[01/01/08 - 11:45 PM]
The Futon's First Look - "Gossip Girl: Woman on the Verge/Much 'I Do' About Nothing" (The CW)
By Brian Ford Sullivan (TFC)

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Image � 2007 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved

(Wednesday, January 2 & 9 at 9:00/8:00c)

The network's description: "In "School Lies," Serena (Blake Lively), Blair (Leighton Meester), Nate (Chace Crawford), Chuck (Ed Westwick) and their entourage break into the school swimming pool for a night of fun, but when a member of their group nearly drowns, the school threatens to expel the person responsible for the break-in. Meanwhile, Chuck tries to enlist the help of Vanessa (Jessica Szohr) in his effort to blackmail Blair. It is also worth noting that the episode features two songs from Ed Westwick's band, The Filthy Youth. In "A Think Line Between Chuck and Nate," Gossip Girl takes pleasure in reporting that Serena van der Woodsen was spotted buying pregnancy tests. Of course, on the Upper East Side, the truth is often more scandalous than the gossip, and this time is no exception."

What did they leave out: They're the last two episodes produced before the writers' strike.

The plot in a nutshell: Tonight's episode sees a spontaneous pool party take a dark turn after a classmate bumps his head and nearly drowns. Constance's new headmistress (apologies, as I didn't recognize the actress) takes a hard line with the issue - either the one who orchestrated the party comes forward or all will be expelled. Blair suggests they all stonewall her as surely she won't dismiss the bulk of the junior class - especially considering their status in Upper East Side society. Dan however thinks differently as his parents can't commission a new library if he's left holding the bag. As you can wager, to say any more would be unsportsmanlike. The following week a pregnancy scare sees everyone's perception of both Serena and Blair change just as all their various romantic entanglements come to a head. And if that wasn't enough, things come full circle to the pilot as various characters find themselves in opposite positions from where we first met them.

What works: The teen soap is a far trickier genre than people think - there is no franchise, no case to be solved, no prerequisite structure to lean on - it's simply a high wire act of keeping a group of characters' relationships interesting. Not surprisingly then the first seasons of said genre are almost uniformly the best: everything is new, there's plenty of uncharted territory to explore and most importantly - our reactions to all of the characters and their actions will never be more true. I bring this up because Serena gives a great speech to her mom in tonight's episode about how she feels about Dan, one which touches on the pitfalls of teenage love - that while she knows she's too young to talk in terms of forever, it still doesn't mean she can't help but feel that way. It's a sweet, surprisingly nuanced moment that not only gives us more insight into Serena's character but also (for reasons which I won't spoil here) affects several other relationships on the show. It also showcases one of "Gossip Girl's" biggest strengths - every scene tries to reverberate across as many relationships as possible. By doing so characters are rarely left drifting into the ether and a tighter, more cohesive world is created. (In other words, there are no token plots to give character X something to do or feelings of "oh great, a Y episode" to be found.) That, combined with Kristen Bell's delicious narration ("What's the difference between gossip and scandal? So glad you asked... Anyone can commit a minor indiscretion and generate a day's worth of buzz, but in order for gossip to birth a true scandal, it requires the right person to be in the wrong place."), a healthy dose of sugar (Serena's aforementioned moment) and spice (Chuck out-Chucks himself when comparing Blair to his father's Arabian horses) as well as a concerted effort to not shy away from the realities of teen life (i.e. drugs, sex and alcohol) - make it not only a fun show, but a darn good one as well.

What doesn't: I know it's against the rules for critics to like teen soaps...

The bottom line: ...but this one has swept me up.

  [january 2008]  


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