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GOSSIP GIRL
The Complete First Season

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Blake Lively, Leighton Meester, Penn Badgley, Chace Crawford, Taylor Momsen, Ed Westwick, Kelly Rutherford, Matthew Settle
Creator: Josh Schwartz
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.78:1
Studio: Warner Bros.
Features: See Review
Length: 753 Minutes
Release Date: August 19, 2008

“And who am I? That’s one secret I’ll never tell. You know you love me. XOXO, Gossip Girl.”

Shows **1/2

With television shows being at their highest quality ever, I find myself eager to experience a wide variety of series. I am even opening up to genres I would normally ignore, the best example of which is guilty pleasure, scandalous drama. Gossip Girl is the latest hot series to emerge from this genre, and though I like parts of it, I’m just not sure if I’m the right target for this show.

What peeked my interest was the fact that it was the latest creation from Josh Schwartz, who brought us The O.C., a show I would’ve never bothered with had it not been for the numerous friends and relatives who said it was a fun, entertaining package. That it was, and maybe I was expecting the same level of go-for-broke nastiness from Gossip Girl. While the show has a lot to spare in that regard, it didn’t feel as raw or as exciting as it could’ve been.

But let me start out by saying a most positive aspect of the show, which is that I am head over heels in love with its star, Blake Lively. I knew of her from her roles in The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and Accepted, but this was my initial introduction to her. She’s an incredible beauty, and very talented as a series lead. If there’s one thing that will help carry me over into Season Two, it will be Ms. Lively’s simple presence.

Adapted from the series of novels by Cecily von Ziegesar, the show could best be described as a mixture of Dynasty and Melrose Place for the young generation. Lively plays Serena van der Woodsen, a young woman with a secret past who returns home to New York City after some time away. Her reasons for going away will no doubt be revealed as the season progresses.

Serena’s main reason from leaving the city is mainly because her actions, as well as the actions of every individual living in the Upper East Side, are seen and written about by an anonymous blogger known only as the Gossip Girl, who serves as the show’s narrator. Serena clearly had enough of the drama surrounding her life and had to get away from it all. But her return to the city seems to have generated more gossip than when she left.

And things are just as rocky upon her arrival as they were when she left. She aims to set things right between her and her best friend, Blair Waldorf (the equally hot Leighton Meester), who has not yet forgiven her for sleeping with her boyfriend, Nate (Chace Crawford). Even worse is that Serena’s mother, Lily (Kelly Rutherford), has had her brother, Eric (Connor Paolo), to a rehab facility.

With Blair now a sworn enemy against her, and everything else falling apart in her life, Serena does manage to strike up a bond with the likable Dan Humphrey (Penn Badgely), who resides in Brooklyn and comes from a more blue collar upbringing. It just so happens that Dan’s father, Rufus (Matthew Settle), may have had a past fling with Serena’s mom.

Dan’s little sister, Jenny (Taylor Momsen), has the appearance of a goody-two shoes innocent. However, it doesn’t take long for Blair to take her under her wing and make her every bit the bad girl she is. Corruption, it’s a bitch.

As expected for a show like this, a lot of the action centers on an extended romantic triangle. Serena and Dan slowly build towards a serious relationship, which is difficult in the beginning due to the unexpected arrival of Vanessa (Jessica Szohr), a girl from his past. Meanwhile, Blair and Nate are trying to patch things up, but the result is pretty much an on and off status. And it won’t help that Nate may still have feelings for Serena. In the middle of all the romantic flings is brash playboy Chuck (Ed Westwick), who gets more you know what than a toilet seat.

It’s an enjoyable enough series, but it all has a been there, done that feel to it. The O.C. is no longer on the air, and this somewhat feels like the same show but with a different setting. It does sizzle when it needs to, but I think the results would’ve been much better in that department had the show aired on cable where a little bit more sizzle is allowed. But that’s just me and even as I’ve become a fan of the show One Tree Hill, I just don’t think I represent the proper target audience for this series. I much rather seeing a satirical show involving a rich snobby individuals, like I was used to seeing on the brilliant Arrested Development.

But for the teenage crowd, I couldn’t recommend a series more highly. This has got everything that demographic wants in a show, and hey, every target audience deserves a series they can look forward to. And though I seem mixed on Gossip Girl as a whole, I will give future seasons a shot. Who knows, that action might get juicier.

BONUS: The disembodied voice of Gossip Girl belongs to Veronica Mars herself, Kristen Bell.

Video ***1/2

Nowadays, all products of television look tremendous on DVD, and this presentation of the show’s Complete First Season from Warner is no exception. The episodes are presented in their original widescreen format, with the anamorphic bonus. The image quality is superb, especially in heavily lighted scenes. Some darker sequences don’t appear as strong, but that’s hardly a complaint. The picture quality is, for the most part, clear and consistently sharp, making the hot girls of the show look…like, totally hotter!

Audio ***

The 5.1 mix is a most serviceable one. I was surprised to find that the show is not as driven by contemporary music like One Tree Hill or The O.C., but we do get a certain dose of music on numerous episodes. Dialogue delivery is top-notch, and the NYC setting does provide occasional cool surround sound.

Features ***

This 5-Disc package from Warner has a nice list of extras for everyone to dish on. Included are Unaired Scenes, as well as three featurettes, “The Beginning, XOXO: Concept to Execution”, “Gossip Girl Couture” and “A Gossip Girl Wedding”. We also get a Gag Reel, appropriately called “LOL”, a Music Video by The Pierces, and a Downloadable Audiobook of the original Novel, which is read by Christina Ricci and can be accessed on your PC.

Summary:

Gossip Girl is targeted for a specific audience, and perhaps a male about to enter his 30s isn’t the right target for such a show. But the series certainly isn’t boring, and the engaging cast do make it a worthwhile watch.

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