Gossip Girl recap: New York, I Love You XOXO (the finale)


So Georgina Sparks is now Blair Waldorf’s aunt. Or should that be Mrs Chuck Bass? After 121 episodes, six long series, nigh on a thousand parties and too many love triangles to count, Gossip Girl is at an end. Josh Schwartz’s series about the privileged and genetically blessed going about their fabulous business on the Upper East Side is now consigned to the dustbin of television history.

Although it never attracted as many viewers as Schwartz’s first outing into the lives of the rich and glamorous – airing as it did at the dawn of the democratisation of illegal television downloading – there’s no denying that Gossip Girl made an impact.

From its two fingers up response to groups concerned about its risqué content – including an advertising campaign based on their criticisms – to the regular tabloid appearances of its young stars, Gossip Girl was more than just a teen soap opera.

Of course, by the end, what started as an unashamedly campy drama that pushed boundaries with its scandalous storylines had become a shadow of its former self. Still, the double-bill finale sent the show – and Gossip Girl HIMself – out with a bang.

First, a few criticisms. Ok, so Serena has maintained her slutty behaviour throughout, identifying new targets as each old week melts into the next, and Nate remains the same loveable dolt, dimpled and clueless. But all the same, between the fourth and fifth series it was as if the scriptwriters decided to start with a blank canvas. Gone was Blair the conniving, tawdry mastermind, the woman for whom no scheme was too big, only to be replaced with a damsel, working at the whim of whichever male rescuer she was being saved by that episode.

Toward the end, she became a parody of her former self, portrayed as a petulant child in her campaign against Nelly Yuki. The old Blair would never have fallen for the wimpy, wearisome prince, nor made a pact with God or allowed duty and responsibility to obstruct her relationship with Chuck.

The old Blair was no shrinking wallflower; she dictated events but never let herself be dictated by them. She did not need saving, ever.

boys-ep6As for Dan, in the first series he was the heart of the story; the innocent, thrown without a hope into a very different world. He was sweet, boyish and sympathetic – you rooted for him to win Serena’s heart, to triumph over the bullies, to be the outsider who was never, to quote his book, seduced by the inside.

Unfortunately, Dan’s undercover adventures on the UES saw him sucked in, until he was just another selfish, vain and airheaded brat. Gossip Girl thrived on the attempts to corrupt the innocent, to sully the virtuous. But by the time his book was printed, he was tainted almost beyond the point of return.

Chuck’s trajectory, on the other hand, was better. Taking him from heartless capitalist to fighter for justice and all-round good egg was a risky move, but the reason it worked was because throughout, he maintained his smirk, his insouciance, his utter contempt for the irrelevant or unfortunate.

Despite the flaws of the final series – Sage, Sage’s dull dad, the vom-worthy Ivy and Rufus fake-romance, Bart’s Sudanese oil dealings – the finale was delicious; an homage to the fans who have stuck it out through thick and very much thin, an ode to all the ridiculous, frothy fun of the XoXo collective.

First, the big question. Who was Gossip Girl?

Unlike Lost, during which audiences were encouraged to play a guessing game from day one, the identity of the mysterious tattle-tale wasn’t oft addressed. The decision to make Kristen Bell the voice of Dan Humphrey’s delusions was frustrating – what about how GG ruined Little J’s life, or incessantly mocked his actions? – but ultimately the best option.

Dan was the ultimate outsider, ever desperate to claw his way into the lives and loves of the Upper East Siders. Only he would have had the access and the ambition to chronicle ever good, bad and downright ugly detail of the gang. Only he wouldn’t think twice about sacrificing his father, sister, romantic interests and best friends on the altar of his quest for popularity and acceptance. GOSSIP GIRL

The great reveal wasn’t really that, what with everyone basically just chuckling and rolling their eyes in an “aw, Daa-annn” kind of way when they found out. Never mind how he had at various points paved the way for characters to cheat, be jailed, nearly die, face social ruin and widespread embarrassment.

It was more, darn it gang, why didn’t we figure that out!

But of course, this show has never been about Gossip Girl. It’s been about the girls (and guys) gossiped about. So the finale had to wind up every loose end, with heartwarming flashbacks of Vanessa (hair still dreadful, still not permitted to return to Manhattan), Little J (inevitably, Sage’s idol) and Eric.

No return of Scott, nor stalker Juliette, Hillary – threesome with Dan and Vanessa – Duff, nor Carter. But Michael Bloomberg made a cameo, and there was plenty of Dorota (her survival secret? She’s been downing vodka this whole time). And Bell, and Rachel Bilson, appeared in a marvellous meta movie-of-Gossip-Girl-moment that had more than a little trace of the Dawson’s Creek finale about it.

