Gossip Girl Returns: Grade the Series Premiere of HBO Max's Meta Reboot

Fourteen years after Serena van der Woodsen’s iconic walk through Grand Central, HBO Max is inviting viewers back into the world of Gossip Girl via another blonde on a train. Only things are quite different this time around.

For starters, this ain’t Metro North. It’s the New York City subway system. And the woman in question isn’t a glamorous young socialite, but rather a teacher (played by Tavi Gevinson) at her wit’s end. As an educator at the now-coed Constance Billard school, Kate Keller longs for the simpler days when students respected authority and adhered to boundaries. In other words, the days of Gossip Girl.

And can you blame her? The student body is crawling with egomaniacal monsters, like Monet (Savannah Smith), who reacts to her teachers’ arrival at school by loudly declaring, “Eww! Don’t they have their own entrance or something?” And when a student accidentally bumps into Kate, nearly causing her to spill coffee on the student’s pricey bag, Monet takes the opportunity to remind Kate that she’s lucky she missed the bag — it would have taken her a month’s salary to replace it. Like I said, monsters!

Thus, out of necessity for social law and order, Gossip Girl is born reborn. Only instead of publishing secrets via an old-school blog (a la Dan Humphrey, “the novelist!”), the teachers opt to create an Instagram account for the titular tattler. They initially try to revive Gossip Girl via Twitter, but it doesn’t take long for them to realize that it isn’t 2012 anymore, so they pivot to a more influential platform.

And who better to target than the most popular clique in school: Julien (Jordan Alexander), a fashion influencer with a bitchin’ buzz cut; her boyfriend Obie (Eli Brown), who’s as woke as his family is wealthy; Max (Thomas Doherty), whose affinity for pills and sex leads to near-daily shenanigans; Audrey (Emily Alyn Lind), who’s currently navigating a sexual rough patch with boyfriend Aki (Evan Mock); and Luna (Zión Moreno), another manipulative sidekick who helps Monet manage Julien’s image both on and off social media.

The premiere also introduces us to new-girl Zoya (Whitney Peak), who just so happens to be Julien’s half-sister. Everyone at school knows this, but no one — not even Julien’s closest frenemies — is aware that she and Zoya secretly conspired to make their late mother’s wish come true by finally meeting. In fact, Julien was instrumental in Zoya’s transfer from her old school, even if Zoya doesn’t know how instrumental until Gossip Girl reveals that Julien secretly paid for her entire scholarship.

Zoya furiously exits her own welcome party, but she learns that there’s no escape from the drama — especially when “the drama” is an overzealous teacher creepily taking pictures of you undressing from across the street. A shot of her and Obie drying their rain-soaked clothes is meant to be a silver bullet, but Julien dodges it by recognizing that Gossip Girl is clearly distorting the truth to take her down. (A leading lady who sees through Gossip Girl’s B.S. on Day 1? How curiously refreshing!)

Julien thinks she and Zoya can get the upper hand by staging a fight ahead of Julien’s walk in New York Fashion Week, but Monet and Luna have other plans. The show’s resident Flotsam and Jetsam steal Zoya’s phone, convince Max to snap a dick pic with it, then airdrop it to everyone at the fashion show… just as Julien makes her runway debut. Julien once again understands that Zoya meant no harm, but the fact that Julien was A-OK with her friends doing that to her doesn’t sit well with Zoya. In fact, it doesn’t sit well with Obie either, as Julien’s Prince Charming practically tucks and rolls out of a limousine just to get away from her.

Let the games begin!

Also worth discussing…

* For some reason, I’m irrationally fixated on the scene where Obie and Zoya casually stroll through New York City during what is objectively a torrential downpour. If it’s raining and I don’t have an umbrella, I’m running to my destination. Are kids today not afraid of catching colds? Youth is wasted on the young.

* Did anybody else get full-body chills when Kristen Bell spoke for the first time? It was a little funny knowing whose words she was bringing to life, but OMFG, if the mere sound of that voice didn’t transport me right back to 2007. It made me want to walk outside and toss my LG Chocolate into the nearest trash.

* L-O-L @ Nate Archibald being mentioned alongside Caroline Kennedy and Colson Whitehead as one of the “great people” this school has produced.

* As a twosome, Audrey and Aki are a bit of a snooze, but their seemingly mutual attraction to Max? Consider me intrigued.

* I don’t actually think this is going to happen, but I’m saying it anyway just so that it’s documented in case I’m right: Could Julien and Zoya’s mother… still be alive?

OK, let’s talk: How are you feeling about the new Gossip Girl so far? Any favorite (or least favorite) characters? Weigh in via our polls below, then drop a comment with your full review. 

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