TV Review: 'Gossip Girl' : Book vs. Show

With "Gossip Girl's" rampant depiction of teen drinking, sex and drug use, The CW's latest drama will certainly draw the ire of anyone concerned with the lax morality on television today.

And yet, that's the show's draw. What else would one expect from Josh Schwartz, creator of that other affluent "youth gone wild" drama "The O.C."? In this case, he drew from the already established fodder of Cicely von Ziegesar's bestselling series of the same name that circles the decadent lives of private school teens in the glamorous and sophisticated world of New York's Upper East Side.

Considering the popularity of the books and that The CW already has an audience for the likes of "One Tree Hill," "Gossip Girl" feels like a surefire hit for the younger set and a guilty pleasure for older viewers who should know better but just can't help watching the backstabbing machinations of the beautifully nubile Blake Lively and Leighton Meester and their teen mag-worthy male counterparts.

Interestingly, the show's pilot episode follows the same plot as the series' first book, which provides a unique opportunity to compare the two.

WHAT'S DIFFERENT -- *Warning, the following contains spoilers.

Book - Narrator Gossip Girl is an anonymous blogger who gives the inside scoop on her classmates, but protects herself by only referring to them by their initials. She breaks in regularly to give background and interacts with her faithful readers through a Q&A on her site.
Show - Kristen Bell provides the voice of Gossip Girl and sometimes uses the actual names of her subjects, although she usually opts for initials.

Book - Serena's time away in private school is full of decadent adventures, which kept her from keeping in touch with Blair most of the time. When she returns, she still believes she can pick up where she left off with her friend Blair and Blair's boyfriend Nate -- despite her tryst with him -- and still loves to drink.
Show - It's implied that Serena (Lively) couldn't deal with her indiscretion with Nate (Chace Crawford), which prompted her to abruptly go to boarding school, and that during her time away, she never once contacted Blair (Meester), cut back on her drinking and generally matured and became less shallow.

Book - Upon Serena's return, all the teens are abuzz with rumors about why she's suddenly back from boarding school, ranging from her joining a voodoo cult to getting pregnant and abandoning her baby in France, when in fact she had skipped too many classes early on and was kicked out.
Show - Serena's abruptly returns so she can rush to her brother Erik, who tried to commit suicide.

Book - Serena's older brother Erik is confident, popular and away at college.
Show - Erik is younger and looks to Serena for guidance and support.

Book - Jenny Humphrey, a curly-haired brunette freshman wants to be popular but is embarrassed by her rather generous bosom.
Show - Jenny is played by the blonde, straight-haired Taylor Momsen, who isn't as well-endowed as her literary counterpart.

Book - Jenny's brother Dan is an emo-type outsider who smokes and has overblown fantasies about Serena.
Show - Dan (Penn Badgley) seems far more upstanding and steady, with a sense of humor about not being part of the "in crowd."

Book - Their dad Rufus Humphrey is a retired editor of lesser-known beat poets and despises the pretensions of the Upper East Siders. He's bitter about his wife leaving him for some rich prince or duke or whatever.
Show - Rufus (Matthew Settle) is a forgotten rock star who still plays small gigs with his band, Lincoln Hawk. Wife Allison is absent because she's a "free spirit." He may have a thing with Serena's mom Lily (Kelly Rutherford), with whom he had a romantic tryst in the back of a Nine Inch Nail tour bus.

Book - There's no indication about what Kati Farkas and Isabel Coates really look like, although one of them is blonde.
Show - Kati (Nan Zhang) is Asian-American, and Isabel (Nicole Fiscella) is African-American.

Book - Blair and Nate have known each other their whole lives, but only started dating in the past year.
Show - They've been dating since kindergarten.

Book - Weak-willed Nate accidentally blurted to his pal Chuck (Ed Westwick) about having sex with Serena.
Show - Unbeknownst to Nate and Serena, Chuck witnessed their indiscretion.

Book - Chuck sports a signature navy blue monogrammed cashmere scarf. Show - The scarf is silk and patterned with multi-colored squares.

Book - The gossip travels mainly via the GG website, note passing and good ol' talking behind people's backs.
Show - The teens also communicate via texting and camera phones.

Book - Saving the Central Park peregrine falcons is Blair's lame excuse to throw the Kiss on the Lips party.
Show - There's no mention of birds or any charitable cause for the party.

WHAT'S MISSING - These may be making appearances later in the show's season.

  • No sign of the character Vanessa Abrams, an aspiring filmmaker who has a shaved head, wears all black and has a crush on Dan. It has been confirmed that Vanessa will appear later in the series.

  • Serena didn't pose for brother photographers whose pic of part of her anatomy is plastered on the sides of buses.

  • There aren't any scenes inside the Constance Billard School for Girls or any salacious background on the teachers.

  • None of the flashbacks like Nate's party shenanigans as "Buck Naked" or Serena and Blair's girl-on-girl hot tub kiss.

  • Cyrus Rose hasn't made an appearance as Eleanor Waldorf's obnoxious new love interest.


    In short, the premiere episode of "Gossip Girl" is a fairly faithful adaptation of the first book in the series and may have improved on it. Instead of an inconsistent, slapdash affair, it's slick, well produced and fast-paced.

    The show also adds morality that's missing from the books by making the characters more sympathetic. This version of Serena feels remorse and is working on changing, Nate and Blair are messed up because of their demanding parents, and Dan gets to play hero three times in the pilot.

    Nevertheless, the show still won't be popular with parents wanting to shield their children from growing up too fast. In a world where racy photos of Disney Channel star Vanessa Hudgens surface on the Internet, however, it appears that early teenage sophistication is a reality whether it's depicted in the media or not.