"Gossip Girl" is the latest effort from "O.C." creator Josh Schwartz, and the series has become just as much of a hit as "The O.C." was early on. "Gossip" is based upon the books by Cecily von Ziegesar and stars Blake Lively ("Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants") as socialite Serena Van der Woodsen who, as the series opens, is arriving at Grand Central Station, fresh from a stint in boarding school after she'd fallen too far into her partying ways.
When she arrives back at home, she's a changed person - quiet, a little withdrawn - but that doesn't last for very long, as she's quickly drawn back into drama, opening with a chilly reception from her former pal, Blair Waldorf (Leighton Meester), as Blair has gotten comfortable in a higher social rank during Serena's absence. Serena also has a reunion with Nate Archibald (Chace Crawford) and Chuck Bass (Ed Westwick) - interesting for her, as she has a history with Nate.
There's also Dan Humphrey (Penn Badgley) and his sister Jenny (Taylor Momsen), who are middle-class and commute in to go to the high-end school that Serena and her friends attend in the city. While Jenny winds up in the midst of Blair's little crowd, Dan has always had feelings from afar for Serena and, to his surprise, the two find themselves getting closer and closer. Meanwhile, Dan's father and Serena's mother have had their own rocky past.
The second season of the series was an improvement, and that's after a first season that I was surprised that I found myself liking as much as I did. This time around, the characters are headed off to college, which brings boatload of drama, as acceptance letters do - or don't - arrive. There's also the expected double-crosses and social chess games, with Blair and Chuck circling each other and trouble between Dan and Serena, with the latter having eyes for another. The season also doesn't end without an attempt to unmask the real "Gossip Girl".
The third season of the series continues to coast along nicely, following the characters and their social politics - and every season of the series seems like an election year. The third season of the series sees the characters finishing high school and starting to make plans to head off to college.
However, Jenny (Taylor Momsen) has found herself with the run of the high school - only to find out that her newfound status isn't without consequences. A good portion of the season focuses on Jenny's increasingly troubled life. Elsewhere, Blair believes that she's about to move on to another level when she arrives at NYU, only to find that someone from the recent past has other plans. Serena returns from Europe, only to run into relationship drama. Dan, meanwhile, finds new romance with Olivia (Hilary Duff), a movie star looking to start college.
The Jenny storyline takes a little time to get going, and the early portion of the season is a tad uneven as a result. However, most of the season continues to offer the same sort of guilty pleasure drama - a teen soap where the melodrama is replaced by social scheming and chilly attitudes - and fine performances from the cast. The show's ability to keep the romantic drama reasonably fresh - as it certainly could have grown repetitive at this point - is also pleasing.
The series is lucky to have Lively as the lead, as she manages to give the character depth and feeling, where in the hands of others it could have easily been one-dimensional. She's a good pairing with Meester, who's terrific as Serena's former friend - she and Lively are delightful sparring against each other, while she's also perfectly matched against Westwick.
Lively also has solid chemistry with Badgley, who looks a little like a younger Mark Ruffalo at times and is kinda playing the Mark Ruffalo role here, too. Some of the dialogue in the series can be rather clunky and corny - especially early on - but the cast generally makes it work. "Veronica Mars" star Kristen Bell narrates as Gossip Girl, the blogger of the title.
"Gossip Girl" remains entertaining (although a little uneven) in season 3, and the series really works as well as it does thanks to the ensemble cast, who do an excellent job playing up the drama while adding an enjoyably dark undercurrent - what could have become another teen melodrama instead continues to be a superb guilty pleasure.
The set includes all episodes of the third season.
VIDEO: "Gossip Girl" is presented by Warner Brothers in 1.78:1 anamrophic widescreen. The episodes generally looked very good, although some minor issues arose at times. Sharpness and detail often remain first-rate, as the picture looks crisp and detail throughout much of the running time. However, some scenes look softer and there are moments where some mild artifacting is visible. On a positive note, colors remain bright and natural, with excellent saturation and no smearing or other faults.
SOUND: The show is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. Audio quality is just fine, although the show's sound design doesn't go far beyond the ordinary - surrounds are used on occasion for ambience and reinforcement of the score, but the majority of the audio is dialogue-driven. Audio quality is fine, with clear dialogue and bassy tunes.
EXTRAS: A featurette on throwing a "Gossip Girl"-style party, an interactive viewing mode for episode 16, deleted scenes, gag reel and two music videos (one from Lady Gaga, the other from Plastiscines.)
Final Thoughts: "Gossip Girl" continues to coast along nicely, with fine performances from the ensemble cast. The DVD set offers first-rate audio/video quality, as well as a few minor extras. Recommended for fans.