“Gossip Girl” Goes To College Gracefully

There comes a time in every high school television show’s life when its mettle will be tested—when a chapter in its characters’ lives is closed and it is forced to plod a new path. Yes, that’s right, when the characters graduate from high school and move on to college. The transition to college has killed many a high school drama. It’s a big challenge to find a semi-realistic way for all of your main characters to end up in the same city, ideally on the same campus. For a “how not to” lesson, please see “Saved by the Bell: The College Years.” But there are other challenges too. How do these characters work when their parents are no longer authority figures? How do they function in a completely different environment? And as Stephanie Zacherek pointed out on Salon.com, it’s a problem that in high school the drama is external (clashes are between individuals and cliques who’ve known each other for years) while in college the drama is largely internal (about finding yourself), which, let’s face it, is boring to watch.“Beverly Hills, 90210” sputtered when the cast enrolled at California University, conveniently located a 10-minute drive from their homes. “Dawson’s Creek” lost it when the crew left Capeside and headed to college in Boston, since the limits of small-town life were a big part of the show. The college years on “The O.C.” also brought a slew of issues since Ryan and Marissa magically ended up at Berkley (Um, how? They both were terrible students) while Summer and Seth headed across the country to Brown. “One Tree Hill” was so scared by the prospect of keeping the show interesting in college that they decided, after the graduation episode, to fast-forward five years into the future.

After a pretty boring second season, I was worried about “Gossip Girl” heading to college. But—surprise!—last night’s episode was the best in a long time. Something tells me that the move to college could make “Gossip Girl” even better.

Since “Gossip Girl” is in many ways a show about the New York City elite, I’m thrilled that the writers didn’t decide to pack their characters up and send them off to Ivy League schools in New England towns, as it was looking like they were going to do last year. Instead, one by one, for assorted reasons, the characters fall short of their Yale/Harvard/Brown ambitions and decide to enroll at NYU. In this world, a character like Blaire Waldorf no longer holds any power—it’s the artsy-fartsy folks like Dan and Vanessa who become the cool kids. As Dan put it last night when he decided to help Blaire out and take her to a party, “There are no headbands in college.”

Sure, it’s a little dopey that Georgina, Blaire, Vanessa, and Dan have all ended up in the same dorm. But it allows for infinite drama—the power battle between Blaire and Georgina could easily carry us through the season. And now that there’s no chance of Dan ending up with Serena since they’re, uh, siblings, we can now hope that he and Vanessa will finally figure their shizz out and get together. I’m guessing that will be in the season finale.

I also actually like that Serena, at the last minute, decides not to go to Brown and to take the year off. I can’t wait to see just how much trouble she and Chuck Bass can get themselves into when they don’t have to deal with pesky school. Let’s just say they don’t exactly need to get jobs.

Since elaborate parties have always been a recurring feature of “Gossip Girl,” it felt nice to see a good old-fashioned roof party with red plastic cups of beer rather than fruity mixed drinks. I went to school in the city, too, and these parties were a staple of my college experience. The final moment of the episode showed Dan asleep on the roof, passed out after the party, cuddled around Georgina. And, yep, that’s exactly what most of us remember most about college.