Complete Third Season
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All photos © The CW
Reviewed by Will Harris
hen “Gossip Girl” first premiered, my daughter was two years old, and as an already-protective father, I immediately feared for any future which found primetime teenagers acting in such a willfully rebellious and rambunctious manner, which resulted in my giving the show a serious smackdown in my review of the pilot. Three years later, I’m much more confident about my daughter’s ability to tell the world she sees on TV from the world in which we actually live. I’m still not going to let her watch “Gossip Girl,” of course, but that doesn’t mean that Daddy can’t sit back and enjoy the gloriously over-the-top drama of the show… after it hits DVD.
Sure, I love it. But I still can’t bring myself to actually watch it on a weekly basis.
When we last left the “Gossip Girl” gang, the elder teens had graduated from high school and were preparing to enter the real world – or, you know, the world that the series posits as being real to its characters, anyway. Blair Waldorf and Chuck Bass are, somewhat surprisingly, still proving to be a viable couple, though they’ve put their own spin on the concept of a relationship, spicing things up by having one of them pretend to cheat while the other busts in and breaks up the party before it can really get going. Dan and Jenny Humphrey and their dad, Rufus, have spent the summer in the Hamptons, letting Eric show them the lifestyle lived by the van der Woodsen clan; meanwhile, his mom, Lily, is away, ostensibly taking care of her mother, while sister Serena has been the talk of the tabloids while living it up in Europe for the summer. Lastly, there’s Nate Archibald, who’s also spent the summer away from the city, having struck up a friendship with a brunette named Bree who – small world! – turns out to be the daughter of one of Nate’s family’s oldest business rivals.
Now that the summer’s over, it’s time for Dan, Vanessa (who, as you may remember, has been friends with Dan since they were kids and harbors a crush on him), and Blair to enter college at NYU. Not so for Serena, however, who has decided that, despite her mother’s insistence that she attend Brown, she’s not interested in going to school at the moment. Instead, she finds herself a gig as a publicist of sorts, providing the opportunity for a guest appearance by Tyra Banks – except she’s not playing herself but, rather, an actress who co-stars in a film with Olivia Burke, who’s not an actual actress but is, rather, one played on the show by Hilary Duff. Olivia, as it happens, is also attending NYU, where she shares a dorm room with Vanessa and, ultimately, ends up dating Dan. Cue the jealousy-inspired shenanigans. Blair, meanwhile, is struggling to come to terms with the fact that, unlike in high school, she’s no longer a queen or, indeed, even popular.
On the flip side, however, Jenny is trying to fill Blair’s shoes within the high school social hierarchy. She doesn’t succeed on that front, but, hey, she does end up hooking up with a shady guy several years older than herself and start dealing drugs, so, uh, there’s that. Yes, Season Three was definitely Jenny’s year to become the “Gossip Girl” character most likely to inspire parents to share their heads and worry that she’s going to be a bad influence on their daughter.
As for guest stars, the moment most likely to give ‘90s alt-rock fans a stroke occurs during “Rufus Getting Married,” which finally sees Rufus and Lily tying the knot and sharing a dance to a live performance by…Sonic Youth? Yep. It’s not quite as mind-blowing as the Flaming Lips playing the Peach Pit on “90210,” but it’s damned close. Less awesome, however, is “The Last Days of Disco Stick,” which shoehorns a performance by Lady Gaga into the proceedings. We love you, Ms. Gaga, but this felt like a case where your name was plugged in everywhere the script contained the words “Most Popular Musical Artist We Can Convince to Appear on the Show.” Although Duff turned out to be a surprisingly strong addition to the show’s ensemble during her stint on the show, the best guest was ultimately William Baldwin, who played Blair’s oft-discussed, never-before-seen father, Dr. William van der Woodsen. As ever, though, it was wonderful to see the return of Michelle Trachtenberg as the cute but despicable Georgina Sparks, and with “Mercy” having been put out of its misery by NBC, let us hope we’ll see more of her in Season Four.
As usual, there’s so much going on in a season of “Gossip Girl” that there’s no point in trying to cover it all, so let’s touch on some of the highlights, the first of which is the annual Thanksgiving episode, where the carving knife never has a chance to hit the turkey, so busy are the characters using it to stab each other in the back. There are quite a few great secrets and blackmail plots going on during the season, but the best has to be the ongoing arc about Lily’s mysterious absence, which ties into Blair’s search for her father and Rufus’s concerns about his wife’s fidelity, leading to a conclusion which ups the season to its four-star rating.
Will Season Four – which, for its first few episodes, takes place in Paris (and, yes, they did actually film it there, too) – maintain this level of guilty-pleasure quality? I probably won’t know ‘til this time next year, when it hits DVD, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed ‘til then.
Special Features: Alas, there are no audio commentaries on the set (which is disappointing but somehow not surprising, since just about everyone in the cast keeps busy between seasons with side work in either film or music), but the producers of the set have tried something new this time, offering viewers the opportunity to watch one of the episodes – “The Empire Strikes Jack” – in something described as “Gossip Girl mode.” It’s basically just a glorified “Pop Up Video” situation, except what pops up is some approximation of a Blackberry, with its texts offering tidbits of trivia; the only problem is that if you’re not watching the DVD on a pretty big TV screen, you’ll find the text almost illegible, making it a poor bonus at best. Fortunately, the set also includes two videos (Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” and Plastiscines’ “Bitch”), a featurette (“A ‘Gossip Girl’ Fabulous Affair: Throwing a Party ‘Gossip Girl’-Style”), several unaired scenes, and a gag reel.