Watching last night’s Gossip Girl, cross-pollinated as it was with the new spinoff show, was like having your favorite song come on the radio on a long, lonely country drive only to have the station keep sputtering out of range, replacing it intermittently with Billy Ray Cyrus. It was like having someone pour white wine into the delicious glass of red you were drinking before you are too drunk to notice. It was, to make an eighties reference, like having your morning OJ spiked with Drano.
It’s not that this new spinoff seemed bad, really, we just resent having it forced it on us this way. We feel violated. The connection between Lily’s flashbacks and what was happening in Modern Times was tenuous, and the sepia-toned film in the beginning and period music throughout made us feel like we were watching an episode of Cold Case. And we won’t say this again — because, clearly, this is going to be Bullwinkle’s bête noire, much like the ease with which the characters on Gossip Girl get around the city is that show’s perennial reality issue — the timeline simply makes no sense. For Lily to have a mystery child she gave up for adoption who was 19 in 2009, she’d have had to have him in 1990 — but we’ve been led to believe she ran around with Rufus for much of the nineties. When did this van der Woodsen creep come back and spawn Serena and Eric?
Anyway, after much deliberation, we grudgingly worked the flashback sequences into this week’s reality index. Happily, Jessica’s husband is a bona-fide old who graduated from high school in the eighties and was there to make important points about backintheday, as they call it. So, without further ado…
More Real Than Lily’s Crazy Daddy Issues As a Child, Which Translated Into Her Not Giving Her Own Kids a Father Figure:
• Blair: “Serena’s been in jail for four hours, she’s already served more time than Lindsay Lohan and Nicole Richie combined!” Granted, she clearly spent some time pacing around and thinking that one up. Or Eric van der Woodsen said it first, but still. Plus 1.
• While stewing in prison, Serena has also had some time to come up with one-liners, for once, and her anger at her mother means she comes up with the worst insult ever: “I would rather put my kids up for adoption than end up like you.” Beat. “Oh, wait, you did that.” Iced. You can see Lily struggling not to say, “I should have aborted YOU.” Plus 3.
• At first when Young CeCe came on, we went into indignant spasms, because while our mother may have looked different 25 years ago, she was still the same person. But the actress who played younger CeCe (Libby from Lost!) eventually grew on us. She really had the voice and look down, and they all had clearly practiced similar mannerisms. Plus 4. And yes, old Lily’s nose didn’t match young Lily’s nose, but for that we’ll give an additional Plus 3.
• Also, Young Cece had some great lines, like when she said: “”Santa Barbara is really only a prison in my mind.” And when she ordered “A gin and tonic … No tonic.” Plus 3. Later, in modern times, Lily outs CeCe for hiding a bottle of gin in the bathroom under the sink. Love her. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again. When we’re that age, we’re going to perform every bodily function possible with gin, including but not limited to: washing our faces, brushing our teeth, inserting eye drops, filling fishbowls, refreshing ourselves at the gym, taking baths, and washing our hair.
• Rufus heatedly tells Dan and Jenny that Lily had Serena arrested, then spits “I suggest you kids stay out of it; let these van der Woodsen women fight it out themselves!” when they ask why. This is kind of funny: He’s too incensed to make any sense. Or he’s just unnerved as he’s clearly seen some of the punchy side of Lily that we saw this episode; and he knows she goes right for the eyelids. Plus 2.
• Old Cece’s pink “walking outfit” includes a cashmere cable-knit sweater, with matching top, pants, and brooch. Plus 2.
• Young Cece does the Jane Fonda workout in an off-the-shoulder top. Plus 1.
• Other things about the eighties flashbacks that were realistic include: Lily saying “headshrinker” and “spaz”, the archival footage of chicks with big hair and carb bodies in bikinis, the colored plastic sunglasses, the mention of the valet costing $2, and the cheesy and obvious but nonetheless effective usage of pay and rotary-dial phones, especially the one that Lily’s dad had sitting at his table at the restaurant. Plus 5.
