SPOTTED: Sad13 Watching Gossip Girl, #2

Sadie Dupuis, Estella Adeyeri, and Lexie McCoy dissect the scandalous lives of HBO Max’s rebooted elite.

Episode 2

Estella Adeyeri (Big Joanie) and Lexie McCoy (Suzie True)

Talkhouse’s very own gossipy girl here, ready to drop drama over this week’s Upper East Side antics. When last we muckraked, teen socials superstar Julien Calloway was already on the outs with new in-crowder Zoya Lott, her previously estranged half-sister. Julien’s fabulously evil flunkies Monet and Luna were egging on the rivalry, which flamed further when Julien’s do-goody ex-BF Obie Bergmann IV defected into Zoya’s handholds. Max Wolfe, a clear analogue for Chuck Bass at his horniest, seemed to be simultaneously courting both sides of Constance Billard St. Jude’s one solid-ish couple, Aki Menzies and Audrey Hope. The parents? Either absentee, or refreshing Gossip Girl to dole out unpredictable groundings. And the teachers? ARE GOSSIP GIRL! With Kate Keller helming the gaggle, these underpaid millennials are getting a crash course in Insta notoriety. As Kate complains in this second episode, the Gossip Girl voice is exhaustingly specific: “like if E.M. Forster got roofied by Dorothy Parker and Jacqueline Susann.” But maybe with a little help from friends, we can get it right today?

Joining me this week is London’s Estella Adeyeri, who is the powerhouse bassist of Black feminist punk trio Big Joanie, the electrifying lead guitarist of “anarcho-cutie” quartet Charmpit, and an organizer with Girls Rock London and Decolonise Fest. She’s watched the original series “more times than is really necessary,” and, duh, she’s team Blair: “Her attitude, her whole vibe, her questionable romantic choices? That’s very me.” We’re also joined by Lexi McCoy, bassist and singer for LA’s “crybaby pop” shredders, Suzie True. Lexi also curated Eat the Rich the massive Gossip Girl tribute compilation mentioned in our last issue — and, on her little brother’s recommendation, became obsessed with Gossip Girl over quarantine. “Unfortunately, I relate the most to Jenny,” she confesses. “She thinks she’s rebellious, but she’s kind of just annoying.” That’s exactly the plucky attitude we need to dive into episode 2 of @GossipGirl2.0. Buckle up!

—Sadie Dupuis

Apparently, the pilot of this series was the most-watched pilot of HBO Max history. Any lingering thoughts from that episode?

Lexi McCoy: So much to process. Everyone’s hot. Everyone’s a bad actor.

Estella Adeyeri: Why does it feel dubbed? Is that a post-production thing I don’t understand? I liked that they felt blogs were too dated for 2021. No one blogs anymore, it’s ancient history.

But newsletters are okay. We’re in the clear.

Estella: Interesting angle getting the teachers to be Gossip Girl. But how do they have that much time? I don’t know how teaching goes in the States, but in the UK, teachers have a lot to do outside the classroom and not much free time. This seems like a big project. I guess they don’t have that much marking to do at private school.

I’m not certain we’ve seen the kids in a class. There’s not much schoolwork happening for anyone.

Lexi: I too thought it was interesting about the teachers. But the way they’re going into it felt campy, which makes me like it a little more. My favorite character is Aki. As soon as I saw him, I thought, this character is made for me. He offers Zoya a Topo Chico. And he has a skateboard. This is my character.

Aki is the universal heartthrob. But yeah, all the sniping dialogue I loved from the original series is relegated to the one liners written for the teachers. I’d like to see more deviousness among the kids, who are too emotionally mature.

Estella: Obie, the guy who’s meant to be a trustafarian character, is like, “Ugh, I hate my rich parents, I’ve gotta protest their big building!” It’s something I wish they’d make fun of more, because it is really funny. But the show hasn’t leaned into how absurd that is. Why are we not taking the piss out of this?

