It strains for the blithe tone of the 2007 original, but it feels as if it's trying to be simultaneously socially conscious and tawdry, and there's a great big logical hole that mars the effort. Specifically, the identity of Gossip Girl, which in the original was a closely-held secret, eventually revealed to be (spoiler-free) a student at one of the pair of elite private schools in which the original was set. This time, viewers see the genesis of the new Gossip Girl right in the first episode, when a group of disgruntled teachers band together to teach these rotten rich kids a lesson. Teachers so over-involved with their students' lives that they follow them around seeking specific bits of tittle-tattle? It feels unethical and creepy, at times bordering on criminal, like when a male teacher lurks outside a student's apartment to watch two teens taking off their rain-wet clothing, snapping pictures that are soon published on social media (on Twitter this time instead of a blog; see? Relevance!). If that's not illegal, it certainly should be.
So the Gossip Girl device is weirdly weighted from the start, but it might have been forgivable if the rest of the show was solid. It's not. The group of popular kids anchored by influencer Julien feels colorless, tropey, full of types rather than fleshed-out characters: Julien's woke boyfriend Obie (Eli Brown) volunteers prominently for an anti-gentrification non-profit; Julien's main courtiers, Luna (Zión Moreno) and Monet (Savannah Lee Smith) do nothing but roll their eyes and emit put-downs; Julien herself is oddly blank for the supposed queen of her school. Only one of the in-crowd, pansexual pill-popping bad boy Max (Thomas Doherty), gins up the right amount of seamy heat, despite the many (many!) scenes of wealthy teens partying in sleek spaces. It's all a bit toothless, where the original grabbed attention and didn't let go, right from the start. There are more involving portraits of rich kids behaving badly; viewers may want to stick with an alternative instead.