Blu-Ray Review: ‘Gossip Girl: Season 3’ Sports Skin-Deep Drama

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CHICAGO – “Gossip Girl” isn’t a show, it’s a living fashion spread. Everything in the frame is on sale, though at a price few viewers could afford. I suspect a large portion of the show’s fans are the type of celebrity hounds who devour gossip columns, alternately envious and repulsed by the lives of the rich elite. Any pleasure to be derived from such a column is of an inherently guilty nature.

Yet this smugly self-satisfied soap opera, the spawn of “O.C.” creators Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage, is hardly as scandalous as it wants you to think it is. Who can forget the show’s marketing campaign, proudly declaring itself to be every parent’s worst nightmare? In actuality, the show is about as tame as “7th Heaven,” especially when compared to the British show, “Skins,” which explored the sex lives and relationships of young adults with a frankness and depth so far superior to anything broadcast on mainstream American television. Blu-Ray Rating: 2.5/5.0
Blu-Ray Rating: 2.5/5.0

At its best, “Gossip Girl” is entertaining trash. Its ensemble of self-involved, over-privileged materials girls (and guys) would be utterly loathsome if the show weren’t so ludicrous. It bares very little resemblance to Cecily von Ziegesar’s book series, which serves as the show’s alleged source material, and is much closer in spirit to “Sex and the City,” albeit for teenagers. The appealingly understated Blake Lively stars as Serena van der Woodsen, one of many young brats residing in New York’s Upper East Side, whose lives are intruded upon by an unseen narrator (voiced by Kristen Bell, doing her most obnoxious Sarah Jessica Parker impression). Season 3 finds these backstabbing friends on the brink of college, while high-schooler Jenny (Taylor Momsen) is adjusting to her newly inherited status of “Queen Bee” (branding her with ill-fated popularity). The most laughable character is Chuck Bass, played by British actor Ed Westwick, whose facial expressions and American accent are so overwrought that he appears to be channeling the cartoonish villainy of Agent Smith from “The Matrix.” When the writers force Chuck to face his tragic past, it’s like watching the heartrending backstory of Snidely Whiplash.

Kevin Zegers, Taylor Momsen and Ed Westwick star in Gossip Girl: Season 3.
Kevin Zegers, Taylor Momsen and Ed Westwick star in Gossip Girl: Season 3.
Photo credit: Warner Home Video

No moment provoked as much undeserving hype this season as the ninth episode’s controversial threesome subplot, which consisted of little more than guest star Hilary Duff engaging in some bisexual smooching. The story thread quickly concludes in the following episode, to the appropriate tune of Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance.” All too often, character motivations seem to function as tacked-on justifications for an image-driven lifestyle, such as Serena’s allegedly poignant reason for courting the paparazzi. As in the previous seasons, the most effective moments occur when characters are allowed to be truly vulnerable, allowing their humanity to creep through the suave sleaze. Momsen is genuinely touching in scenes where her character becomes increasingly isolated from the society she supposedly reigns over. The pressure Jenny feels to lose her virginity is portrayed with surprising sensitivity by the show, which so often delights in torturing its characters (the creators are well aware that viewers love watching a rich snob crash and burn).

Late in the season, Chuck rattles off a line of startling wisdom while talking to a disillusioned Jenny: “The world you’re looking for exists only from the outside. The only reason I survive in it is because I know it is empty.” That’s a good line, but it’s also thoroughly hypocritical in the context of the show, which blatantly celebrates its own glorified excess. And it’s a striking departure from the show’s usual dialogue, which is often along the lines of, “I love freshman, they’re so…fresh.” There’s only so much one can do with dialogue like this, and though the cast is a mixed bag, their approach to the material is mediocre overall. It’s no coincidence that when Tyra Banks pops up in a cameo, she fits the show like a glove. After all, she’s a model playing an actress, a fact that could safely be said of her co-stars.

Gossip Girl: Season 3 was released on Blu-Ray and DVD on Aug. 24, 2010.
Gossip Girl: Season 3 was released on Blu-Ray and DVD on Aug. 24, 2010.
Photo credit: Warner Home Video

“Gossip Girl: Season 3” is presented in its original widescreen aspect ratio, though its high definition transfer is less than pristine. Some sections of the frame are occasionally obscured by digital fuzz. The five-disc set includes all twenty-two episodes, each accompanied by episode-specific unaired footage. A ten-minute blooper reel allows the actors to finally appear naturalistic onscreen, such as when Westwick become visibly flummoxed while attempting to say, “pseudo intellectual homesick malcontents.” Two music videos essentially remix footage from awkwardly staged background numbers that amount to little more than human product placement. In her scene, Lady Gaga looks like a cross between Norma Desmond and Edward Scissorhands, but she’s certainly more interesting than anything happening in the foreground. And the Plastiscines’ number, “Bitch,” is perhaps the most fitting anthem (and alternate title) yet for this show. There’s also a morbidly amusing featurette in which the crew offers methods on how average viewers can throw their own “Gossip Girl”-style party. Suggestions include replacing tablecloths with wrapping paper, and covering lampshades with sequins (the gaudier, the better).

Only one episode comes equipped with an optional “Gossip Girl Mode,” packed with interviews and trivia, and it’s only fitting that the episode centers on a fashion show (since the crew members have little to talk about, apart from their show’s hip surface design). As usual, the trendy creations of designer Abigail Lorick were used to clothe the characters. Pop-up facts further analyze the various outfits, while offering helpful tips to aspiring New Yorkers (such as how to hail a taxi). While discussing the season’s guest star Laura Harring (the beguiling brunette from “Mulholland Dr.”), Savage says that the actress’s previous work with David Lynch helped her understand the “similar” tone of “Gossip Girl.” “It’s both heightened and real, crazy but emotionally authentic,” Savage claims. “Gossip Girl” certainly has mastered the heightened part of the equation, but its vision of reality could only exist in a Lynchian dreamland, preferably one with giant rabbits.

‘Gossip Girl: Season 3’ is released by Warner Home Video, and stars Blake Lively, Leighton Meester, Penn Badgley, Chace Crawford, Taylor Momsen, Ed Westwick, Kelly Rutherford, Jessica Szohr, Matthew Settle and Kristen Bell. It was created by Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage. It was released on Aug. 24th, 2010. It is not rated. staff writer Matt Fagerholm

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