This episode is called “She’s Having a Maybe.” I had to rewatch the episode to get the pun, but it’s about Julien’s uncertainty surrounding her break up with Obie, and seeking certainty with Zoya towards the end. We open with the teachers putting on the ritz to deal with rich parents at conferences. Ms. Keller, who looks like she lives in a dorm room, dons Vivier shoes, Blair Waldorf’s favorite. And you’re right, the teachers are not doing much there besides feeding the Gossip Girl beast. Kate posts a submitted photo of #Zobie and quickly gets hit with a flood of hate comments.

Lexi: When [Kate] is talking to Zoya’s dad, and her phone is buzzing, she lies: “It’s just notifications from The Times!” Also, it’s 9 pm. Why is that the time to do teacher conferences? 

Estella: I was surprised at how much Audrey cared about her mom not caring about her academic achievements. Is it really that deep? Her mom seems really busy running a business. Audrey, are you just looking for drama? She blew it out of proportion.

I enjoyed the flirting between Kate and Zoya’s dad, Nick Lott. But in the middle of it, she sends a GG post putting his daughter on blast! There’s some cognitive dissonance happening for these teachers. I also don’t have a good sense of the Lotts’ economic situation. If Zoya’s scholarship is make-or-break, why do they live in a doorman building in the second most expensive neighborhood in Manhattan? Why do they take towncars everywhere?

Estella: I felt that was a throwback to original Gossip Girl, where Dan’s family is apparently so poor that they live in a huge, nice apartment in Williamsburg. Ah, the rich-poor romance where the poor person isn’t really poor! For consistency, that’s quite nice.

Lexi: Also, the inside of Zoya’s house doesn’t look like a condo. It looks like a house from the ‘70s in California. Why is this in a New York highrise?

Estella: It’s alluded to that she was kicked out of school. What’s that about?

Lexi: If you’re kicked out of school for drugs, it’s not such a big thing you’d be trying to hide it. What’s so bad that you get kicked out of school and move across the country?

Estella: Hooking up with someone she shouldn’t, in a place where she’d get caught? 

We don’t have a chaos agent like Georgina Sparks setting someone up to be framed for someone’s death, or anything like that. In the original, we already saw everyone hooking up with everyone they should not have, including teachers. So if it’s not as bad as those, how do they keep us following this carrot? Some of this gossip is a little tired. And after Gossip Girl’s scoop, Julien and her crew immediately take back the power by filtering a dress on an old photo with Obie and posting it to Instagram, which somehow gets Gossip Girl… canceled?

Lexi: It was a stretch for sure. 

Estella: To the keen eye, surely you’d be able to see it’s not the same dress? Isn’t Julien an influencer? Surely she doesn’t wear the same dress twice, and her minions would’ve caught that a bit better. But what, she’s 16 and some sort of internet sensation? She’s got a Glossier deal, apparently. 

Did you zoom in on any of her fans’ — the Julelions — brutal comments and memes? On Julien’s #GirlsNightOut post, they’re saying things like “#GirlsNightOusted.” And when they spam Gossip Girl, they post hundreds of the distracted boyfriend meme, with the rejected girlfriend labeled “Gossip Girl,” the distracted boy as “Julien Calloway,” and the other girl as “Literally anything else.” 

Estella: Brutal. I appreciate that attention to detail, actually.

Kate refers to the negative comments as proverbial “bricks through [her] window.” How do we feel about her tornadoing into the world of the terminally online? 

Estella: It’s the Internet, and it can feel meh when you have a load of trolls. She’s supposed to not be familiar with that kind of power.

Lexi: It’s not fully believable that her character would be the one helming this Gossip Girl account. She’s intelligent, and has a good head on her shoulders. But she’s also doing this account, an unhinged thing for an adult teacher to do. Maybe she has more erratic behaviors that will come out. Because right now she seems like a grounded person who is somehow running Gossip Girl. Who is she?

Especially in this episode, when Kate increasingly refers to Gossip Girl as “I” instead of “we,” I don’t understand what’s at stake for her. It’s not like Dan Humphey writing himself into his crush’s world. She has no connection to these students. And it seems like her primary fodder is Obie and Zoya, who by all accounts are some of her nicest, most studious kids.

Lexi: Exactly. I don’t understand how that’s gonna make them better in school, being scared of gossip. Also, these kids are so rich and have any resource at their fingertips. None of them want to look up the IP address of Gossip Girl?

