It’s early September, most TV shows don’t air their season premiers for a few more weeks, you’ve read through the weekly haul from The Android’s Dungeon and it’s only Wednesday. What’s a fan-boy to do? Two words: Gossip Girl.
At a quick glance, Gossip Girl seems like every other high-school drama that has preceded it; beautiful teenagers aping adult behavior, with minimal input from their parental units, stumbling through the challenges the viewer can vaguely recall from their own high school experience. Scratch the surface and Gossip Girl reveals its true nature… as a superhero serial.
The central characters of Gossip Girl are each endowed with extraordinary powers. The most powerful characters derive it from extreme wealth, while the less fortunate make due with excellent deductive reasoning skills, intelligence, or extraordinary physical beauty. These powers are not the typical fodder of the superhero genre, but they serve a similar purpose. The powers provide the characters with agency. Instead of suffering the whims of fate, they determine in it. Thus, when comic book superheroes use their powers performing acts of good, they are not only heroes, but symbols of human potential.
Gossip Girl plays out on a small scale. None of the characters are ever in positions where they have to save the world. However, their powers bring them agency, thus their choices become significant. As a result, these characters too are elevated as examples of human potential, even if they fall short of becoming icons.
In your typical superhero serial the action is driven by conflict with a super villain, a group of super villains, corrupt government agency, or alien(s). These stories are most compelling when the heroes are threatened with a power that could destroy them. The danger provides the drama that holds the reader’s attention. Although the stakes are lower in Gossip Girl, the heroes and villains are clearly marked, and the drama of each episode results from the potentially ruinous conflicts between them.
Unlike other high-schools dramas, where a clique of central characters faces age-appropriate challenges in the form of authority figures, relationship anxiety, and random acts of chance, the conflicts on Gossip Girl driving the action are mostly the machinations of the characters marked as evil to destroy a character marked as good, or a weaker evil character. It is this struggle between such clearly defined good and evil forces that distinguishes Gossip Girl from the genre of high school dramas.
Perhaps the discovery that Gossip Girl is really a superhero comic disguised as high school drama, won’t make you enjoy the program any more. In that case, you’ll probably find ample comfort filling your PVR with Heroes and Fringe. However, in the event that you find yourself watching it with your better half, you’ll be on familiar footing, true-believer. You might even enjoy it