Famed teen drama shows like The O.C. and Gossip Girl defined a generation and creator Josh Schwartz is joining forces again with Canadian executive producer, Stephanie Savage, to try to bring that magic back to the next generation in a revamped Gossip Girl series, premiering in Canada on Crave on July 8.
Many of us haven't stopped referencing Chrismukkah, there was nothing more romantic to our teen hearts than the Spider-Man kiss between Summer and Seth, and we still love to rewatch Marissa and Ryan's relationship evolve.
Likewise, we love to "ship" Blair and Chuck (as problematic as that relationship was), re-ride the rollercoaster friendship of Serena and Blair (complete with iconic headbands) and some of us probably haven’t stopped occasionally signing off a message with “xoxo Gossip Girl.”
Schwartz and Savage brilliantly brought us into these worlds where we felt so invested in the characters and the storylines, something Schwartz attributes to the casts, while also evolving the teen drama genre for a particular moment in time.
“We were really fortunate that we had these wonderful casts on all the shows...and these actors that just audiences really identified with or fell in love with, or hated, or hated to love,” revealed. “I think we were able to push the envelope in some ways.”
But can that magic be recreated in this new show?
Updating the story for a moment in time is definitely at play with the new Gossip Girl series. While the main aspects of the show remain the same, rich kids on the Upper East Side of New York getting into trouble, experiencing the swings of friendships and romance, all with the most fabulous wardrobes, the new series is an attempt to reinvent and modernize the Gossip Girl of the past.
“Being able to have characters on screen that feel reflective and representative of the audience that's watching is obviously essential," Schwartz said.
“I think in all the shows that we've ever done, the goal is to make people feel less alone… Whether they were a nerdy emo kid who talked to his toy horse, or somebody who was dealing with gender fluidity exploration, as takes place in the new show, that there's always an opportunity for people to see themselves reflected in the characters on screen and to feel like they have a community because of that.”
A major criticism of the original series was the lack of diversity in the show and associated storylines in general, but also particularly with its core cast. That is one thing this new series is trying to rectify as we move Gossip Girl into modern day.
“I think that there is an effort to connect with people who represent the current time and trying to infuse that into what we're doing,” Canadian actor Jordan Alexander who plays Julien Calloway explained. “So that's going to be a constant conversation, that's going to be checking in and making sure we're accurately portraying and then also staying on theme with...where people are at right now, and the social current.”
Another Canadian, Whitney Peak who plays Zoya Lott on Gossip Girl, stressed it’s important for entertainment to be representative and moving forward, but while the the show is "a step in the right direction", it’s still not necessarily the most diverse entertainment on screen.
...This one show isn't going to cancel racism forever but it will definitely spark up conversations in the upcoming growth of the TV show, and as we progress and move forward, and bring more and more people into the cast.Whitney Peak, Canadian actress in new Gossip Girl
How does the new 'Gossip Girl' compare to the original?
Within the large ensemble cast of the upcoming Gossip Girl series, Zoya is new to the Constance Billard school at the outset of the series and Julien is a teenage influencer sensation, dating Obie Bergman played by Eli Brown.
Monet De Haan (Savannah Lee Smith) and Luna La (Zion Moreno) are Julien’s sidekicks, technically, but they truly make the moves that lead Julien through her path of power and influence.
Other friends in this core group at Constance are Maximus Wolfe (Thomas Doherty), Aki Menzies (Evan Mock) and Audrey Hope (Emily Alyn Lind), who are caught up in a bit of a web of romance early on in the series, just some of the queer love stories featured in this itineration of Gossip Girl, evident in some of the sultry scenes shown in the trailer.
“I feel like it’s given me a chance, even in my real life, to really challenge what I do and not like sexually, which is funny because my upbringing was very traditional and very like one-way street type of thing,” Mock said. “It’s given me an opportunity to really challenge what those things were and why I've been thinking a certain way for so long.”
“It's been a really amazing learning experience for me. It's interesting to apply things in the show to your everyday life. It's been a crazy experience, but it's been all positive.”
New to the mix, we get to also follow a group of teachers at the private school and their interactions with these seemingly untouchable students, including one of the real-life, original fashion influencers Tavi Gevinson as Kate Keller.
If want to find out who Gossip Girl is and how the moniker relates to this group in the new season, you’ll have to wait until the show airs to find out, but Kristen Bell is back with the iconic voice.
While executive producer Joshua Safran didn’t want this revamp series to be a copy of the original, there are definitely several callbacks for Gossip Girl fans to look out for throughout the new show.
“My hands were in every single story of the first 111 episodes,...I just know them so it's this thing of like, if Julien is going to a restaurant that that Nate would go to then I'd be like, Nate's there, that's not what happens in the show but I'm just saying it’s just in my bones,” he said.
Additionally, some of these characters have clear similarities to the original group.
“Halfway through writing the pilot I called Stephanie Savage was like, Stephanie, I think Max is a little bit like Chuck and I think Audrey is a little bit like Blair, and I think Zoya is a little bit like Jenny,” he said.
Could 'Gossip Girl' ever come back with the original cast?
For anyone wondering if it would have been a better decision to create a new story with the same characters from the original series, Safran doesn’t think it would have worked to take the kids out of high school, going so far to say that he doesn’t even think it worked when the characters went to college in the original series.
“I think what wouldn't work about it is, to me, what makes Gossip Girl interesting is looking at them in school as they're still being formed. I know that we took the show out of high school...the first time around and I don't think it worked as well."Joshua Safran, executive producer
"I think that you really do want to see teenagers grappling with this last moment of their idealism falling away and reality setting in... We wouldn't have been able to do that with the original cast.”
It’s very clear that bringing back a successful series is a large risk, even the actors in the series had some nerves about taking on the revamped version.
“I was nervous, because it is a legendary show and there [are] so many expectations that come with reinventing or continuing something that has such a stronghold on so many people,” Savannah Lee Smith told Yahoo Canada. “You get all those comments, ‘I'm not going to watch it if the original characters aren't on the show and it's never gonna be the same,’ so there is a lot of pressure that comes with the show and living up to its old standards.”
Zion Moreno, who was a big fan or the original series before being cast in the new one, says that her excitement to be part of the cast clouded any pressure or nervousness she said.
“But I think that once the [Metropolitan Museum of Art] steps pictures came out I understood what a huge deal the was and then the nerves started to creep in,” she said. “I try to ignore all the noise and try to just focus on creating something that hopefully stands the test of time, and hopefully people can relate to.”
The 'love to hate,' 'hate to love' battle continues in the new 'Gossip Girl'
“Love to hate” and "hate to love" are definitely phrases that have been used to describe the audience's relationship with basically every character of the original Gossip Girl series but Safran thinks that these new characters are actually worse than the originals.
“The fangs are sharper,” the writer said. “For myself and the writers, it was more fun to watch people who think they're doing the right thing, and they know the right thing, do absolutely the wrong thing and try to get away with it.”
“We called [Julien] sort of the...kind narcissist, because she thinks she doesn't know she's a narcissist and she's like, ‘but I'm benevolent, I'm just giving my tips on makeup to everybody because everybody should have the tips that I have,’ but no, she wants you to wear the makeup that she tells you to wear."
For actor Emily Alyn Lind, she believes people enjoyed watching the original Gossip Girl series because it “didn’t take itself too seriously,” in the sense that it wasn’t trying to teach anyone a lesson, it was escapism.
“I feel that it's still a fun show and it's meant to still be a fun show,” she said. “These are really privileged kids, no one can step away from that.”