Gossip Girl is officially back in full force, but she looks a little different nowadays.
The new series, which just debuted on HBO Max, wasted no time in revealing the trick up its sleeve and establishing that the eponymous Gossip Girl is no longer a mysterious, anonymous figure to be revealed in the series finale. Now, she's a group of frustrated teachers, led by Tavi Gevinson as Kate Keller. Apparently, life as a private school teacher is absolute garbage, and the only way to take the power back from the students is to scare them into submission by bringing back an old school legend who has no problem airing out all their dirty secrets on Instagram.
It's absolutely problematic, and that's sort of the point of the new show. Creator Joshua Safran, who also worked on the original series, wanted to get into the nitty gritty of what it takes to be the life-ruining drama queen known as Gossip Girl. Last time, we could only imagine how Dan (Penn Badgley) pulled it off. Now, we'll see how it's done, and it's not always going to go well, especially considering the powerful influencer, played by Jordan Alexander, who Kate has initially chosen to target.
That twist was what sealed the deal for the reboot in Safran's mind, after he initially said no to executive producer Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage's pitch of running the new show. He didn't see a way to do it without the original stars, until he started thinking about the realities of being an all-knowing social media stalker.
"Over that weekend, I realized there's something we never did. We never saw how Dan being Gossip Girl actually happened in the moment," Safran tells E! News. "If he was sitting next to Jenny at the breakfast table and sending in a tip about Jenny that would destroy Jenny, while watching it land and seeing it destroy Jenny...you could redo the entire series from the beginning and put that in everywhere, and it would be suddenly a new thing."
Safran couldn't let go of that idea.
"To me, that's the only reason to do another version, to come up with something you hadn't seen before," he says. "Josh and Stephanie were immediately on board, and so were Warner Bros and HBO Max, and that was that."
The focus on the teachers almost came as a separate idea, inspired by Safran's own time in an Upper East Side private school and his friends who have worked in Upper East Side private schools over the years. He had always envisioned a show about being "a teacher in those spaces, where your job is to try to teach children who don't really care, because they have all the privilege in the world." At some point, that show and the new Gossip Girl became one and the same.
"On the first show, we only saw one teacher, and we never went into the classroom because that was a rule that Stephanie had, since there were enough high school shows," Safran explains. "So I was like, okay, this time around, let's look at the teachers."
That doesn't mean the new show will be spending a ton of time in the classroom either, but teachers don't just exist in the classroom. Safran compared it to Grey's Anatomy, where Dr. Burke (Isaiah Washington) and Dr. Bailey (Chandra Wilson) got storylines just like the interns.
And just like on Grey's Anatomy, where the sort of questionable power dynamic between Derek (Patrick Dempsey) and Meredith (Ellen Pompeo) became the crux of the show, this Gossip Girl will live in those blurred lines between student and teacher.
"The more the series goes on, and the more Kate gets both more connected to the students and more connected to Gossip Girl...it just gets more and more complicated," Safran explains. "And I think that there's a—I don't want to say thriller aspect, but it plays in those realms of a black comedy slash thriller, because you're like, 'Kate, don't do that!' But you're also like, 'I know why you're doing that,' and you become complicit. You're now a part of Gossip Girl."
Of course, the original Gossip Girl chose to wait until the series finale to reveal that it was Dan all along, and many fans had a lot of questions about that ending and how and why Dan would have spent so much time ruining his own life, as well as the lives of his friends and his girlfriend. Badgley himself tried to sum up what it meant in an interview with E! News (in the video above), only for his You costar (and future Gossip Girl star) Elizabeth Lail to simply respond, "Oh, okay."
Safran was no longer writing on Gossip Girl when the series finale was written, but he's ready to defend that decision anyway.
"I don't think that any show that lasts 121 episodes where you didn't know from the first episode in the writers room who that person was could ever...make extreme literal sense," he says. "Poetic sense, it's totally right. It's totally Dan. If you watch the pilot again, he wants Serena, she won't look at him, so 'I'm gonna create an alter ego that forces the wall that has been built to come down.' I was not involved in that decision, but when I look back on it...I don't know if [anyone else] would have made as much poetic sense as Dan."
It's hard to decide whether it's creepier that Dan was doing that to his friends or that the teachers are doing it to their students, but either way, Gossip Girl's a real terror, and we're along for the ride.
New episodes of Gossip Girl arrive Thursdays on HBO Max.