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Viewers of HBO Max’s Gossip Girl reboot likely found themselves saying “OMFG” as the series premiere revealed the identity of Gossip Girl in its first episode.
And this time, it’s the teachers who are keeping a close eye on the ruling class at Constance Billard and Instagramming their every move.
Fed up with the entitled students’ bullying, and after one teacher in particular is fired for refusing to change a grade, the teachers at the fictional Upper East Side private school decide to take back the power by reviving Gossip Girl.
As explained by a fellow teacher and Constance alum, the original Gossip Girl was an “Orwellian big sister” that “kept tabs on students it deemed important.”
The “constant threat” of a Gossip Girl post, she says, kept them accountable.
So the educators, led by Tavi Gevinson’s Kate Keller, revive Gossip Girl first via Twitter and then via Instagram as they discover Twitter isn’t popular enough with kids these days.
While the original Gossip Girl took six seasons to reveal that “novelist” Dan Humphrey (Penn Badgley) was the man behind the blog, reboot showrunner Josh Safran, who ran the original series for in its later seasons, told The Hollywood Reporter that he needed to reveal the identity of the mysterious source of social surveillance early on to make it clear the new series wouldn’t be a retread of the original.
“I just felt like it was very important for the audience to know off the top that this show is different from the first time,” Safran told THR at last week’s premiere. “I wanted people to know from the top that the show was different, that the show wasn’t going to be what you saw the first time around. I also feel like it’s very important not to do the exact same show again because if I wanted to do the original show, we would’ve brought the original cast back—they wouldn’t have done it because they have careers of their own and families. But because it’s not the original cast, it had to be a new show and this twist makes the show something new, something different, kind of even almost stands on its own while also having all of the DNA of the original and all of the twists and stuff that you love.”
And HBO Max’s head of original content Sarah Aubrey was quick to say the twist was “the reason why I did the show.”
She added, “I thought that announces itself so strongly as a reason to exist and introduces a whole new dynamic into the show that I was like ‘We’ve got it.'”
While every cast member THR spoke to on the red carpet last week said they were surprised by the twist, star Jordan Alexander may have had the most dramatic reaction.
“I was on the floor, someone had to come sweep me up,” she said, laughing. “It was very intense; that was just not something that I was expecting. It never happened in the first Gossip Girl. That was just not something that happened. So that was really cool and exciting to see that manifest.”
And others said that while they didn’t expect the twist, it makes sense as the series goes on.
“I was really, really surprised when I found out,” Thomas Doherty, who plays Max Wolfe, said. “I did not think it was going in that direction, but now that I’ve done it and seen more, it works, it does work.”
Whitney Peak, who plays new girl Zoya Lott added, “I was shocked. At first I was very put off by it in the way that I said to myself, ‘They just revealed who Gossip Girl is. What? Nobody’s going to watch the show now.’ Then you realize that the audience is actually in on something that the characters aren’t, so it’s really, really interesting because they feel like they’re part of the entire thing and the inner workings and mind of Gossip Girl.”
Karena Evans, who directed the first episode, had the challenge of keeping the Gossip Girl reveal hidden, telling THR that it was particularly tough “to keep that big reveal a secret while filming in New York, while there’s a lot of attention and excitement around the show and fans wanting to get into the story and find the secrets that have yet to be revealed.”
As for her take on the twist, Evans offers, “I think it is a prime example of the evolution of the show in many ways.”
And Megan Ferguson, who plays Wendy, said she hopes the spotlight on the teachers brings in a new audience.
“It’s probably going to bring in a different generation into the show,” she said. “You’re getting obviously a different perspective and who you as a viewer align yourself with in this narrative.”
Gossip Girl super fans might have even spotted that there was more to Kate Keller than meets the eye if they caught the Easter egg in her first scenes.
Costume designer Eric Daman, who also worked on the original series, explained that when Kate “shows up for the very first time, she’s wearing a very similar outfit to when Serena [van der Woodsen, played by Blake Lively in the original series,] shows up for the first time—the tan jacket with the striped T-shirt and the iconic little ascot that Serena wore that I thought was an important nod as they’re similarly riding a train, and it just felt like a good bridge that the fans would love that was also a great nod to the original.”
While the Gossip Girl reveal is arguably the biggest headline to emerge from the first episode, it was far from the only intriguing incident. The first episode also revealed early on that, despite initially claiming otherwise, half sisters Zoya and Julien (Alexander) did know each other and hoped to connect further.
“I think she’s searching for validation from Julien in the beginning,” Peak says of Zoya’s feelings about Julien at the start of the season. “She really wants to be liked, and she really wants to make this relationship work, but I think sometimes it’s to her own detriment, in that she tries to silence her personality and values to please her sister, so it’s kind of a teeter-totter, but in the end she realizes that if Julien is going to like her for anything, it should be for being herself.”
Viewers also saw Emily Alyn Lind’s Audrey having trouble connecting with her longtime boyfriend Aki (Evan Mock) as she seemed drawn to Max.
As for what her character’s mentality is, Lind told THR, “I think Audrey is a caretaker, and I think she cares a lot about her friends. People that she loves, she really loves. I think that she needs to realize in the beginning something she hasn’t realized before, which is that she matters as well and her mental health and her priorities need to be on her a bit more.”
All of episode one’s reveals were enough to make executive producer Josh Schwartz, who co-developed the original with Stephanie Savage, quip to THR when asked about his thoughts on the twist, “There’s a few big twists. I don’t even know which twist you’re referring to. But we loved it, how about that?”
To paraphrase Gossip Girl, “You know you love it.”
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