It’s thrilling when beloved TV shows borrow inspiration from real-world people, places, and things. The CW’s original Gossip Girl, which aired between 2007 and 2012, birthed a generation of viewers obsessed with fantasizing about trips to its iconic New York City filming locations, such as Grand Central Terminal and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The series included cameos by celebs like Lady Gaga and it relied on heavy use of over-the-top 2000s fashion trends like massive metallic belts and oversized headbands. HBO Max’s 2021 re-imagination of the series is culturally timely, too, but it also directly tackles the elephant in every Hollywood writers’ room: the coronavirus pandemic. Except, although it was filmed snack-dab in the middle of COVID-19, on the show, the pandemic is no more. So when, exactly, does the Gossip Girl reboot take place?
Warning: Spoilers for Gossip Girl Season 1, Episode 1 follow. In short, the new Gossip Girl picks up in modern day, approximately nine years after Blair Waldorf, Serena van der Woodsen, Chuck Bass, and Dan Humphrey (plus key supporting characters) hung up their designer hats. Just like Grey’s Anatomy, Superstore, and This Is Us have neatly done, Gossip Girl immediately addresses how the world has changed in the aftermath of COVID. Minutes into Season 1, Episode 1, Constance Billard School’s HBIC, Julien Calloway, tells her dad she’s especially eager for the first day of school since “it’s better than being stuck in here for another year.”
The COVID references are peppered throughout Season 1. At one point, Luna La (one of Julien’s minions), reminds her friend she thanked essential workers in an Instagram caption she wrote to make Julie seem altruistic. Julien’s friends also poke fun at her for having appeared in the “Imagine” video (you know the one). “Is that what your face looks like without a mask?” Aki Menzies asks Max Wolfe in a different scene, providing further evidence of COVID consciousness. Later in the season, Julien’s half-sister and new frenemy, Zoya Lott, defends a newly-premiered play by stating it’s “exactly what Broadway needs after a year on pause.”
As for what this bumped up timeline means for Blair, Serena, and the rest of the original ensemble? That’s a little messier. The reboot’s creator, Joshua Safran, has left room in the plot for the potential of OG character cameos by giving viewers granular updates about their whereabouts. In Episode 1, for example, Dan is revealed to have become a novelist in the same scene that Nate Archibald’s fear of Gossip Girl’s influence is referenced. Meanwhile, Blair and Serena’s ever-evolving relationship is explained when Julien and Zoya decide to fake a feud for the sake of ramping up chatter. That said, the new show doesn’t include specific info about the old characters, so let’s assume they’re happy and enjoying their late 20s/early 30s in a gossip-free environment.
And you probably shouldn’t expect a blast from the past in the current series. In an interview with The Daily Beast, Safran confirmed there will be some surprise appearances in Season 1, just not from any series regulars.
“We made a decision early on — and I was nervous about this decision, but definitely came to believe it was right — that the audience would never accept these characters if they were in the shadow of the original characters. They’re already in the shadow of the original characters, but if the original characters were there with them in some way, why would you want to briefly get to know Zoya if you suddenly can see Nate?” Safran said. “Also, this show is much bigger than the first show. It’s got 16 series regulars instead of seven, and 22 recurring instead of 12, so because the show is bigger, there isn’t enough screen time. If Blair showed up for two scenes, you’d say, ‘I want more Blair.’”
Considering Season 1 is already off to an explosive start — literally, that Episode 1 pyrotechnics scene at the end of the Christopher John Rogers show was everything — a Blair-free series just might suffice.
New episodes of Gossip Girl Season 1 drop on Thursdays on HBO Max.