A little overstuffed, but the parental storylines are a welcome addition to this reboot and there are some fun moments to be had.
- *Parental additions to the storylines and some very solid performances from Luke Kirby and Laura Benanti.
- *More fabulous costume moments from Eric Daman.
- *Aki is a sweetheart.
- *Leaning into the wild premise.
- *It is hard to understand why Julien is so upset about the breakup when Obie is so disagreeable.
- *There is a lot going on already.
- *The soapy over-the-top antics are what we expect but some things stretch credibility.
This post contains spoilers for Gossip Girl "She’s Having a Maybe.”
Read our latest review here.
The Gossip Girl reboot has changed the rules regarding the identity of the titular character, but staples like audacious fashion, fancy school events, and hot parents are back in full force in the second episode. After establishing the many teens and teachers jostling for power, it is time to throw a few more adults in the mix to stir things up. In the original series, Rufus Humphrey (Matthew Settle) and Lily van der Woodsen’s (Kelly Rutherford) past entanglements were as complicated (if not more so) than their brood — not to mention the secret child who would show up at the end of Season 2 — and half-sisters Julien (Jordan Alexander) and Zoya (Whitney Peak) dredge up a painful past in “She’s Having a Maybe.” It doesn’t help that they are barely on speaking terms after the events at the Christopher John Rogers runway show, and two back-to-back school events put their feuding dads on a collision course.
Striking the balance between adolescent and adult storylines is complicated further by the involvement of the teachers in the main plot, and while this episode is certainly overstuffed, it does benefit from actors like The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’s Luke Kirby (who appeared briefly last week) and Laura Benanti in these roles. Again, it is hard to not compare these characters to their original counterparts when their chosen professions are similar to the previous parents. Kirby’s Davis Calloway is a music mogul with Grammys hogging the mantlepiece and memorabilia on his wall — including a hit record by Rufus’ band Lincoln Hawk. The latter suggests that Lincoln Hawk has successfully tapped into the nostalgia market, but when Gossip Girl started Ruffus' music career had dried up. Davis is flash with cash and while he travels a lot, he has made time to attend the parent-teacher conference and silent auction the following night. His grudge against Zoya’s father Nick (Jonathan Fernandez) is older than Zoya thanks to his wife leaving him for Nick, and he is unaware that his daughter has been in contact with her half-sister until a public showdown (of course).
In a slightly contrived (but somewhat believable) set-up, Davis pays for a scholarship and in this case, Zoya was the recipient. Winning this academic prize was not a coincidence and while the work she submitted would’ve likely got her the spot, Julien used her influence to avoid any potential stumbles (all while keeping her half-sister’s arrival secret from her father). Julien thinks it will be easy to keep up the ruse as her dad doesn’t use social media and she thinks Zoya’s father can’t afford to attend fundraisers. She didn’t take into account that her recent ex Obie (Eli Brown) would orchestrate it so Zoya (and father) could attend. When the pair do run into each other, Davis is furious at the deception, and does the disappointed dad routine instead of fully blowing his top — which we all know hits where it hurts. Julien claims she has repeatedly asked about her sister and when he was no assistance she went about finding this connection by herself. Last week, his absence and past drinking were mentioned but he is sober now and this piece of information has an impact on Nick.
The following morning, Davis (wearing a fetching Gucci cardigan) offers a mea culpa to Julien as he recognizes that it was wrong to keep the sisters apart and that he has not always been his best self. Again with the allusions to his past and in minimal screen time, Kirby manages to imbue charm and humility into this character while also hinting at the kind of person he used to be — which also explains why he gives his daughter everything she desires. It also makes a case as to why Julien isn’t as hardened or mean as someone in her position could be. Sure, Davis might flex but arrogance isn’t on his scorecard, and when he is home he doesn’t hold Julien at arm’s length. The same cannot be said for Tony Award-winner Laura Benanti as Audrey’s (Emily Alyn Lind) mostly absent mother Kiki. Audrey’s hardened edges are given more context and her mother’s designer career doubles down on the Blair Waldorf (Leighton Meester) comparison but unlike Eleanor’s (Margaret Colin) thriving business, Kiki’s is failing.
