So how did the Gossip Girl kids spend their summer vacation? The wicked New York teen soapers spent it growing like weeds (Jenny! Erik! so big!) and meeting British lords and somehow boning older ladies and forgetting how to act (but not how to glower) and meandering their way right back to where we started. This was all evidenced by last night's kinda zippy, mostly fun, but slightly off-tone second season premiere, which reunited us with old and somewhat-changed friends (just like the ends of real summer vacations! oh that strange and ineffable sadness!) and introduced several new stories whose details I'm sure we'll skim, like tiny bugs over deep pools of water, for these first yawning and stretching new episodes. If I sound a little underwhelmed it's only because I think the show's PR machine consistently sets up impossibly high standards for this usually well-written, only minimally well-directed teen soap. How can the show itself ever hope to live up to the genius poster ads, or the scintillatingly brief TV spots? The show itself is fine, good enough even, but the ad campaigns are just so, so much better. Anyway, that media critique aside, things actually did happen! Jenny spent the summer toiling away—like a blonde, statuesque, well-fed Asian child in a factory—for Eleanor Waldorf's clothing line, while that lady who used to be on Law & Order: SVU towered over her, making her sort buttons. But Jenny had a dress and it was pretty in a Lemoncake Stupid Society way and she wanted to go the Hamptons White Party (no not the "cool" Diddy one, the lame and sparsely-attended one thrown by Vitamin Water) so so so bad. Enter the genially useless gay token Erik van der Woodsen, who was still mad at her about something or other but decided to put her "on probation" and escort her to the gala. They got to meet Tinsley Mortimer! But, more on that later. Meanwhile in Humphrey wanna hump hump land, Dan's summer writing internship involved more making out in liberry stacks while Jay McInerney read aloud from a 25-year-old novel than it did actually, you know, writing. See the problem is, these empty girls he was snogging just weren't his muses. That would be Serena (who later on in the episode was dressed in an awfully Grecian, muse-like outfit), his months-long-lost love who disappeared into the summer green abstract of the Hamptons after their relationship crumbled due to murder and lies and drunkenness. Though fired from his internship for not producing any writing, Dan decided to head to the Hamptons to pursue his love and his story. Speaking of that green abstract, give the cinematographer(s) a raise for the beautiful sunlight-through-Hamptons-trees motif used throughout the episode's establishing shots. Just lovely. Not as lovely were Serena's mopey, increasingly who-the-fuck-cares face and Nate's embarrassing attempt at a meaningful character arc: eldersex. OK, hah hah I kid the lady wasn't old, she was like thirty-five. But the story was so wan and weak. It just felt like such a toss-off by the writers, making it even sadder than usual to watch Chace Crawford try to mold his porcelain face into believable facial expressions and say lines like the way real people say them. He tried, though. Even through that ridiculous are-they-trying-extra-hard-to-make-him-gay creamish cardigan of his, he tried. Serena and Dan were reunited at the White Party, of course, and, through a series of unfortunate events, ended up meeting cute on the beach, Serena in goddess/muse mode, Dan looking like a chorus boy from South Pacific. Thus begins another year of living completely not dangerously. As for the most interesting characters, Blair and Chuck, they had another little pas de deux of double crosses and deceptions. Well, OK, that makes it sound a little more exciting than it actually was. Mainly Blair trotted a fake boyfriend in front of Chuck, successfully trying to make him feel jealous and sad. Ed Westwick seemingly forgot how to act over the summer (or maybe he never knew) and said each line with the same kitty cat purr that charmed a bit last season and is now kind of tired and grating. Blair's boy turned out to not be the apple pie-fed all American Princeton/Georgetown boy he'd advertised himself as, rather he is a British lord who, apparently having seen the Julia Stiles epic The Prince & Me (come on Joshua Safran, come on), decided to keep his identity a secret so he could be treated as just a regular filthy rich person. In the end Chuck couldn't say "elephant chew" and Blair left with British McSeersucker. I am, of course, saving the best thing for last. That would be Tinsley Mortimer, a socialite whose mind got up and wandered off years ago, who made a cameo as herself, helping young Jenny's burgeoning Tello's career. She said her few lines not so much woodenly, but as if she were spirited away behind some three inch piece of steel. There was her body and her mouth moving and then there were words, coming sort of sideways out of her. I almost wanted to break it up into its tips and taps, hoping to decipher some submerged battleship morse code message. But I didn't have the time. There's a metaphor for the show in there somewhere, but we'll have to wait to unpack that on some other day. Ultimately the episode didn't quite get the balance between levity and gravity quite right. Moments shifted awkwardly between campy and maudlin (a fine, fine line that this young cast isn't quite capable of treading) and, as always, everything was too easy. Just like the croquet game they played—inaccurately, I may add! you hold the mallet between your legs and swing back and forth! those boys ought to know a thing or two about that!—in which every single ball went through the wicket. Languid ease on a sprawling summer lawn is all well and good, but it doesn't make for arresting drama. Here's hoping the trip back to grimy, sticky Manhattan reignites that wicked flame that was blown out last night, hopefully temporarily, like a Tiki torch snuffed in balmy beach winds.