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TELEVISION & RADIO | REVIEW

It's tough being rich and pampered

The rarefied world of the upper class mixes with the passage of high school in the deliciously witty 'Gossip Girl.'

September 19, 2007|Mary McNamara | Times Staff Writer

If J.D. Salinger and Jackie Collins had a love child, she would be writing for "Gossip Girl." The CW's new show is based on a popular series of young adult books by Cecily von Ziegesar. And although the literary effort may not have quite captured the lush, almost fetishized fascination of prep school youth seen in "The Catcher in the Rye," the television version does.

Here are the beautiful young rich, tormented by expectations, limitations and the duplicity of their pampered lives, taking comfort in Champagne and casual sex, fashion and the phoniness of it all.

"Do you ever feel like our whole lives have been planned out for us?" asks golden boy Nate. "Aren't we entitled to choose? Be happy?"

"Listen up, Socrates," answers the world-weary and wicked Chuck as they saunter through Central Park, smoking dope, scarves rakishly askew. "What we're entitled to is a trust fund, maybe a house in the Hamptons, a prescription drug problem. But happiness does not seem to be on the menu."

Delicious.

The CW's new show does in fact have it's own zeitgeist pedigree -- in addition to Von Ziegesar, it was adapted by "The O.C.'s" Josh Schwartz, who, buoyed by success, is taking on the more iconic East Coast elite. Fueled by a dishy blogger of the same name (voiced by "Veronica Mars' " Kristen Bell), "Gossip Girl" follows the inner circle of upperclassmen at a posh Upper East Side prep school. As it opens, the return of Serena van der Woodsen (Blake Lively) from boarding school threatens the social order, especially the bit currently ruled by Serena's former BFF, Blair Waldorf (Leighton Meester), not to mention the composure of Blair's boyfriend Nate Archibald (Chace Crawford).

Really, the show is worth it for all the High WASP names alone. Serena van der Woodsen. It makes me smile every time someone says it, and they say it a lot.

Serena, however, seems to have changed; she's more interested in the well-being of her troubled brother and her friendship with Blair than taking up the mantle of It Goddess. "I missed you, B.," she says with a sincere shake of her blond curtain of hair.

"B." has other ideas, of course, and, flanked by a Gossip Girl-addicted entourage of fashionista harpies, excludes Serena from the splendid Kiss on the Lips party. No! Yes!

Hurt but resilient, S. takes up with Dan Humphrey (Penn Badgley) and his sister Jenny (Taylor Momsen), the two "normal kids" (Jenny sews her own clothes; Dad's a former rock band member; they live in Brooklyn).

Swimming among the rich kids in an effort to get an outstanding education, the Humphries are naively unaware of the sharks -- only by crashing Kiss on the Lips can Serena save Jenny from the truly dastardly Chuck.

This is certainly not the late adolescence of "High School Musical" or even "Superbad." With all the privileges and drives of adulthood and very little of the wisdom, much less conscience, the characters of "Gossip Girl" put the id in kid, trading love for power in the blink of a long-lashed eye.

But oh the leggy glamour of it, the pretty rich girls at cocktail parties, the rumpled sexiness of those school uniforms, the gothic romance of stone-mansioned New York, which hasn't gotten this much love since "Sex and the City."

Americans love/hate the secret sordid world of the upper class almost as much as we love/hate the brutal rite of passage that is high school. Now you can have both, not to mention classic yellow taxi cabs, skyscrapers and coats so terrific even Salinger would approve.

"A Separate Peace" on pheromones for the Information Age, "Gossip Girl" is eye candy, and mind candy, as pretty as a perfectly prepared martini -- one that some nasty, picture-perfect have-it-all may or may not have drugged. Just for the occasion.

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mary.mcnamara@latimes.com

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'Gossip Girl'

Where: The CW

When: 9 to 10 tonight

Rating: TV-14-DLS (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14, with advisories for suggestive dialogue, coarse language and sex)

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