A note: This piece explicitly lists several major plot points. If ya don't wanna know, run away.
As I watched the most recent Netflix juggernaut, Gilmore Girls: A Year In The Life, I found myself in a familiar pickle. When it's in season, I blog about The Bachelor/Bachelorette franchise. While watching, I have to constantly decide which route to take. Should I:
1. Watch with a critical eye, placing this show in the real world and analyzing people's behaviors through a practical lens? Or
2. Sit back, turn off my brain, and let the ridiculousness wash over me?
Spoiler: it is hard for me to turn my brain off. Not because I'm particularly intelligent, but because I am an analytical hamster wheel. I can't "just" anything. I am a judger. It's what helps me be a good observational writer, but it also means that it's tough to enjoy things that are meant to be just enjoyed.
So let me say upfront: If you fall into Category #2, you will not like this piece, which picks apart lots of details in a show you probably found delightful. Also, I am jealous of you.
I am a Category #1 person. And that made the Gilmore Girls revival problematic for me. I tried to make it work, but ultimately, I couldn't shake this feeling:
It wasn't great.
I think the easiest way to run it down will be to actually run it down. I took four pages of notes in a Moleskin while watching. (I told you, I'm a nightmare).
1. Too much foam, not enough beer.
When I heard that we were going to get four 90-minute episodes to sink our collective teeth into, I was very excited. I bet you were, too. Now, having watched them all, I wish we'd been given one 2-hour episode chock full of plot.
The upside of creating four separate episodes was that we got to check in with all of our favorite characters. The downside is that, in-between all those meet-cutes, they had to fill time. And boy, did they.
Gilmore Girls was a show with a lot of zany, unrealistic pieces, but also a show with a lot of substance. It told the real stories of women (albeit mostly White women), their relationships with each other, themselves; it tackled hard subjects like sex, dating, finding your purpose, disappointing your family. Gilmore Girls was like an M&M: the ratio of candy coating to substance was 4:1. The re-boot, though, was like a disappointing jelly-filled doughnut: all sticky pastry and a barely-there filling. When they delivered, they delivered (see: Emily Gilmore's entire storyline). But they didn't deliver often enough.
This problem really needs subcategories, so here we go.
(Have you stopped reading yet? I get it.)
A. Minor characters.
Part of the charm of Stars Hollow is that it's filled with whimsical, eccentric townspeople, while Rory and Lorelai serve as the audience's points of access into that world. As a viewer of the series, I loved getting glimpses into these characters' lives - what was going on with Morey and Babette? What crazy hijinks had Kirk gotten himself into? Who was Mrs. Kim terrorizing now?
The reason that worked is because those glimpses were anecdotal. There weren't entire storylines built around them. The fact that Michel, previously a total caricature of a human whose main goals were to count calories and be a general pain in the ass, was developed into a main character in this re-boot, is silly. Though he and Lorelai had the occasional tender moment, he was not her best friend. To characterize him as her "Paris" was re-writing history and badly making up for the fact that Lorelai's real best friend, Sookie, was conspicuously missing from the story.
When it went well, it went very well: Kirk, Paris, and Taylor all "kept" beautifully over the years. These three, particularly Paris, who was flawlessly played by Liza Weil, were just as charming and intense as I remember. But the reason they worked is because these characters felt familiar to us; they were already caricatures of themselves in the series, and when we met up with them again, they were still those people. The reverse (trying to make Michel, a cartoon, into a suddenly sympathetic character with a backstory, husband, job opportunity, and child on the way), was a failure.
B. Plots to nowhere
Several times, we were taken on a Mr. Toad's Wild Ride of irrelevant sub-plots that didn't seem to serve the story in any real way, other than to fill time.
- What is the motivation for people to stand in line?? (Apparently to cram in a lot of cameos and provide the audience with a possible second paternity option for Rory's child!)
- Will Lorelai and Rory deliver the Star Hollow Gazette in time?! (Breaking: It didn't matter, and they never cared about it again!)
- Will Luke agree to a surrogate? (Who cares? We just needed a way to get Paris into the script!)
- When will Luke's diner get franchised? (Never, and that conversation only served as yet another thing Luke and Lorelai weren't sharing with each other!)
- Is Lorelai going to make it to the Wild trail? (No, and they beat this extended metaphor 'til it was dead as a doornail!)
- And WHERE THE HELL IS RORY'S UNDERWEAR?! (She actually goes months without it! Not a joke!)
Of course, the most egregious and painful: The Stars Hollow FREAKIN' Musical. Y'all. 18 minutes (including the debrief after the show) of pure, unnecessary foolishness. Though the performers were great (Sutton Foster and Christian Borle of Broadway fame), what the hell was the point? And the additional song at the end of "Summer," where the female singer literally reaches toward Lorelai while singing, "I'm breaking right now,"? Come on, Amy Sherman-Palladino. You're better than this. That was precious time to viewers, and it was squandered.
