I have a potentially major confession to make. While I find “Gossip Girl” entertaining and enjoy the mildly provocative characters—not to mention, Chuck Bass‘ beautiful face—the show actually makes me sad. See, I worshiped its predecessor, “The O.C.” The California drama was a victorious, witty, fast-paced and semi-authentic (if not clusterf**ky) portrayal of teenage life at its most dramatic. Though they are essentially the same show set on opposite coasts, the differences are enough to make me scowl disdainfully every time I hear, “That’s one thing I’ll never tell, xoxo, Gossip Girl,” while the Phantom Planet-scribed theme song “California” always made me feel infinitely warm and fuzzy.Even though I am totally bashing creator Josh Schwartz’s newer venture, let me assure you that I totally love the man. If there were a Tigerbeat centerfold of him, it would live on my ceiling above my bed, and when boys would come over to “cuddle,” I would tell them that they could never be the man Schwartz is. I once volunteered to transcribe an interview my former boss did with Josh, even though we had interns to do such menial work, just so I could hear his voice for six hours. He was 26 years old when he created, wrote, and produced “The O.C.” Being 26 years old myself, I know that is an unimaginable feat and a half. You’d think he would only get better with age, but because he created two shows at once, “Chuck” and “Gossip Girl,” he handed over some of the power this time around, allowing co-writers Stephanie Savage and Cecily von Ziegesar to share the reins.
Since “Gossip Girl” is based on a book series, there was obviously some creative license sacrificed, which makes it even more surprising that there are so many similarities between it and “The O.C.” Some very obvious parallels include, for starters, the rich blond girl (Marisa Cooper vs. Serena van der Woodsen) with a shady past who falls for the troubled outcast (Ryan Atwood vs. Dan Humphrey) from the wrong side of town (Chino vs. Brooklyn). Her best friend is a bitchy brunette (Summer Roberts vs. Blair Waldorf) who softens up as the show progresses. The troubled outcast has a beautiful, ambiguously raced ex-girlfriend (Theresa Diaz vs. Vanessa Abrams) who really ‘gets’ him. There’s also a cute but boring blond guy (Luke Ward vs. Nate Archibald) who stirs a scandal by sleeping with a much older woman (Julie Cooper vs. that random socialite). And then there are the most interesting characters, the adorable brunette boys (Seth Cohen vs. Chuck Bass), who in this case have little in common besides being self-absorbed and in love with the paralleled Summer/Blair characters. Then there are the parents, the hunky dads (Sandy Cohen vs. Rufus Humphrey), the crazy moms (Julie Cooper vs. Lily van der Woodsen) who used to be groupies but traded-up to rich powerful husbands (Caleb Nichol vs. Bart Bass), and the runaway fathers who’ve broken the law (Jimmy Cooper vs. Howie Archibald). The little sisters (Kaitlin Cooper vs. Jenny Humphrey) offer non sequitur sub-plots while trying to make out with their siblings older friends. How are there that many parallels? Sheesh.
But in my opinion, “Gossip Girl” is much less successful because not only are the characters unlikable—they’re utterly inconsistent. One day Serena decides to embrace her tabloid power and turns against Blair, then the next she’s sweet and remorseful? At least Marisa was consistently a hot mess. I don’t even want to start with Michelle Trachtenberg’s character who went from conniving to insane, to Christian, to stalky, and back to conniving again. And the “GG” plot points jump around so randomly, it’s almost as if each episode were written as spec scripts by different writers. If you put them in a different order or switched the offending characters of that episode, it would hardly affect the series’ arch. Sure, “The O.C.” got power hungry in season three and threw a bunch of crazy Marisa-fueled scenarios at the viewers, but there were always consistencies, like Seth’s self-obsession and Ryan’s rock-like simplicity, traits that were comforting while the world around them filled with turmoil.
But perhaps most importantly, I want to ask you this: do you care about any of the characters on “Gossip Girl”? Did you cry when Chuck and Blair finally got together? Do you care if they stay together? Every time Seth and Summer had a fight on “The O.C.,” I felt it. I mourned it. I binge-ate because of it. I don’t know if it’s just because everyone on “The O.C.” was more relatable, or because “Gossip Girl” characters only seem to have one distinct motivation—their ego. Somehow, “The O.C.” managed to make even their most villainous character, Julie Cooper, into a lovable, quirky woman who’s simply starved for love and money. And while no one on “Gossip Girl” is entirely evil, no one is entirely good. Every episode, you know that every single character is not only capable, but is also likely, to turn on another, often simultaneously. With “The O.C.,” you could at least be safe in knowing that Sandy, Seth, and Ryan were innocent. The only rocks on “Gossip Girl” are minor characters Eric and Dorota. Oh, and the underage characters on “The O.C.” had to at least work for their alcohol (i.e. steal it from their parents, drive to Mexico)—not just stop in at any high-class lounge in Manhattan to sample the latest martini like they do in “GG.” Do these adolescents own fake IDs or are they just too rich to fret over laws? Speaking of which, why should Serena have a tabloid following?
Having lived in both New York and Southern California, I don’t claim to know these precise teenage struggles, but I think I can understand that they aren’t so similar as to be interchangeable. I know it’s hard to come up with a million scenarios, but Josh, Stephanie, and Cecily (and believe me I hold the writers responsible because, unlike the rest of Hollywood, I feel that writing makes the story) with “Gossip Girl,” you can try a bit harder to beat its predecessor? You’ve got the talent, the characters, and New York City—the supposed best city on earth—so what are you waiting for? Don’t let “Gossip Girl” die after season four, as was the fate of “The O.C.”