As for our gang. Ivy got her comeuppance, albeit at the hands of someone only a tad less morally questionable than herself. Lily found herself a new-old husband again, after redoing Bart’s funeral (I’m shocked that she didn’t use it as an excuse to plan another fabulous society soiree!) Sage was dumped (obviously – in the 20 year reunion, Nate will still be picking up random floosies and ditching them after a month, while Chuck advises him of the joys of settling down).

In any case, Archibald has a successful media company (good to know journalism will still be going in five years time) and a possible electoral run to consider. So, in essence, he has become exactly the man his grandfather wanted to be. But with better dimples.

minionsBlair and Chuck (it was never going to be Dan, or Nate, or anyone) found their happy ever after, with a nostalgic wedding starting at the steps of the Met, and spawned a darling mini-Chuck to love and adore (although with Dorota there for the tough parenting).

And Dan and Serena – less beauty and the beast, more arrogance and the dimwit – finally tied the know, five years after they fell back in love (although presumably with myriad splits and hiccups in the meantime).

So that’s it. No more blonde with her boobs out at funerals and other inappropriate times (S), no more smug, dastardly and ever so well-coiffed (Chuck), no more adorably clueless (Nate) and social-climber bordering on stalker (Dan), and no more bitchy, queen of mean, ne-headbanded Queen B. Unless, of course, you fancy rewatching it all from the very beginning?


My two weeks in writing

Last week I enjoyed a foray into sports journalism (sort of!), reporting on the row over a petition urging Uefa to move the U21 tournament from Israel to a less controversial location. Having spoken to a number of players opposed to such a boycott, it was interesting to discover at the 11th hour that players including Didier Drogba were actually denying having backed the statement.

Moving to more lighthearted subjects, the news of the Duchess of Cambridge’s pregnancy sparked an irreverent blog post about the future royal baby, which in turn earned me a mention in the Evening Standard’s coverage of a potential royal circumcision. My tweet about Pippa Middleton – “Cannot WAIT for Pippa’s book of tips about being an auntie”– also found its way in to the Mirror’s round up of the most humorous posts on the site.

Other stories I covered included a Lords debate following the Palestinian United Nations upgrade vote, and the BBC’s ruling over a complaint about its coverage of the protest against Habima at the Globe Theatre, a story I covered at length.

Toward the end of the week, I was in parliament for a panel event for young Europeans, in which Conservative MP Zac Goldsmith revealed that he would be nervous to place a bet on the future of the Jewish state. Continuing my coverage of the Tories, I questioned party officials on why the much-delayed report about Aiden Burley’s behaviour at a now infamous stag party last December had still not been released.

I also covered the launch of a new Orthodox Jewish feminist organisation – not, as some might assume, a contradiction in terms – but an American initiative being brought across the Atlantic. And I wrote about a conference on Lithuanian Jewry that is set to take place next week in London, and that is the subject of some controversy, due to the involvement of the Lithuanian Government.

For the Independent’s online comment section, I offered an opinion piece about the census results, which were released in Britain this week, and what they really revealed about the state of religion and faith in this country. “Are reports of the death of religion just being exaggerated?” I asked. And, in a sign that I have not yet divested myself of my tween pop passions, I wrote for Optima about the legacy of the Spice Girls.

The census: are reports of the death of religion just being exaggerated? (Independent)

“You can be religious in the traditional sense, but not follow conventional traditions. The census should have asked about community.”

It is unlikely that if he were alive today, Mark Twain would have seen fit to comment on the results of the 2011 British census, esteemed survey though it is.

But to misquote him, are reports of the death of religion being greatly exaggerated?

At first glance, the results appear to confirm that in Britain, faith is no longer fashionable. Asked for the second time in census history “what is your religion”, fewer respondents said that they had one. Although Britain is still predominantly Christian, since 2001 the numbers identifying as such have dropped by 13 percentage points, down by four million.

While the numbers identifying as each of Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist or Jewish either rose or remained largely consistent, more than a quarter of respondents said they had no religion, up from 14.8 per cent ten years ago.

When surveys or news stories point to a supposed threat to religious life in this country – the Scouting oath being adapted for atheists, for example – the doomsayers tend to warn that society as we know it is on the verge of breakdown; that the community structure that helped make Britain great is collapsing with no word on its replacement.

This piece was originally published by the Independent. Read the rest here.