A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this TV show.
This drama attempts points about privilege and self-awareness, i.e. one character volunteers prominently for an organization that opposes gentrification. However, the focus on glitz, fancy clothing, and teens doing things teens aren't supposed to do reveals this show's real preoccupations.
Positive Role Models
Some characters are good (or at least start out that way) and others are trying to become better people, but many are superficial, mean, and very flawed. Competition, particularly social competition between teen girls, is emphasized, and characters are cruel to each other both openly and behind-the-scenes. The cast is more diverse from a racial and ethnic standpoint than the 2007 original, with characters of color in central roles; there are also characters who are on the LGBTQ spectrum, and straightforward about their attractions.
Sex, Romance & Nudity
There are plenty of sexual scenes between teens, including drunken makeout sessions, cheating, losing virginity, threesomes (same- and opposite-sex), and so on. Characters have sex with moaning and suggestive movements; in a running theme, a teen girl apologizes for "taking so long" (to have an orgasm) as she has sex with her boyfriend. A typical scene is one in which, at a club, a girl pulls up her dress and pushes her boyfriend down to perform oral sex; we see his head between her thighs, no nudity, and the camera focuses on her face as she gasps and moans.
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Language and cursing includes "f--king," "s--t." There's a lot of insulting language, particularly directed at characters who are less wealthy; they're called "sad."
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Products & Purchases
Brands are mentioned frequently, and we see logos for high-end brands like Net-a-Porter and Louis Vuitton. Characters wear designer clothes and sniff about those who can't afford them. Apartments are huge, teens take private cars, there are private clubs with everyone dressed luxuriously, and so on.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Teens drink frequently and there are lots of scenes referencing drugs; a character refers to taking "xanny" (Xanax), "Addy" (Adderall), and benzos (benzodiazepines, or tranquilizers) to deal with school. Teens drink frequently and often to drunkenness, at parties and at bars (where nobody asks for ID). We see teens in school or in clubs vaping, though we don't know what they're inhaling.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Gossip Girl is a reboot of the popular 2007-2012 teen drama series. None of the original characters appears in this version, but it is set in the same elite private schools and follows a group of wealthy teens whose exploits are gossiped about online. Since it's now on HBO instead of network TV, the iffy content is ratcheted up a notch: There's more sex and skin, more language, and more substance (ab)use. Characters vape, drink heavily at clubs, and pop pills; one apparently takes prescription drugs frequently, mixing stimulants and depressants to cope with school. In one scene, teens take pills at a club, passing them to each other by kissing. Characters have sex with sounds and movements; a typical scene shows a teen girl pulling up her dress and pushing her boyfriend down to give her oral sex (there's no nudity, but the camera is on her face as she moans and gasps). Cursing includes "f--k" and "s--t," and many characters talk insultingly about those with less money, calling them "sad" and bringing attention to their non-designer clothing. Speaking of which, brands are everywhere, as are luxury goods, logos, and labels: Uber, Louis Vuitton, Net-a-Porter, the list goes on. The cast is more diverse here than in the original, with representation in terms of both race and sexual identity, but all of the characters are rich and privileged, and they're often very mean and flawed.
Is It Any Good?
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.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.