HBO Maxs Gossip Girl touts itself as for a new, younger audience, as the glamorous teen soap for this Zoomer generation like the original was for millennials. While the original faced off against series inspired by its gloss, this version is going head-to-head with prestige cable teen dramas like Euphoria and Generation, as well as the streaming standard of shows like 13 Reasons Why and Elite.
And yet, as Just Another Girl On The MTA proves, HBO Maxs Gossip Girl is pretty much still Gossip Girl. It even kicks things off with an event of the week in the form of a fired up fashion show, just like its ancestors. Its Blair and Serena are half-sisters, Queen B influencer Julien (Jordan Alexander) and fresh meat scholarship kid Zoya (Whitney Peak). Doing a variation of the Parent Trap where they dont want their fathers near each other, Gossip Girl follows along as Juliens very teenage plan to get Zoya to join her at Manhattans Constance Billard-St. Judes School succeeds and her other very teenage plan to get Zoya to join her friend group does not. The former makes a sort of sense, including the lying to their fathers about their relationship, but Juliens decision to lie to her friends instead of just asking them to be cool does not. Which brings up to the main issue with this Gossip Girl: The story beats that come from the shows new rivalry dynamic are the flimsiest part.
“Just Another Girl On The MTA”
Rounding out Juliens popular friend group are her social justice warrior boyfriend Obie (Eli Brown), partners in crime Monet (Savannah Lee Smith) and Luna (Zión Moreno), pansexual party boy Max (Thomas Doherty), and Audrey (Emily Alyn Lind) and Aki (Evan Mock), the other couple. To be honest, theres not too much to differentiate any of the non-Julien/Zoya female teenage characters in this pilot, because they all just fill the mean girl role. Monet is the most dynamic, while Luna has little more to offer in this episode than being the tall one, and Audrey gets away from being the blonde one because she has a story outside of Juliens orbit. After all, Audrey and Akis introduction is them having sex in her bed before schoolwith a quick comment about how this show exists post-COVIDand her struggling to have an orgasm. Because this is a television show, thats abormal, which presumably leads things down the route of a throupleas opposed to the pre-2021 love triangle wed typically getbetween Audrey, Aki, and Max. Its the story that reveals just how much this show longs for the kind of Every parents nightmare.-style publicity the original series got, which is going to be hard in the time of Euphoria.
Max has the most obvious original series proxy in Chuck Bass, right down to the Scottish Dohertys whisper deliverythough its not as extreme as Ed Westwicks ever was. Hes also clearly the most fun of the bunch for that very reason. But speaking of the male character side of things, Aki also fares poorly as a tangible character in this episode. Hes perhaps the biggest blank slate of the crew, simply because Luna at least has mean girl to work with. This is a place where this Gossip Girls existence has its issues: Being part of the most salacious story of the show doesnt actually fill in the blanks in terms of compelling writing for these characters. While Just Another Girl On The MTA succeeds as a pilot for a number of reasons, there are plenty of things that fall through the cracks, especially on the character front. And considering how large this cast is, that could be a major issue moving forward.
From the style to the technology to the way that these characters acknowledge their privilege, HBO Maxs Gossip Girl is very clear that it is a 2021 series. For that reason, a lot of the reality of this Gossip Girl seems to have gotten lost in the shuffle before it even premiered. Part of that stems from what revival creator and showrunner Joshua Safran (a writer and executive producer on the original) said about the series in the lead-up. Specifically the fact that he told Variety, These kids wrestle with their privilege in a way that I think the original didnt. In light of [Black Lives Matter], in light of a lot of things, even going back to Occupy Wall Street, things have shifted. That particular quote didnt sit well with some, fearing that this show would miss the point of Gossip Girl completely and that it was going for woke Gossip Girl. But Safran clarified things in an interview with The Daily Beast, stating, If anyones ever hung out with any rich kids right now, theyre aware of their privilege. They have to be. The Kardashians talk about it all the time. Just because youre aware of your privilege doesnt mean you dont abuse it.
