It’s hard to comprehend now, but there was a television reality when the headband was not a symbol of power, where one’s position on the steps of the Met was not symbolic of fluctuating social importance and where teenagers were not kidnapped and drugged by the younger sisters of former teachers imprisoned by socialite mothers to protect their daughter’s reputations.
It’s been four series since Gossip Girl burst on to our screens, in all its sarcastic and sparkly glory. Regular viewers have lost count of the number of pregnancy scares, fake siblings and mother-daughter meltdowns, while characters have taken a spin on the incestuous relationship roundabout a preposterous number of times. Blair and Serena have been friends, then enemies, then friends again more times than a Kardashian has graced the cover of a trashy magazine; meanwhile regular irritants – blonde and mop-haired – have been cast out into the TV hinterland.
Amazingly, in four years Lily has only been wed twice, but it’s not for want of trying. Apart from the fact that Nate is still stuck in the same perpetually-confused “look how adorable I am” dimple face, the times have a-changed on the Upper East Side.
Next week, our favourite privileged social chroniclers are back for a fifth outing. Five series. Seriously. By this point on Josh Schwartz’s last teenage tantrum TV hit, Marissa had died and the entire show was in soap opera heaven.
So, kudos to the Gossip Girl team. But how to keep up their success? Outlandish plots they can cope with, scantily clad stars (OK, Serena) are sure to remain a selling point. But a look at the deep and dark history of similar teen dramas reveals a few danger zones.
Invented sisters should be a no-go. First of all, they’ve already done this – remember that dude from the beginning of series three who Vanessa dated? Yep, I didn’t like him enough to remember his name either – and given that half of Gossip Girl are already biologically or legally related anyway, this would be ridiculous. But more to the point, if Joss Whedon couldn’t make it work, Josh Schwartz sure as hell won’t be able to.
There was nothing wrong with Buffy suddenly having a sister, except, why did they have to go down the most implausible root to get there. I’m aware it was a show about otherworldly demons and such, but hello? Plot consistency? Her parents were divorced, why not take the easy route and make that the link. And more to the point, why the hell would you cast a pale brunette to play the daughter and sister of two sun-blushed blondes. Not to mention an actress so whiny you actually wanted the evil-of-the-day to gobble her up.
It’s not just Buffy that made the mistake of introducing another character with no regard for those of us who had spent years, yes years, developing unhealthy attachments to those there from the start. Gossip Girl team take note. We are not suddenly going to love some random add-on, five series in. Unless they have cheekbones like Nate’s, of course.
Speaking of consistency, let’s hope the writers don’t decide to reinvent the basic nature of our gossipers. Blair is not suddenly going to go over all Mother Theresa, drop out of college and start sporting ratty dreadlocks. Likewise, Dan is never going to be OK being the lowly intern sent to get the coffee, and Chuck isn’t going to start campaigning against sexual harassment in the workplace.
The writers wouldn’t be so stupid. Not like the team behind Gilmore Girls, who decided to drop goodie-two-shoes nerd Rory out of college over a Boy. A Boy! The very idea. Other things to avoid include ignoring what went on in the character’s lives before and rehashing plot lines. The latter is something the Gossip Girls powers that be are already guilty of (hello, baby scare mark gazillion); the former is something familiar to anybody who ever watched Lost and dealt with the ever-growing and often contradictory flashbacks. Of course, the worst mistake they could make comes not from the wider canon of glossy television drama but from the Gossip Girl gospel. In simple terms, do not under any circumstance bring back a certain she-devil with a moral superiority complex, Medusa-like locks and an unhealthy obsession with eyeliner compulsion.
Vanessa is gone. Keep it that way.
Jennifer Lipman is a British journalist and blogger. She writes about politics, education and the arts and can be found recapping Gossip Girl on her blog www.jenniferlipman.wordpress.com or on twitter @jenlipman.