"OMG, when Blair did it with Chuck in the back of the car? And Nate got busted for coke? It was so ridic, I almost choked on my Pinkberry."
Exclamations like this are usually reserved for the actions of real people. But not when it comes to "Gossip Girl," the super-popular freshman CW series that returns from its writers strike-induced hiatus tonight. The way fans talk about the show, you'd think Blair, Chuck, Nate and the rest of the jaw-droppingly beautiful cast were people with whom they text, shop and take shots. No -- they're the stars of the most zeitgeisty high school drama since "Beverly Hills, 90210."
The premise: Privileged New York City prep school kids hooking up, going out and generally getting into trouble. While scurrying around the hotels of the Upper East Side, the shops of Fifth Avenue and the lofts of Brooklyn (someone has to live on the wrong side of the tracks), they use their cell phones to check in with Gossip Girl, a Perez Hilton type blog that chronicles the makeouts and breakups of their crew. Lest you be left out of the loop, read below to get up to speed on the major characters that make "Gossip" so great.
Name: Blair Waldorf (Leighton Meester)
Stats: Queen bee of the most popular clique of girls at Constance Billard. With perfectly coifed hair and a wardrobe more fitting for a socialite 15 years older, Blair's the picture of Upper East Side royalty. But all's not well in her kingdom. Her dad recently left her fashion designer mom to be with one of her male models, and Blair's relationship with her long-time boyfriend, Nate, just fell apart.
Defining moment: Freshly broken up with Nate, Blair lets loose at a burlesque club with his best friend, Chuck. She jumps onstage, strips off her high-neck frock to reveal a sexy negligee, and gyrates to the cheers of the crowd. Seeming to have already lost her mind, she then loses her virginity to Chuck in the back of his chauffeured town car.
Current status: Phoenix ready to rise. Her social standing shattered because Chuck spilled about their hookup and her subsequent sex session with her ex-boyfriend, Blair almost flees the Upper East Side to live in the south of France with her dad. But Blair's best friend convinces her to stay and wreak havoc on those who did her wrong.
Name: Serena van der Woodsen (Blake Lively)
Stats: The Upper East Side's former It (and bad) Girl, Serena's reformed since she returned to New York after disappearing to a Connecticut boarding school for reasons unknown to her friends. Serena is the Kelly to Blair's Brenda, the Betty to her Veronica: blond and beautiful, she steals the spotlight from Blair without even trying. As Blair's best friend -- the two remain tight despite Serena's long-ago tryst with Nate -- she can swig a martini and rock a $5,000 dress with the best of them. But her real interests lie elsewhere: in Dan, her new Brooklyn-bred boyfriend.
Defining moment: Stumped on how to find a perfect Christmas present for Dan on his self-imposed budget ($50), Serena enlists the help of his friend and wannabe girlfriend, Vanessa, to create for him the gift that balmy New York City can't give: snow. Together, they use confetti and fans to turn Dan's dad's art studio into a winter wonderland. Once Vanessa leaves and Dan discovers the surprise, Serena gives her virgin boyfriend the best present of all: sex.
Current status: Blissfully in love. She and Dan just said the three little words to each other.
Name: Nate Archibald (Chace Crawford)
Stats: This guy has had everything handed to him -- chiseled good looks, too-perfect bangs, a ticket to an Ivy League school, a doting girlfriend. But Nate has always been torn between Blair and Serena, and after cheating on the brunette with the blonde, he realizes he can't be with Blair, despite the protests of his controlling father who wants the relationship intact because he's doing business with Blair's mom.
Defining moment: Nate initially takes the fall for his drug-addicted dad when his mom finds a bag of cocaine in their apartment. But his anger builds when his dad refuses to own up to his habit. When police see Nate's dad slap him on the sidewalk during a fight, Nate tells them to check his pockets, clearing his name and forcing his dad to take the blame.
Current status: Things aren't looking good for the former golden boy. He has dumped his best friend for having sex with his ex, and his dad is under investigation for drugs and embezzlement.
Name: Chuck Bass (Ed Westwick)
Stats: This precocious playboy is the polar opposite of his best friend, Nate. Chuck stops at nothing to get what he wants, whether it's the pretty young thing of the moment or his own bumping burlesque club. His real estate mogul dad provides him with plenty of cash, a sweet pad, and everything he needs to live the high life without a care in the world. Which he does until he falls in love with Blair.
