serenaandvanessa

"Did I just hear that your long absent mother is coming to hear you speak?" asks Blair Waldorf when she learns that Brooklyn boho Vanessa Abrams' legal guardians might actually get some screen time. Finally!

On last night's GG, Vanessa's crazy hippie parents (who moved to Vermont and allowed their teenaged daughter to go back to the big city by her lonesome, supporting herself on coffee shop tips and bell-hopping the Humphrey's emotional baggage) make a totally overdue cameo. Dad, Arlo, is busy "installing the solar panels at the chicken co-op" so it's up to mom, Gabrielle (played by the curly-haired Gina Torres, who I've been obsessed with since "Angel"), to make the trip down to the big apple with strawberry rhubarb and private education prejudice in tow.

As such, Vanessa, whose weave in this episode is only at level one ridiculousness, makes it her hour-long mission to secure the prestigious honor of giving the "freshman toast" at NYU's parent weekend in order to prove to her judgy judgerson parents that she is indeed prestigious enough to belong there. The thing is Vanessa NEVER belongs.

She, like most ambiguously ethnic teen soap stars, has no tribe. She's not a Humphrey. She's not a UESer. She's not black. She's not white. She's maybe Jewish. GG's writers have spent several dozen episodes trying to tip toe around Vanessa's status as a twenty-first century tragic mulatto. Her parents were quickly dispatched far, far away--eliminating any convoluted casting concerns (Maya Rudolph probably had a conflict). But The Humphreys--BFF Dan's clan--have pseudo adopted her, like a lost puppy or a sixth finger. So she's in, but really she's out. A hokey pokey plot line that has both frustrated and fascinated me since the beginning.

Last night's episode, however, did a decent job of ironing out some of Vanessa character kinks. Specifically when she decided to actually say this out loud: "I love Rufus and Lily and I wish they were my parents." Dang, I mean we all know she's been thinking it, but to actually say that with your mom somewhere in ear shot? Gutsy. And, of course, mom Gabrielle does accidentally overhear this and decides to leave Vanessa with some sage advice:

"We want to challenge you to be your own person," says Gabrielle. "I think it's time for you to consider who this place is turning you into." It seems like finally the show's writers are doing the same.

--HELENA "I love Lily and Rufus" ANDREWS