Gossip Girl reboot Julien Callaway looks at her iPhone

It’s been almost 10 years since CW hit Gossip Girl left the airwaves, boosting the careers of a number of young actors. Which, in today’s world means it’s time for a reboot! Developed by the same team as the original, HBO Max's sequel series of the same name takes place in the same universe, with updated technology and a more diverse lead cast. The premise is a familiar one: Almost a decade since the original gossip site went dark, a new generation of New York private schoolers find themselves under the watchful eye of Gossip Girl, who is once again voiced by Kristen Bell.

The new Gossip Girl debuted on HBO Max on July 8, with new episodes coming every Thursday. And having HBO Max as its platform rather than The CW, we can expect even more racy content than the original. But how does the rest of the show stack up? Could anyone ever fill the very expensive shoes of Serena van der Woodsen or smolder as intensely as Chuck Bass? The reviews are in, and, well, they’re not good. Let’s look at what the critics are saying went wrong.

USA TODAY gives Gossip Girl one star out of four, frustrated that the teens don’t talk like teens, and the adults don’t feel real. The same could sometimes be said for the original, but the review states “this is not the kind of show that deserves acclaim for its inanity.”

It's a cringe-worthy slog, full of unappealing acting, atrocious writing and plot twists that verge on the sociopathic. … The biggest sin of this Gossip is that the writers seem to understand little of their subjects. The characters don't act or sound like teenagers ... The use of social media doesn't feel particularly hip, and even the adult characters are stiff and nonsensical rather than fully formed humans.

The Guardian, while lauding the reboot's correction of the original in including diversity, expressed frustration in what the series is attempting to do, and who they're doing it for. While trying to attract the Gen Z audience, the pop culture nods in the reboot are geared more for those who watched the original. The Guardian gave the series three out of five stars but said it lacked the grit and ambition of its HBO Max peers.

Still, even with the should-be-standard changes, the new Gossip Girl falls into a weird limbo – an ode to a teen era barely past, updated for an audience that probably prefers TikToks to privilege porn, whose copious pop culture references wink mostly to viewers in their late 20s or 30s.

Decider notes that the new cast had the impossible task of living up to the original, especially since there seem to be easy comparisons to make. The new series includes a Queen Bee (Julien, like OG Blair), an heiress apparent (Zola “Little Z” as Jenny’s “Little J”), and bisexual playboy (Max Wolfe as the inimitable Chuck Bass). However, to the question of “Stream It or Skip It?” Decider says give it a chance.

While the new Gossip Girl‘s cast may not be as dazzling as the young ensemble of 2007 – you really can’t beat the star power we had in Blake Lively and Leighton Meester – this fresh group of faces still holds their own. … Similarities noted, however, it’s hard not to feel like these characters lack the teeth of their predecessors, but only time will tell.

NPR points out that a diverse cast doesn’t mean anything if the plot lines don’t delve into those dynamics, or if the characters aren’t fully formed as people the audience will care to follow. While the original was “good trash,” the reboot is just “an update for update’s sake.”

The presence of smartphones, Black students and bisexuality doesn't solve story problems; it creates broader and better paths to follow, which don't matter if you don't travel them. And what's lacking here is any coherent and compelling story for these kids to cover on the group text.

Vulture notes that while the reboot is just as entertainingly “absurd and high drama” as its predecessor, the HBO Max series doesn’t seem to know how to fully form that into the revolution it feels it has to be. As viewers, we’re not sure if we’re supposed to love or hate these characters. The lack of direction leaves the series hollow.

It seems uneasy with that emptiness, but it lacks the desire or capability to backfill everything with earnestness or do-goodery, and some later scenes in the series where it attempts to suddenly find sincerity are among the worst, most cringeworthy parts of the four episodes provided to critics.

The reviews seem to agree that while there are obvious problems with HBO Max’s Gossip Girl reboot, the inclusion of more racial diversity and LBGTQ characters among its main cast was a necessary correction. Also the wish-fulfillment aspect of watching teens with no budget and the top fashion still makes for high drama and entertainment. What the critics don’t agree on, however, is if Gossip Girl's seemingly fundamental flaws in lack of direction and character development overshadow the positives. Gossip Girl is streaming now on HBO Max, with new episodes every Thursday.

The good news? Like a vintage designer, some shows do get better over time. Whether or not you decide to skip this one, be sure to check out our 2021 summer TV schedule to find other shows to watch.

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