Things I learned from Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life

There’s nothing like a reboot of a classic TV show to divide opinions, raise controversy, and otherwise keep Americans distracted from the fact that we’ve just elected Donald Fucking Trump as president. So of course, I got right in on that party o’ controversy.

Gilmore Girls was on TV during my childhood, but I didn’t watch it. Growing up in a small town with a loving mom, I nevertheless found the relationship between Rory and Lorelei cloying and unrealistic, the depiction of Stars Hollow sanitised, privileged and annoyingly whimsical. (I might not have been able to articulate these feelings as a child — but I can now. So there.) GG just didn’t ring true for me, so I didn’t watch it.

Fast forward several years: I’m living overseas, my rose-tinted spectacles firmly lodged on the bridge of my nose, and I could use a dose of nostalgic Americana. Gilmore Girls is precisely the thing to make me feel all the things I could not feel as a girl growing up in white, privileged, small town America, and not feel bad about feeling those things. But I was also able to watch it with an adult’s critical faculties, and found myself shouting at the computer screen fairly often: “NO RORY NO” or “WHAT ARE YOU THINKING LORELAI” or “STOP BEING A BITCH EMILY” or “WHY ARE RORY AND PARIS NOT A COUPLE” or “THIS WOULD NEVER EVER HAPPEN” or similar.

When I heard that Gilmore Girls was being rebooted for ‘A Year in the Life’, I was cautiously excited. Seeing Alexis Bledel in ‘Post-Grad’ had been my GG continuation for all points and purposes; the same with Matt Czuhry in ‘The Good Wife’. Those characters just changed name and some details and continued to live their lives. Don’t judge. I have my head canon — you have yours.

I found the reboot fascinating, frustrating, realistic, and ultimately rewarding viewing. While many fans had been angry with the plotting of Season 7 of the original GG, I respected the risks that it took with the characters — risks which were, admittedly, inconsistent with the dominant vein of schmaltz running thru seasons 1-6. Although the Sherman-Palladinos weren’t there for Season 7, in A Year In the Life they were firmly at the helm, but seemed to have incorporated some of the risk-taking that Season 7 contained. None of this nonsense about ‘the reboot only making sense if you imagine it as an alternative season 7’ for me.

With risk-taking comes, hopefully, many an opportunity to learn and grow. And so — without further ado — a few things that I felt could be learned from A Year In the Life (AYITL) (Muchos spoilers.)

Hollywood is a bitch

Can someone please explain to me how Lauren Graham and Alexis Bledel look like they do? I mean, one of the most unrealistic running jokes about this whole series is that they ‘like to eat a ridiculous amount of unhealthy food’ which they are almost never seen eating on screen. But seriously — life as an actor must be tough if neither of them look a day older than they did in the original GG. I wanted to give them a cheeseburger every time I saw them.

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‘clam jam’ is an expression

So saith Babette and Miss Patty. I feel like this may be the best contribution of AYITL to the world.

You can have a personal transformation…and still be kinda racist

Emily Gilmore’s transformation from Entitled Socialite to No-Fucks-Given Widow was one of the best parts of AYITL. And although she has a whole family of (unidentified nationality) foreigners living with her in her house, she has no idea where they’re from or what language they are speaking. Seriously? That isn’t pure generosity — it’s also objectification. In my head, Emily’s learning the unrevealed language of her adoptive housemate-family and getting over herself even more in her beach house. But who knows? She might still be terrible, even if she is a bit more distant from the Who’s Who of New England.

There are people who ‘Do “Wild”‘?

Really? I mean, it totally fits in with the character of Sleepy Hollow, or PriviledgedWhiteTown, as we might #hashtag it, for its angsty white middle-aged women to off on a journey of self discovery a la Wild, but…but…Lorelai was always a bit outside that whole hullaballoo. Was this the ultimate sign that she’d become a Stars Hollow-ite, that she’d drunk the KoolAid? Her disbelief at the (hilarious AF) musical would seem to me to indicate that she still feels like a bit of an outsider in the surreal, almost Lynchian small town, but her go-find-self-in-wilderness is pure Stars Hollow cray cray.

That said, she really sucks at this hiking thing. She ‘does “Wild”‘ in the most Lorelei way possible: by failing, but not before she’s rung and shared a precious memory of her departed father with her mother.

Rory really does have sex & is generally an awful person re: relationships

Perhaps it was because I watched the original GG as an adult with a healthy appreciation of what sexuality might look like, but Rory always seemed to have precisely ZERO chemistry with her on-screen boys, with the possible exception of Jess. When she started having sex, it was with the kind of floppy-doll, wide-eyed unbelievability of acting that seemed utterly PG. Maybe this was because the show was on in the afternoon, and there were censorship issues, but I digress. Rory’s sexuality didn’t seem to be part of who she was, but added on in a way that could be discussed carefully by American moms & daughters after watching this show together.

