November 29, 2016

The Death of the Gilmore Girls

Print More

This article is dedicated to the original Arts journalist, Rory Gilmore — even though she was the Editor-in-Chief of the Yale Daily News.

Originally conceived of as a home-delivery DVD service, Netflix’s influence has spanned beyond its refusal to charge customers late fees. Its magical algorithm that generates suggestions based on viewers’ past media preferences, library of unabridged series and truckloads of original content destigmatize acute television obsession. But in other areas — specifically in its attempt at revival programming — the streaming service has not been as successful.

Its poor endeavor to resuscitate Arrested Development seven years after it was canceled by Fox left viewers confused as to why they even enjoyed the show in the first place. In fact, the reinstatement was so ill-received that Mitch Hurwitz, the creator of the show, re-edited the last season after its release so that it embraced the format of the previous three seasons. Unfortunately, Arrested Development’s legacy had already been tainted by that point.

Fuller House, the sequel of the classic family sitcom Full House released last spring, was no better. Not only were Mary Kate and Ashley nowhere to be found, but Candace Burke’s maudlin acting was outright laughable now that’s she’s no longer 10. The reimagined theme song, featuring Carly Rae Jepsen, may have been the show’s only redemption. Hank Struever of The Washington Post sums the series up perfectly: “There’s a point where nostalgia becomes more like necrophilia, and “Fuller House” immediately crosses that line.”

Most recently, Netflix butchered Gilmore Girls, the comedy-drama television series focused on the relationship between a single mother (Lorelai Gilmore) and her daughter Rory (Alexis Bledel). When the continuation, Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life, was announced last year, fans were rollicking with the good news. After seven seasons, the series ended abruptly; the actors themselves didn’t know that doomsday had arrived while shooting what would be the last episodes, and as a result, much was left unresolved. Viewers felt cheated, especially given that the entirety of that seventh season was not written by the show’s creator Amy Sherman-Palladino, who left the show due to unfair contract negotiations with The WB.

SPOILER ALERT FOR THE NEXT THREE PARAGRAPHS. It was no secret that Sherman-Palladino planned the conclusion of Gilmore Girls right down to its last four words, four words whose mystery kept fans in agony over these past nine years. Who were they uttered by?  Who were they said to? When were these words said? Were they a homage to the comfort food that dominates the show —  perhaps the epicurean Lorelai asking Rory, “You want another doughnut?” — or were they more serious? Maybe the series ended with Emily (Kelly Bishop) yet again expressing her disapproval for her daughter: “Stop acting cheap, Lorelai”? Or with Kirk (Sean Gunn), the perpetual man-child who was seemingly always present — even in the most intimate of moments — confirming, “Luke’s gassy right now.”

Shockingly, they were not any of the above, but instead were:

Rory: Mom?

Lorelai: Yeah?

Rory: I’m pregnant.

After this confession, I urged my sister to press pause, mistakenly believing we had a couple of minutes left of the series. I needed to process — and stress-eat the last bit of my personal DiGiorno’s (which was apparently meant to serve six people?). “Okay, I’m ready.” But as soon as she pressed play, the screen went black, the credits rolled and my childhood died.

The show’s cliffhanger ending was cruel (we don’t know who the father of Rory’s child is — though we have our suspicions, we don’t get to see Lorelai’s reaction, we can’t guess whether Rory raises the child alone or if she gets with her baby daddy who may or may not already be engaged), but the problems with the reboot were evident from the beginning. Gilmore Girls was a show that relied on fast paced, witty dialogue. Even if nothing of dramatic consequence occurred in a given 40-minute episode, pop-culture references and sarcastic quips gave it weight. However, the revival’s four 90-minute episodes do not have the same fast-paced feel. The back-and-forth conversation feels forced and tiresome. Instead of providing a reprieve from meaningless, quotidian small talk, it simulates it.

The series’ approach to comedy is glutinous, with jokes defined by a lack of moderation with little payoff. A running gag throughout the revival is Rory’s boyfriend, Paul.

Rory has been so busy with work that she consistently forgets about the guy she’s been dating for two years. Neither Lorelai, Emily or Luke (Scott Patterson) remember meeting or conversing with the beau, despite having done so several times, either. The first few references to Paul admittedly garnered some chuckles, but that’s about it. In the final moments of the series — right before Rory divulges her pregnancy — Paul breaks up with Rory by text message. LOL?

