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‘Gossip Girl’ gives ’em something to talk about, and most of it isn’t good

Review by Brian Lowry, CNN

Oh “Gossip Girl,” you really should have stayed retired, kid.

Instead, the show comes back via HBO Max, in another reboot that makes the case that not all intellectual property deserves a second chance. Misguided on multiple levels, this “Girl” gives ’em something to talk about, not much of it good.

Updating the teen-oriented CW drama that ran from 2007 to 2012 might make sense at first blush, with a more diverse cast and racier streaming standards. But the wrinkles conjured under showrunner Joshua Safran, a writer-producer on the original, are filled with miscalculations, while much of the cast feels conspicuously unconvincing as “teens,” no small feat in a genre where that’s been common practice dating back to “Grease.”

The basic premise sets up not just rivalries among the privileged kids at the New York prep school, but tension between them and their teachers, pushed around by trust-fund tykes confident they won’t suffer any repercussions as long as their parents’ checks clear.

“We own this school,” one of the cool kids sneers. “They work for us.”

A major source of intramural tension, meanwhile, involves the arrival of a new first-year scholarship student (she’s supposed to be 14) named Zoya (Whitney Peak), triggering a haughty response from members of the reigning class, with Julien (Jordan Alexander) as the glamorous queen bee of the group.

The twist in “Gossip Girl’s” identity shouldn’t be spoiled, but like several of the show’s big flourishes, it’s ill-conceived and off-putting. The same goes for a subplot involving a student (Thomas Doherty from Disney Channel’s “Descendants” franchise) aggressively pursuing an adult teacher sexually, a scenario that mirrors HBO Max’s “Genera+ion,” proving that while there might not be any new ideas there are always plenty of bad ones.

Beyond the kids the series assembles several good actors as their parents (Luke Kirby, Laura Benanti and John Benjamin Hickey among them), but they’re still portrayed with roughly the same depth as the incomprehensible grownups in old Charlie Brown cartoons.

Admittedly, this appraisal doesn’t come from a committed fan of the first “Girl,” but once you get past the title and narration (again provided by Kristen Bell), nods to the maturation of social media and other contemporary touches don’t offer enough of a reset upon which to hang a bejeweled hat.

Of course, the cynical reason for calling the show “Gossip Girl” is that the name recognition offers a significant advantage over, say, “Generic Teen Prep School Soap.”

Mission accomplished on that score. Yet even allowing for that the series demonstrates a lesson its rich brats need to hear — namely, just because you can doesn’t necessarily mean that you should.

“The only thing that makes a story interesting is how it’s told,” Gossip Girl writes at one point. And sometimes, not even that.

“Gossip Girl” premieres July 8 on HBO Max, which, like CNN, is a unit of WarnerMedia.

™ & © 2021 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia Company. All rights reserved.

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