Back when the original Gossip Girl premiered in 2007, the series thrived on the feud between two best friends.
There were several attempts to rejig that formula on Gossip Girl (2021) Season 1, but the attempts largely fell flat.
Thankfully, Gossip Girl (2021) Season 2 Episode 1 and Gossip Girl (2021) Season 2 Episode 2 introduced us to a feud for the ages that will surely steer this reboot of the hit CW drama in the right direction.
Monet proved cunning in the freshman season, flawlessly manipulating Julien from the sidelines to make everyone believe Julien was making these decisions.
But along the way, Julien's priorities changed, and she realized there's more to life than keeping up appearances.
It's quite the juxtaposition from the social media-obsessed young woman we met back on Gossip Girl (2021) Season 1 Episode 1, but it showcases solid progression.
Julien is at a very different stage of her life when we pick back up with her. She's interested in colleges while living with her half-sister in an apartment that's not up to the standard she grew accustomed to.
Happy New Year, followers. Been a minute, and I know you've missed me. Because it must have been pretty dark and lonely out there without me around. Lucky for you, I'm the light at the end of your tunnel. Here to illuminate what you've been up to while you thought no one was watching. And to those of you who may doubt the credibility of what I might say, remember, I can only be as honest as you are. But admit it, it's the fiction that keeps the facts interesting, anyway. There's nothing left for me to laugh about So try to ignore me if you dare. Pretty soon... I'll have everyone talking. And you'll be back here to make sure they're not talking about you.Gossip Girl
But the best part about Julien's arc is that she's embracing this change, even if people have other plans for her.
One of the most significant issues with Julien on the first season was her constant flip-flopping, but here, she's far more nuanced and feels three-dimensional.
Monet using the debutante ball to make a statement was the perfect way to make people know her name and break out of Julien's shadow.
In hindsight, however, her actions weren't well-thought-out and felt more thrown together at the last minute.
It was chaotic, sure, and we know Monet thrives on chaos. Giving Savannah Lee Smith the spotlight this season is a great way to show the character's evolution.
She spent so long in Julien's shadow that she's now ready to embrace a very different life, even if it puts her on the outs with her friends.
That takes guts, but I can't shake the feeling the road back down will be worse than the road she's traveling now.
Inviting Davis to the ball was wildly inappropriate, but in Monet's defense, she needed to do something that would tip Julien over the edge.
Zoya: Me first!
Zoya: I need to shower.
Julien: So do I.
Zoya: I thought you already did. I heard the water.
Julien: I ran it for steam. It's part one of my three-part skincare routine. Used to be ten, but new research shows that all you need is a cleanser, moisturizer, and a sunblock...
Zoya: I'm not following.
Julien: A bunch of dermatologists...
Zoya: No, I mean, I don't care. And I need to get in there. Some of us have hair. Why don't you go put together an outfit in your closet... What, you know, used to be my bedroom. And by the time you're done, maybe I can see myself in the full-size mirror again.
Julien: If my stuff is an imposition, I'll just... I'll...
Nick: Everything okay here? You're sharing well with your sister, Z?
Monet needed that spectacle that would get people talking about her.
The fight was perfect, but it would have benefited from a bit more build-up because it didn't feel as satisfying as you'd expect.
The original series was bursting at the seams with catfights, and this one felt more like the writers were trying to make a point that the reboot could be just as chaotic as its predecessor.
The biggest surprise for me was Camille de Haan's reaction. She was introduced as this badass villain at the end of Gossip Girl (2021) Season 1, so it seemed like she would be happy about her daughter being talked about.
But that aftermath proved that Camille knows how important her family name is, and if Monet acts out, it will reflect poorly on the family.
Camille gets a bad rap from just about everyone, but watching the verbal beatdown was a change of pace because the teenagers are rarely held accountable for their actions in this universe.
If Camille thought she got through to her daughter, she was mistaken because it only fueled the fire inside Monet to continue acting out.
