Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by the week’s new releases or premieres. This week: HBO’s The Casual Vacancy has us thinking about other book-to-TV adaptations.
Gossip Girl, “Blair Waldorf Must Pie!” (season one, episode nine; originally aired 11/28/2007)
Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage’s follow-up to The O.C. had YA roots, but Gossip Girl’s strongest episode resembled another marginalized corner of the literary world. Confining its series of events to a single day on the calendar, “Blair Waldorf Must Pie!” plays like a short story, honoring the sudsy threads that comprise Gossip Girl’s earliest arcs while layering memories of one eventful Thanksgiving on top of the proceedings of another. This peek at the messy filling beneath the upper crust is a little bit Glass family and a little bit Kardashian—and the episode does it all without the show’s resident Buddy Glass.
As Gossip Girl’s eponymous narrator (portrayed in voiceover by Kristen Bell) declares at the top of “Blair Waldorf Must Pie!,” Thanksgiving is the one day out of every year when Upper East Siders can misbehave without fear of an email blast. The lack of narration makes the episode feel all the more standalone: Ditching Gossip Girl’s online omniscience contracts the scale of the series, putting its handful of holiday celebrations in sharp focus. While tortured romantic history crashes the Van Der Woodsen-Humphrey dinner, flashbacks illustrate a seemingly happier time in the characters’ lives: The previous Thanksgiving, when Blair (Leighton Meester) still had a father and a boyfriend, Dan (Penn Badgley) still had a mom, and Serena (Blake Lively) was still the trust-fund party girl coming between Blair and that boyfriend. But the underlying message of Gossip Girl is that these people were never happy—and never would be, despite all of their worldly possessions. But there’s satisfaction to be found in the moments that require no fussing over, like the plate of diner fries the Van Der Woodsens share at the end of the episode.
Without the guidance of Kristen Bell’s disembodied voice, this game of Thanksgiving dominos is key to “Blair Waldorf Must Pie!” It consumes less plot than the average Gossip Girl, but the episode still manages to move its ensemble all around New York City, a mini-travelogue that moves down Manhattan, across the East River, and then back up the map again. It’s a mobile feast within a moveable feast, set apart by what it achieves without the help of the series signature elements. (You’d think a show’s best episode couldn’t happen without its best character, but Chuck Bass is completely absent for “Blair Waldorf Must Pie!”) It’s a particularly rich slice of life among the rich, famous, and conceited, one that can be served as a part of a larger meal or savored on its own.
Availability: “Blair Waldorf Must Pie!” is available as part of the Gossip Girl: The Complete Series DVD set. It can also be streamed on Netflix.