When the first season of HBO Max’s Gossip Girl reboot premiered last year, it tried oh-so-desperately to maintain an uneasy balance between progressive consciousness and messy teen drama to fit in with the modern Gen Z status quo. Unfortunately, that was where they went wrong.
Luckily for us, the second season revels in the chaotic glory of its namesake. So far, the first five episodes available to critics completely understands that what made Gossip Girl so successful in the first place wasn’t its social commentary, but rather the entertainingly reckless antics of the Upper East Side’s elite.
Picking up immediately after the gang’s New Year’s getaway in the Hudson, Season 2 sees Julien (Jordan Alexander) turning over a new leaf, leading her social media influence era with kindness and honesty. She moves in with Zoya (Whitney Peak), who is no longer constricted to her goody-two-shoes status, and her father Nick (Johnathan Fernandez). While she continues her moral policing of everyone else’s actions, it’s nice that Zoya is given room to exist outside of Julien and her friends. The season devotes less time pitting the two sisters against each other with meaningless conflict. Instead of fighting over a boy, their bickering is much more centered around balancing their new home dynamic under the same roof and learning to cohabitate as much more realistic siblings. Zoya’s new friend Shan (Grace Duah) is upped to a series regular this season, and she brings a level of rebellious fun to the mix as she pushes Zoya further out of her comfort zone. It tests the boundaries of her relationship with Nick, who has his own set of secrets and lies he’s keeping from his daughter.
One of the biggest pitfalls of the first season was how each of the episodes felt too neatly wrapped up by the end. Major plotlines were all confined and resolved in one go, almost as if they were structured like a sitcom episode, and it lacked the slow-burn conflict that makes teen dramas so enticing in the first place. The season’s handling of Gossip Girl throuple Aki (Evan Mock), Audrey (Emily Alyn Lind), and Max (Thomas Doherty) also repeats some of the same mistakes made in its first installment. Every single episode thus far sees a new problem emerge and handle itself at once—whether it’s keeping Max in the closet or snooping through Aki’s phone—and it can feel quite repetitive. Nevertheless, it’s refreshing that the season continues to illustrate a healthy polyamorous relationship instead of completely disregarding it for drama, and hopefully the trio are able to explore plotlines beyond general miscommunication.
Gossip Girl’s saving grace is in Monet de Haan (Savannah Lee Smith), the show’s much needed anti-hero. She and Luna (Zion Moreno) were mostly sidelined in the first season, serving as Julien’s left and right hand women dedicated to maintaining her social media empire. But Monet was always destined for more, and Season 2 sees her rising and dethroning Julien as the queen of Constance. It’s enough to make her predecessor Blair Waldorf proud, as Monet is beautiful, malicious, and honestly just a straight-up bitch. She channels all of Blair’s ruthless behavior and dials it up by 100, which makes for a recognizable nod to the original while still feeling fresh. If anything, I would have loved to see Luna be utilized more than as just a neutral middle-man in Julien and Monet’s war, but I digress.
There’s a lot of depth to Monet’s character, and she isn’t limited to the confines of a typical villain archetype. We get glimpses into her complicated relationship with her mother Camille (Amanda Warren), who is unrelenting and cruel. It becomes clear that Monet inherited her harsh, power-hungry ambitions from Camille herself, which helps to garner a great deal of sympathy towards Monet. Smith’s performance is illuminating, and it’s telling that the show instantly became much more exciting the second Monet was given a chance to shine in the spotlight.
Speaking of Camille, Season 2 continues Kate’s (Tavi Gevinson) one-sided war waged against her. After being (rightfully) told off in the first season, Kate and her fragile white woman tears are desperate to expose and air out Camille’s problems onto Gossip Girl. Meanwhile, Kate finds herself entangled with a new love interest, a teacher named Mike (Pico Alexander), who has just returned from sabbatical and is trying to track down the identity of Gossip Girl. It’s such a strange and messy storyline, but it’s where Gossip Girl thrives. It’s also far more tolerable than whatever the hell she had going on in the first season. She and the rest of the teachers are still annoying, though at least they stop pretending the site is a moral crusade necessary for teaching the students to be better people.
The show’s absolute bore remains Obie (Eli Brown), who could have honestly been completely written out. The first season saw him tangled deeply with his woke rich boy antics and activism, as well as with the ridiculous love triangle between Julien and Zoya. This time around, Obie’s screen time appears to be dialed back greatly (thank god) as he spends most of his time dealing with his new relationship with Grace (Anna Van Patten). His character is so underwhelming, forgettable, and completely unnecessary to the rest of the series that I truly hope that Julien can let that boy go, since all he does is drag her down.
For the most part, Gossip Girl improves upon its flaws from its first season as it lets the characters embrace being wealthy, petty, and just absolutely messy. The teens feel less like Gen Z caricatures and finally have problems worthy of our attention. The dialogue remains just as campy and full of subtle pop culture references that make for great laugh out loud moments. “Gossip Girl is in her flop era right now,” says Audrey in the season’s first episode. It’s a line that I have never heard uttered outside of the Twitter sphere before, yet it fits into the show’s world seamlessly. The second season of Gossip Girl is anything other than a flop. It’s a complete delight, and I, for one, am completely here for it. XOXO.
Gossip Girl Season 2 premieres Thursday, December 1st on HBO Max.
Dianna Shen is an entertainment writer based in New York. When she’s not crying over a rom-com, she can be found on Twitter @ddiannashen.
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