As this episodes proves at nearly every turn, abuse it, these characters still do. While they may not be rude to the help, they direct that behavior toward the molders of their supposedly great minds, their teachers. The kids are self-aware, but its a self-awareness that lacks any insight or wisdom. Because despite all the drugs and sex, theyre not exactly worldly kids; they know their world, and even if they try to pretend otherwise (like the Obie character), its all still extremely insular. Which is why a returning Gossip Girl works to shake up their worldview, to put them on high alert. As Safran said, these rich kids are aware of their privilege; the thing is, theyre possibly even more obnoxious for it. When Zoya asks if someone else possibly deserved the scholarship to the school, Juliens defense of literally signing off on said scholarship is an oblivious, Why would you think someone else deserves it more than you? A concept like that has literally never crossed a character like Juliens mind, a character whos the type to talk about how shes earned everything shes gotten as an influencer, without even thinking for a second that she wouldnt even be in such a position if not for who her father is.
Sure, Julien would consider herself woke, especially in moments like the one where she tells Zoya, You dont have to drink. We dont peer pressure. But based on everything leading up to that moment and the fact that its followed up by Julien overwhelming Zoya with the rules of being in her friend group, obviously, a line like that is not to be taken at face value. But like so many other shows in this genreand it doesnt help that this is a revival of one of themGossip Girl is seemingly being taken at face value, despite Safran clearly knowing what hes doing.
As self-aware as this show is, to be this self-aware, both the material and the onscreen talent have to resonate. Safran and Gossip Girl do have the material, both when it comes to poking fun at the original series and the awareness that these characters have (while also acknowledging that they dont know what they dont know). In terms of the cast itself, that is where pilots can be tricky. The most proven quantities of the young cast are arguably Doherty and Alyn Lind (whose older sister currently stars on Big Sky), with Smith showing the most potential of the lesser-known cast upfront, and Alexander having the most difficult task of the series, pulling off the influencer with hidden depth role. The influencer part is locked down. The depth is still on a wait-and-see basis. But in true teen drama fashion, Gossip Girl has chosen its adult cast extremely well. Luke Kirby pops up for a second as Juliens dad, and Laura Benanti will be appearing on the show, among other notable names. Plus, the quartet of teachersplayed by Tavi Gevinson, Adam Chanler-Berat, Rana Roy, and Megan Fergusonbrings a specific chaotic millennial energy that has been kept under wraps in the promotion of the series. Its actually this dynamic that reveals this revival isnt just about being the show for a new generation. The teachers are just as obsessed with the world of Gossip Girl as the original millennial audience, also essentially telling the youngsters, Do the old thing instead! by becoming Gossip Girl.
Which brings us to this episodes eponymous girl on the MTA, Gevinsons Kate Keller. Naturally, there has been criticism about the ages of the actors playing teenagers herewhile also criticizing the fact that a 25-year-old is somehow not playing a teenager. But her casting makes sense as soon as Gossip Girl is finally brought up, to the point where its difficult not to just call out, Oh, shes going to be Gossip Girl. Just as its difficult not to track what her journey will be as soon as she projects jealousy over the fact that novelist Dan Humphrey was the original Gossip Girl: Shes going to become a monster.
The smartest thing this pilot does is reveal Gossip Girls identity ASAP. A major part of what hurt the latter seasons of the original is everyones obsession over Gossip Girls identity, ending with the Gossip Dan reveal. Removing the mystery takes away a storytelling crutch (and eventual hindrance) from the start, which is the type of thing that should allow past fans to breathe a sigh of relief. And to invoke Pretty Little Liars, quite frankly, the teachers as Gossip Girl is about as insane as anything that was ever on that seriesin a good way. The height of this particular insanity is when Chanler-Berats character stands outside in the rain and photographs Zoya and Obie undressing. And the follow-up clenches it, as he frantically tells Keller, The only time I felt more gross than standing here showing you these was the moment that I took them to show you. I should be arrested. This is infinitely more self-awareness than Pretty Little Liars ever had with the Ezra/Aria saga, and its clearly just the tip of the iceberg.
