One of the strengths of The O.C., at least during its addictive first season, is that the adult characters were just as interesting as their kids. For primetime soap opera fans weaned on the bland authority figures of Beverly Hills 90210 or Dawson’s Creek, this was an added bonus—no more drumming your fingers waiting for the oldies to quit stalling the youthful shenanigans. Sandy and Kirsten Cohen may seem a bit broadly drawn—he the principled Jewish lawyer with hippie roots, she the moneyed WASP-y socialite with a rebellious streak—but as played by Peter Gallagher and Kelly Rowan, they had real chemistry and credibility as a married couple. They brought the show down to earth when necessary, and served as a nice contrast to their dastardly parental counterpart Julie Cooper (Melinda Clarke), whose white-trash, social-climbing antics became a primary reason to watch the show.
Tonight’s episode of Gossip Girl, easily the worst of the season to date, revealed a serious crack in the foundation. After spending the vast majority of the first eight episodes setting Upper East Side teens loose in their boozy, parent-free Manhattan playground, the action finally shifted to the parents for “Blair Waldorf Must Pie” and the show flatlined whenever they were onscreen. Even the scenes not involving the parents were mostly dead-on-arrival, too, lacking the wit and the sleaze and the florid melodrama that usually keep things lively. Perhaps it was just an off week—producing 22 quality episodes a season is no easy feat—but the show is starting to buff out its edge a bit and I’m a little worried.
To be fair, the writers weren’t given an easy assignment: Any episode centered around a holiday—in this case, a week-late ode to Thanksgiving—is required to promote feelings of warmth and togetherness, which are anathema to good trash. For every conflict, there had to be a quick resolution: Blair and Serena, Blair and her mother, Nate’s family, and the Rufus/Lily/RBW (Rufus’ boring wife) triumvirate were all pissed at each other for one half and then bonded hastily in the second over coffee, French fries, touch football, and a cold turkey dinner. It was all very heartwarming, and about as difficult to stomach as a pile of boxed stuffing.
Here’s my question to you, faithful GG commenters: Why would Serena be upset about Blair sleeping with Chuck? Am I missing something? Isn’t it absurd for Blair to think Serena is jealous for not sleeping with Chuck first (obligatory aside: ew!)? It’s all very confusing to me and it’s possible that I’m missing something. Still, if I did miss something, then why was it so easy for the two friends to reunite later in the episode as if nothing had happened? I know they’re supposed to run hot-and-cold, but when Serena and Nate hooked up, Serena when into exile for an entire year; I guess Chuck doesn’t merit so much as a lost afternoon.
The episode also botched the potentially interesting idea of flashing back to Thanksgiving the year before. Sure, there was plenty of information learned: We found out what Serena looked like back in her boozy “bad girl” days (Blake Lively doesn’t convince as a wild one, I’m afraid). We found out that Dan had a meet-cute with Serena that involved saving her life, though she was too drunk to remember. We found out that Blair’s dad is an argyle-sweater-wearing gay chef who bailed on her mother for some dude in Europe. And we got a glimpse into the not-so-innocent playfulness that led Serena to that fateful rendezvous with Nate. Juicy stuff, but where’s the fun? In the end, it’s all just information doled out with a bare minimum of creative effort.
Which leads me back to the snoozer of a love triangle between Rufus, Lily, and RBW (an acronym I’ll keep using until she becomes less boring). Having the Van Der Woodsens over for Thanksgiving with the Humphreys threatens to sabotage the uneasy truce between Rufus and his boring wife, who had planned on sealing their tentative togetherness over a nice family dinner. Naturally, the adults do a lousy job shielding their children from their romantic complications, though RBW can be forgiven for steaming up over Dan’s mention of a song devoted to Lily. Otherwise, I’m not sure what RBW is up-in-arms about: Lily may have been Rufus’ first love, but that affair ended 20 years ago, and she has no grounds to get upset over any indiscretions Lily and Rufus shared while she was gone, given that RBW left after cheating on him. Kicking Lily out of their lives now makes sense, but again, it was all brushed under the table too quickly and neatly.
That’s about all I want to say about this episode. I know I’ve left out any mention of Nate and his family issues, but I’m already getting heavy-lidded just thinking about it. Let’s hope the show hits it groove again now that the (belatedly acknowledged) holiday is over.
• After railing on the parents for most of this post, I should now admit that I’m warming to Blair’s mother, especially when she’s undermining her daughter’s self-worth by switching photoshoot models or lying to Blair’s father about her not wanting to see him on Thanksgiving. Her line after telling Blair about her dad being a no-show was priceless (“Now run along and change into something a little more… enchanting”), as was her order later on to “Choose from one of those amazing desserts.”
• Blair has an eating disorder? Wha?
• For Nate’s mother, it’s tough being the wife of a fallen UES titan: Disinvited from the Waldorf’s Thanksgiving Spectacular, asked to step down from the Snowflake Ball committee, not asked back to the Lincoln Center Foundation. What’s a well-heeled busybody to do?
• How does Chuck Bass celebrate Thanksgiving? Guess we’ll never know.