Monet with her minions is reminiscent of Blair's time at school, but I wish the minions were more interesting here.
Nick: Have to say... I'm pretty impressed you've been staying off social media. Julien: Yeah, I hardly even miss it.
Neither of them has a personality, but maybe that's how Monet wants them to act.
Monet changing the dress code at the school and threatening people was bonkers, but it highlighted the power and influence these people possess.
Monet is taking to heart that you're no one unless you're talked about, and I am here for her reign of terror.
Savannah Lee Smith is killing every scene, and it's hard not to think how the show would have been received if she got the presence on the screen she deserved from the series premiere.
Kate and the other teachers were far less annoying on the first two episodes.
Their decision to put surveillance on these teenagers was icky, to begin with, but now that they're calling out some injustices, including Monet's grades being doctored because of her family's status, it gives the sense that they may do some things right.
Gossip Girl was dark for years, and they beat the odds and bring it back to life. Granted, it has been tamer, but the account will probably grow meaner as the season progresses.
It's also satisfying that Kate is no longer hiding who she is. She's fully manipulating people now without a second thought. Poor Nick thought he was in the company of a friend, but it seems that everyone is using someone on this show.
Kate has been anti-De Haan for a while now, and I don't see that subsiding soon. Camille was wicked to her, but something tells me this revenge plot will end with Kate being fired and ridiculed.
I can't believe we've gotten this far without speaking about Zoya. Damn, the writers really butchered the character and threw all of the positive development out the window.
The message I'm taking from her scoffing at Julien wanting to go into further education, is that she's worried she doesn't reach the same success as her sister and that Julien might have a better relationship with her father.
Julien: Do you think I'm doing the wrong thing, giving it up to God or whatever people who believe in that stuff say?
Audrey: The only reason that New Year's even exists besides that pagan thing that no one talks about is for the world to give us permission to try something new. So, like, on any given Monday, you can say you're going vegan, but in January everyone believes you. I mean, look at me. Two weeks ago, if I said I was in a queer relationship, everyone would probably accuse me of trying to center myself. But in January, I'm speaking factually!
Julien: How is that going?
Audrey: Oh, my God. It's like a constant endorphin rush. Nothing can put me in a bad mood. [Zoya walks in the shot.] Even that.
The war between the two about Nick is very one-sided and is more of a reflection of Zoya's insecurities than Julien's.
The issue with Zoya is that the progression is gone, and we're back to square one with her. It's hard to be invested in a character when that happens.
The dinner at Shan's was the most awkward scene on TV in recent memory. It was unnecessary and embarrassing and highlighted that the apple doesn't fall far from the tree between Zoya and Nick.
For now, it's hard to get invested in Zoya and Nick because they're being written as rude people. Shan was a breath of fresh air on the final episodes of the freshman season, but I struggled to get through any of her scenes because she's being used as a plot device to keep Zoya grounded.
The Max-Aki-Audrey relationship could be really good or bad, and if the first two episodes are any indication, it will end in tears.
We've learned throughout the series that Max wants to be seen, so if his lovers do not want to reveal themselves in a relationship, that's not positive for him.
He's very reactionary, but he's also super observant. You could see the pain on his face in the restaurant when Aki and Audrey schemed not to show they were a throuple.
Max's conversation with Luna was one of the strongest moments of the premiere because it was such a genuine chat. Max was vulnerable but hadn't thought about Aki and Audrey's insecurities.
Overall, the first two episodes of Gossip Girl were much better than the opening episodes of the freshman season. Hopefully, the series continues to improve as the weeks progress.
What are your thoughts on Monet's rise from Julien's shadow to Queen Bee?
Do you think Julien will struggle to stay focused on her college aspirations?
What's your take on Zoya? Do you think the writers are doing her dirty?
Hit the comments.
Gossip Girl continues Thursdays on HBO Max.
Paul Dailly is the Associate Editor for TV Fanatic. Follow him on Twitter.