The original ‘Gossip Girl’ ate up Thanksgiving episodes


Hailey Akau

Illustration by Hailey Akau

By Hadera McKay, Content Managing Editor

Thanksgiving—along with being one of the more deeply-offensive and antiquated colonial holidays celebrated in this God-forsaken country—is also a time for unbridled family chaos. 

Drunk aunts overshare at the kitchen table. Siblings and cousins come home with secret spouses, hidden pregnancies, and new ways to disappoint the family. There are explosive political discussions and heated games of Uno, and maybe even the revelation that your 17-year-old cousin is having an affair with a congressman. 

Oh wait—that’s not a commonplace anecdote, that’s a central plot point for the mid-2000’s hit teen show “Gossip Girl.” Say what you will about the cheesy, objectively white, at-times-poorly-acted show about hyper-privileged teens, but one thing “Gossip Girl” always got right was the seasonal Thanksgiving episode. As the release of the second season of the “Gossip Girl” reboot looms, it’s clear that the original will continue to be superior in its delivery of deeply entertaining Thanksgiving episodes. 

Based on Cecily von Ziegesar’s bestselling book series, “Gossip Girl” is a six-season chronicling of drama and gossip between a group of fictional elite teens in New York City’s Upper East side. The show follows core characters it-girl Serena Van der Woodsen, Queen B Blaire Waldorf, millionaire playboy Chuck Bass, all-American heir Nate Archibald, and lonely boy Dan Humphrey as their private lives are exposed by an anonymous blogger, Gossip Girl. 

While other teen shows phoned it in on turkey day, “Gossip Girl” delivered convoluted yet compelling plotlines compounded by iconic soundtracks. The foundational familial drama we all associate with Thanksgiving was dialed up by the characters’ elite status. These Thanksgiving episodes ultimately laid the foundation for the events of the rest of the season, undoing the tradition of the throwaway holiday episode, and prompting near-religious viewership in one fell swoop. 

Throughout the series, viewers tag along for the ride as the core crew navigates the world of socialite parties, college admission scandals, and petty romances with a revolving door of elite guest stars including Hilary Duff, Lady Gaga, Florence Welch, Tyra Banks, and Ivanka Trump. The show’s developers, Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage, used a blend of character-led plotlines and quick-witted dialogue to initiate the connection of viewers between their favorite characters and the allure of viewing the power of glamor and access from the inside. 

As the show’s reputation for subversive and risqué teen content grew, so did its viewership. At the height of its popularity, the show garnered over 3.7 million viewers every Wednesday at its 9 p.m. timeslot on CW. The show’s popularity followed it into streaming services and the success of its 2021 reboot on HBO Max. 

Now more than ever, the nostalgia and drama of the original version rings true. The legendary Thanksgiving episodes have been both the butt of many jokes and the catalyst for communal critique. The show’s ability to call upon the audience’s own experiences with family holiday drama, while also heightening the stakes with outrageous levels of immorality and privilege for literal teens, has yet to be reciprocated by its reboot. 

Every Thanksgiving episode begins with an almost sinister promise of drama by the omniscient voice of Gossip Girl herself, Kristen Bell. Season 4’s Thanksgiving episode, aptly titled “Gaslit,” begins with a chilling declaration of thanks: “Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday. As always I’ll be giving thanks for the bounty of secrets I’ve harvested from you this year.”  

Gossip Girl sets the scene for the immediately harrowing shenanigans that ensue. In that episode, Serena has been drugged, kidnapped, and framed to look like she went on a bender (which isn’t all that out of character for her). Her assailant is the sister of her former boarding school teacher, Ben, who went to jail for false claims of statutory rape filed by Serena’s socialite mother, Lily. 

This is just the foundational storyline for the episode. With quick cuts, stills of New York City in the fall, and funny pop musical transitions, the episode follows Blair and Chuck as they deal with the fallout of another one of their many break-ups, Dan’s sister Jenny as she contends with her banishment from the state of New York for a major offense against Blair, and Dan’s groveling at the knees of Serena for the thousandth time. Absolutely riveting.

Anyone can write an engaging plot if given the proper material, but what makes these episodes so special is they lay a vital foundation and set the tone for the rest of the season. In Season 4, Serena’s relationship with her former boarding school teacher becomes a major plotline for the rest of the season, which in turn affects the trajectory of the rest of the characters and the show as a whole. While other shows were pumping out pithy excuses for plotlines and mistaking the holiday episode for an excuse to slack off, “Gossip Girl” was sure to make the most of its air time and fulfill its promise of truly appalling—damn near horrific—drama. 

This promise was sown in earlier seasons. Season 3’s Thanksgiving episode, “The Treasure of Serena Madre,” is an epic standout. Serena is having an affair with a congressman who also happens to be Nate’s cousin. This creates a messy love triangle that only grows more intense as Nate is not only dealing with romantic feelings for Serena, but also comes into possession of footage of Serena and the congressman making out in an elevator. 

Elsewhere, Dan, aka Penn Badgley, aka Lonely Boy, aka Joe from “You” (what an absolute glow up), is dealing with unrequited feelings for his longtime best friend Vanessa after he has a threesome with her and his girlfriend (played by Hillary Duff). 

Blair is doing her usual scheming, as she suspects her fashion designer mother is pregnant. To tie it all together, Lily Van der Woodsen, the family matriarch, is revealed to be in contact with Serena’s estranged father. Collect everyone at the dining room table—plus the congressman and his wife who are coincidentally also friends with Lily—and you’ve got a regular, messy “Gossip Girl” Thanksgiving. Queue Jason Derulo’s 2009 chart-topper “Whatcha Say.” 

Each of these episode elements prove a major point of conflict all the way up until the end of the season. There are no filler plots and no character comes out unscathed. It is only good, old, messy teen and family drama. Even with the barriers of the circumstances of extreme wealth, viewers related to the endless family conflicts and secrets revealed in these incredibly entertaining episodes. Presumably because, in some ways, they understood or experienced these conflicts themselves. 

All of these elements are held together by the fire soundtrack in each episode. Season 1’s Thanksgiving episode, “Blair Waldorf Must Pie,” begins with Nelly Furtado’s iconic “Promiscuous,” effectively setting the tone for certifiable bangers for every Thanksgiving episode after. From Jason Derulo to Britney Spears, “Gossip Girl” introduced a generation to music that would become a cultural staple. 

The 2021 “Gossip Girl” reboot Thanksgiving episode was a sad emulation in comparison. With a new head writer, dragging plot, slow dialogue, and top forty music, not much could save it but some cameos from actors in the original series. The reboot is slated to return for its second season Dec. 1 on HBO Max. Regardless of the reboot’s survival, I’ll be spending my holiday season avoiding my own family drama by immersing myself in the comfortingly outlandish storylines of the original “Gossip Girl.”