Monet and Luna have canceled Gossip Girl. But Julien will un-cancel Gossip Girl if she presents the juicist gossip on “Little Z,” a nice throwback to Little J. It’s very quick for the power to have already shifted to Julien.

Estella: Julien’s meant to be the school Queen Bee, and probably feels quite slighted, having lost her boyfriend very publicly to this little sister who just turned up. But why does nobody think Obie’s kind of an asshole for doing that?

Lexi: “Let me break up with my girlfriend and date her 14-year-old sister!” Fuck you! Why is everyone pinning this all on Julien? 

Estella: Her sister who moved across the country to forge a relationship with the sister she never got to know. I’m not into it.

How about the Max/Audrey/Aki love triangle?

Estella: They all seem to be OK kissing this wannabe Chuck Bass.

Lexi: Did they allude to Audrey and Max having a past? Do Aki and Max have one?

Well, there was a pretty central kiss in a scene that takes place in a bathhouse. 

Estella: Definitely the bathhouse scene [was my favorite]. They claim a teacher’s not supposed to be there, because it’s the middle of the day, but so are these children? How are they all there? They’re all basically naked. I enjoyed the scene, but a lot goes unexplained.

Lexi: They also didn’t show how Max convinced Aki to get there. He says no, and then all of a sudden, they’re there.

Estella: Just sat there, chilling.

When Max invites them to the bath house to follow the teacher he’s crushing on, Rafa, Audrey just says, “Unsubscribe.” Which I am going to use now. Then at the bathhouse, Aki’s trying to open up to Max about his relationship, and Max says: “If you want to chat, you can go to Equinox” — the, like, $400/month gym in New York — ”we’re here to cruise.”

Lexi: That was my favorite scene, just because Aki’s there and doesn’t have a shirt on. I liked the little dialogue.

They keep putting the word “consent” into Max’s mouth, but he relentlessly ignores the boundaries of not only his professor, but also his two closest friends. I’m not sure I’m onboard with him as an “improvement” on Chuck.

Lexi: He’s more like the original Chuck, in that he’s disrespectful of everyone. Are Aki and Audrey gonna break up and both hook up with Max? I don’t understand the triangle, so far.

I caught a whiff that maybe there’s history between Aki and Audrey’s mom. Is that too twisty for 2021 Gossip Girl? 

Estella: She’s a hot mom. That would be a good plot point.

Lexi: They should run with that, I’d like it. It’s upsetting, as something to happen, but I’d like it.

Estella: She does seem more fun than Audrey. She was having a whale of a time.

Lexi: My take on Audrey? Audrey sucks. Audrey’s mom sucks.

Estella: But who would you have a drink with? It’d be her mum. 

I don’t know. Audrey, post-Max hookup, is sitting on the steps reading my favorite Eve Babitz book. So maybe we’re heading towards Audrey’s super fun, debaucherous unraveling. 

Lexi: Yeah. She doesn’t have much of a character so far, other than mad at her boyfriend and mad at her mom.

Max calls her “monoga-musty,” one of my favorite disses of the episode. So later that night. Is this, like, their second gala in two episodes? To fundraise for school supplies? 

Estella: [In the last series,] usually there’s, like, the White Party, a party with a theme with a bit more to it. There’s too much do-gooding in this new Gossip Girl. I don’t mind the frivolous events. They don’t need an excuse to dress up nicely, and I don’t need a moral backstory.

This is also where we see Audrey’s mom have a spectacular meltdown, where she sits in a man’s lap and calls him a comfortable chair. Monet and Luna photograph the entire disaster, and one of them threatens to make it her lockscreen. These kids didn’t need Gossip Girl. They’re already doing it at each other!

Estella: No one helped that mum? I don’t get it. There was a moment where Aki sees Audrey’s mom being a mess, and rather than do anything, he’s just like, “Have you seen your mom? She’s a mess.” Kind of shit boyfriend behavior, really. DIdn’t get her a glass of water or anything. Maybe Audrey should dump him.

