Gossip Girl recap: Yes then zero

Meet Zen Chuck. He says yes to anything, goes on dates with mannish stuntwomen and drives a motorbike like he’s trying to prove something to a hell’s Angel.

The start of series five of Gossip Girl was all about new beginnings, re-invention and even a new (temporary) stomping ground.

Serena is in the city of Angels, fetching coffee for a dickish trustafarian-hating guy on set of the film version of The Beautiful and The Damned.

But because in her charmed existence she can apparently turn her talent (well, both of them) to anything, she’s apparently a vital presence.

So vital, it appears, that she manages to survive hazing by the dickish guy (involving an implausible pot plot that if she was really indispensable to the producers she’d have seen right through) and lands herself a job. Manhattan, and that little matter of college, be damned.

Also in LA are summer mansluts Chuck and Nate. Chuck is pretending he’s over Blair with his tried and tested formula of threesomes and living dangerously (plus a fair bit of booze), but the purple wound on his chest he ends up with suggests it aint much of a sustainable lifestyle.

Meanwhile, Nate is thinking, something he reveals he needs to be high to do. His “I can be whoever I want to be” routine lands him in bed with Elizabeth Hurley, who shall henceforth be known as Brit in heels.

It’s not clear what her grand plans for dimples are, but judging by that mysterious phone call this is going to go about as well as Nate’s dalliance with stalker blonde last season.

Back in the real world (New York, obvs) Blair is living out her own Disney film. Her wedding plans are being thwarted by a wicked not-stepmother, and the Prince is acting all momma’s boy about it. Off she runs to Dan to call the whole thing off (and become Miss Haversham, apparently, but in the Hamptons), but then Louis grows and pair and suddenly it’s happily ever (for this episode) after.

Dan, who has been holidaying at CeeCee’s summer pad, is a little bit screwed. Vanessa’s cunning plan to secure his place as a great social chronicler (by stealing his tell-all memoir of life as a posh boy wannabe) has led to a Vanity Fair spot (pulled, with Royal aid) and a book deal.

He’s acting all petulant about it, which is ludicrous, as Dan would quite clearly sell out all his friends, family, and everyone he’d ever met, for a rave New York Times book review. Sure he’d mope and angst about it, but there’s no way an ambitious egotist like him would turn this opportunity down. Except, awww, cos he lurves a certain engaged society girl.

Vom. Are we still on this? I thought a summer hiatus would’ve cured the Blair-Dan trainwreck.

Next week, one assumes we will learn what the baby-deal is with Blair (whose is it, and where is it hiding in her size zero figure?) and hopefully find out that the producer was playing a practical joke and actually there’s no way she’d hired a dumb blonde like Serena even to get the coffee.


We need more people to say no to Rihanna’s video

It has the making of a great comedy. A global celebrity arrives on a rural farm to film her latest music video, but her choice of attire (namely, a fancy red bra, and then apparently no bra at all) is too much for his countrified, prudish sensibilities. So he kicks her, and her glamorous associates, off his field.

In the film version, the pop star would return and convince the small-minded country folk that her modern city ways are no cause for controversy. Ultimately, he’d come round and probably even make a cameo appearance in the video.

In reality, it didn’t end that way. When Alan Graham, 61, of Clandeboye in Northern Ireland, saw just how risqué Rihanna’s video shout was, he asked her to pack up her things. Reports the Telegraph:

“If someone wants to borrow my field and things become inappropriate, then I say, ‘Enough is enough. I wish no ill will against Rihanna and her friends. Perhaps they could acquaint themselves with a greater G-d.”

Here’s the thing. Mr Graham should not be painted as the villain of this piece. He might have said no for religious reasons, but that’s beside the point.

Precisely what is it about Rihanna’s lyrics – or Beyonce’s, or Katy Perry’s or any other female pop star de jour – that requires them to be sung without clothes on?

I’m no prude – a bikini is fine on the beach or by a pool – but I’m also not of the school that this represents any kind of female empowerment. And I can’t imagine the video director or her record company are thinking “down with sexism” when they encourage her to make these videos.

When did we get to the stage that a video like this was acceptable from a mainstream artist?

Rihanna has fans all over the world, and plenty of them are young girls (and indeed young boys, being taught that this is what women should look like and how they should behave). What’s her message? That her music isn’t good enough on its own, so she needs to cavort-around half naked to make up for it?

Or that she’s so multi-talented she can sing, dance and act like a pole dancer?

Telling young girls that it’s OK – desirable, even – to sell your talent with your body? Not exactly a Suffragette hunger strike, now.

My teachers always said everything men could do, women could do too. But I don’t think they meant taking our shirts off in public.

