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Throwback Thursday - Gossip Girl - Pilot - "Xoxo, Joel"

Throwback Thursday, a weekly article in which we look back at our favourite TV episodes from over the years.

It's hard to believe that it's been 10 years since Gossip Girl first hit our screens. It's a show that many of my generation were hooked on, and a show which is still today recommended amongst friends (but I mean, come on - why haven't people watched the show already?). I can vividly remember that Gossip Girl was the first show I ever binge watched, simply because I joined the fandom a little late into the show. I began buying the box-sets when season three or four was airing, and continued to binge on the show until the final season, when I decided to watch live, for whatever reason. A few weeks ago, my flatmate was watching some episodes, randomly with a friend, and after deciding to stay for "just one episode", I was still there a few hours later. It reminded me of just how amazing and dramatic the show had been, and so it made sense to pick Gossip Girl for my second Throwback Thursday, especially as the 10th anniversary is fast approaching, this Fall. With this in mind, I recently rewatched the Pilot, and this article is my musings and thoughts about such. (Trigger warning: this article mentions themes of rape and drug-abuse). 

who actually are the protagonists / antagonists? 

One of the things which most caught my attention during the Pilot were the actions of Chuck. Everyone knows he's the rogue, the bad-boy, etc but I'd forgotten that his behaviour in the Pilot is so inexcusable - he's shown sexually assaulting both Serena and Jenny, and so it's not a far stretch to refer to him as a rapist, as many online have done so. But Chuck is a fan favourite character though, he can't be a rapist as well? Unfortunately the two can work in collaboration, or so it would seem. The internet seems conflicted between whether he really should be condemned for being / is a rapist and those who continue to defend the character and reaffirm how he's some ideal bad-boy with a heart that every girl should want. The fact Chuck acts in such a way yet still has a strong allegiance of fans perhaps says a lot about our society, as well as the show, but it also raises important and interesting questions about characters in the wider TV, Film and Fiction worlds. Let's start with some of the other Gossip Girl characters though ...

Is it appropriate to favouritise someone like Juliet?

Knowing that Chuck shouldn't be idolised the way he is, yet still remains so, made me think of my own favourite characters on the show - one being Juliet. The antagonist during the first half of season four, Juliet was out for vengeance following some family issues. This vengeance culminated in her drugging Serena, something I had completely forgotten. The rest of Juliet's actions are somewhat justifiable in the grand scheme of her plans, and of course, unlike a selfish Chuck who sexually assaults merely for pleasure, Juliet's behaviour is a little more complicated considering she's somewhat a victim herself - not that being a victim justifies drugging someone, obviously. So, I'm left wondering whether I should no longer be able to sympathise and love Juliet whatsoever, or whether it's possible to do so for a character whilst also acknowledging a pretty serious, immoral and sinister action they committed?  

The supposed protagonists of the shows aren't exactly moral idols either: Blair frequently blackmails characters and generally bullies others; Dan starts a blog to torment and shame his peers, stalking some would say; Serena took her best-friend's boyfriend's virginity, amongst other shady behaviour; and Nate slept with his girlfriend's bestie. Of course, none of these characters sexually assaulted or raped anyone, but still the question looms: is it ever acceptable to like an antagonist or character who murders, drugs, rapes, blackmails, stalks, assaults, bullies other characters etc? Is it ever wrong to argue "but it's just a TV character"?

Obviously, people can be redeemed, both in life and on TV, but I wonder whether the show made much effort to do so, particularly in regards to Chuck. From my memory, he never really represents for sexually assaulting Jenny, except for a brief apology - and ultimately he goes on to take her virginity, then shunning her immediately after so he can propose to Blair. Yeah, Chuck continued to show misogyny towards women, and it suggests there was no redemption - despite popular opinion and support for the character. In some ways I appreciate a show which blurs the boundaries between good and bad, as Gossip Girl does somewhat. Life isn't so simple and so shows shouldn't be, and one dimensional characters or shows aren't something I enjoy - which is part of the reason why I often prefer the bitch or antagonist characters of shows as they tend to have more depth and layers than their counterparts. It's part of the reason I enjoyed HBO's Girls so much, because the characters were flawed, annoying yet human. Did Gossip Girl perhaps blur the boundaries a little too much (or at least allow people to do so)? Possibly. There's a difference between liking (yet also disliking) a character who's selfish, irritating and whiny, like Girl's Hannah Horvath, and liking a character who constantly mistreats women, I'd say. The likes of Emily Thorne from ABC's Revenge also comes to mind, as viewers as supposed to root for her vengeance, even when people get emotionally and physically hurt along the way. Surely we should consider a character's motivations before writing them off as an antagonist etc? Not that this would excuse Chuck, who has no justification for sexually assaulting girls other than self-pleasure. It's a complicated issue, and one which I suppose we could spend a lifetime debating. Each to their own, but perhaps Chuck, and TV characters in general, need a deeper evaluation and analysis before being hailed as idols by fans. 

the victim of the show (?)

