The teen drama will end its six-season run on Monday, but its over-the-top decadence has been culturally dead for longer.
On a recent evening, as I weaved my way through a crowded Manhattan sidewalk, I phoned my boyfriend to tell him I'd be home late. Just before we hung up, I looked around nervously to make sure no one was overhearing our conversation, then lowered my voice to make a humiliating request: "Could you DVR Gossip Girl?"
It wasn't always this way. Gossip Girl, which will air its series finale Monday, was never meant to be quality television, but for a while it occupied the same cultural space as ABC's Revenge, one of those so-called guilty pleasures you didn't actually have to feel guilty about enjoying. It was a teen drama whose sophisticated setting and elevated references seemed equally appropriate for an adult audience. Gossip Girl even charmed most critics. In an initial review, Mary McNamara of the LA Times swooned over "the leggy glamour of it, the pretty rich girls at cocktail parties, the rumpled sexiness of those school uniforms, the gothic romance of stone-mansioned New York," comparing the show to both The Catcher in the Rye and A Separate Peace. Midway through the first season, New York magazine ran a cover story titled "The Genius of Gossip Girl," naming it "the greatest teen drama of all time."
For a show that won such effusive early praise, Gossip Girl's decline was precipitous, its consignment to the realm of the embarrassingly passé sudden. Most fans view Season 3, the first season after the majority of the characters graduated from high school, as the beginning of the end for the program. In fact, the trouble started even earlier than that, and can be traced to an event entirely beyond the writers' control: the financial crisis. The show's fall serves as a clear example of how economic realities and cultural tastes are unavoidably linked.