On HBO Max’s Gossip Girl reboot/sequel, it’s hard to be in a throuple. There’s some lore here: One of the infamous moments from the original CW version of the show was an impromptu threesome between regular cast members Dan Humphrey (Penn Badgley) and Vanessa Abrams (Jessica Szohr) and recurring guest star Olivia (Hilary Duff), all set to a hilarious cover of T.I.’s “Whatever You Like.”
The new Gossip Girl, freed from the broadcast standards of network television, begins its new season (and ended its first) with a threesome. The show isn’t interested in being just lewder, but deeper: Friends turned lovers Aki (Evan Mock), Max Wolfe (Thomas Doherty), and Audrey (Emily Alyn Lind) spend the first few episodes of season 2 hooking up and trying to figure out how to make their throuple work as a bona fide relationship. Naturally, they are bad at it, which makes for great hijinks — a word that would’ve been hard to apply to the first season of Gossip Girl.
The world has changed around the storied teen drama franchise. The HBO Max series, about a new generation of elite students attending the same Upper East Side high school the original show was set in, has worked valiantly to acknowledge this. Gen Z teens can’t flaunt wealth the same way their millennial predecessors did; it’s far too gauche. So they dress up their power jockeying and petty rivalries with lip service to structural inequality and climate activism, and it’s mostly fine, even though the real draw is the throuple hijinks.
Unfortunately, even that might not be enough. This is a Riverdale world now, baby, and it’s hard for a teen drama that once traded in outrageous antics to keep up when Riverdale is out there… doing Midsommar on a weekly basis. The Overton Window of Teen Troublemaking has shifted entirely. The Gossip Girl writers want to do a throuple story? How charming. Veronica Lodge ran a speakeasy/casino in a diner basement while all of her friends were trapped in a murderous game of Dungeons & Dragons.
Gossip Girl isn’t bad. In fact, season 2 brings a status quo reshuffle the show desperately needed, as the artificial-feeling rivalry between Queen Bee influencer JC (Jordan Alexander) and her long-lost, working-class sister Zoya (Whitney Peak) that drove season 1 gives way to something much more fun: Namely, JC’s former sidekick Monet (Savannah Lee Smith) is tired of playing second fiddle, and tries increasingly desperate ways of orchestrating a feud with the hilariously disinterested JC. And in an interesting twist, the identity of Gossip Girl, the anonymous poster who dishes on the prep school students’ big secrets, is up for grabs.
Whether Gossip Girl’s second season change-up is enough for you largely depends on what you expect from a modern teen drama. Riverdale began an arms race — one that it could not even keep up with, given how exhausting it could be to watch religiously — but arguably primed the pump for a show like Euphoria, which goes ahead and shows the sex and drugs other scandal-fueled teen shows could only talk about. Perhaps Gossip Girl’s playful voice (still Kristen Bell’s just like in the original show) could bring the teen drama back down to Earth — or find a new normal somewhere in its throupled mania.
The first two episodes of Gossip Girl season 2 are now streaming on HBO Max, with new episodes premiering weekly on Thursdays.