East Coast vs. West Coast
The premise: A new face in town shows up, causes trouble, and tries to make good. This is Gossip Girl, one of the fall’s few new shows touted for its originality in a season encouraging relatively traditional programming.
It’s odd, considering that Gossip Girl is so completely unoriginal. In fact, the basic description sounds a lot like another teen show from five years ago, The O.C. Canceled last February, the California teen drama, created by writer-producer Josh Schwartz, followed the relationship between Chino transplant Ryan and his foster family, the Cohens, in the Orange County world of excess.
It should come as no surprise, then, that the producer of Gossip Girl is the same man. Schwartz adapted the popular teen book series, written by Cecily von Ziegesar, for the small screen after The O.C. got the ax. The O.C. was expected to maintain its icon status for several years — like predecessor Beverly Hills, 90210 — until fan-alienating plotlines led to dwindling ratings. The show got back on the track during its fourth season, but failed after disillusioned viewers weren’t willing to give it a second chance.
Gossip Girl’s numbers haven’t yet come close to The O.C.’s. The show’s ratings hold steady at around 2 million broadcast viewers a week. But it has strong iTunes sales and ample online viewings on the CW website, www.cwtv.com. It has already been picked up for a full 22-episode season.
Plenty of television commentators and reviewers have already tried to make or break the argument that Gossip Girl is the new O.C. — and sure, the comparison is easy to draw. Both shows focus on outsiders in a hip society: Serena, the source of tabloid fodder on Gossip Girl, left the Upper East Side abruptly a year before the show’s timeline for boarding school, returning in time for the first episode. The O.C.’s Ryan is taken in by his lawyer, Sandy Cohen, after stealing a car with his brother and being kicked out by his family, only to move into posh Newport Beach. Both shows feature plenty of drugs, drinking, and sex between dozens of hot young characters. On Gossip Girl there are so many characters it can become disorienting and confusing, seeing scenes switch between the six main characters (and several less-important characters, like their parents) during the course of a 41-minute episode. The O.C. also featured storylines focusing on the teens’ parents that related to the central plot, while Gossip Girl’s side stories just slow the pace.
The shows also share the same kind of viewer — both appeal to teenage girls, featuring predominantly indie rock music on their soundtracks. It’s not uncommon to see Marissa and Summer wearing designer frocks on The O.C., and the pilot of Gossip Girl features characters wearing some real and fictional designer duds, including a dress worn by privileged character Blair designed by her mother. The Gossip girls strut the streets of Manhattan pounding the asphalt like young heirs to the fashion-forward crown of Sex and the City’s Carrie Bradshaw. The O.C., which was more relaxed, featured West Coast bikini chic, with Seth’s witty T-shirts pleasing the casually dressed viewer.
Perhaps most importantly, both shows focus on drama: Gossip Girl’s fights come out of a love triangle between Serena, Blair, and Blair’s long-time love Nate, although a normal romance also exists between upper-crust Serena and Dan, the son of a musician who reluctantly attends private school.
The love between Serena and Dan looks almost exactly like the relationship between Ryan and Marissa in California — she the daughter of privilege, he the working-class son. The only difference would be that, in The O.C., the romance holding the audience’s attention is actually between Seth, Ryan’s geeky foster brother, and Summer, Marissa’s equally spoiled best friend.
In terms of quality, the better show is unquestionably The O.C. — the relationship between Ryan and Seth is a show on its own, and the romances and arguments surrounding the Cohens and their new son are engaging, even when the parents move to the forefront of the plot. Still, for pure bubblegum factor, Gossip Girl is worth a try. The characters aren’t as sharply drawn as their California counterparts, but there’s plenty of East Coast prep school snobbery, absentee adults, and champagne binges — and while that might be the only reason to watch, it’s certainly a good reason.