I've read several think pieces about with some pithy title like, "Rory Gilmore Has Always Been Awful," citing the same handful of talking points about some of Rory's not-so-savory moments on the series (the fight with Lorelai, living with Emily and Richard, sex with married Dean, ignorance to her own massive privilege), and claiming that we should've seen her character's demise coming.
But if we're going to play that game, then let's play it.
Lorelai got engaged to her daughter's high school teacher, then broke the news that the engagement was off by bursting into her daughter's room in the middle of the night and announcing that the two of them were going on a road trip. She got engaged to Luke. Broke that off. Married Rory's father on a whim. Divorce. Treated her mother and best friend horribly.
The point I'm trying to make is that every character we encounter (both fictional and real) has had their fair share of poor choices and triumphant moments. To argue that Rory's behavior in this re-boot solidifies her status as a snooty, selfish, wreck is to overlook both her virtues and similar unpleasant qualities of the other principles. Each of these characters (particularly Emily, Lorelai, Richard, and Rory) has lots of wonderful AND lots of awful traits. That's what makes them interesting, dynamic.
And I don't have a problem with Rory sleeping with multiple people at the same time. Though I wouldn't do it, as long as a person's being safe (which she wasn't, now that I'm thinking about it), those choices are yours to make. My problem is that all of this is so deeply uncharacteristic of our girl.
The Rory we know would never string a perfectly nice, albeit boring and apparently very forgiving, guy along for an entire year while secretly sleeping with her engaged ex-boyfriend. Not that she hasn't been the subject of an extra-marital affair before - she has. But that affair with Dean was clearly a low point. 32-year-old Rory carelessly cheating with someone who is also cheating just doesn't ring true.
Our Rory was independent, ambitious, driven, kind, thoughtful, introspective, and sharp as a damn tack. The Rory we got here was aimless, casual, scattered, unreliable, and sometimes downright selfish.
The silver lining here was that we did get a glimpse of the "old" Rory in the second half of "Fall," as she broke it off for good with Logan and passionately wrote the first three chapters of her new book. The bad news is that we had to wait for five hours to see her again.
Of course, there were winning moments. There were moments that GG fans everywhere gobbled up with total satisfaction and veracity.
- The fact that the characters can finally swear. Emily Gilmore saying "bullshit" and "tits" was such a highlight.
- Petal the pig.
- Finally being casually introduced to "Mr. Kim," Lane's perpetually absent father.
- Callbacks to fan favorites like the basket auction.
- Michel is finally gay! And Taylor, surprisingly, isn't.
- Luke feeding Paul Anka the steak and blowing on it in Lorelai's absence.
- April's marijuana confession.
- However irresponsible and unrealistic, the Life and Death Brigade sequence.
- Parenthood cameos galore.
- Logan shirtless.
- Rory and Lorelai's standing Jeep ride to her secret nuptials.
- The song Luke and Lorelai get married to is being the same song that was playing while they shared their first dance:
My favorite season was "Fall." We got so much in "Fall" that we'd been pining for: Christopher. Dean. Sookie. Colin and Finn. Lorelai's dreamy, town-square wedding (though it did bother me that Emily and Sookie weren't present). Lorelai's reconciliatory (and tear-jerking) phone call with Emily, telling the Richard story she should've told the night of his wake. Rory and Logan's tender goodbye, perfectly acted by Matt Czuchry.
And Emily. Good God - Emily Gilmore's storyline was easily the most winning, realistic, and triumphant. ASP did a hell of a job writing for the unparalleled Kelly Bishop, who, somehow having not aged a day since the Season 7 finale, delivered a powerhouse performance and got her character the ending she deserved.
As did Lorelai. How many sighs of relief were breathed throughout the world as Lorelai and Luke FINALLY, FINALLY ended up together?
In the end, that's what makes Rory's storyline so unsatisfying. Everyone got their ending -- except Rory. Instead, she was handed a meandering, listless arc punctuated by a surprise pregnancy and a mystery father. To think that ASP had this "last four words" ending in mind for the original, 22-year-old Rory is even more disturbing. Sure, I get it: Logan is supposed to be Rory's "Christopher;" Jess, her Luke. But those stories aren't consistent with any of the people involved. Logan loved Rory deeply and was rejected by her. Jess loved Rory deeply and has an actually life outside of Stars Hollow. And Rory is an Ivy League graduate in her early thirties who...accidentally gets pregnant? Sure, it happens all the time. But not to Rory.
At its heart, this re-boot isn't all bad. The key, though, is to switch gears when watching it. I was watching it like I used to watch the series - ready to encounter the kookiness, but, ultimately, expecting the majority of each season to be meaningful and compelling. It took me a while to figure out why I had such a hard time enjoying it, but that's the reason: I wanted substance, and I got froth.
Don't expect it to be the series. Don't expect it to be full of substance. Expect cotton candy instead. And then, when you're surprised by a little nugget of solid gold storyline, you can be pleased instead of starving for it.
That way, maybe you can really enjoy this last visit with our Gilmore Girls.