When I arrived on Netflix Dot Com this morning, I expected to see some sort of massive trailer directing me to watch The Defenders immediately. After all, the superhero team-up series has been years in the making for the streaming giant. Yet the space that should have been dominated by Krysten Ritter and Mike Colter’s faces was instead plastered with a different beloved TV star: Chuck Bass. Or, I should say, Ed Westwick, the man who brought Gossip Girl’s most beloved manipulative bad boy-turned-romantic hero to life. Westwick is the star of BBC Two’s new comedy White Gold, the unexpectedly dark, hilarious story about three window salesman in 1980s England, whose six-episode first season just appeared on Netflix. White Gold is Westwick’s return to Chuck Bass-level lovable smarm you didn't know you needed.
Westwick’s White Gold character, Vincent Swan, is Mr. Chuck Bass if he had an Essex accent, even less of a moral compass, and the ability to curse to his heart’s content — broadcast television censors be damned. If you don’t believe me, one single quote sounds like it was directly lifted from an old Gossip Girl episode if the FCC didn’t exist. At the beginning of premiere episode "Salesman Are Like Vampires," someone has keyed "Wanker" into the side of Vincent’s cherry red car. He responds by describing the three wildly different types of wankers in a lengthy, straight-to-the-camera monologue.
First there are the pathetic wankers, then there are the irritating wankers, and then, finally, there’s the Vincent-type of wanker. "You have the show-offs, the posers, the ‘I’m better than you, fuck everything and everyone twice’ type of wankers. I prefer the term ‘ambitious,’" he explains. "But, whatever the label, we’re the ones you better keep your eye on." Tell me Chuck Bass hypothetically hasn’t thought of that before. And then tell me Chuck Bass isn’t mad he wasn’t the one doing voice-overs on Gossip Girl, rather than that silly Dan Humphreys-by-way-of-Kristen Bell.
If the idea of seeing more of Chuck’s late-aughts shenanigans doesn't feel quite as cutting edge anymore — one of television’s leading couple is now an incestuous pair of twins who have murdered kings and commoners alike, after all — White Gold ramps up the darkness a bit to make everything feel current. After first seeing the comedy’s trailer, I guessed Vincent’s character had a dash of the rich, sometimes-jerkish Bash (Christopher Lowell) of the fellow 80’s-set Glow. Yet, a recent interview with Westwick and creator Damon Beesley proves Vincent is much, much darker than that.
"I think there is that culture of the maverick bad boy, but very endearingly charismatic and handsome as well," Beesley told The Hollywood Reporter, all but invoking the name of Mad Men’s very broken, alcoholic Don Draper (Jon Hamm). Beesley also brought up House Of Cards’ Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) as someone similar to Vincent, saying, "You don’t want to root for him so much, but you do really." This means we’re dealing with an equation involving everyone’s favourite Gossip guy, two beloved antiheroes, and a ton of 80s clothing here. What can go wrong?
The Draper-Underwood influence becomes clear the further you get into White Gold. At one point, Vincent tries to explain his retail philosophy to his underlings, Brian Fitzpatrick (James Buckley) and Martin Lavender (Joe Thomas). "We always sell our windows at one price — a fair price. Sometimes over, sometimes under, but always one price." This already sounds like one of Don's more drunken pitches or a less-logical Underwood monologue. The kicker syncs the entire deal when Lavender points out it's impossible to go give customers different quotes and still sell things at "one price." Vincent agrees, saying, "No, but it sounds good, doesn't it?" It's hard to tell if I'm hearing more Upper East Side Bass or Madison Avenue Draper in that moment.
On top of all this Bass-Draper-Underwood business, Westwick is allowed to be his most handsome, ridiculous self. The very first seconds of White Gold give us the actor in bright red briefs, a gold chain, and nothing else, preening in front of the mirror as Laura Branigan’s disco-y "Gloria" plays in the background. He bathes himself in all types of hair sprays, colognes, and polyesters, because, remember, this is the early ‘80s. What else is an ambitious wanker to do? Whereas everyone from Chuck to Frank isn't allowed to recognise how their personal brand of "self-aggrandising," as Vincent puts its, is absolutely ridiculous, his White Gold character revels in it.
Ed Westwick may have already turned down the idea of a Gossip Girl reunion, but, at least we get the same charm we all fell for a decade ago with Vince (with a little bit of Peak TV-approved darkness to boot). And, if nothing else, at least White Gold is nothing like Wicked City.
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