Defining moment: Upon meeting Jenny, the pretty, perky freshman devotee of Blair, Chuck decides that he has to have her. He turns up the charm, pours out the alcohol, and leads her up to the deserted roof above their party. There, his charm evaporates like so many champagne bubbles and he tries (unsuccessfully) to date rape her.
Current status: Brokenhearted and best friendl-ess, Chuck's a playboy in need of someone to play with.
Name: Dan Humphrey (Penn Badgley)
Stats: Money, status, entitlement complex -- Dan's got none of it. But brains, wit and more sensitivity than pretty much any teenage guy? Check, check and check. Dan lives in Brooklyn. This is the first of many differences between him and his Upper East Side counterparts. He goes to school with Nate and Chuck but actually cares about his studies and knows his entry into a good college isn't guaranteed. Were it not for his taste in women, he'd throw up a middle finger at the upper crust. But for years, he admired Serena from afar. He finally got the guts to do something about it; now they're dating.
Defining moment: On their first date, Dan's desperate to impress Serena. He takes her to the sort of four-star, tres-chic, hush-hush establishment that makes men slice their steak in suit jackets and women nibble on their pate in pearls. But Serena's not feeling it, and Dan panics when he realizes he can barely afford the soup course. So they ditch the dinner and head to a dive bar, where Dan succeeds in making Serena swoon with his pool skills.
Current status: See Serena's. It takes two to be blissfully in love.
Name: Jenny Humphrey (Taylor Momsen)
Stats: The social climbing little sister. With Dan as her older brother, Jenny's got her head on straight. But that doesn't make her immune to the allure of the popular girls at Constance Billard, namely Blair. Jenny wants to be one of Blair's crew. So she can't afford their designer dresses? She'll sew a replica herself. She can't snag an invite to Blair's exclusive party? She'll sneak in. This girl knows how to scale the social ladder, even if she realizes making it to the top might not be worth it.
Defining moment: After scoring Serena's spot at Blair's big sleepover (Serena was on that date with Dan), Jenny accepts a dare to break Serena's suicidal little brother out of a psychiatric facility and take him to a club. Their plan for a wild night out backfires when the facility realizes he's gone, but Jenny shows what she's made of later: Under the guise of another dare, Blair traps Jenny in her mother's haute couture store and runs as the alarms start ringing. Jenny talks her way out of an arrest and manages to snag some designer duds in the process.
Current status: With Blair socially dead, little J has stepped up as the new leader of Constance Billard's most coveted clique. But Jenny also told Nate about Blair's affair with Chuck, so when Blair returns with a vengeance, Jenny's poised to be her first victim.
Name: Rufus Humphrey (Matthew Settle)
Stats: Though he looks more like their 20-something older brother, Rufus is Dan and Jenny's dad. Back in the '80s, he ruled the rock scene. These days, he's running an art studio and pining for his estranged wife, Alison. But when Dan starts dating Serena, Rufus' love life heats up too -- unbeknownst to their kids, Rufus and Serena's mom, Lily, used to date.
Defining moment: Rufus leaves Dan, Jenny and Alison on Christmas morning to walk -- yes, walk -- from Brooklyn to the Upper East Side in the snow, wearing only a long-sleeved T-shirt. He has realized things are never going to work between him and Alison, and he's determined to win back Lily, pneumonia be damned.
Current status: Having finally accepted that dating the mother of his son's girlfriend would just be too weird, Rufus is trying to meet new women who have no connection to either of his kids.
Name: Lily van der Woodsen (Kelly Rutherford)
Stats: She's all pearls and Plaza hotel now, but back in the day, Lily was more likely to spend her nights in a tour bus wearing nothing but the T-shirt of a bassist she'd just met. Once a groupie for Rufus' band, Lily's now a full-fledged socialite, with the requisite roster of ex-husbands and charity events. While her heart belongs to Rufus, her ring finger belongs to Bart Bass, Chuck's dad and her new fiancé.
Defining moment: Opening Christmas presents with her kids and Bart, Lily looks at her buzzing cell phone and sees Rufus calling. As she debates whether to answer it, Bart gets down on one knee and proposes. Lily sends Rufus to voice mail.
Current status: Accepting her fate. Though she wants to break up with Bart and give it another go with Rufus, Lily listened to Serena when she pleaded with her mom not to turn her relationship with Dan into a pseudo-incestuous hornet's nest.