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Gossip Girl: The Complete First Season (2007-2008)

Warner Home Video
DVD Released: 8/19/2008

All Ratings out of

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 8/13/2008

When was the last time that the words "original" and "soap opera" were used in the same breath? Passions? Dark Shadows? These shows are notorious for offering little in the way of anything new, and apparently, that's how the fans like it. They aren't looking for originality, they are looking for glamorous people involved in outrageous scandals. Both daytime and nighttime soaps have hit on a successful formula and there's no reason to mess with it now. Thus, we have the latest teen soap offering, Gossip Girl, which has now come to DVD.

Based on a series of books by Cecily von Ziegesar, Gossip Girl is set in the Upper East Side of Manhattan and explores the glamorous and decadent lives of the teenagers who live there. The shows title refers to a website which keeps tabs on all of the moves of this elite crowd. (The "Gossip Girl" narration is provided by Kristen Bell.) Serena van der Woodsen (Blake Lively), the area's golden girl and notorious partier, has just returned from a long absence and the entire community is buzzing. She has come home because her younger brother, Eric (Connor Paolo), has attempted suicide. Serena is greeted by her socialite mother, Lily (Kelly Rutherford), who has moved the family into a posh hotel while their apartment is being renovated. Serena also has an uneasy reunion with her best friend, Blair Waldorf (Leighton Meester), and their pals, Nate Archibald (Chace Crawford) and Chuck Bass (Ed Westwick).

Meanwhile, Dan Humphrey (Penn Badgley) and his sister Jenny (Taylor Momsen) commute from Brooklyn to attend the private school which Serena and her friends take for granted. Dan has loved Serena from afar for years, and after a chance encounter, they chat and soon find themselves dating. (And, unbeknownst to them, Dan's Dad, Rufus (Matthew Settle), and Serena's Mom have a secret past.) And while Dan has long wanted to be with Serena, he's not prepared for the treachery and back-stabbing which occurs in the world of the ultra-rich. Similarly, Jenny wants to fit in with Blair and her crew of devotees and will do anything to do so. Can these two naive youngsters make it in such a harsh world?

Gossip Girl quickly gained a scandalous reputation for its infamous "OMFG!" ad campaigns. Based on that, I was expecting the show to be very shocking and out there. However, the show is relatively mild and certainly in line with other shows of its genre. In fact, it's exactly like other shows of its genre. Moving the action to New York, Gossip Girl plays like an East Coast version of The O.C. or an updated take on Beverly Hills 90210 (which, coincidentally, is actually coming back to TV). (In fact, Josh Schwartz served as executive producer on both Gossip Girl and The O.C.) We get the same sort of stories involved the spoiled and overly-privileged children of the rich getting themselves into all kinds of trouble. In order to make the show more palatable, and presumably, more realistic, we get Dan and Jenny representing the middle-class -- just like The Walshes on 90210 or Benjamin on The O.C. No, except for the clothing, there won’t be anything on Gossip Girl that you haven’t seen before.

But, that isn’t to say that the show doesn’t make the most of its unoriginality. While all of the characters here are stereotypes that we’ve seen before, they are interesting. The best character by far is Serena, who has learned to take her charmed life with a grain of salt. While she certainly doesn’t reject her lifestyle, her brother’s condition, and some other events from her past, have humbled her, making her perhaps the most likable spoiled little rich girl ever on TV. In contrast, Blair can be so evil at times that she goes beyond the type of character that we love to hate to one which we simply hate. Chuck, who is de Sade-like in his pursuit of decadence, slithers through the show, constantly surprising us with his bizarre life-choices.

The show’s weak-link is the character who is supposed to be the anchor to the audience: Dan Humphrey. At first, Dan is likable and anyone who has ever pined over an unobtainable person will silently cheer when Dan and Serena begin going out. However, Dan soon turns into a whiny baby who is always complaining about the fact that he can’t handle Serena’s lifestyle and her friends -- while Serena makes attempts to appease him. There are numerous scenes where they only spend a few minutes together before Dan gets frustrated and leaves. His mantra becomes, “I can’t be here right now!” and it become incredibly annoying.

I wouldn’t go as far as to say that Gossip Girl is “must-see TV”, but as far as teen soaps go, it’s pretty good. The storylines are tightly woven together and the show does a good job of juggling several plotlines at once. (Except for the art dealer who insists on a date with Rufus...then disappears from the show.) The characters, while familiar, are interesting, and the juicy stories contain enough intrigue to keep one watching. If nothing else, the clothes on the show are interesting, and only people in New York would dress that way. Gossip Girl isn’t great, but it is worth talking about.

Gossip Girl: The Complete First Season spreads the word on DVD courtesy of Warner Home Video. This 5-disc set contains all 18 episodes from the shows first season. The shows are letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is fairly sharp and clear, however there is some notable grain in some of the darker shots. There are no notable defects from the source material. The colors look fantastic, and this is very important considering the colorful fashions sported on the show. Horizontal lines on the image do create video noise at times. The DVD features a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The track offers some nice stereo effects during street scenes, and this is occasionally accompanied by some surround effects. Otherwise, the bulk of the audio comes from the center channel.

The Gossip Girl: The Complete First Season DVD set contains a few extras. There are DELTED SCENES for most episodes. The remainder of the extras are found on Disc 5. "The Beginning, XOXO" (23 minutes) gives us a detailed look at the creation of the show. It starts with comments from the producers and author Cecily von Ziegesar who describe how the book was transformed into a show. Each actor and character is then examined. The group then discusses what it's like to shoot in New York and the look of the show. Finally, there are comments on the music by The Transcenders. "Gossip Girl Couture" (14 minutes) profiles Costume Designer Eric Daman, who describes the specific look of each of the main characters. "A Gossip Girl Wedding" (5 minutes) takes us behind the scenes of the planning and execution of the wedding scene. "LOL" (12 minutes) is a blooper reel. Finally, we have two MUSIC VIDEOS for the songs "Boring" and "Secret", but the artists are not identified.

Review Copyright 2008 by Mike Long