I really appreciate having couple of days to sit with A Year In The Life. I took my time, as Kathleen texted me ever-more-frantically. “Have you started yet?! HURRY!” “OMG.” “OMG ARE YOU AWAKE?” (OK, that last one was me.)
I feared being disappointed, because I thought the show might be sanitized or saccharine. Ultimately, I wasn’t at all, but I’m aware that I’m in the minority. A lot of people expected something very different than what we got.
I wonder if this is about Amy Sherman-Palladino’s precision in language. We’ve all heard about the strict speech rules Gilmore Girls required, right? If the script says ‘cannot’, you don’t say ‘can’t’? Well, when the project was first announced, I distinctly remember hearing it would be ‘four features’, or movies – it wasn’t until later that ‘episodes’ was used interchangeably. Also, the title, “Gilmore Girls: A Year In The Life”. A year. That’s not an accident. It’s not Gilmore Girls: Reunion or Homecoming or Best Friends Forever. It’s a year—and maybe not one of their best. But it’s also not the ‘ending of the story’, for everything to be tied up in a bow and happily ever after. Not that it ever was. But people who didn’t love A Year In The Life are really disappointed. In Rory, mostly (curiously, they’re not disappointed in Lorelai). They’re mad at the creators. One email asked why Amy Sherman-Palladino resurrected the series just to ruin it.
I would argue this was the way the show was always supposed to go. It was always meant to be—and end—in a way that is loving but melancholy. The love of family is enduring but so are the frustrations. But fans who hated it wish it had been better, or different, and that the time to make it better or different had been taken out of that goddamned musical.
In fact, let me start with the musical. Yes, it was absurd. Too long. Diverted focus from the main characters. Even though I agree it was too long, and the after-discussion was painfully slow, I think it was a meta-nod to the series. Remember how Rory and Lorelai loved watching movies, good and bad? Saying awful lines with the actors and watching boys on the couch to see if they caught the ridiculous lines or props? That’s the vibe I think they wanted here. In my mind, the long cuts to dismayed Lorelai should make you think you’re sitting beside her, feeling just as terrible and like it will never end.
But younger Lorelai would have cackled at the awfulness and made jokes to Rory, or to Luke, or to Sookie. A different Lorelai would have mouthed off to the feedback circle about how bad it was and then happily gone on to eat popsicles. The fact that she can’t take joy in it is one of the things that tells her she has to leave.
Because let’s be honest – Lorelai is stunted. She’s a much milder version of her former self, who no longer picks fights with Luke or Taylor or even manipulates people all that much. She’s so muted, partly from grief and exhaustion, and partly from inertia, that she’s almost washed out. The only thing that keeps her fire going is conflict with her mother – and maybe her daughter.
The biggest open secret of Gilmore Girls is that Lorelai’s even more intelligent than Rory. Maybe much more. But with nowhere challenging to put her brain and her energy, it’s jokes and patter and amusing herself because otherwise she’d be so bored she’d die. When she’s focused on the Dragonfly or Rory or the injustice of her parents, she’s determined and driven, but when things are quiet, it’s Paul Anka outfits and mocking her mother.
So the terrible musical wakes her up, and she realizes she can’t just stay in the tiny town she landed in at sixteen unless she actively chooses it. I could have used even more of Lorelai examining her life. I think under there she could admit there’s still a lot she left undone – but I’ll take the vulnerability and grief with Emily, and the admission that she really did do something terrible the night of the funeral, as progress. For now.
Because as Lorelai says, it all comes full circle, and will continue to. Emily and Lorelai will barb at each other until the day Emily dies, because that’s what we do as human beings. We move forward and back, we get better and then worse, we make progress but we never become perfect, as Richard ably proves.
I sobbed over Edward Herrman. Seeing that portrait and the humour and pathos in it made me both feel he was there and miss him more. We all talk about Friday Night Light’s Coach and Tami Taylor as a marriage we love to watch, but pour one out for Richard and Emily, who were their own ecosystem. I miss them.
I worry I will short-change Emily’s story here, because it was so good and so achingly haunting, and because as a woman who is grieving through all four episodes, she is meaner, more detached, and more strange, and I bought it even when I didn’t like it. When we feel odd seeing her in jeans, imagine how she feels. I was so there with her. I am terrified of losing people who are close to me, but I saw her doggedly being awake every day and I loved her for it, and I want to visit her at the Whaling Museum in a way that indicates I have trouble with reality.
But even though Emily loves and misses Richard, she knows he wasn’t perfect. Because Richard Gilmore is still a product of his time, and all wounds aren’t fixed just because someone passes, and he loves his family very much and thinks the world of them – but he gives franchise money to Luke. Not to Lorelai, whom he knows is smart and ambitious and has made a lot out of very little, but to Luke, who’s never expressed any hopes for that. Somewhere, Richard thinks Luke being successful will buoy Lorelai, and he wants a daughter of his to be well taken care of, so the intentions are pure, in a fashion. But Richard could not see that the business that would most benefit from Richard’s largesse was built by his own daughter.
It’s sexist, and it’s a blind spot. It doesn’t make Richard not wonderful, and he still gave Lorelai the best birthday she ever had. It can be both. Gilmore Girls is both. Light and sweet, and dark and bleak. The love of your life, and the first person who appeared in front of you. All of the potential for the greatest heights, and all of the bruises when you fall back down.
Which is the statement that brings us to the polarizing figure that is Rory Gilmore.
I was shocked at how much people disliked what she was going through. How unbelievable they found it. Almost enraging, actually.
