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‘Gossip Girl’ revival doesn’t have a lot to say

Savannah Lee Smith (left) and Jordan Alexander in the new "Gossip Girl."
Savannah Lee Smith (left) and Jordan Alexander in the new "Gossip Girl."Karolina Wojtasik/HBO Max

They really needed to reboot “Gossip Girl”… is something I wouldn’t have said a few months ago, when I heard that HBO Max was bringing the 2007-12 series back. It’s also something I won’t say now, after having seen the first few episodes of the show, which premieres on Thursday. The Upper East Side has a new royal family and three of them are stuck in a new Love Triangle, but it all seems very much the same as it did by the end of the first series: Tired and repetitive.

Spotted: Nothing new.

This time around, the super-rich prep-school kids, including a girl enrolled on scholarship, are diverse, and at least two of them are bisexual. They all seem woke enough to understand just how unattractive their lavish lifestyles might appear to those without funding — particularly the central character, Julien “JC” Calloway (Jordan Alexander). She is an influencer obsessed with getting just the right photo and tone for her Instagram. Her brand is everything to her. But unlike her parallel in the original “Gossip Girl,” the ruthless Blair Waldorf, she presents herself as nice and concerned about others in order to appeal to her influencees. She fund-raises for appearances only.

Her nemesis turns out to be her half-sister, Zoya (Whitney Peak), the scholarship kid who is genuinely nice and concerned about others. Zoya and JC want to click, and they have some “Parent Trap”-like moments as they plan to get JC’s snobby friends to accept the new — and poor — kid in town. But JC’s boyfriend is attracted to Zoya, and, when it comes to teen dramas since the long-age days of “Beverly Hills 90210,” the love triangle must be respected. Tensions grow.


The big new twist is Gossip Girl. Not the voice, which once again belongs to Kristen Bell, but her identity. The reboot lets us know early on who she is and — spoiler alert, if you’d rather watch to find out — she is a they. And they are a group of prep school teachers who are sick and tired of being bullied by their wealthy students. They revive Gossip Girl as a way to try to control the kids, whose lives revolve around their social media standing. The logic is barely there: They publish dirt about the kids in the hopes that, out of fear of Gossip Girl, the kids will start to behave. Where is Lady Whistledown when you need her?


Matthew Gilbert can be reached at matthew.gilbert@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewGilbert.