By now, no doubt, you’ve seen the most important TV show about Manhattan ever. You Tivo’d it or you DVR’d it or picked it up off of your favorite torrent client. (You watched it live? Retro!) And having viewed it, hopefully you’ve marked the date in your calendar to remember forever the day. The day Manhattan died.
Denuded by Gossip Girl, the city becomes the Plain Jane of cities. Locations become irrelevant and interchangeable. Mentions of Henri Bendel or Bergdorf, formerly fab and now more generically aspirational carry little weight or nuance. The Palace Hotel is likewise a broad concept of luxury free of the burden of history or character.
Take the opening scene in Grand Central. Never mind that socialite Serena has been forced to take the train from Connecticut. (Driver? Where art thou?) She is able to navigate the station somewhat effortlessly. The station itself is merely a pretty shiny thing in the background. This is the same Grand Central of North by Northwest and The Fisher King (hells, even Superman, The Movie). A chaotic maelstrom of commuters and tourists and perverts is easily navigated by a teenage debutante. Insane!
Later in the pilot, the fact that Nate and Serena are losing their virginity in Grand Central’s Campbell Apartment isn’t amazing because it’s the former office and salon of an early twentieth century tycoon. And it’s not thrilling because finding a seat at the bar is usually impossible, much less getting your teen softcore rocks off. It’s just this really pretty shiny place that makes a succulent setting for sexing. The most illustrative moment of lack of respect to the city is during the most ineffective rape in the history of raping. Pay attention as it’s a little complicated. Rapee Jenny texts her brother Dan. Dan is out on a date with Serena. They’re seeing a concert by Dan’s rocker father (who seems to have a history with Serena’s mom, but whatever). Jenny’s text basically says, “Hey bro, Chuck’s all, like, raping me; can you help a sister out?” Dan and Serena, who are Downtown or in Brooklyn (or maybe Toronto), are able to get back to the Upper East Side or maybe Midtown or maybe Chelsea in enough time to arrive to the party, survey the space, and, on Serena’s whim, check out the roof (since roofs are sort of popular places and, you know, so easily accessed). Given the time to drive in a cab on one-way streets from one neighborhood, either Chuck is the most ineffectual rapist of women or Gossip Girl is the most effective rapist of Manhattan. I’m going with the latter.
In the Gossip Girl books, the even the nuances of the city are better respected. Artsy Dan and wannabe Jenny are from the Upper West Side (where all things go to die), making them outsiders from the Upper East Side scene. The television show, seeing this as too much of a nuance for the Des Moines viewer, moves them out to Brooklyn. Even the city’s social subtleties are bulldozed. Blair isn’t angry because Serena fucked Nate; it’s because in Serena’s absence, Blair became the ‘it’ girl of the Upper East Side, something that hold more capital in this town than having the right cuckolded boy. Misunderstood.
Raped. Murdered. Manhattan. This week on Gossip Girl! (And don’t get me wrong. I’m totally watching next week. I’ve got a lot of yogurt left.)