The first season of HBO Max’s Gossip Girl reboot saw the soapy teen drama revamped for a modern age, showing a new group of Constance Billard students navigating the Instagram era a decade after its predecessor’s blog first took the world by storm. Season 2 picks up right where we left off after last season’s New Year’s party, and while some storylines need this consistency, others feel like they could have benefited from at least a short time skip, getting bogged down by some repetitiveness.
Rest assured, Season 2 of Gossip Girl is packed with just as much campy fun and sharp pop culture references as the first go-around. Name-dropping everyone from Ansel Elgort to Jeremy Strong to Florence Pugh and including a delightful cameo by writer Hunter Harris, the show still has its finger on the pulse, immersing us in a world that’s as addictive as it is absurd.
But unfortunately, some of the first season’s flaws crop back up in its second installment, too – namely, the pacing. The relationship between Aki (Evan Mock), Audrey (Emily Alyn Lind), and Max (Thomas Doherty) is genuinely refreshing – rarely do we get to see a healthy polyamorous relationship explored. (Or, you know, about as healthy as you can get in a show digging into the scandalous lives of Manhattan’s elite. Bonus points for the way the show handles Kiki’s [Laura Benanti] reaction. The growth between her and Audrey has been great to see.) But at times, it can feel like we’re stuck in a vicious cycle. The problems they face, while legitimate, can start to seem redundant.
This also feels true of Zoya’s (Whitney Peak) character. On the plus side, this season does allow us to see more of her friend Shan (Grace Duah). Not only is she a breath of fresh air, but it’s also nice to see Zoya break outside of the core friend group and struggle with having Julien (Jordan Alexander) as a real sister that she has to learn to live – and share her father – with. There’s a lot of potential with the Zoya and Nick (Johnathan Fernandez) of it all, but while there are glimmers of fascinating things, the execution can ultimately feel a bit like a repeat of Season 1 patterns, as Zoya tests boundaries and rebels due to choices of Nick’s she disagrees with.
The second season shines when it allows initially sidelined characters their time in the spotlight. Monet (Savannah Lee Smith) – hilariously nicknamed Atilla de Haan at one point – is the prime example of this, with her ruthless quest for power delicious to watch. She, it seems, is constantly playing 3D chess, always one step ahead of whoever she’s trying to take down. It’s especially fun to see her be in charge of her own henchmen (former enemies Pippa [Ella Rubin] and Bianca [Katherine Reis] – a genius choice). One can’t help but wish she had a more worthy adversary.
As teased at the end of last season, much of Season 2 sees Monet trying to start a war with Julien. Don’t get me wrong, Julien is a likable character. The problem, at times, is that she’s too likable, too nice, too unwilling to get involved in conflict. While her quest for self-improvement is noble and authentic for the modern influencer, she often feels too passive to go toe-to-toe with Monet in a way that’s truly satisfying. She’s an intriguing character – the issue is that she feels wrongly utilized, both by Monet and the show. The bomb she dropped last season where she said she wanted to work with Gossip Girl isn’t capitalized on to the capacity it could be, which feels a bit like a let-down. (Though we do get a hilarious and cleverly directed scene where she and Kate [Tavi Gevinson] are sending DMs back and forth while right across from each other. Another standout scene involves a spa day and secretly using facial recognition to unlock various phones. Silly? Yes. But genuinely creative, too.)
Fortunately, Monet also gets more depth and material to work with outside of Julien. This season highlights her complicated relationship with her mother, who you may remember dragged Kate within an inch of her life last season. It quickly becomes clear Camille’s (Amanda Warren) harshness can extend far beyond the teachers, and no one is safe from her wrath – you can’t help but feel sympathy for Monet despite her dictator-like tendencies in those moments. Her sexuality is also explored a little more, although one intriguing plotline is disappointingly squandered for quick, undercooked shock value. Here’s to hoping Monet will eventually get the intense, messy romance she deserves.
Other characters I was happy to see more of include Obie’s (Eli Brown) new girlfriend Grace (Anna Van Patten) – who may not be quite as sweet as she initially seems – and school admin Wendy (Megan Ferguson), one of this show’s sleeper stars. Every wild line that comes out of her mouth, whether she’s referencing NXIVM or getting raided by the FBI, is delivered with casual, comedic perfection. The motivations for the teachers continuing to run the account still don’t quite logically work for me, but this is Gossip Girl – who cares about logic? If you suspend your disbelief (a necessity for enjoying this show!), you’ll have a blast with their twisted dynamics.
Gossip Girl thrives during its big group scenes, where domino effects cause one thing to go wrong after another, pulling everyone in to be collateral in some fashion. Lucky for us, there are a handful of these moments – each of which feels masterfully executed. One involves a wickedly chaotic debutante ball, while another takes place during a crucial dinner with a powerful conservative woman Max’s parents desperately want to impress. All hell breaking loose, set against a backdrop of old-fashioned glamour and tradition, is a Gossip Girl staple that never gets old. Everyone getting together and behaving impolitely in polite society is what this show is all about and when it’s at its most unhinged and enjoyable.
Gossip Girl Season 2 doesn’t take any huge leaps, either in terms of the timeline or storylines it covers, but that’s okay. The show knows what it is and what it’s good at, and it’s smartly leaning in to highlight fan-favorite characters we didn’t see as much of in the first season. Watching these influential, impeccably dressed teens intently scroll their phones provides a glossy escape when you need a break from looking at your own apps. Honestly, what more could you ask for? XOXO.
Gossip Girl Season 2 premieres on HBO Max on December 1.