Unlike Gossip Girl’s great-aunt Beverly Hills, 90210, there’s no morality play at work (in other words, no Brandon Walsh drinking and crashing!): They do drugs, have sex, plot how to get into the Ivy League and seem tiredly resigned to, well, life.
“Do you ever feel like our whole lives are planned out for us?” one boy asks another, as they stroll through Central Park sharing a joint. “Aren’t we entitled to be happy?”
“What we’re entitled to is a trust fund,” his friend replies. “Maybe a house in the Hamptons and a prescription drug problem. … But happiness? Does not seem to be on the menu. … So smoke up, and seal the deal with Blair, ’cause you are entitled to tap that ass.”
The cast (who seem perfectly poised to step into Mischa Barton, Rachel Bilson, Benjamin McKenzie and Adam Brody’s shoes) play characters with fittingly posh names: Serena van der Woodsen, Blair Waldorf, Nate Archibald, Dan Humphrey (funnily enough, the actors portraying them boast equally mind-bending monikers: In addition to Blake Lively, there’s Leighton Meester, Chace Crawford and Penn Badgley). Mr. Badgley’s character, Dan Humphrey, is the requisite outsider trying to break in—the one who’s standing in for us. Dan’s father is a former 90’s rock star, and his family lives in (gasp) Brooklyn (judging from the confusing exterior shots, a loft that is in both Carroll Gardens and Dumbo at the same time!).
“In the book Dan lived on the Upper West Side, which I felt was a little subtle for the rest of the world,” said Mr. Schwartz. “We moved him to Brooklyn, which is apparently our new Chino.” Well, since he brought up Chino … was he worried at all about this show just being dismissed as The O.C. on the Upper East Side? “We always say we should be so lucky as to have the same run as The O.C. had,” he said. “But they’re very different shows. Orange County is kind of a bubble. It’s a very sort of staid suburban enclave with a lot of new money. While these kids on the Upper East Side are incredibly well-traveled, well-read, worried about competing for their futures from the time they could get into the elite nursery school. There’s just a different level of pressure and focus on the future.”
From early on in the show’s inception, Mr. Schwartz was determined to keep film production in the city, and the pilot serves up sumptuous images of tony Madison Avenue addresses, Henri Bendel, the New York Palace Hotel, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where girls from the fictional school Constance Dillard (an amalgam of various private schools, though Ms. Savage pointed out that Ms. Von Ziegesar, author of the series, attended Nightingale-Bamford) meet for lunch. “We loved the idea that the Met is this place that people from all over the world come to visit, but for our girls it’s just another place to eat their yogurt.”
“We were going to walk away from the show if they didn’t let us shoot in New York,” said Mr. Schwartz. “For us, to do another teen drama and to get excited about it was that this is the most exciting time in these kids’ lives in the most exciting city in the world. To try to fake that in Burbank or Canada just felt like it would be lacking that thing you get from shooting in New York. It’s a character in the show.”
Back in Central Park, that character was not cooperating. The rain arrived in force, and the next scene, a dramatic and emotional moment between the best friends-turned-enemies, was supposed to happen while the girls fed ducks in the Bethesda Fountain. The crew quickly packed up and switched locations to the Bethesda Terrace Arcade with its pretty Minton tile ceiling and arched entrance.