Even the music — which was a major motif in the original series — becomes banal. The town troubadour, a recurring character who plays the guitar in the Town Square during scene transitions, is no longer charming, but repetitive. And let’s not forget about the 15 minutes of The Stars Hollow Musical we were forced to endure. Were Sutton Foster and Christian Borle singlehandedly funding the revival? Because there’s no other reasonable explanation for why five full musical numbers featuring incest, sex scenes, ABBA, an attempt at recreating Hamilton rap and a whole lot of Stars Hollow pride were given air time.

Perhaps the biggest transgression of Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life was how it handled Rory’s love life. In an interview with TIME, Sherman-Palladino expressed her resentment that viewers were debating what character Rory would end up with instead of whether or not she’d win a Pulitzer Prize or snag a job at The New York Times. Sherman-Palladino’s criticism is certainly valid; that a woman can be wholly identified by her relationship status, in lieu of her numerous achievements, is disheartening. But Gilmore Girls was a show built on romance and relationship drama, and it would be disingenuous to claim otherwise.

In an attempt at subverting viewers’ expectations, Rory ends up with no one at the end of the series — and that’s fine, the problem with the revival isn’t that Rory’s single, it’s the steps Sherman-Palladino took to make that happen. Throughout the series, Rory and Logan (Matt Czuchry) are cheating on their significant others (in Logan’s case, his fiancé) with each other. The storyline is regressive. In season four, Rory sleeps with Dean, her married ex-boyfriend, an affair that not only destroys his marriage, but causes division in her relationship with her mom. Given that she is entrenched in a similar duplicitous relationship in the revival, we can conclude that Rory has not changed much in the last 12 years.

Furthermore, the only way Sherman-Palladino could justify Rory not ending up with Logan was to demonize him. The rich, entitled player had changed his sketchy ways in the original series because he fell in love with Rory. He showed growth, and even proposed to her at the end of the seventh season (a proposal which she denied). In the revival, however, he is back to his privileged ways, throwing money at Rory and his problems. Even if Logan and Rory weren’t going to end up together, on an individual level, Logan was a beloved character; there was no need to make him into a cad.

The feminism that Gilmore Girls explores is certainly not intersectional — a chief flaw of the series since its onset. Nonetheless, the show has been praised for championing feminism and giving visibility to a single-mother/business owner who raises a daughter that attends Yale and has a burgeoning journalism career. Even though the fact that the pair relied on family money to achieve their successes is overlooked, we are still presented with two independent and driven women whose accomplishments weren’t dependent on permanent male fixtures in their lives.

But feminism is not about eschewing men; it’s about being equal to them. Likewise, being an autonomous woman doesn’t necessarily mean being alone. It means making the relationship decisions that are right for you. A healthy relationship is one that doesn’t hinder your dreams, but is supportive of them, and Rory might have followed her literary ambitions with Jess (Milo Ventimiglia), who is still in love with her and who encourages her to start her novel in the revival series. To use a long-awaited series finale as a platform to espouse archaic second-wave feminist ideals was misguided. Just give the fans what they want.

Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life admittedly has some superb writing, and on the whole, the acting is remarkable. Liza Weil’s reprisal of Paris, a controlling, ambitious student turned fertility specialist, mother of two and recent divorcee makes the show. She’s struggling after her divorce, but remains fierce, hell-bent on finding Lorelai the perfect surrogate.

There is also more emphasis given to Lorelai and Emily’s relationship in the revival series; the two are still as contentious as ever, but as Emily grapples with the death of her husband of fifty years, she and Lorelai become closer. The revival did a fine job weaving the recent death of Edward Herrmann — who played Emily’s husband Richard throughout the series — and was an honorable tribute to him.

More than five million viewers tuned in to watch Gilmore Girls at the height of the show’s popularity. Stars Hollow became our home; its characters became our friends. We aspired to live our lives with that level of gumption and love, to rock a plaid uniform skirt as well as Rory. For us, Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life is predatory, an attempt to capitalize on our loyalty. It not only proves that some things are better left unsaid, but that nostalgia is not enough to carry a show.

Gwen Aviles is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected].