Friday, May 15, 2009

Gossip Girl: They Love the 80s

It could have been a spectacular train wreck, but Gossip Girl's totally awesome 80s flashback-- the so-called "backdoor pilot" for the proposed young Lily spin-off-- was surprisingly decent. It might have launched a decent series, although the project has supposedly been scuttled already, but more importantly it worked better than expected when blended with the modern day storyline.
The episode starts off in New York circa 2009, with Serena still in the slammer and Blair amusingly remarking that "she's been in jail longer than Nicole Ritchie and Lindsay Lohan combined!" Meanwhile, Lily is headed there to bail her out, and begins reflecting on her youth in California circa 1983. Back then, she'd been expelled from school and calls her businessman father Rick (80s stalwart Andrew McCarthy) asking him to meet her for lunch. (Lily is played here by Brittany Snow, and while the LA scenes are blended cleverly with the modern day ones, I'll describe the entire flashback plot in its entirety here to avoid confusion.) She's shown at a payphone with the sign for Neptune's Net in the background-- a seafood restaurant I actually ate at with Ashely during a visit last fall! (It's delicious and total no-frills-dining-at-its-best.) We learn that Lily's been expelled from school, and is hoping to move in with her dad. But her steely mother, Cece (Cynthia Watros), has been called and what's more, both parents know of her predicament already. Her request to move in with Dad is predictably rebuffed. Snow does a decent enough job as the young Lily-- there's a passing resemblance, and she's relatively believable as a spunkier but still square-ish version of Serena's mom-- but Ritter really nails it as her steely mother. Her hard-edged portrayal is totally consistent with the modern day battle ax played by Caroline Lagerfelt, who also appears in this ep. Cece insists Lily accompany her home, but foolishly leaves in her own car, prompting Lily to drive off to LA instead in search of her wayward sister, Carol (Krysten Ritter). She heads to the diner where she works, and meets a bad-boy looking friend of hers named Owen (Shiloh Fernandez), who would clearly be her love interest if this got picked up for series. (I suppose it'd be kind of weird watching the show and knowing that whatever happens with these two, they won't last-- although I'd love to see Lily's alleged hookups with Trent Reznor and Slash!) Owen says his pal is dating Carol and that she'll be at a rock show if Lily wants to come.
Cut to Lily trying on some of her sister's outfits set to "Dancing with Myself," since Owen comments that her uber-preppie fatigues aren't going to cut it. Of course, this is what we really care about: the clothes and the music! They used some choice cuts like "Safety Dance" and "Blue Monday" throughout the episode, and the fashions were appropriately 80s-tacular while stopping just short of silliness. (It'd be interesting to see them parade around in vintage clothes week after week on a series, although I suspect the licensing budget for all those Time Life retro hits could get a little unwieldy.) The concert scene is appropriately raucous, with a down and dirty CBGB's feel and a much touted cameo by No Doubt as the fictional "Snowed Out." (They must have been up all night thinking of that witty moniker.) Carol is pleasantly surprised to see Lily ("are you wearing my dress?"), and the group piles into her beat up car to head to a party they're not invited to. (I don't remember why they go, but it's apparently required that all Josh Schwartz California pilots involve crashing a party and engaging in fisticuffs. Unfortunately, no one here cracks "Welcome to the LA, bitch!") Lily and Carol have some expository banter about what her life is like now, with an amusing reference to fanny packs (!) and Carol explaining that she is "making it" as she claimed-- "This is what making it looks like! When you just haven't... made it yet." She's a likable enough character and I could relate to her cautiously optimistic attitude about her life. The two actresses look nothing like each other, but they do have good sisterly chemistry. (Plus, the brunette and blonde combo evokes Blair and Serena.) At the party, they clash with nasty rich brat Keith van Der Woodsen, aka Serena and Eric's never-before-seen dad! Unfortunately, his appearance is brief but whets our appetite for details on how he and Lily ever got involved. (If the Lily show's truly dead, I'd love to see some more flashbacks on Gossip Girl next season.) Keith and his friends tell the party crashers to get lost with some particularly nasty insults. In a funny moment, Lily and Carol both demand, "What did you just say??" in unison. "No one talks to us like that!" Lily says defiantly, leading to the aforementioned fight. Next thing we know Lily's been arrested-- just like her daughter two decades later! Lily calls CeCe for help, and her mom-- shown working out to a Jane Fonda video-- is typically unsympathetic. But Carol shows up, grabs the phone, and informs their ice queen mother that Lily will be staying with *her* for the time being and voila! We have a spin-off premise.
The sisters exit the jail and Carol reveals she sold her car to pay bail. "What are we going to do, walk?" Lily asks. "Walking in LA? You've got a lot to learn," Carol cracks. (Patrick informs me that this is actually a reference to a pop song, although I thought it was funny in and of itself.) Carol puts on her sunglasses and declares, "we Rhodes travel in style." Next thing we know they're on a bus together holding hands, which is intercut with scenes of Serena and Blair bonding outside of their senior prom.
Yes-- back to 2009! Lily shows up at jail but Serena's already called CeCe to get her out (and hey, in light of the 80s storyline, that's, like, ironic!). Lily and CeCe have their zillionth parenting debate. Serena's bailed out just in time to go to the prom, with Dan whisking her away via cab, and even bringing her (typically gorgeous) dress along. Blair, meanwhile, is living her dream prom by attending with Nate in a fanciful fairytale gown. (Blair in the gown, not Nate. I quite liked it, and the media ate it up, with Entertainment Weekly declaring it "A+".) But those scheming bitches Nelly, Penelope, and, um, the other one (who've been MIA for a while) are up to no good, rigging the votes so that Nelly steals the prom queen crown from Blair. (What, were they all out of pig's blood?) Blair chastises Chuck when she catches him rifling through the votes, but he's ultimately redeemed when we learn-- of course-- that he was actually securing her victory. He also hands Serena the key to a hotel suite for the couple, because he wants her to have the perfect night. All together now: awwwwwww. But on the dance floor, Blair realizes that having lived her high school fantasy, she no longer needs her high school boyfriend, and explains this to Nate as they share a somber dance. We expected as much, since there has to be more B & C drama at season's end, but Gawwwwd I hope this doesn't mean Nate and Vanessa are going to rekindle their non-flame. (I saw a promo photo of the two of them in next week's finale-- argh!) Meanwhile, Lily apologizes to Rufus for her questionable decision making with Serena, and says she realizes he was going to propose. Rufus accepts her apology, but cautions that this doesn't mean they're back on... yet. (He'll probably be over it by next week. Or not. We're overdue for the return of the love child from Boston, aren't we?) Lily and CeCe share as tender a moment as they possibly can, with Lily forcing a hug on the old coot and CeCe seeming to thaw out enough to realize that her daughter really does love her. (As they embraced, I wanted CeCe to remark, "I can feel your baby kicking!") We close on Blair and Serena sharing their heart to heart, paralleled with Lily and Carol back in 83. Only one more episode left, and it looks like we'll have plenty of Georgina bitchery, Chuck/Blair drama, and Serena vowing to bring down Gossip Girl her (or him??) self. Can't wait!

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