Monday, March 16, 2009

"Gossip Girl's" Chuck Bass: TV's best villain

Someone once asked Playboy founder Hugh Hefner, the thrower of mansion parties, the maker and bedder of centerfolds, to reveal his best pick-up line.

Simple, said the iconic Hef, "Hi, my name is Hugh Hefner."

Writers for TV's "Gossip Girl" are similarly inspired with the creation of rich-kid, bad boy Chuck Bass, a character of such supreme smugness, unapologetic chauvinism and brilliantly wicked one-liners that it's hard to imagine him springing to life in the era of reality TV.

Based on the book of the same name by Cecily von Ziegesar. "Gossip Girl" chronicles the fictional lives of wealthy private school kids in New York City. The title refers to an anonymous Web site with which the teens are terrifically obsessed.

In many respects the show, clearly aimed at the youth demographic on the CW network (channel 9 for us), is like "Beverly Hills 90210" only with views of the Brooklyn Bridge and New York skyline instead of palm-tree fenced drives and dreamy ocean cutaways. In a nutshell, here's the lowdown on the series: Two kids from Brooklyn, Dan and Jenny, try to make it among the trust-fund crowd in Manhattan.

Those of us who don't "summer" in the Hamptons or overseas are supposed to empathize with Dan (picture Jason Priestley's Brandon before the "90210" drunken-driving episode) and Jen who find themselves in all manner and variety of fish-out-of-water situations.

But the reason to watch this show begins and ends with Chuck Bass, played with an American accent by the British actor Ed Westwick, who turns condescension and contempt into art forms. He's so good you can live with the rest of the characters and at times tired plots.

Bass is the son of a New York magnate. He's driven to school in a luxury car and effects an air of entitlement that surely would earn plaudits from a resurrected F. Scott Fitzgerald. Young Bass completely embraces the money and influence of his world - the princely pomp and the champagne circumstances he luxuriates in courtesy of the genetic lottery.

"I care about three things, Nathaniel: Money, the pleasures money brings me, and you," he tells his best friend in one of the first episodes.

His most famous line - a la Hefner - is just this, "I'm Chuck Bass."

This is how Chuck Bass justifies getting into an Ivy League college in spite of his boozy ways.

"I'm Chuck Bass."

When his friends exchange impromptu admissions (one slept with a best friend's honey, another had sex in the backseat of a limo) they look to Chuck Bass to reciprocate with a revealing ditty about his own misdeeds - legions of which the audience has observed. Chuck, knowing that we know his unabashed bad-apple ways, delivers that signature line: "I'm Chuck Bass." As if they had to ask, the impudent lessers.

Here's Chuck Bass talking about a popular and beautiful girl in his school: "There's something wrong with that level of perfection. It needs to be violated."

In the middle of a party he's holding in a swanky Manhattan penthouse, Bass instructs his guests with the following: "Until I say so the only girls you talk to are the ones I've paid for."

The printed word doesn't do the lines justice. It is Westwick's delivery, his ability to convey an arrogance so journey-to-the center-of-the-earth deep that he makes Chuck Bass strut while sitting down, scream with but a stare and hurl insults with a simple tilt of the head. Bass commands a room simply by standing in its corner.

In the more traditional dramatic-series TV format of past decades, "Gossip Girl" and Chuck Bass give us a wonderful respite from the pitch and pull of life in the same way "Dallas" and J.R. Ewing did for an earlier generation. Bass is the anti-hero extraordinaire. He preens through episode after episode, stealing every scene he enters, often with but a smirk, and always with an absurd pomposity.

When Chuck realizes that (horrors) he has true feelings for one of the female leads, the scheming Blair, he approaches her with news of his love. "No one is more surprised or ashamed than I am," Chuck Bass says.

What does one hear on Chuck Bass' voice mail? "Leave a message and I might listen to it."

How does Chuck Bass describe someone who just returned from backpacking overseas? "He looks like Matthew McConaughey between movies."

In the end Bass has an intoxicating honesty. So many people want to have it both ways - the limousine liberal approach if you will. They want to be well-liked and rich and charitable and acquisitive and churchy all at once. Contemporary American society is full of insufferable hypocrites.

Chuck Bass, in a radically pleasant departure, is forthright with a belief that he is just better than the rest of us. He wasn't born on third base, thinking he hit a triple. Bass went from womb to owner's box and could care less what you think about it. Just get him a drink and send that girl over. Yes, the hot one.

And Chuck Bass is not about to go all Oprah soft on us and complain about the downside of all this uppity living.

""What we're entitled to is a trust fund, maybe a house in the Hamptons, a prescription drug problem," Chuck Bass says to a pal while walking through Central Park. "But happiness does not seem to be on the menu."

Chuck Bass then takes a drag on his cigarette and informs the friend that it's about time the latter sealed the deal with his girlfriend - and yes, that means what you think it does.

"I'm Chuck Bass."

Yes you are. And network TV needs you.


Jessy said...

great article.

hater said...

It's a gr8 compliment for him that he has been chosen as a best villain on TV. I am always excited to see him on Gossip Girl episodes and know this thing that everyone will admire him one day.

charley said...

Good article. Like it very much. He is ridiculously handsome villain. I like both series and I Watch TV Shows Online

Anonymous said...

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george said...

He is the villain but his performance is really admirable. I like his acting and he is playing his role perfectly. I like Blair too in Gossip Girl TV Show.