• Blair asks Serena, who is still in prison: “Oh God, you’re not going to come out of there with a mullet and girlfriend, are you?” Plus 1.
• Old Lily explains Eric’s absence by saying she sent him off to a movie with his boyfriend. She’s really grown! Plus 1.
• Young Lily: “I don’ t even know how to be a prostitute. I mean really, how much small talk is required? And where do you even go? And are BJs a must? Because if that’s the case, I’m so not doing that.” Plus 2, because we have thought of all of those questions about prostitution. Except maybe the last one.
• Carol’s boyfriend: “To the Impala!” Lily: “The what?” Plus 2.
• Blair: “We don’t do prom queen; that’s for suburban high schools and the lame romantic comedies that are set at them.” Now that one seemed off-the-cuff. Plus 2.
• At least Serena has an excuse to look so stringy-haired this time. Plus 1.
• Lily: “Being us is awesome!”
Carol: “All that money comes with strings attached, Lily; people treat you differently.”
Lily: “Yeah, better. Plus 2.
• No plus or minus points, but can we get a hell yeah for Shiloh Fernandez, the actor who plays Owen Campos?
• And definitely plus points for Matt Barr, who we love from our secret shame show Harper’s Island. He plays Keith van der Woodsen, whose appearance literally made us gasp and kick up our feet like a cartoon rooster. Plus 4 for having him be a hot, blond dick in the mold of Stef from Pretty in Pink, the sort of dude who would clearly have hated his gay son but loved his hot-chick daughter. Therefore, plus 2 for us already understanding why Lily has kept him away from us. And plus 2 for her first interaction with him involving her beating him up. Oh, and plus 2 for him also apparently being best friends with Tom Cruise before he was famous.
• Also, we loved his stupid blonde girlfriend, who had crimped hair and was a dead ringer for Stef’s girlfriend in Pretty in Pink. Especially when she said: “Finally, take the trash back to the Valley.” We don’t speak L.A., but even we know that was a capital offense. Plus 2.
• “You can’t do this stuff in college,” Nelly Yuki says knowledgeably when she, Hazel, and Penelope are stuffing the ballot box. “People will think you’re pathological.” Plus 2.
• Blair’s wild-eyed, victorious pronouncement after it is announced she won prom queen: “I OWN PROM.” Plus 5.
• At least the bad dancing at prom, despite the cheesy swelling music, is real. No matter how fancy you get, horny teenagers just want to hug and waddle. Plus 2.
• “The Rod and Reel!” Jessica’s husband exclaimed, when Young Lily was doing the weird fishing-style dance move to Owen at the party. “Wait!” Jessica paused. “Really, people danced like that?” she asked him. “And it has a name?” He instantly backtracked: “I mean, I like heard about it, but I don’t know anyone who actually did it.” Plus 3.
Faker Than the Cops Letting You Hang Around in Lockup After Charges Have Been Dropped
• If Serena indeed were somehow able to hang out in prison for as long as she wanted, we highly doubt they would make it comfortable enough for her to be so jolly whenever she’s on the phone. Minus 2.
• Did Dorota hand Blair a Vitaminwater “for strength??” Even beyond the annoying product placement, she’d have given her a Klonopin. Please! That completely undoes everything funny subsequently that happens with the beloved maid, including the line “This body bag, corpse not pretty.” Minus 1.
• Also, we feel there should have been corresponding retro product placement, like with Five Alive or Tang. Minus 1.
• The exposition about Carol is beyond fake and terrible. Lily and CeCe know who she is. Why do they keep explaining it to one another?
• “Watch where you’re going, you idiot, you almost got udon on my Gucci!” Lily yells at Owen in the diner. No way would people be eating udon in 1983 at some cheesy diner. Minus 3.
• Dan: “I think I’m going to need a dress for prom.” Jenny: “Okay, well, you’re going to have to wear your own shoes.” That’s cute. But Serena didn’t know she was going to be arrested before today. So she clearly would have had a prom dress already. Minus only 2, because at least Lil J’s creation managed to do the near impossible — tame Serena’s boobs.
