Gossip Girl: Why The Original Pilot Worked (& The Reboot's Didn't)

The original Gossip Girl focused on the rivalry between Blair (Leighton Meester) and Serena (Blake Lively), with the introduction onto the scene of poor outsider Dan (Penn Badgely) shaking up the established dynamics among the wealthy students of Constance Billard St. Jude’s school. The finale revealed that Dan is the titular Gossip Girl, the anonymous presence voiced by Krysten Bell that guided events behind the scenes. The reboot keeps Gossip Girl’s presence but changes the driving force behind its activities. The teachers are now behind the online inciter, frustrated at their lack of power over their wealthier and more influential students. Despite knowing from the beginning who is in control of Gossip Girl, Krysten Bell returns to narrate the reboot.

Related: Gossip Girl Reboot Retcons The Original Show's Final Scene

The original pilot set up the relationship between Blair and Serena immediately. Serena’s mysterious disappearance led to Blair feeling abandoned, on top of which, it is revealed that Serena is plagued by guilt as a result of having slept with Blair’s boyfriend before she left town. The betrayal is clear. The reboot replaces them with reunited half-sisters Julien and Zoya, who begin the episode as close friends delighted to be attending the same school. The primary cause of the break-up of their friendship is Zoya learning that Julien paid for the scholarship Zoya thought she had earned on her own. This is already a mild instigator for a feud and given that Zoya knows full well what kind of family Julien comes from, Zoya’s anger makes her seem naive rather than morally upstanding. Their relationship lacks the meanness that made the original Gossip Girl famous for its savage one-liners and treacherous characters.

The original pilot also had a clear villain in the form of Chuck Bass, who twice attempted sexual assault before the end of the episode. His humiliation at the hands of Dan established Dan’s good guy role while fueling their mutual hatred that would drive many upcoming storylines. The reboot lacks such clearly distinct good and evil. By being Gossip Girl, the teachers are doing illegal and morally compromising activities, but viewers are still meant to have a certain amount of empathy for them. Despite Julian’s existence as a rich social media influencer that could easily inspire hatred, her actions are not negative enough to be hateable. This muddies the show’s stakes while weakening audience engagement and stifling any narrative momentum. 

Finally, the reboot’s first episode lacks the mystery that permeated the original. Cramming as many cameos and references to original Gossip Girl characters only reminds the audience of already completed storylines, making the reboot feel like an extended epilogue. The original pilot brought up a series of compelling questions: Where has Serena been? Why is her brother in a psychiatric institution? What happened between Dan’s father and Serena’s mother? The reboot puts all the information about the new characters on the table. Viewers know exactly how Julien and Zoya originally met, the other students are not hiding anything particularly salacious, and there is no shocking secret past between any of the adults. The reboot lacks all the nastiness and luridness that spawned the caption “Every Parent’s Nightmare” underneath the original Gossip Girl’s billboards.

Next: Gossip Girl's [SPOILER] Connection Opens Up New Possibilities

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