Quality is often in the eye of the beholder, especially if the beholder is a parent watching a TV show intended for his or her teenage children.
When: 9 tonight, WPCW.
Starring: Penn Badgley.
Parents who behold The CW's "Gossip Girl" (9 tonight, WPCW) might object to its depiction of wealthy Manhattan kids who smoke pot and sleep together. Their teenagers, on the other hand, are more likely to appreciate its heightened reality that depicts the less wealthy kids with better morals as protagonists, while the pot-smoking, slutty rich kids are antagonists.
And, let's be honest, anyone brought up with a solid moral compass isn't going to be wooed down the path of iniquity by a teen soap, even one that's done well by executive producers Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage, who cut their teeth on "The O.C."
Based on a popular teen book series, "Gossip Girl" is narrated by the unseen title character (Kristen Bell, "Veronica Mars"), who reports on the hook-ups and breakups among her classmates. The headline on her blog in the pilot is about the return of Serena van der Woodsen (Blake Lively), who's got a past as colorful as her surname.
Serena's been away at boarding school for a year, and she returns to see her suicidal brother, much to the chagrin of her former BFF (best friend forever) Blair (Leighton Meester), who suspects Serena may have designs on her man, Nate (Chace Crawford).
And guess what? Blair's right! Even Nate's slimeball buddy Chuck (Ed Westwick) says of Serena, "There's something wrong with that level of perfection. It needs to be violated." By the end of the episode, Chuck is attempting to violate another character. Ah, attempted rape as a plot device. How urbane.
That ugliness aside, "Gossip Girl" offers a fun, juicy mix of popular music and melodrama as poor kids Dan (Penn Badgley) and his freshman sister, Jenny (Taylor Momsen), find themselves drawn into the inner circle of their private school's upper-crust cliques.
And, as usual in this sort of morality tale, it's the poor kids who are good and the rich kids who are more likely to be bad. The same goes for their parents. Dan and Jenny's dad (Matthew Settle ) is a former rock star who has a secret past with Serena's mom (Kelly Rutherford, "Homefront"), while Nate is encouraged by his father to continue to date Blair for the sake of Dad's business dealings.
One thing "Gossip Girl" lacks in the pilot is a sense or humor. While quickly paced, the tone is somewhat dour. Then again, "The O.C." pilot was much harder than the episodes that followed, so "Gossip Girl" may get giddy yet.
With the demise of the superior "O.C.," with ABC Family's "Greek" on hiatus and as the inferior "One Tree Hill" grows long in the tooth, the timing is right for a new teen soap. "Gossip Girl" fits the bill.