I’ve spent quite a bit of time watching and recapping the CW series Gossip Girl; especially early on, the show had a surprising amount of hidden depth. However, while watching the past few episodes of the series, two thoughts were on my mind. The first was that after two-and-a-half seasons, any critical insight the show had to offer and that I could glean from in-depth recapping had probably come to an end. The second thought was about the reason for the first.
The intractable problem facing Gossip Girl is the same problem that plagued showrunner Josh Schwartz’s first series, The O.C., and is the same problem that any long-running television series confronts. A show survives the dreaded culling of pilot season and makes it onto the air. From there, it finds some combination of audience penetration and critical acclaim that justifies its existence to the networks, and it gets picked up for another season…and another…and another. At this point, dozens of hours of the show have been created, with each episode using up a plot avenue and closing off potential choices for the show’s direction. Will the show embark upon radical changes which may be so disorienting to an audience already used to the show’s pattern and template that it drives them away? Or will it rehash plots and tread water, creating new narratives from flimsier and flimsier premises, with the hope that the audience doesn’t realize or care that they’ve seen this stuff before? The correct choice lies somewhere in-between alienation and stagnation, and many series founder when making that choice.