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We are all the Gossip Girl

TELEVISION CRITIC

The post-collegiate high school students of “Gossip Girl” made it through their second season Monday night -- and, for most of them, their senior year -- with a graduation ceremony, a couple of parties and a shower of nasty revelations (old news to us, but fresh to the general population of Constance Billiard/St. Jude’s) that had no effect at all on anyone’s social standing.

The low-rated but pop-culturally potent CW series is the Tiffany of teenage soaps, an absurdly eventful drama with a magazine-cover cast that dresses romantic striving and the occasional naughty thrill in high-fashion threads and excellent Manhattan locations. Like most shows about high school, or at least the ones that feature actors old enough that we don’t mind watching them pretend to have sex (with each other, and with adults), it is not about high school so much as a state of being, a world of new experiences its viewers are either living through, looking forward to, or nostalgic for.

When the series began, Blake Lively’s Serena looked like the lead, in part because Lively is so physically formidable, and in part because her story line (bad girl going good, dating the boy from the wrong side of the East River) most obviously promised struggle and transformation. But it’s Leighton Meester’s self-centered Blair who has emerged as the most valuable player.

This has much to do with Meester, a subtle actress who makes Blair layered and likable -- not as a character you love to hate, but one driven by familiar, if much magnified needs. (She wants to be loved is the bottom line.) We feel her pain, if we feel anyone’s. At the same time, she’s the only principal character who seems capable of delight. (There is also much comedy in her scheming, and in her frustration.) Everyone else goes through endless cycles of pique and relief, as they continually betray one another’s trust. But they only simmer, where Blair burns.

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She knows what she wants; her friends have no particular vision for their life. (I am unconvinced by the notion of Dan Humphrey as a literary tyro.) It doesn’t matter that the things she wants are sometimes only the things she believes she is supposed to want, like going to Yale. And although she’s forced into endless detours by the requirements of the television serial in which she lives, she stays remarkably focused.

Her obsession with Chuck Bass (Ed Westwick) is a little harder to credit, given that character’s almost ludicrous, self-styled “badness,” but it came to a head Monday night as Chuck proved to be a romantic in cynic’s clothing. He had only been keeping himself from Blair for her own good. (No longer a concern apparently.) Their end-of-episode coming together saw him normally happy and smiling for once, and gave Westwick a chance to use facial muscles the series had so far not required of him.

Their union was prompted in part by an e-mail blast (delivered during graduation) that, among other things, called Blair weak and Chuck cowardly, and reminded the viewer that for all intents and purposes the supernaturally knowing Gossip Girl is also the show’s moral authority. (The show sells titillation, but ultimately it’s quite proper.) When Serena took it upon herself to attempt to discover her identity, she and her friends found themselves staring into a mirror: You are Gossip Girl, they were all texted. You make me possible.

Heavy, like an art movie in which the hunted rips the mask from the face of the hunter to find that it is his own. But true.

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robert.lloyd@latimes.com


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