Rory’s 32ish, and has had some successes but is hitting a career stall. She’s unmoored with no clear path to get out of it, and she’s got no permanent address, which you could also call ‘transcontinental’. She’s a failure, or she’s just in a little rut Also, she’s making bad decisions in her love life.
I know so many people who tick some or all of those boxes. Why is Rory supposed to be perfect and without problems? Because she’s smart? Because Yale? A friend of mine said she remembers Rory like this: “She cared about grades. She was a big reader – made being smart ‘cool’. A good role model.” I don’t disagree that she had some of those qualities…but who says that a teenager like that doesn’t turn into a woman like this?
Part of this is the reality of a freelance writing career. There’s speed, and then none. Ups and downs. Variances. I know successful writers who give their accountants aneurysms when their income goes from $200,000 one year to $12,000 the next – and that’s not a typo. As for the people who are surprised the Stars Hollow Gazette doesn’t pay…ummm…are things different at print publications where you are, in 2016?
It’s totally realistic that this is where she is. She’s a good writer, but that’s not the same as being a hustler. Rory did well in school because school provides an exact breakdown of what to do to succeed. But there’s no syllabus called ‘Exactly how to be successful as a freelancer, forever’…especially at Yale.
I’m sure she did hustle, too. That she pitched and earned and had successes. But I also buy that she got a bit tired. Used up all her contacts and needs a reset. It happens, and how you get through it is often the mark of what kind of person you are…which is what this chapter of Gilmore is actually all about.
I don’t defend all of the story. I wholeheartedly agree that Rory saying she can’t buy underwear was stupid. In fact, Rory probably meant she was ‘broke’ as in, she doesn’t have a nest egg, and no down payment, and no viable way to start a whole new life. (For those who point out that she might have Richard’s money or Christopher’s money…who knows. Maybe her trust only kicks in at 35? Maybe it’s all in Emily’s control until it’s not?)
That the show has Rory use that word, “broke”, means it deserves every single critique saying it’s about wealthy privileged narcissists who don’t know what it is to struggle. But it might also mean hapless, privileged Rory has become exactly the person Lorelai feared she would. Once again, it can be both. This particular Rory, who I find believable, if not sympathetic? This is exactly what Lorelai thought might happen if she let her daughter into her parents’ world.
How’s that for full circle?
That’s not to blame for her romantic decisions, though, which are equal-opportunity stupid. That is, I don’t know anyone who hasn’t made a series of bad decisions right up until they made one good one. But even if you haven’t made a bad decision ever, or know friends who have…you know Rory. Who was always desperately in love with the adrenaline hit that was Logan. Who was never able to quit him, even though he was bad for her at times. To be still wrapped up in him is a lack of progress on her part, sure …but why do you want her to be perfect?
Full admission of bias – I find Logan, and the Life and Death Brigade, and especially the caper they pulled in Fall, to be ridiculously charming. I love their sense of adventure. They give Rory something nobody else does. It’s one thing to read about Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, and it’s another thing to have imagination enough to figure out what that could mean, especially combined with alcohol and speakeasies.
I’m not blind to Logan’s flaws and I’m not advocating for a guy who wants to be married and have a girl on the side, but I am charmed by them together (and I think they have better chemistry than Rory and Jess. Who’s basically her brother now. So there.).
Why isn’t it OK for Rory to take a while to figure out who she is? To have stories to tell? If she was perfect, and boring, which is the criticism a lot of us, and Paris, lobbed at this show in the beginning, why would we watch the resurrection of the show? Now that there are complications, doesn’t that make things interesting? Since the last four words are exactly what you thought they would be, aren’t you glad Rory has stories of mistakes she’s made, to tell the next generation? What if her conversation with Christopher is wrong, or she heard it wrong? Don’t you want to see her make the mistake? Put it this way, if it’s all perfect, aren’t we just watching an hour of Kirk and his piglet?
Look, I didn’t love everything. I didn’t love the Paul gag at all, I wish Lorelai had expressed a bit more about the dreams she’s only now allowing herself to have, and the lip service paid to Stars Hollow’s lack of diversity by using background actors of colour who don’t actually speak? Ridiculous and offensive. Oh, and while I’m up – Rory couldn’t have called her book “30 minutes from Hartford”? I got the nod to ‘The Facebook”, but it was cheesy and twee in a moment that wasn’t, otherwise.
But the complaints about the choices Rory makes, or the way she’s unprepared for an interview, or the fact that Lorelai couldn’t come up with something nice to say about her father when it really counted, or that she lied to Luke about going to therapy? Those are the same choices those women have been making. We’re further down the road, but they’re the same people we met in the year 2000…or at least, the people we saw them become.
You care about them because they’re flawed. Because you want to see how they could be better. I know about all the warm feelings people have for this show, feeling like Stars Hollow is a cozy, loving place to grow up. But the show has always said that nature and nurture are in a deadlock for who you are. That you can run from your parents, but never escape them. That everything comes full circle. It’s been there all along, beside the whimsy and the folksiness and goings-on in the gazebo that make the bitter pills of the family dynamic go down that much easier.
To me, that’s what made the show amazing. It’s why I watched…and I can’t speak for you, but I definitely think it was there all along. If you’re upset that the residents of Stars Hollow haven’t stopped in time, I’m curious about who you were coming back to see. If Rory and Lorelai and Emily have grown up to be less perfect than you hoped, does that say more about them – or about you?
Attached - Lauren Graham out in New York today and on The Today Show yesterday.