HBO Max’s “Gossip Girl” reboot launches Thursday and you know you love it. How do we know you already XoXo the updated take on The CW teen series without having seen it? Well, because if you were a fan of the original show and the drama of young Upper East Siders Blair Waldorf (Leighton Meester), Serena van der Woodsen (Blake Lively), Chuck Bass (Ed Westwick), Nate Archibald (Chace Crawford) and Brooklynites Dan Humphrey (Penn Badgley) and Jenny Humphrey (Taylor Momsen) attending elite Manhattan prep schools, then you’re probably going to enjoy watching this new generation fill their designer shoes in very familiar — but not identical — ways.
“I think that any similarities were not intentional, but also unavoidable because those archetypes exist,” “Gossip Girl” reboot creator Joshua Safran, who was an executive producer and writer on the original show based on Cecily von Ziegesar’s novel series of the same name, told TheWrap.
HBO Max’s “Gossip Girl” explores just how much social media — and the landscape of New York itself — has changed in the intervening years since the original series ended its six-season run on The CW in 2012. The reboot focuses on teens Julien Calloway (Jordan Alexander), Zoya Lott (Whitney Peak), Obie Bergmann IV (Eli Brown), Aki Menzies (Evan Mock), Audrey Hope (Emily Alyn Lynd), Max Wolfe (Thomas Doherty), Luna La (Zion Moreno) and Monet de Haan (Savannah Smith), who are attending Constance St. Jude, the prep school where the original series was set.
The start of a new school year at the Upper East Side’s elite Constance St. Jude’s ushers in the arrival of a newcomer, who soon finds herself thrust into a blinding spotlight. While other students cling to their comfortable, glamorous lives, a mysterious presence threatens to upend the status quo.
“I wrote the pilot and then I was like, ‘Huh, Chuck and Max have some similarities. Blair and Audrey have some similarities. Jenny and Zoya have some similarities,'” Safran said.
So he called up Stephanie Savage, who co-created The CW’s “Gossip Girl” with Josh Schwartz and is executive producing the reboot along with Safran and Schwartz, and told her his concerns.
“I was like, ‘I really wanted this to be different and for nobody to feel like I was trying to carbon copy the original or wink at it too much.’ And Stephanie is like, ‘No, it’s that Cecily created very great archetypes that exist in this world. When she invented those characters and wrote those books, she looked and said, these are the historical types that exist in this world. And so there was no way to not touch upon that.'”
That’s when Safran was able to “let got of that” and accept what the “Gossip Girl” reboot would need.
“I was like, well, there’s always a Chuck, there’s always a Max. In Oscar Wilde’s work and ‘Bright Young Things’ there’s the dandy. The Shakespearean characters, the Edith Wharton characters. They’ve existed throughout time in literature and in art. But I do think these characters stand on their own. I do think they are different. I think that any similarities were not intentional, but also unavoidable because those archetypes exist.”
What did change between the new “Gossip Girl” and its predecessor — other than the fact the OG characters will not be appearing — was what the young stars looked like, as the original series had a predominately white and cisgender cast and HBO Max’s version is more diverse in terms of both race and transgender representation.
“The first series was based on the books, so the characters were pretty established from the books and we were just doing with the books sort of laid out for us,” Safran said. “Granted we changed the plot, but the regulars were the regulars in the books. So I feel like this was all new characters and allowed me to just draw from whatever well I was drawing from. I wasn’t drawing from Cecily’s well, except for sort of the world. And this is more representative of the world that I see around me. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t see the world around me in 2007, that world I was brought into of Josh and Stephanie and Cecily’s.”
Safran says his priorities for the new “Gossip Girl” are to focus on stories that are not limited to one demographic.
“I just don’t feel the need to create shows about a bunch of white people, because I think there’s enough shows about that. And the shows that I have created have not centered around a bunch of white people,” the “Gossip Girl” showrunner said. “To me, writing about myself repeatedly would be so boring and annoying. I’d rather learn about people, I’d rather amplify the voices of other writers and actors and learn from them and create discourse. And so that’s what I wanted to do here.”
The new “Gossip Girl” will also look at privilege in a different way than the original series, by exploring “white privilege, the privilege of passing, the privilege of when you are confronted with someone inside your own family who doesn’t have the same privilege that you have, and how they view you growing up, how you view them growing up.”
Safran added: “We came at it from character and what the world looks like right now.”
Of course there is one very key element between the old “Gossip Girl” and the new that has not changed: Kristen Bell has returned as the iconic voice of the title narrator.
“There was never a question for us to not have Kristen,” Safran said. “And I think, if anything, if she hadn’t wanted to return, I think we would have thought long and hard about whether we should either. Like, I think Josh and Stephanie felt at a certain point, if we’re going to do this again, we should do it with Josh Safran. And then I felt, as did they, that if the three of us were going to do it again, we needed to do it with Kristen. I just don’t think it would have worked with anyone else. And it was so early on that it could have gone away, if Kristen had been like, ‘You know what, I don’t want to revisit that.’ We reached out to her before it was even close to going to ensure that she would be as interested as we were.”
Though we obviously don’t know the identity of the new Gossip Girl ahead of the HBO Max reboot’s premiere — and who knows if we’ll find out any time soon, seeing as the original didn’t reveal it was Dan Humphrey all along until the series finale — could you imagine anyone else as her voice?
“She’s just so instrumental,” Safran said. “It wouldn’t be ‘Gossip Girl’ without her. And if there’s a new iteration in another 14 years, I hope she’d be there to do it.”
“Gossip Girl” premieres on Thursday on HBO Max. Following the series premiere, the rest of Season 1’s episodes will roll out weekly on Thursdays.