So I Just Saw Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life

The revival of Gilmore Girls, a show that went off the air eight years ago, seems like it shouldn’t work.  It’s built largely on fan service, and the original series, while it didn’t end strongly, ended in a place that made narrative sense.  The original series is premised on the unusual relationship between a young single mother and her teenage daughter, and it follows the natural frame of showing the daughter come of age through high school and college.  Given the intended demographic of the original network, this set up makes sense; there’s plenty of opportunity for romantic drama, and one of the main characters is going through life experiences that are supposed to be relatable to the target audience.  Bringing the concept back when the daughter is the same age as the mother was at the series’ start means that the coming of age narrative should be jettisoned in favor of a different angle.  Instead, the show’s writers Amy Sherman-Palladino and Daniel Palladino double down on the coming of age motif to deliver a story about Rory being caught in a rut as a young adult.

Now, a story about Rory struggling as a young thirty-something is a story I could get behind; the character of Rory is only about a year older than I am, so I can absolutely relate to her experiences.  Her worries about her career and whether she’s reached the expected milestones are really common Millennial anxieties.  Unfortunately, as much as Gilmore Girls is about Rory, it’s not written from her perspective.  You can make a case that Rory has always been the target of many of the show’s strongest critiques; she’s an extremely privileged woman who receives all the advantages a wealthy white person in New England would, and while everyone around her constantly fawns over her talent we see repeatedly that she’s just not as good at stuff as people say.  Given that though, the perspective on Rory in A Year in the Life seems to be skewed sharply away from “she’s just not as talented as she thinks” to “she’s the embodiment of her generation.”  Essentially, I think that Rory’s plot line in the new episodes is a pretty reductionist view of Millennial life filtered through the perception of a Baby Boomer (Sherman-Palladino is fifty).  I mean, when you have a running joke in the third episode about the “Thirtysomething Gang” who’ve all moved back home and have their parents meet regularly to exchange tips on how to get their kids into the workforce, you can’t help but get the sense that the Palladinos just decided that they were going to do wry commentary on the plight of Millennials, and hey, don’t a lot of Millennials end up moving back in with their parents?  This kind of exploration of life for a generation can be done well and with sympathy (the examples that come to mind for me are Master of None and New Girl, even though I think both of those shows have issues with representing the experiences of Millennials who don’t live in big cities), but Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life just doesn’t do that.

Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life Poster

Promotional poster. (Image credit: IMDb)

Contrasting with Rory’s plot are the stories for Lorelai and Emily.  The death of Edward Herrmann, who played Richard Gilmore, necessitated a story that acknowledges Richard’s passing, and that seems to me to be the core of Lorelai and Emily’s plot lines.  Richard’s death is a very recent event in the lives of the Gilmores, and so it makes sense that much of the activity of the year in which A Year in the Life takes place revolves around Emily and Lorelai coming to terms with it.  Emily’s plot is centered pretty much exclusively around her grieving process, and it’s handled with a lot more deftness than what I saw with Rory.  Lorelai’s story centers more around her deciding whether she wants to integrate her life more with Luke (they’ve been together since the end of the show’s original run, but they never married).  Her major breakthrough on that front comes in the wake of an epiphany that she has regarding her relationship with Richard as well.

All of these plot lines make sense; they’re natural progressions from where the characters were at the end of the original series, and they go a long way towards resolving issues that hovered over the show for quite a while.  Overall, it’s a pretty satisfying return to the core characters even with my complaints about Rory’s plot.

Other aspects of the revival are more troubling.  The big thing that I see in the writing is a casual disregard for people outside the Palladinos’ personal bubble.  Gilmore Girls has always had a problem with diversity, and these new episodes are still just as lily white as the original series (this is partly excusable given the large number of returning cast members; however there are plenty of new characters and one offs who could have been cast with actors of color).  Moreover, to the extent that the show has a feminist bent, it trades in the same bland white feminism that shows like Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt have as their foundation.  Intersectionality isn’t a concept that the Palladinos seem to be aware of, let alone concerned about.  The most egregious offense comes in the “Summer” episode when Lorelai and Rory have two separate scenes at the community pool where their banter largely consists of body shaming other people.  That stuff isn’t funny, and it’s incredibly mean.  Some of Lorelai and Rory’s characterization is built on the idea that they’re really quite self-absorbed, but self-absorption doesn’t have to be conveyed through repeated jokes at the expense of a faceless overweight man in a Speedo (the scene where Rory dozes off in the middle of interviewing a guy waiting in line for a fancy doughnut is a much better bit of characterization on that front).

Other aspects of the series are less points for critique and more simple fan service.  All of Rory’s ex-boyfriends make an appearance, and it’s really good to see them as adults.  My impression of Dean has been and always will be that he’s an abuser-in-waiting, but his one scene in the revival suggests that he’s found some happiness with a new wife and kids; he and Rory seem to be on good terms; I still wonder about his home life because abusers usually do present themselves pretty well in public.  Jess seems to be far less of a jerk than he was as a teenager, and his relationship with Rory and his family seems overall very positive.  I mean, there was still that incident where he sexually assaulted Rory at that party, so that’s a thing; it doesn’t get any attention here, and I doubt it ever will in the off chance that the Palladinos decide to do another Gilmore Girls series.  Logan gets the most screen time here, and he still doesn’t sit well with me.  He’s an interesting study in the kind of person who rails against the expectations of their life but still goes along with those expectations because they like the benefits too much.  I don’t really get why he’s such a presence in this series.

Anyhow, if you’ve read this far then you’ve probably already seen the series; Gilmore Girls is one of those shows that for some reason elicits rabid devotion in its fans, and if nothing else can be said about A Year in the Life, it absolutely feels like more of the same.  That’s a good thing if you just want more of the original series, but it also means that all the issues and insensitivities that the Palladinos had back in the ’00s are still present here.

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