‘Philharmonic Four’ in Proms protest should not have mentioned the LPO (The Telegraph)

There is an episode of The West Wing in which President Josiah Bartlet gets into trouble over green beans. Word gets out that he is not a fan of the legume, and soon the White House is fielding calls from aggrieved bean producers.

His press secretary, CJ, spends hours wrangling with the problem. How can she get around it? He just doesn’t like them, she says. He’s speaking on his own behalf, not America’s.

The suspension of four London Philharmonic musicians for signing a letter of protest about the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra at the Proms brought the beans to mind.

Scarcely a day goes by without somebody, somewhere, calling for a boycott of Israel. Sometimes they want the rest of the world to take a stand on buying Israeli goods or to stop co-operating with Israeli academics and trade unionists. At other times, they simply want to say no to Israel itself.

Their default position – that Israel is such a lost cause that no good can come from working with any of its parts – makes me feel depressed, as does its reverse: when supporters of Israel say there is no hope for a two-state solution. It’s like a builder turning up at a construction site without any tools; how can you change something if you won’t engage with it?

This comment piece was first published in the Telegraph. Read the rest of it here.

Gossip Girl season 4: what not to do

It’s hard to comprehend now, but there was a television reality when the headband was not a symbol of power, where one’s position on the steps of the Met was not symbolic of fluctuating social importance and where teenagers were not kidnapped and drugged by the younger sisters of former teachers imprisoned by socialite mothers to protect their daughter’s reputations.

It’s been four series since Gossip Girl burst on to our screens, in all its sarcastic and sparkly glory. Regular viewers have lost count of the number of pregnancy scares, fake siblings and mother-daughter meltdowns, while characters have taken a spin on the incestuous relationship roundabout a preposterous number of times.

Blair and Serena have been friends, then enemies, then friends again more times than a Kardashian has graced the cover of a trashy magazine; meanwhile regular irritants – blonde and mop-haired – have been cast out into the TV hinterland.

Amazingly, in four years Lily has only been wed twice, but it’s not for want of trying. Apart from the fact that Nate is still stuck in the same perpetually-confused “look how adorable I am” dimple face, the times have a-changed on the Upper East Side.

Next week, our favourite privileged social chroniclers are back for a fifth outing. Five series. Seriously.

By this point on Josh Schwartz’s last teenage tantrum TV hit, Marissa had died and the entire show was in soap opera heaven.

So, kudos to the Gossip Girl team. But how to keep up their success? Outlandish plots they can cope with, scantily clad stars (OK, Serena) are sure to remain a selling point. But a look at the deep and dark history of similar teen dramas reveals a few danger zones.

Invented sisters should be a no-go. First of all, they’ve already done this – remember that dude from the beginning of series three who Vanessa dated? Yep, I didn’t like him enough to remember his name either – and given that half of Gossip Girl are already biologically or legally related anyway, this would be ridiculous. But more to the point, if Joss Whedon couldn’t make it work, Josh Schwartz sure as hell won’t be able to.

There was nothing wrong with Buffy suddenly having a sister, except, why did they have to go down the most implausible root to get there. I’m aware it was a show about otherworldly demons and such, but hello? Plot consistency?

Her parents divorced, why not take the easy route and make that the link. And more to the point, why the hell would you cast a pale brunette to play the daughter and sister of two sun-blushed blondes. Not to mention an actress so whiny you actually wanted the evil-of-the-day to gobble her up.

It’s not just Buffy that made the mistake of introducing another character with no regard for those of us who had spent years, yes years, developing unhealthy attachments to those there from the start. Gossip Girl team take note. We are not suddenly going to love some random add-on, five series in. Unless they have cheekbones like Nate’s, of course.

Speaking of consistency, let’s hope the writers don’t decide to reinvent the basic nature of our gossipers. Blair is not suddenly going to go over all Mother Theresa, drop out of college and start sporting ratty dreadlocks.

Likewise, Dan is never going to be OK being the lowly intern sent to get the coffee, and Chuck isn’t going to start campaigning against sexual harassment in the workplace.

The writers wouldn’t be so stupid. Not like the team behind Gilmore Girls, who decided to drop goodie-two-shoes nerd Rory out of college over a Boy. A Boy! The very idea.
Other things to avoid include ignoring what went on in the character’s lives before and rehashing plot lines.

The latter is something the Gossip Girls powers that be are already guilty of (hello, baby scare mark gazillion); the former is something familiar to anybody who ever watched Lost and dealt with the ever-growing and often contradictory flashbacks.

Of course, the worst mistake they could make comes not from the wider canon of glossy television drama but from the Gossip Girl gospel. In simple terms, do not under any circumstance bring back a certain she-devil with a moral superiority complex, Medusa-like locks and an unhealthy obsession with eyeliner compulsion.

