For the Upper East Siders of Gossip Girl
, their first year of college means some hierarchical changes. At NYU, Blair (Leighton Meester) gets a cold reception from the students she was hoping to make her minions; alternately, Dan (Penn Badgley) finally hits his stride, including dating a movie star (guest star Hilary Duff) but struggling with growing feelings for his bestie Vanessa (Jessica Szohr). Serena (Blake Lively) tries various jobs in an effort to be taken seriously, but as usual ends up falling for the wrong guy and getting herself in one jam after another, the most serious of which involves her daddy issues when he (guest star William Baldwin) reappears into her family's lives. Meanwhile, Chuck (Ed Westwick) is finally happy in his relationship with Blair and, buoyed by her love, launches his own hotel to emerge from his late father's shadow. As scheming and backstabbing are the bread and butter of Gossip Girl
, many villains cycle through, including Michelle Trachtenberg's return as Georgina and Desmond Harrington (Dexter
) as Chuck's uncle. But the true evolving baddie in the third season is Jenny (Taylor Momsen), now the Queen Bee of Constance Billard and showing a new meanness that leaves her betraying her closest friends and family, trying to steal Nate (Chace Crawford) from Serena, and (gasp!) dealing drugs. Blair and Chuck may be vicious, but at least they're multidimensional and easy to root for--they remain the central couple of the series, with Meester and Westwick's undeniable chemistry and strong acting--whereas Jenny has become (literally) the petulant child whom you just want to give a good spanking. Unfortunately, no amount of tears ever really redeems her, since her transformation from loathing the social elitism to leading the Mean Girls is so abrupt.
The best episodes are when the cast turns into the Scooby Gang to dig for the truth about someone's nefarious ways, with Serena as the far-too-trusting victim (for a girl who's far from sheltered, she's also really dense about people's ulterior motives and really horrible at learning that you should never hide things from your boyfriend). Of course, there's always a college party or a fabulous gala (this season includes a cotillion, a wedding, and a state dinner!) to bring everyone together and have an excuse to wear fabulous couture. Season 3 may take the series out of high school and into the real world, but really, the only difference is they're not wearing school uniforms. Bonus features include a featurette on the many formal events across the three seasons (the Kiss on the Lips party, the black and white party, proms, masquerade balls, etc.), including tips on how to throw your own Gossip Girl party; a blooper reel; and a music video from Lady Gaga, who makes a cameo in one episode. --Ellen A. Kim
Spotted: Our beloved Upper East Siders, all grown up. Though high school may be behind most of them, you can be sure a future of love, scandal and, of course, secrets awaits. Based on the best-selling series of young-adult novels by Cecily von Ziegesar, this drama is told through the eyes of an all-knowing blogger -- Gossip Girl -- who, via constant, avidly read text messages, is determined to uncover and fuel every scandal possible on Manhattan's Upper East Side, where gossip rules, and affluent young people find themselves with the money, access and appetite to explore all the temptations New York City has to offer. Keeping track of the shifting friendships, jealousies and turmoil in this wealthy and complex world isn't easy; that's why there's Gossip Girl. Executive produced by Josh Schwartz (Chuck, The O.C.) and Stephanie Savage (The O.C.), Gossip Girl has won a legion of devoted and fashion-forward fans.