• The cabbie would have peeked at Serena changing, sure. But he would have been narrating the whole thing to another driver over his Bluetooth in a language the kids didn’t understand. Minus 1.
• Okay, so let’s get into this subplot, of the real show, wherein Chuck creates Blair’s dream prom for her just “to make sure she had the perfect night.” This is the type of totally unrealistic, hokey plotline that damages young girls forever and fucks up their expectations for men in general. Like on a scale of one to ten, one being Dan’s borrowing a dress from his sister for Serena and ten being the most popular guy in school dumping his hot girlfriend in order to show up at the house of some sophomore he’s never met in a muscle-hugging plaid shirt and whisk her off in a red Ferrari to enjoy a makeout sesh over a birthday cake because she seems, like, real, Chuck’s fairy-godmother act is a least a seven or an eight. First of all, high-school guys are neither detail-oriented nor especially thoughtful, and they are certainly not into performing selfless actions of romance they will not get credit, i.e. laid, for. If they do, then they are stalkers and weird. Second, Jessica has lived her entire life without ever having received a dress mysteriously delivered in a box from Paris that looked like a hideous Beyoncé creation on the hanger but in real life was breathtaking and fit her exactly, and she has a sneaking suspicion that this is due less to her station in life than the fact that it never happens to anyone, ever. If you know differently, please e-mail jpressler [at] nymag.com with the entire story. Until then, minus 10.
• Also regarding that situation: Nate wouldn’t be perceptive enough to figure out that Chuck was up to something regarding prom. Did getting into Columbia make him get smarter, as opposed to vice versa? Minus 2.
• AND: Blair would obviously pick up on the prom-queen ruse from the very beginning. No change of social plans like that would be made without the Queen B’s knowledge, Plus, look at the other names on the list: Nelly Yuki, Terri Murphy, Nate Archibald, Mitchell Shepherd, and Daniel Colman. Nelly Yuki ‘s name on the list would have tipped her off from the very beginning, as would the absence of Serena. Plus, the girls couldn’t keep a straight face (part of why they were always second to Blair in the first place). No matter how distracted Blair was by her fantasy, she didn’t suddenly become dim-witted. Minus 5.
• Maybe we’re not giving Blair enough credit, but it always seemed to us that a large majority of high-school girls in long-term relationships kept their high-school boyfriends for awkwardly too long into freshman year. Whether or not the boyfriend cooperated, the girls never gave up that easily. Minus 2.
• Young Lily asks Owen where the bar is, and he knows, even though the two of them just climbed through a window into a walk-in closet. Minus 4.
• Carol has never been mentioned on this show before (maybe once, by Rufus?), and now everyone in modern times is constantly talking about her. See above re: exposition. Minus 3.
• Young Cece: “Oh Lily, the hopes and dreams I had for you! An Ivy League education, life on the Upper East Side, married to the richest man in Manhattan.”
Lily: “That’s the thing, mom, those are your dreams, not mine.” We can’t tell if this would be less ridiculous if the actress playing CeCe wasn’t so bad. Wait, no, it would still be insultingly absurd. Minus 5.
• Other things that were bad about the eighties flashback: The self-conscious changing montage, wherein Brittany tried on outfits belonging to Madonna, Olivia Newton John, and Janet Jackson. The appearance of a Rubix cube, just at the very moment Carol said: “A music video equals national exposure, it’s the birth of a new art form.” Lily’s Porsche 911, the fanny-pack plotline, the fact that when the Missing Persons’ “Destination Unknown” came on, Jessica’s husband pointed out this weird story about how the lead singer had been charged with a bajillion counts of animal cruelty after collecting a massive amount of feral cats. Minus 7.
This episode landed slightly on the reality side, but only because the eighties flashbacks tried so hard for temporal authenticity. In doing so, though, they sacrificed too much of the show we actually signed up to watch. For example, what happened to Poppy and Georgina, and the handsome guy with the chin who had the voice of a sultry lesbian? And everybody’s money? We only have one episode left to get us through the summer! (Fortunately, judging from the preview, it looks to be a doozy.)