In the reboot, Rory is in a thoroughly dysfunctional resumed relationship with Logan (#jerkface), as ‘the other woman’ in his relationship with his French (obviously!) fiancee. She has a fling with a nerd guy in a wookie costume. (The crossover fan fiction universe just cheered). She is seeing some forgettable guy called Paul. And yet she’s not doing this stuff with anything approaching a responsible polyamorous mindset: she’s just bumbling from guy to guy without much discretion; she’s a cleaned-up version of Amy Schumer’s comedy alter-ego. Rory’s lack of self-knowledge and intention in her sexual/romantic life is what’s least attractive, but most believable, about her — especially given the woodenness of the original GG’s portrayal of her sexual coming-of-age. The most telling conversation was the one she had with Dean in Doose’s market, where she just-about-tearfully admitted to Dean that he had ‘showed her what safe felt like’. Most of Rory’s romantic escapades have been attempts to find  (or defy her need for) emotions of safety as a result of a relationship or a fling. Yikes.

Pregnancy maybe isn’t the end of the world?

A lot of the fan ire re: the end of AYITL is, certainly about the ‘final four words’ which reveal Rory is pregnant. Although I was surprised by the ending, I didn’t find it unexpected, given what I’ve said about Rory’s un-self-aware use of sex and relationships to find feelings of safety. Especially when safety, for her, has mostly looked like her relationship with Lorelei whose pregnancy was unplanned.

But I did find it kind of weird how the reboot set up Rory’s pregnancy. Ostensibly, Rory is pregnant with Logan’s child. If we assume a rough chronology the show’s “seasons”, then she must have gotten pregnant after Logan and the Yalie-dudes came and took her on that last crazy adventure. In the lead up to their visit, Rory’s life went full-on Twin Peaks: weird omens, fog, strange music. (The parallels with the Gilmore coffee obsession and ‘Damn good coffee!’ go without saying, right?) Initially, the viewer thinks that all this brouhaha is about Logan’s visit; when considered backwards, it sets you up psychologically to dread the result of that visit, namely, Rory’s pregnancy. AYITL had, in no small part, been about Rory’s inability to hack it as a journalist, so heightening the sense of failure, dread, disappointment that the announcement of her pregnancy reveals.

Add into the mix the extreme bout of shaming that Lorelei receives from Emily during the original GG re: getting pregnant and remaining unmarried. The echoes of that judgment are still there in Emily’s harsh words about Lorelei’s unmarried cohabitation with Luke. According to Emily – the show’s voice/representation of oppressive cultural expectations – Lorelei has not followed the ‘right’ pattern of things. And now neither has Rory.

But a lot of expectation have been upended in AYITL. Lorelei has decided that marriage is for her after all — but on her terms. Emily has come through the worst of her grief, told her D.A.R. mates to eat their own bullshit, and just maybe gained a greater appreciation for those non-gentry who surround her. Lorelei has begun to grapple with the complicated love/hate relationship she had with her father.  Rory has gone 100% Jo March and written the book that is the story of GG. In fact it’s this parallel with Jo March of Little Women that I think is most important. In Little Women, Jo marries Professor Bhaer and becomes a teacher at a boys’ school – in subsequent novels her effort to become a published writer takes back seat. (It’s awful what Montgomery does to her!) In AYITL, Rory’s former headteacher asks her to come be a teacher at her own posh private high school. Rory resists, because ‘those who can’t do, teach’. She’s resisting the Jo March trajectory with all her might…and then gets pregnant.

The question that AYITL seems to be posing is this:  Some of the mistakes of the parents get repeated by the next generation. How do we live in a world where that is a given, without being completely fatalistic or anti-feminist?

In many ways, Rory and Logan’s story is much more similar to Emily and Richard’s than to Lorelei and Christopher’s. Although Rory is smart and funny, she thrives in the world that Emily and Richard inhabit, sometimes more than in Lorelei’s Stars Hollow lite. A pregnancy would, I think, make her wake up and think: which world do I want to inhabit, and how can I do this? Or do I want to inhabit neither world, but start off on my own like Lorelei did? I would love to see GG tackle the topic of abortion in a mature way – but given the path the show has followed so far, I think that is unlikely.

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Stars Hollow’s name is the point of the series

I almost typed above, ‘Stars Hollow is hollow’. And then I realised – duh! – that’s the point. Given the limitations of set and the generally feeling that the show wanted to conjure about Stars Hollow, the town itself only ever nods vaguely at social problems. Most ‘social problems’ are imagined issues that Taylor Doose brings to the Town Council meetings. Debt, poverty, racism, homophobia (‘We need more gays!’ notwithstanding), violence…the things that do permeate small town America are rarely seen in the Hollow: the distractions of the slightly Stepford-y existence outshine these things, for the benefit of the viewer’s comfort. The stars’ (the Gilmores’) problems, though real, take precedence over much realistic depiction of small town life. In fact, when the Gilmore’s problems get big, get real, they have to leave Stars Hollow to deal with them. It’s a meta-critique of small town America…but it is there.

If this is true, then in effect Lorelei has chosen to leave one bubble (New England high society) to join another (Stars Hollow). And the best that we can hope for Rory is that she manages to resist both, with or without Logan, Jr., in tow.

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