My roommates hosted a small get-together at my apartment last weekend, and I found myself talking television with a group of girls — mostly guilty pleasure stuff. I confessed that I’d been watching Dawson’s Creek for about eight hours before the party began; a few of the girls copped to watching/ loving 90210 (the new iteration. I know.) And then I made a statement that caused records to skip, seas to part, etc: “I still love Gossip Girl.” “You’re still watching Gossip Girl?” one girl asked as though I’d just told everyone I was on a strict cat food diet. I nodded and left to refill my drink/ mourn the once relevant, now reviled show that I’ve come to love.
I don’t know when everyone ran screaming from the Gossip Girl bandwagon. I’m thinking it was last season, or perhaps the season before that, but I’ve maintained my enthusiasm and interest in the show through accusations that it’s jumped the shark and become utterly unrealistic. I have a newsflash for everyone: Gossip Girl was never realistic. Its portrayal of New York, of college (or lack thereof), of excess — there are liberties taken, and they are extreme. Not that that’s a bad thing — in fact, I think that’s part of the appeal. It’s escapism, plain and simple — whether you’re watching from middle America or from the middle of Manhattan, you’re not watching because you want something to relate to. You’re watching because you want somewhere to escape to.
For as long as I’ve been conscious, my mother’s been a huge fan of soap operas. I never thought I’d become afflicted, too — Passions and Days of Our Lives embarrass me just by existing — but two years ago, I started noticing the shows I once loved being syndicated by the Soap Opera Network. Shows like 90210 (the original) and The OC. And once I changed the context of how I viewed those shows, once I started approaching them as soap operas, I was able to appreciate them more. The liberal way they painted reality, the campiness, the death and scandal and betrayal — all of these things no longer seemed like cheap ways to take advantage of an audience so much as they were ways to help me escape into something almost realistic, but not quite.
Like its west coast predecessor, Gossip Girl is a soap opera. A damn good one, at that. There are no villainous little people or magic spells or comas, just good ol’ fashioned scheming and backstabbing. These are ingredients missing from my everyday life — a good thing, no doubt, but it doesn’t mean that I’m above supplementing my stability with a show that’s easy on the eyes (and brain) and heavy on the drama. Gossip Girl is my perfect alternate universe. And that’s only part of its appeal (to me, at least).
The other reason I can’t stop watching is because, over the last five years, I’ve become invested in the characters. Not all of them, mind you, but I’d be lying if I told you I’m not interested in the ethos behind Dan Humphrey’s decision to write a tell-all about the people he knows. I’m curious to see if his candidness works in his professional favor (because Nelly Yuki will be the one person he has left once this saga plays out). He wasn’t strong enough to burn all his bridges the first time around, but he’s committed this time and I’m excited by it. To me, this is a compelling storyline that needed time to grow and develop. The Humphrey of Season 1 would have never had the balls to expose everyone he knows, and watching the transformation come to term feels like a necessity to me.
And of course, there’s Chair. Chuck and Blair’s relationship is perhaps the most realistic part of the show, and the reason I can’t stop watching until a resolution is reached. Because even though it involves extravagant gifts or impromptu flights to god knows where, there’s one thing that’s astoundingly, consistently real about their connection: it does not follow rules. It creates its own, it breaks them, it reinvents them. For all the escaping I do through the show, it’s the one thing that gives me a sense of home, of understanding.
That, and I still can’t get over the way Ed Westwick fills out a suit.