'Gossip Girl': Teen Drama So Adult, So Aspirational

In a culture where Perez Hilton's word is sometimes given more credence than the surgeon general's, it seems appropriate that a drama starring gossip in all its sinful, juicy glory has become the most buzzed about fall pilot even before its premiere.

"Gossip Girl," based on Cecily von Ziegesar's young-adult novels about Manhattan prep school kids who do everything but homework, debuts on the CW network tonight. And the gossip, which comes from an unseen narrator running a blog that is to the show's Upper East Side teenage elite what Gawker.com is to real-life, grown-up New Yorkers, is the stuff of parents' nightmares.

Along with sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll, there's booze, suicidal tendencies and attempted date rape (twice in the first episode). All of which make for what's bound to be an addictive teenage drama.

"Gossip Girl" is the kind of show network television hasn't seen since "The O.C.," which went off the air earlier this year after four seasons. Fans of that show will recognize the dry wit and soap opera-like drama in its East Coast counterpart. Josh Schwartz, creator of "The O.C.," is an executive producer and writer of "Gossip Girl."

But while parents played second fiddle to teens on "The O.C.," their plotlines getting almost as much airtime as their kids', on "Gossip Girl" they're barely part of the ensemble. Beyond telling their children what to wear to make the most of their thin, teenage bodies and who to date to help them buddy up to their business contacts, they're largely out of the picture.

Which allows the kids to act more like adults than they have on just about every other drama to date. Blair Waldorf (Leighton Meester) and Serena van der Woodsen (Blake Lively), the best-friends-forever whose rivalry drives the show, are like "Beverly Hills: 90210's" Brenda Walsh and Kelly Taylor on overdrive.

Instead of gabbing in front of their lockers, they dish over drinks at the Plaza Hotel. Instead of spending Friday night at the Peach Pit, they dance on tables at Manhattan hot spot Bungalow 8. Instead of getting into screaming, sobbing fights, they battle with the sort of passive aggressive verbal sparring usually reserved for the boardroom. But they still sleep with each other's boyfriends.

As for the boys, Chuck Bass (Ed Westwick) and Nate Archibald (Chace Crawford) smoke marijuana while strolling though Central Park in their prep school blazers. They talk about "sealing the deal" and using dad's Viagra or mom's Paxil to rev them up or calm their nerves.

"Gossip Girl" isn't all about prescription drugs and partying. As in every coming-of-age drama, things sometimes get sappy. In the pot smoking scene, Chuck and Nate's topic of conversation takes a sharp turn from what drugs go best with sex to whether they'll ever be truly happy, or if they'll end up as superficial and dull as their parents.

But "Gossip Girl" provides enough distractions to keep viewers from cringing at its clichés. The show is shot entirely in New York City, with icons like the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Plaza Hotel, and Henri Bendel playing supporting roles. The fashions are fierce (a former "Sex and the City" stylist picks the outfits) and the music is the latest (chosen by the music supervisor of "Grey's Anatomy" and "The O.C.").

Like "The Hills," MTV's hit reality show about a pretty young blonde partying and dating in glamorous Los Angeles, "Gossip Girl" gives its teen and 20-something audience something to aspire to and obsess about. And in a culture hungry for gossip, that's all it takes to satisfy the appetite.

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