For anyone who still doesnt think this Gossip Girl is in on the joke, look no further than Kellers line in the teachers lounge: This school produced great people. Caroline Kennedy. Colson Whitehead. Nate Archibald. Nate Archibald, a newspaper mogul by the age of 20, despite the series never definitively acknowledging if he could even read and whose password for everything for soccer. Sure, there are eye-roll-inducing lines about the original series being pre-cancel culture, but thats more the result of the show existing in an eye-roll-inducing era in which people earnestly say cancel culture and woke Gossip Girl in the first place. It also follows up that line with a much better one: Did you get to the part where [Blair Waldorf] was Princess of Monaco for six months?
Unfortunately because of this era, Gossip Girls new ethos is that of a post-truth world, in which everything she (the returning voice of Kristen Bell) says is true simply because. While this show makes a point to say that Gossip Girls depiction of Blair and Serena was based solely on others perspectivesnot knowing the real girlsthe original Gossip Girl told the painful truth. Even when it actively ruined Dans life. Here, the rules no longer matter, because these kids are even worse. There is no actual conflict between Julien and Zoya, so they create one. And the results are the most inorganic part of a show thats existence is all about the inorganic.
Truly, the biggest problem with the teachers becoming Gossip Girl is the fact that in their desire to take down Juliens crew, they rope Zoya into it. Playing on the series set of rules, it makes sense to go after the kids who regularly verbally abuse and harass you, who get your colleagues fired just because they can. There are technically no good guys in that fight, which makes it even more delicious. It doesnt make sense for Keller to use newbie scholarship student Zoya as fodder, even though her logic is for Zoya to come out on top of all of this. While the logic of creating Serena Vs. Blair: Part Deux is sound, the logic to outsource its Serena isnt. An outsider coming inside isnt a new concept for Gossip Girl, nor is a civil war amongst the young reigning class. But the latter at least tracks more than Keller bringing a student who trusts and respects her into any of this. Again, its obvious that Gossip Girl will go down a path of it turning Keller into a monster, just as its obvious that the fact she ropes Zoya into Gossip Girls web means she was a monster all along.
Being obvious or predictable isnt a problem, but as far as manufactured teen drama goes, it doesnt get more manufactured than Julien and Zoyas feud. Yes, there are clear issues just beneath the surface due to their family situation, but none of that prevents their argument post-fashion show from landing with a thud. In a show that has its teenagers act more adult than they are, theres perhaps nothing more childish than Zoya being furious with Julien for not chastising her friends for their cruel prank in the middle of the fashion show she was modeling in. I suppose if characters going to therapy is the bane of juicy drama, then having a character simply say, I was hired to do a job and did the job, like a professional. is probably right there up with it. And thats the problem with this feud that centers this series: It officially begins (even after the scholarship scandal) with a moment thats completely unworthy of being the catalyst.
Stray observations

  • How is it that Gossip Girl on Instagram doesnt count as targeted harassment (against minors, even)? Sure, blogs are old school, but at least that removed some form of social media-related accountability.
  • The greatest mystery of this show is actually trying to figure out adult characters names. For now, Adam Chanler-Berats character is named Adam Chanler-Berats character.
  • In case you were wondering who Rebecca, the teacher that introduced the others to Gossip Girl, is supposed to be, shes the pay-off to a throwaway line from the original Gossip Girls second season finale (written by Safran). As Blair and Chuck tried to figure out who Gossip Girl wasrealizing she had to be in the same gradeRebecca Sherman was one of their guesses.
  • When the teachers first pitched the idea of things being Monet versus Julien, I was very interested, as I clocked Monet as the series Blair immediately. Unfortunately, it looks like Monet and Luna are the new Kati and Isabel. Ive discussed this in previous reviews, but the art of the teen drama mean girl is an especially difficult one, one that has seemingly been lost to time. You now either get someone who is absolutely vile (Chanel Oberlin, Scream Queens) or you get a living GIF (Cheryl Blossom, Riverdale). But of the mean girl performances in this episode, Smiths was the one I instantly bought as something with the potential to be much more.