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House of (Lack of) Mirth: An Advance Review of the Next Two Episodes of "Gossip Girl"

During its first season, Gossip Girl was a frothy guilty pleasure, the sort of television viewing experience that didn't tax your brain while it offered up a wry tongue-in-cheek look at the scandals of Manhattan's elite, employing a sardonic wit to chronicle the age-old rivalries between well-heeled high schoolers on the Upper East Side.

Somewhere along the way, Gossip Girl lost its spark. The next two episodes, which kick off next Monday evening on the CW, seem to exist as a sort of shadow of its formerly flush self. Where's the series' fun, the intrigue, the devilish twinkle it used to have in abundance?

After a string of disappointing episodes, I was hoping to find that the series had returned to form when it launches a new batch of installments next week. However, the first hour, entitled "Age of Dissonance," was painful to watch. Focusing on some truly irritating subplots like the much maligned pairing between Penn Badgley's Dan and Laura Breckinridge's Shakespeare teacher Rachel and Chuck's Eyes Wide Shut-inspired foray into the world of underground sex clubs, this episode tries to wrap up these awful storylines while advancing the plot but only manages to irritate more than engage.

Throwing in a heretofore unmentioned senior class play (in which everyone has a role) based on Edith Wharton's "Age of Innocence" is a head-scratcher. Yes, using this particular source material as a statement about the character's own romantic and personal choices is about as subtle as hitting the audience over the head with an anvil but the writers miss an opportunity for some real humor by staging some unfunny moments between Dan and Blair in a carriage and Nelly Yuki in a fat suit... and forcing us to watch the characters engage in some dreadful faux English accents on stage for far too long. Yawn.

While the network has requested that I not give away any major plot points from these episodes, I will say that at least "The Age of Dissonance" does wrap up both the Dan/Rachel and Chuck/sex club storylines pretty neatly and tries to throw in a twist or two in the process... neither of which is particularly surprising or compelling. Meanwhile, look for Serena to fall for the play's director Julian (guest star Harmon Walsh) and to turn to Vanessa for help in a Cyrano de Bergerac sort of way. (Vanessa continues to irk; here she's filming a documentary about the making of the school play as a means for being involved with the episode's overarching plot.) Elsewhere, Blair faces the loss of everything she's worked for, Dan must make a difficult decision, and Carter Baizen (Sebastian Stan) returns to town to shake things up for several characters.

While "The Age of Dissonance" is a real snoozer, the following week's episode, entitled "Grandfather," is a least somewhat of a step in the right direction. I wasn't thrilled about this installment either, compared with earlier episodes of Gossip Girl, but it's relatively more engaging and winning than the previous week's episode. Unfortunately, it focuses heavily on Nate and Vanessa (never a good thing, in my book) and a subplot involving Nate's powerful grandfather (guest star James Naughton) and his Kennedyesque family as Nate is forced to make a choice about his future.

However, "Grandfather" does feature some on-screen time for Kelly Rutherford's Lily and Matthew Settle's Rufus, easily still the most interesting and compelling characters on the series. Look for these two to spar when details about their past love lives emerge. While it's a more trivial storyline than we've seen them involved with of late, it's a welcome distraction from the shrill Nate/Vanessa storyline in this installment. (If you couldn't tell, I'm a huge proponent for the typically more interesting adult storyline this season.)

Elsewhere, the episode features a storyline for Blair that I feel we've already seen twice so far in the season and a half that Gossip Girl has been on the air, which is real problem given the relative shortness of its run so far. And keep your eyes open for yet another romantic permutation between the characters to take flight.

All in all, I was really hoping for more from the return of Gossip Girl. The series thrives when it manages to shock and surprise with a combination of soapy plot twists and sly humor but these episodes don't manage to do either particularly well. Despite being such a young series, the next two installments definitely make it seem like this Gossip Girl is already in need of a (narrative) face lift.

Gossip Girl returns with new episodes Monday, March 16th at 8 pm ET/PT on CW.


Anonymous said…
The "Age of Innocence" episode sounds pretty bad but at least they wrap up the Dan/Rachel storyline. I was worried that would go on...and on...and on. I do not care for Rachel at all and find her character to be completely unbelievable (but not in a fun, Gossip Girl way).
Anonymous said…
No offense intended, but if you think Lily and Rufus are the most compelling characters on the series? You're watching the wrong series.
Anonymous said…
I'm conflicted because I was nodding along, all like yep, yep, yep, until HOLD UP Lily and Rufus are the most compelling part of the show?!

Dude. FALSE. Boring, boring, booooring.
Anonymous said…
Dear Anon,

Lily and Rufus are my favorite characters too (and several other people's). If they weren't so compelling then why do you think they're doing a spin off about Lily's past?
Anonymous said…
Wow. The ONLY reasons I watch GG are for Lily & Rufus and Chuck. That's it. Hate Vanessa, Serena irks, Dan is annoying, and Jenny has disappeared after her stupid fashion escapade.

@anonymous You disagree with the review because of one thing you don't agree with?

I'm finding where the show is going to be troubling.
Magnolia said…
I enjoy Gossip Girl, but I've never felt that it has lived up to the potential it had in the pilot episode. That episode remains the best of the series by far, in my opinion.

And while I wouldn't say Rufus and Lily are my favorite characters, I'm really looking forward to more on their long-lost son.

Also, maybe I watch too many TV movies or something, but I thought the Dan/teacher storyline would be fun. Too bad that won't pan out the way I thought.
Anonymous said…
The problems with GG remind me of the issues Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage had with THE OC--starting strong but fading fast. I feel like they embrace early hype to distraction, become too impressed with themselves, and the shows become these smug, self-satisfied entities at the expense of compelling storytelling. And to think KNOTS LANDING went on for 14 years and hit creative peaks many years in!
Anonymous said…
Couldn't agree more, except for the Lily& Rufus part...this season just completely fails my expectation.

Everything except the Blair-related plot irks the Dan/Serena drama, arghhh, who cares!! Just gimme Blair and Chuck and I will be very happy. Lily and Rufus are just so disgusting, arrghh; not to mention the irritation of V constantly showing up on my screen

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