As anyone who’s watched The Family Stone — or more recently, episode six of HBO Max’s Industry — will tell you, holiday gatherings are some of the ripest settings for the visual genre of Mess. And in the case of Gossip Girl 2.0, there couldn’t be a better occasion to re-energize viewers after an equally lackluster and disorienting start to a season and a four-month hiatus.
While I’ve been wholly entertained by several Thanksgiving and Christmas episodes on the original Gossip Girl, none have really outdone season three’s indelible “The Treasure of Serena Madre.” The climactic dinner scene immaculately soundtracked to Jason DeRulo’s “Whatcha Say” is often the sole moment from the episode that gets circulated on Twitter. But the entire 42 minutes is really a MasterClass in balancing and fleshing out a flurry of conflicts and, most importantly, keeping us entertained! For the reboot’s turn at a juicy holiday episode, this task is a lot more difficult because none of the relationships and corresponding beefs between the characters are actually interesting or have much importance to anyone else, despite these kids allegedly being a tight group of friends. So I don’t blame the writers that the dinner scene feels less like a friendly gathering humorously gone to shit and more like a checklist of stale storylines that need to be neatly wrapped up.
On the point of writing, this episode is surprisingly more comprehensible and not as overstuffed with meaningless plot turns as previous scripts, which is honestly refreshing but inadvertently reveals how tedious everyone’s personal “drama” is, particularly the Zoya, Julien, and Obie love triangle of it all. At this point, it physically and mentally pains to type their names out in succession to one another. Why is this still happening? Who is amused by this dry-ass back-and-forth over this little boy who has the personality of a sofa and tries to distance himself from the only thing (his money) that makes him a good catch??
Over an hour, we watch Julien try to reckon with her feelings for Obie after their deeply inappropriate makeout sesh set to a backdrop of people getting tear-gassed at a protest and a subsequent hookup. She’s also still determined to be a good sister to Zoya, encouraging her to pursue Obie even though she wants him for herself. As someone from a small family, I understand wanting to salvage a relationship with a relative to avoid isolation and feeling like you’re missing out on a certain kind of familial bond. This is hinted at early on in the show regarding the sisters’ lack of connection to their mother. But now their relationship has become this weird, unwarranted moral duty for Julien, although Zoya’s been an absolute monster.
Speaking of monsters, Keller and Jordan are still dumb as rocks and unnecessarily involved in children’s business. But when confronted with the issue of Rafa sleeping with Max, which they are both genuinely appalled about, they’re slightly less insufferable. However, this wrestle between Rafa, Keller, and Jordan for control of the Gossip Girl account and the sex tape feels stupid because, do we care about the fate of these irredeemable teachers? It’s hard to squeeze any suspense out of the potential circulation of this video when Max told one of his dads about the affair, and he did absolutely nothing. Since Max is of the age of consent in New York, the worst that will happen is that Rafa will lose his job, which he voluntarily quits by the end. I can’t say I’ll miss this extremely bland creep!
Also, Max is preoccupied with more pressing things during this episode, primarily trying to reunite his parents with the help of his birth mother, played by Lucy Punch. (Ella Enchanted stans, rejoice!) Punch is trying her best to infuse any level of humor and absurdity into what should be a farcical episode, but no one, besides Todd Almond, who plays Gideon, and Thomas Doherty is really meeting her on that level. Also, her character is so generically eccentric that there’s nothing really captivating about her. Much of Punch’s ridiculous dialogue ends up being drowned out by her low voice and thick accent (and even thicker bangs).
Meanwhile, Aki, Audrey, and Max are still engaging in polyamorous activities, including in a chapel. The whole threesome storyline is not as scandalous or titillating as when the original show was airing on network television and had the Concerned Christian Parents Council or whatever it’s called sending complaints to the FCC. We’ve also seen so much televised sex in the streaming era, so I’m going to need the show to spice it up a bit or maybe just depict the three of them doing very mundane, non-sexual things like playing Scrabble or watching Real Housewives. Side note: There are a lot of boring cutaways of bare butts and moans in this episode that made me go, “…Okay?” But I understand the show is trying to toy a line between giving viewers the salacious material they want and respecting teenagers as sexual beings while not overdoing it and getting called pedophiles on Twitter.
Aki is also dealing with the aftermath of being outed by his dad. His mom completely accepts his sexuality, but he’s worried that Obie is uncomfortable being around him now, which feels … random. Also, Audrey’s mom is out of the hospital after God knows what happened to her, looking bright and bushy-tailed. Anyway, everyone, including Kate and Jordan, ends up at Zoya’s house because it’s their holiday tradition to welcome strays. The dinner that unfolds is underwhelming, to say the least, especially when Davis and Nick do their whole “told you girls not to fight!” spiel once again with Zoya and Julien, as if having a sister during your adolescence isn’t constant bickering. I’m also very embarrassed that this role is the best job Luke Kirby can currently find with that face and an Emmy. But it seems like he’ll have more to do after Davis’ now-fiance Lola, who the show forgot existed for a bit, lets it slip to Kate that he probably proposed to prevent her from testifying against him. This was truly the one moment in the episode that made my ears perk up. This could be another legal issue, but it sounds like #MeToo thing. And if so, boy, are we in for a ride.
• I pray that Zoya finding out about Obie and Julien is truly the last straw for her. I never want these sisters to speak or even glance at each other from across the courtyard again!
• After this very slow episode, I officially rebuke this show being an hour long. I think the writers would feel forced to make more interesting, memorable choices if they were given a half-hour or even a 42-minute time slot. This week felt like watching a three-hour yule log video
• The opening dream sequence with Obie and Julien that looked like they were having sex in The Sunken Place was absolutely comical.
• I know everyone’s against people in their mid to late 20s portraying high schoolers on these types of shows (I am not!). But I think they should’ve cast someone slightly older to play Obie, particularly since he seems to be an analog for Nate, who was both spiritually and physically a man. No one born in 1999 will cut it for me as a love interest I’m supposed to be entranced by. I’m sorry!
• I’m very curious if Monet and Luna were cut out of this episode because it’s more family-oriented or if they’ve been killed off.