Enough about the dark side of the show though, and moving towards a less selfish character. Nate has long been one of my personal favourites on the show - he was never a particularly bad or immoral character (though he had his moments) yet the show never seemed to give him much of a chance. In the Pilot he's a passive young man who's under the influence of others, and from my memory, this continued throughout the series. He was even passive in terms of plotlines, I would say, and in the show's finale, Nate is the only leading character to not be paired off. It always felt to me as though he had an equal share in the show, as if the writers perhaps saw him merely as a tool for other characters (and some eye candy for viewers). I wonder whether had the popular pairings been different, would Nate had received some better arcs (about him, rather than connected to someone else)? From the Pilot, it seems as though he's the lead male - that Blair and Serena could fight over him. The ultimate love-triangle, I suppose. Things soon changed though, and the only love triangle people cared about became Chuck - Blair - Dan (add Serena in for the love square aspect and Nate is completely shaded). #JusticeForNate anyone? 

ensemble power 

Nobody ever seems to like Vanessa - except me!
Although the Pilot focuses almost exclusively on Dan, Serena, Blair, Nate and Chuck, it does present some of the ensemble players like Eric, Lily and Rufus. To me, the ensemble were always a huge part of the show and many of the non-leads were the most interesting and likeable of characters. Vanessa, though unpopular, was someone I quite liked. Juliet, as I mentioned. Eric was equally someone who deserved more screen-time, and let's not forget Georgina, to name just a few. I definitely need to rewatch the entire show before deciding whether Chuck was (or could even) be redeemed in any way, though from the Pilot, and the articles I've researched, I have significant doubt that he can ever be seen as a hero, protagonist or the like, in my mind again.  

living for the drama

I really don't want this article to come across as a critique of the show, not entirely at least. For the most part, it was fantastic. The cast were incredible, the outfits were to die for, and the drama kept us hooked each and every episode. I think secretly everyone wanted just one GG blast in their own life, and I imagine I'm not along in having wanted to go to one of the many fancy parties (masquerade ball, anyone?). It was a show that managed to be sassy, funny, dramatic and heartfelt all in one. For me, the drama of it all was where the show shone above some others - though it did get a little far-fetched at times, of course. The whole Lola / Ivy storyline was, in my opinion, such an interesting watch, as was the Juliet / Ben arc. Similarly, who can forget some of the shady dealings of the van der Woodsen family? Say what you like about the show, but it did drama and storylines well - even if not fair, justice-filled or moral. Makes you wonder whether viewers (or at least writers) want moral storylines, hmm ...

still one of my favourite shows (?)

Reunion on the horizon?
This is perhaps the toughest question of all. Gossip Girl has such a special place in my heart for various reasons; it was one of the first shows I ever really engaged with, it was the first show I binged, I was involved in some Gossip Girl groups on Tumblr, and several members of the cast have gone on to become some of my favourite actors/actresses. That being said, I would be lying if I said I didn't feel a little different about the show now. To base such on the Pilot is perhaps naive and unfair though, and so before I completely change (or reassert) my feelings on the show, I think another binge watching is due.
Whether fans will get a 10th anniversary reunion soon is unknown, but I for one wouldn't mind seeing the cast together again, one final time. Right now I feel confused, conflicted and uncertain about the show and characters which I so deeply enjoyed and loved not so long ago; the show was incredible and the drama was entertainment at its best, yet there are those voices saying that it's wasn't done in the most appropriate way (and those voices aren't so easy to dismiss). Feel free to let me know your thoughts on Gossip Girl in the comments below, though please remember that my knowledge of the show is limited and so I may have forgotten certain details here and there.

In true Gossip Girl style, and in perhaps the most appropriate way I've ever said this,

Xoxo Gossip Girl / Joel Leaver

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