Gossip Girl has finally started to get a bit of media attention in Australia, but I’ve been rather surprised by the reviews. Whereas a lot of American media outlets are enamoured by the show, Australian reviews have generally been rather cool… to say the least. Take, for example, this review from the Sydney Morning Herald.
It focuses on the obvious: the money, the wealth, the sex. But it completely ignores the nuances of the show. And yes, a show so over-the-top and obvious can have nuances. Looking for a lesson? It’s as simple as that money doesn’t buy happiness. But neither does middle class comfort guarantee contentment, as Dan and Jenny will attest to.
Furthermore, the presence of immorality in the show does not make it amoral. Or, for that matter, immoral. When read in a certain way, the show takes a clear position. Simply put, Chuck is bad because of his philandering. If he were to settle down with Blair, he would miraculously become good. The Humphreys are the heroes. While other characters may be our favourites, it is this functional, respectful, balanced family that provides the emotional centre of the show. While extravagances flourish, it is the Humphreys that provide the most genuinely aspirational moment. Teenages that communicate that clearly and well with their parents even when rebelling? That is probably the most fantastic (in the true sense of the word) element of the show.
But to reduce the show to a mere morality tale is to deny it much of its richness. It is elaborate and indulgent and utterly over the top. But that’s kind of the point. To hark back to an earlier motif of the evening, it’s about the story. The huge, elabourate, melodramatic stories, told in a way that allows us to connect with the characters. The stories keep us entertained. The characters keep us invested.
Quite aside from that, though, Gossip Girl is amazing because it’s one of the first shows to generate a strong following online which they ultimately had to consciously work to translate into ratings. It’s a fascinating example of the future of television, as this awesome article in NY Mag points out.
But back to my original point, for this has been a rather rambling post. Why is it that Australian reviewers have been so negative toward Gossip Girl, when the reception in the US has, if not been universally welcoming, at least varied enough that quality media outlets appreciate the show.
I think, perhaps, Australian reviewers are being lazy, expecting to find something, and thus searching for it. The conclusion from that review “At least Carrie, Charlotte and Miranda actually care about the people they sleep with” is unnecessarily dismissive of the GG characters. One could never, ever suggest that Serena and Dan didn’t care about each other in season 1. Or that Chuck and Blair don’t care for each other now.
Maybe we’re conditioned to reject anything that comes in glossy packages, a working out of the tall poppy cliche that has long since grown tired. Or maybe they are just too freaking old to get it.