GOSSIP GIRL created by Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage, with Blake Lively, Leighton Meester, Chace Crawford and Penn Badgley. Premieres Tuesday (September 18) at 8 pm on CTV. Rating: NN
Oh boy. Another snotty teen soap about snotty socialites at a snotty school for rich little snots.
Based on a series of trashy novels, set in Manhattan and with an omniscient and annoyingly gimmicky blog-arrator (voiced by super-snarky Kristen Bell, of short-lived teen detective series Veronica Mars) to stir the plot, er pot, GG is like Sex And The City: The Early Years. Sex and social standing are priority one, but the characters pay almost as much attention to labels as did Carrie and company.
The first ep wastes no time setting the scene. Pretentious party girl Serena van der Woodsen (Blake Lively) returns to school after a year off her little bro attempted suicide, and she inexplicably skipped town and immediately has former BFF Blair Waldorf (Leighton Meester) worried she might steal her BF (Chace Crawford).
The writers attempt to comment on the characters' exclusive lifestyle and make it less alien to the average viewer by throwing in a couple of outsiders the audience can relate to. Taking a page from 90210, GG gives us the less posh but still pretty bro-sister duo Dan (Penn Badgley) and Jenny Humphrey (Taylor Momsen).
And what scandalous teen scene would be complete without an amoral Oscar Wilde-ish wit to enliven the party? Think James Spader in any of a half-dozen 80s movies and you have some idea what pot-head date rapist Chuck is all about.
Co-creator Josh Schwartz made The O.C., which packed a season's worth of backstabbing, double dating, overdosing, breakups, fistfights, car crashes, comic books and smart-alecky pop culture riffs into every episode. I'm not sure we ever saw Ryan, Marissa, Seth or Summer in an actual classroom, though they did have a lot of study dates.
No other genre, including cop and lawyer shows, has been as romanticized as the high school series, some pretty effectively. The Wonder Years which was inspired in part by the series Room 222, in which a history class learned about the Vietnam War and gay rights was shot through rose-coloured glasses Janis Joplin could've worn, yet still managed not to be too sentimental, thanks in large part to its Vietnam-era setting.
Square Pegs, the brilliant Anne Beatts's short-lived 80s series that gave Sarah Jessica Parker her big break, introduced the concept of cliques into the vocab of many a high schooler. It also had TV's coolest substitute teacher in Bill Murray.
There have been other bright spots. Buffy The Vampire Slayer managed to mix teen relationship worries with saving the world from the undead. My So-Called Life starred Claire Danes as a straitlaced girl who fell for the sexiest troublemaker in school, skipped classes to make out and discovered herself by ditching her long-time friends and dying her hair bright red.
The various incarnations of Degrassi would also qualify for their realistic portrayal of student life, although the most recent version comes closer to The O.C. than the classic Degrassi Junior High.
The best of the bunch, though, has to be Freaks And Geeks, which lasted less than a season but has become a cult hit on DVD. This dramedy set in the 80s follows Lindsay (Linda Cardellini) and Sam Weir (John Francis Daley), the respective "freak" and "geek" students of McKinley High, and their friends.
Overprotective parents, a hipster guidance counsellor and two very distinct yet easily identifiable social groups helped make this a sometimes painfully honest tale of adolescent uncertainty. And in the hands of producer Judd Apatow (Knocked Up, Superbad), it was comic gold.
If you're looking for a current show that reflects high school life, check out Friday Night Lights. Yes, it's about football, but most of the drama takes place in the hallways, not on the gridiron, and features sometimes earnest but often entertaining depictions of the obstacles the kids tackle off the field, from bad grades to girlfriend troubles to crippling injuries.
Because, let's be real, The O.C.s and 90210s of the dial are more interested in selling CDs than in telling compelling stories.
What to watch this week
Wednesday, September 19
St. Urbain's horseman (miniseries) Based on the Mordecai Richler novel, it stars Naked Josh's David Julian Hirsh, Andrea Martin and Elliott Gould in the story of a the post-World War II struggles of a television and film director. 8 pm on CBC (Part 2 airs Thursday)