A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this over-the-top teen soap, based on a best-selling book series, focuses on a group of extremely wealthy, privileged, label-obsessed young people who like to drink, take drugs, have sex, and treat each other badly. While some characters mean well, many are superficial and emotionally cruel or distant, and they often take advantage of their social and financial position to get what they want, often at the expense of others. Characters play dirty tricks on each other and otherwise try to undermine, backstab, and hurt those who are supposed to be their friends. Suicide, eating disorders, rape, infidelity, casual sex, and more are all part of the story, but they're rarely addressed in constructive or realistic ways.
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What's the story?
GOSSIP GIRL, based on Cecily-von-Ziegesar's best-selling book series of the same name, follows the exploits of privileged young people from Manhattan's wealthy Upper East Side as they hook up, party, and play out adult-sized dramas. At the heart of the action are best friends Serena van der Woodsen (Blake Lively) and Blair Waldorf (Leighton Meester). These two beautiful, rich girls rule the social scene, though they sometimes end of scheming against each other. Serena and Blair's friends, largely drawn from the elite private high school they attended in the early seasons of the show, include Dan (Penn Badgley) and Jenny Humphrey (Taylor Momsen), siblings with a more middle-class background, the extremely wealthy Chuck (Ed Westwick) and Nate (Chace Crawford), whose well-to-do family has fallen on hard times. The series is narrated by the titular Gossip Girl, an anonymous blogger who keeps track of all the popular kids' actions (secrets travel fast when delivered by mass text messages).
Is it any good?
This addictive adolescent drama is filled with kids, and grown-ups, gone bad. The sophisticated, label-savvy characters have no problem getting served martinis at fancy hotels or smoking marijuana during walks in the park. Their parents are rarely good influences, either, since many are self-centered and focused on their own problems. The mothers seem particularly jealous of their young daughters: One even tells her teen that she'll never be as beautiful or as thin as she is now, so she should make the most of this time.
It's all very titillating and addictive, but teens will surely get confusing messages from the show. Back-stabbing is portrayed as a social sport; characters spend money like crazy, drinking, smoking, and doing drugs in limos and clubs, and generally having a great time with few repercussions. It’s not the real world, but it sure looks alluring. It’s campy, soapy fun that may not be prudent viewing for tweens, and escapist schlock for teens. Were it presented with a wink and a laugh, it would be far more interesting; as it is, it takes itself a little too seriously.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the behavior portrayed in teen soaps like this. Parents, watch with your teens, and ask them if their friends are doing what these kids are.
Try to put your two cents in about what's realistic and what isn't. Ask your kids how the issues and conflicts on the show are similar to and different from those in real teens' lives. Who are the "good" characters, and what makes them different from the "bad" ones?