Similar to Blair, her mother is going through a difficult divorce but in this case, her husband left her for her friend — and not a model. Benanti recently played the calculating Quinn in Younger and it took a moment to get used to this more vulnerable position in Gossip Girl. Again, she is giving the kind of performance that fills in a lot of the blanks without breaking a sweat. Audrey is desperate for her mother to come to a school function even if this means she will get wasted and make a fool out of herself. This particular spiral is the result of Kiki filing for Chapter 11 as her design business is bankrupt, and she is still dealing with the emotional fallout from her divorce. Aki (Evan Mock) tries to act as a peacemaker, but his sweet and attentive gesture further frustrates girlfriend Emily and both of them cheat with the same person in this episode.
Drawing on the sexual tension in the premiere, Max (Thomas Doherty) smooches Aki at the bathhouse and sleeps with Audrey after the auction. His attempt to hook up classics teacher Rafa Caparros (Jason Gotay) fails — “I don’t fuck students” he is told more than once — and flirtation and innuendo with Audrey cross the line. This version of Gossip Girl is just as horny as its predecessor and the HBO Max factor means bare butts and f-words are fair game. Aside from Serena’s brother Eric, the OG GG was very straight and this new version is not playing by those limited rules. For anyone who has seen Elite, the scene at the bathhouse will probably feel rather tame but it is breaking boundaries on this series. Will they enter a throuple (a la Elite) or is this a step too far?
Change is a theme of Gossip Girl’s (Kristen Bell) final monologue and part of this comes from Julien getting this Instagram account a verified status (yep, really) in exchange for helping her out. Julien has convinced Zoya to stay and has even said she can date Obie (ugh, why?). Perhaps out of all of the many unlikely events that have occurred so far, the biggest stretch so far is why Julien is so hellbent on staying with such a downer as Obie. Sure, he is good for her brand because the curls are irresistible, but so far the writers have done little to convince us as to why he even hangs out with a group of people he has contempt for. There are some things going for him like using his wealth for good but moving on to her half-sister before pausing is red flag behavior — also, as mentioned last week, Zoya is only 14.
Meanwhile, Kate Keller (Tavi Gevinson) is already feeling morally conflicted but is still going full steam ahead with Project Gossip Girl. The twist on the premise puts the teachers in a dubious position in their role as educators but for a series steeped in fantasy, this particular choice is one I find fascinating. Kate is already struggling with this double life thanks to the many tips she is receiving and the big piece of juicy gossip she has discovered about Zoya. There is an early hint of flirtation between Kate and Zoya’s father Nick and this will no doubt cause more conflict. Kate has already deleted images from the bodega stakeout position and will her reluctance lead to strife with her co-conspirators? Two episodes in and new Gossip Girl hasn’t snatched the original’s crown but they are laying the groundwork.
Some of the early paparazzi shots captured last winter came from the sidewalk scenes post-benefit and it was clear costume designer Eric Daman wasn’t going to hold back. On the low-key end of the scale, Zoya’s white crop top paired with an oversized boxy blazer, pants, and wedge sneakers is effortless chic. Julien never does anything by halves and the black corseted Christopher John Rogers gown she wears to the same fundraiser is exactly what someone who walked this designer’s NYFW runway can pull off. If only we had seen Kiki in the Halston Heritage number her daughter bought for her — particularly as the Netflix biopic has reignited the interest in this American designer icon.
No one is asking for this show to be realistic but there are still moments that raise major eyebrows and they mostly relate to the teachers’ behavior. Perhaps the most unbelievable scenario? Kate stands in the doorway of the bodega across the street from the art supply store for an extended amount of time without either being spotted or asked to leave. Did she even buy anything while she was in there?
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