Toward the end of the fancy fundraiser — which Obie bought Zoya and her dad into, of course — Zoya points out it’s an overly spendy event. Instead of just offering to donate money to the cause, Obie makes a man open his stationary store in the middle of the night, so Zobie can have a date… buying folders and pens? Did they even have a back-to-school shopping list? It’s very performative.

Lexi: A part of that scene that made me laugh is when they’re shopping, and they have their first kiss, and it almost immediately cuts to the store owner. And he’s just smiling, looking at them. Standing behind his register, staring at them.

Estella: It’s a lot for some school supplies. 

Why are the parents so mad the kids are shopping for charity? There’s no congratulations. The drama is milquetoast. 

Estella: Is it just that the dads hate each other because the mom left one for the other and they never got over it? I was curious to see if the hatred between the two dads would fester and come out.

They seem to have gotten over it within 10 minutes of being in a room with each other. 

Lexi: You’d think when both the daughters had their mom die it would bring them together. But instead it’s an event about school supplies becoming a debacle.

We end the episode with Julien convincing Zoya to stay at school. When Zoya is withdrawing, Julien runs off to make it right, and one of the minions shouts, “Where are you going? I ordered jello shots from Instagram!” Is that a thing?!

Estella: I did love that line.

Lexi: I loved it too.

Estella: What did you think of the clothes this episode?

Lexi: They could be doing more with the outfits.  If these are rich, frivolous kids, obsessed with their online image, wouldn’t they have crazier clothes?

Estella: I haven’t loved Julien’s outfits yet. I’m a bit disappointed. I thought she’d be the fashionable one. Is she just wearing a big shirt to school? That’s her uniform?

Lexi: You’d think they’d play with that more. 

Estella, Lexi organized a wild Bandcamp fundraiser with artists covering songs from the original Gossip Girl.. How are we feeling about the soundtrack choices in this episode? I clocked Tierra Whack. 

Lexi: I’m a little out of touch with pop music right now, but I noticed Doja Cat, and it fit the scene well. 

That song, “Freak,” samples a Paul Anka song which plays right after that.

Lexi: I did like that. I follow the music supervisor [Rob Lowry] who posted the soundtrack, and I liked the Paul Anka choice. The original Gossip Girl’s music selections were very heavy-handed. I want that in the future of this season.

Estella: I was thinking of the guest artists they had in those original episodes: Sonic Youth, Lady Gaga, St. Vincent. How would you compete with that in this season? Will they keep that thread of random pop artists in a scene?

We know for sure Billie Eilish exists in this cinematic universe because Julien’s dad refers to working with her. I could see that as an age-appropriate cameo.

Estella: I immediately think of when Chuck and Blair get it on on a piano, and Robyn is playing, and she’s been in that episode as well. I loved that. I miss the over-the-topness of the original, it taking the piss out of itself.

Lexi: Yeah. In the old Gossip Girl, they’d center whole scenes around songs. In one episode, they’re studying for the SATs, and there’s 45 seconds where they’re all stressing about studying, and they play “Do the Panic” by Phantom Planet. It was gratuitous and unnecessary, but perfect. 

I’m hoping for more throwback soundtrack choices. The first episode had a lot of references to the original series, but none this episode. Did you miss that?

Estella: I think I did. I love the original, so it’s nice when they drop in those references.

Lexi:  I want them too, but if they’re steering to a younger audience, I get them taking a step back from that. But I want a cameo so bad.

Estella: I like Michelle Trachtenberg and it’d be cool for Georgina to have a cameo.  Maybe she thinks the minions aren’t causing enough drama — like, “this is how you properly fuck things up.”  

That’s the twist we need. Maybe Kate Keller has some twisted family connection to Georgina, and that’s why she’s stepped into the GG shoes.

Estella: Because Georgina was briefly Gossip Girl!

Right. She was the second, and Serena was the third. These teachers are old hat. 

Lexi: See. We need better gossip! 

Sadie Dupuis is the guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter of rock band Speedy Ortiz. She’s also the producer & multi-instrumentalist behind pop project Sad13. Sadie heads the record label Wax Nine, has written for outlets including Spin, Nylon, and Playboy, and holds an MFA in poetry from UMass Amherst. Mouthguard, her first book, was published in 2018.

(Photo Credit: Jordan Edwards)