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January 31, 2016

O’BRIEN | Revisiting Gilmore Girls: A Retrospective

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It’s official: Gilmore Girls is coming back for the final season that creator Amy Sherman-Palladino never got to make, Netflix confirmed Friday. Inspired by all the recent revival-induced buzz around the series, I took to nostalgically rewatching every single season during the past few months. Unsurprisingly, the series drew me in just as much as it had the first times I saw it but, also unsurprisingly, I had some different perspectives than my late middle school/early high school self did.

As an English major from Connecticut at an Ivy League university who writes for the school paper and wants to be a journalist, it is hard not to identify with Rory. As a ninth grader, I pretty much wanted to be her when I grew up, without even realizing how cool it was that Rory goes on to be a reporter for Barack Obama’s campaign for an online magazine described as “a mix between Slate and the lifestyle section of The New York Times.”

Yet this time around, I was actually much more invested in Lorelai as a character. Rory’s psyche is pretty straightforward: she strives toward perfection and has always been loved and gotten her way. This eventually catches up with her, and she has a major meltdown. But Lorelai is more interesting in all of her contradictions. She is loud and imposing, smart and witty, self absorbed and immature, unconditionally loyal and much more emotionally vulnerable than Rory tends to be. Her tumultuous relationship with her own parents often packed more of an emotional punch than any other storylines, and, when rewatching, I saw that the core of the show is actually a trio of characters that includes Emily.

Much of Gilmore Girls centers around cultural exchange between mother and daughter, and the audience is invited to be part of this exchange as well. I understood a lot more of the pop culture, music and literary references than I did the first time around (Glad majoring in English hasn’t been a waste!). I felt particularly snobbily gratified when I picked up on rapid-fire references to Mark Twain’s “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” and Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” in the same sentence. Also, I totally did not realize the significance of Sebastian Bach playing Gil, or that Carole King made a cameo as Sophie, the owner of the local music store. It was incredibly fun to engage with these cultural gems sprinkled throughout in a way that my younger self could not.

Another realization I had: pretty much every male love interest in Gilmore Girls comes across as possessive and entitled, and I found this much less endearing than my younger self did. In the early seasons, Dean “I Left You 14 Voicemails” Forester gets upset that Rory wanted to have one night to herself to eat Indian food and fold laundry, and then decides to come over anyway, yelling at Rory when she was not alone like she had planned. Also, when Rory wants to get back together with him, he almost rejects her because Tristen is carrying her books. Meanwhile, Jess picks multiple fights with Dean when he decides that he likes Rory, unconcerned about damaging their relationship. It seems like most fans of the show are “Team Jess,” but once they are finally together, he suddenly moves to California without even breaking up with her first. Logan does not really deserve an explanation, but needless to say, I am glad she doesn’t marry him.

As for Lorelai’s relationships, one of the most hilariously obnoxious moments of the show occurs when Jason waits in the lobby of her inn after she asks him to leave, and tells Luke that he and Lorelai are still together despite her having dumped him. Then there is Christopher trying to break up Lorelai and Luke just because Emily gave him permission to do so. And I love Luke and Lorelai together just as much as the next Gilmore Girls fan, but it strikes me as a problem that Luke damages a car and punches a man in the face in the name of jealousy.

But I digress. As far as other observations go, I think there are a few ways in which Gilmore Girls has not aged perfectly. For example, I noticed there are a lot of weird throwaway gay jokes, such as jokes about how people would “start to wonder” if a man is single for too long. It also seems unlikely that there’s not a single openly queer character in all of Stars Hollow, or at Yale. The show’s racial diversity may have been better than others of its time, and as someone from a small-ish Connecticut town, the overwhelming whiteness of Stars Hollow is probably accurate. But you would think Rory would have encountered more diversity at Yale, and the stereotypical depiction of Mrs. Kim might not have flown today. I note all this not because I think that Gilmore Girls is homophobic or racist, but it is an interesting study in how the our mentalities about entertainment have changed in the past ten years (even though there is still a long ways to go).

Gilmore Girls also raises questions about privilege that the show never confronts. A major part of Lorelai’s identity is that she rejected her parent’s wealthy and lavish lifestyle and that she made it entirely on her own. She worked her way up from being a maid at the Independence Inn at 16 to becoming its manager and raising Rory on her own. But someone without Lorelai’s privilege would not have been able to work her way up in the same way and would not have the support system in place that she did to fall back on. When Lorelai needs money to pay for Rory’s private school tuition, as much as she hates doing it, she is able to ask her parents for help. When Rory needed to pay for Yale, she had that option as well. It would have been interesting to see the show’s writing address the question of privilege in some way, even if the characters did not.

Despite the above arguments, Gilmore Girls is still a timelessly lovable and endearing show, and I am more than a little excited for the four new 90-minute episodes that are promised to appear on Netflix sometime in the all-too-distant future. The best thing about Gilmore Girls is that it’s a female-centric show about characters that are incredibly complex and flawed. It is centered around women going about the ordinary progression of their lives, not driven by earth-shattering events, but by the mundane. This should not be so rare, but if there is another show that matches it in that respect, I would love to know about it.

Katie O’Brien is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at kobrien@cornellsun.com. Midnight Radio runs alternate Mondays this semester.

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