Creator Joshua Safran tells TheWrap he wanted to explore “watching the moral implications of playing God” this time around
(Warning: This post contains major spoilers for the series premiere of HBO Max’s “Gossip Girl” reboot.)
HBO Max’s “Gossip Girl” reboot deviated from its CW predecessor in the most unexpected way possible with its series premiere Thursday — an hour that not only saw the birth of a new Gossip Girl, but actually revealed her identity to viewers in the process. This unveiling is a shocking development, seeing as the original “Gossip Girl” didn’t disclose to fans that Dan Humphrey (Penn Badgley) was the infamous blogger (voiced by Kristen Bell) until the final episode of its six-season run.
The pilot of the new “Gossip Girl” immediately unveils our new source into the scandalous lives of the Constance/St. Jude’s students as four teachers and faculty members at the school: Kate (Tavi Gevinson), Jordan (Adam Chanler-Borat), Wendy (Megan Ferguson) and Reema (Rana Roy). We know it’s them from the start because we see them learn of the original Gossip Girl from teacher and Constance alum Rebecca (played by Sarah Baskin), and get the crazy idea to revive the concept via an anonymous Instagram account as a way to keep their students in line and command their fear and respect.
So fans know who Gossip Girl is from the start of this reboot. But they might not understand why she was revealed right away. And according to the HBO Max drama’s creator, Joshua Safran, there is a very, very good reason for the ultimate zag from the original “Gossip Girl.”
“The three things that made me want to come back to this were Kristen [Bell, as the returning voice of Gossip Girl], obviously, [original ‘Gossip Girl’ creators Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage] and Kristen’s involvement, OK, done,” Safran, who was a writer and executive producer on The CW’s “Gossip Girl,” told TheWrap.
“The second was knowing the identity of Gossip Girl from the beginning so that it wasn’t retelling the same story, because that actually makes you complicit in who Gossip Girl is, why Gossip Girl is, what it means to be Gossip Girl, how it affects you to be Gossip Girl,” the HBO Max drama’s showrunner continued. “That was pretty much what I knew from moment one of wanting to do this. My idea was we need to know who Gossip Girl is. And then the teachers came about because I have friends that are teachers on the Upper East Side, who are young teachers, and I went to private school on the Upper East Side. And I just knew that was a leg of the table that we hadn’t constructed. I was very interested in what is going on in these literal corridors of power, where these privileged children of the richest, most powerful people in the world have stewards whose job it is to help them be better and that they often fail at that.”
Safran said he thinks this storyline “is fascinating, and it’s a social experiment and it’s an ongoing issue,” and that’s “the fun of it.”
But revealing Kate and the other teachers posting their tips in real time also adds an element that wasn’t part of the original series, which is seeing Gossip Girl in action. Because let’s face it, when we all finished “Gossip Girl” and learned it was Dan all along, the first thing we thought of was how it could have been Dan all along.
“There’s all these TikToks and blogs and websites talking about how Dan couldn’t have done X because he wasn’t there or reimagining and wondering, ‘Oh, s—, when that thing came out it’s because Dan was actually in the next room and he overheard it,’” Safran said. “We didn’t get the privilege, as an audience, to watch that, to watch Dan grapple with, ‘Oh my God, Blair just told me a secret about Chuck, am I actually going to post it or not post it because it will destroy her when it gets out? No, I am going to post it. Oh my God, it just destroyed Blair. I can’t believe I actually really care about her.’ None of that ever played on the screen. So to give the audience something new and to really explore what it was like to be a Dan-type, being Gossip Girl, I think was a no-brainer.”
Now the choice to make the teachers Gossip Girl is likely to be seen by viewers as a controversial one, because these are adults cyberbullying their students, but that’s exactly the reaction Safran wants out of you.
“That’s the whole point. Like I said, watching the moral implications of playing God,” he told TheWrap. “Because to play God, you have to believe that you have a right to play God, but nobody has the right to play God. So then you’re watching these characters realize that they don’t have the right to play God and that they’re not God. That’s the complicit thing. Like, frankly, if it had been Dan we were seeing, Dan was cyberbullying also. It’s a way to read the first show that we don’t look at. He reported terribly personal things about people that he should have never reported.”
Yeah, Safran said it’s very clear being Gossip Girl is not an aspirational gig and viewers should take note of how wrong the people are who take on that role. Seriously, he thinks Badgley’s Dan is even worse than his serial-killing nice guy on Netflix’s “You.” (Sorry, Penn, we did not bring this up — Joshua got there all on his own.)
“If you go back and watch that show knowing it’s Dan, Dan is a villain who is just as bad as Joe in ‘You,’ except maybe even worse, because in ‘You,’ people die, so they don’t have to live with the shame of the thing that’s just been outed about them for the rest of their lives,” Safran said. “So I feel like, yeah, they know it’s wrong and they grapple with that all season. It doesn’t get better, it gets worse.”
Viewers will find out just how much worse it gets as new episodes of the “Gossip Girl” reboot launch Thursdays on HBO Max.
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