Vanessa is gone. Keep it that way.

This post orginally appeared on the recap site TV Dinner and a Movie. Read more of their reviews and recaps here.

First Look: New Girl v. 2 Broke Girls

Of the two female-led half hour comedies starting this season, I thought I’d hate the latter and love the former.

The first stars Zooey Deschanel, who did kooky funny so well in the excellent (500) Days of Summer. It’s about a girl who is dumped, and in her search for new roomies ends up in a flat of three men. A good, not majorly overdone premise, a solid lead actress and an ok-ish title to boot.

With Kat Dennings (who gives the best scornful eye roll of any actress out there) in the lead in the second show, that was a plus, but pretty much the only one. Hello, the title, for a start.

Anything with text speak as its name is automatically deducted points in my book, because it sounds as if its been thought up by some 40-something writers team trying desperately to be “down with the kids”.

The premise – poor girl meets rich brat, unlikely friendship ensues – doesn’t exactly reek of originality.

And then there’s the whole “we want to open a cupcake shop” thing; because duh, that’s the life ambition of any young woman with half a morsel of talent in the kitchen. Okkk.

But the thing is, despite the surface flaws, 2 Broke Girls was funny. Yes, the plot is ridiculous, yes there is canned laughter and there are far too many “look how risque we are” jokes.

Still. Dennings and co-star Beth Behrs have excellent screen chemistry and, despite the stereotypes, aren’t entirely devoid of normal human charcteristics. Like, they go to Starbucks, and the “crummy” apartment is just that.

In contrast, New Girl was old hat. The main character is every writer’s indie trademark rolled into one – she sings ALL the time, she wears large black dork glasses, she cries at Dirty Dancing and has no common sense – but more than that she’s actually offensive.

Crying for a solid week after her break-up (while the man just goes out and parties), woefully clueless (she texts her date a gazillion times) and horrendously ditzy (is that dirty laundry stuck to her leg?).

She’s supposed to be alternative, not the prom queen type. Fine. But most girls aren’t prom queens.

Why not make her intelligent and naturally quirky rather than a running joke? The only thing that redeems it is that her male roommates also bear no resemblance to reality.

I had high hopes for the show, and maybe it will improve. But on 2 Broke Girls it was nice to see two female characters who weren’t defined by the men (or lack thereof) in their lives, and who had personalities that moved beyond the page. Long may it continue.

More about new TV shows to watch this Autumn here


First Look: Sarah Michelle Gellar in Ringer

What’s the deal? Remember that episode of Buffy where she and the gang came face to face with their bizarre other-dimensiony dopplegangers? Well, it’s happened again.

Ok, sort of. In her new series Ringer, Sarah Michelle Gellar plays Bridget, a cutely sarcastic ex-hooker with a heart, an addiction problem and straggly hair.

Sort of like Buffy, if she’d ended up on the bottle and become a bit of a wimp.

Bridget’s on the run from the law, so who better to see than the identical twin sister estranged from her for sister years?

As it turns out, Siobhan is an ice-queen society wife and doesn’t exactly approve of her wayward sister. So when she mysteriously goes awol, isn’t it just the most obvious thing for Bridget to steal her identity and take on her sister’s not-as-perfect-as-it-seemed life?

It’s unclear how the twin-swap will play out, though the pilot intriduces several threads – namely where is Siobhan, will the law catch up with Bridget and why did they fall out in the first place.

Will it work? The script isn’t horrible and the way it’s filmed – with lots and lots of mirrors to reiterate the “double lives” drama – is effective, though could become annoying.

The real problem though is that I still felt I was watching Buffy.

SMG hasn’t done much since that series wrapped, and she still looks basically the same and does all the wide eyed stares and snappy sarky backchat Buffy was known for.

In the pilot, each twin was essentially distinguished by hair (poor twin, down and unkempt, rich twin, up in a chignon so complicated several hairdressers would be required).

For Ringer to work, it’s going to need some thrilling storylines beyond the initial teasers, but also some serious character work. Bridget should be scarred by her experiences, Siobhan needs to be more than a bored Manhattan trophy wife with a distant husband.

What it shouldn’t feel like is an episode of Buffy where she’s been put under a spell and has fallen into someone else’s life.

Will I stick with it? Yes, to begin with. It’s an engaging concept, and there’s seems to be good stuff to come. But if three weeks in I still feel like I’m watching an unreleased episode of Buffy, I’m not so sure.

More about new TV shows to watch this Autumn here

Gossip Girl: Season 5 first look

Gossip Girl is back at the end of the month. Judging from this preview, Serena’s playing hooky in Los Angeles (avec Leo?), Blair and Chuck are still not over each other and Nate is having it off with Felicity Shagwell. Take a look, if you don’t believe me.