schemers, because happily fulfilled people don't scheme. Is this why they're bringing in Georgina and possibly that Carter dude on the regular? Eh. They're no Blair and Chuck. I'll have some confidence in the writers, but they've got their work cut out for them. Also, Leighton Meester and Ed Westwick were "kissing" like two people who want to do anything but kiss each other; the amount of twirling and face-rotating they were doing in a seeming effort to not make lip contact was hysterical.

Well, that's all I've got. Thanks for another great season, Gossip Girl; I will miss you but look forward to seeing your latest racy poster campaign on the streets of New York City in a couple months!

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