I watched “Gilmore Girls: A Year In The Life” on Saturday afternoon, surrounded by old college friends. We used to watch the show after finals, cuddled up with blankets and cups of tea in the common room. Now, many of us are married. A few of us brought babies in tow. When we left, it had gotten dark outside. Christmas lights glistened on the house.
As I walked to my car, I remembered the first time I watched the series—with my sister, back in high school. We watched the third season on Christmas Eve, hiding under the covers after our parents had told us to turn out the lights. Then up at our grandparent’s cabin, we cruised through the next season. When my sister left for college, I’d go visit—and we would watch “Gilmore Girls” in her dorm room, snacking on popcorn and talking about guys.
This is why we love “Gilmore Girls”: it’s about a relationship, between a mother and daughter. But it also reflects our relationships: the kinship and humor we’ve developed with old friends, the camaraderie we’ve experienced with family, the memories we have of comfort and comedy. Yes, it’s nostalgia. But what’s wrong with nostalgia?
‘Gilmore Girls’ Brought Back Much of Its Original Charm
In many ways, the new “Gilmore Girls” series delivered. Thanks to the return of Amy Sherman-Palladino (and the nearly complete original cast), the show taps into the same humor, the same sparkle, the same joyful relationships between characters. It was more somber, with the passing of Richard Gilmore (Edward Hermann), but properly so. The worlds of Stars Hollow and Hartford, Connecticut have gotten older. We see the first vestiges of mortality appearing on the characters’ faces. The ever-youthful Kirk (to my initial shock) has grayed.
Many characters surpass their former glory. Emily Gilmore (Kelly Bishop), in particular, is formidable. In one part of the series, Rory’s father Christopher Hayden (David Sutcliffe) refers to his daughter and her mother as “forces of nature.” But surely, if they are, they inherited it from Emily.
In the first episode, “Winter,” Emily and Lorelai (Lauren Graham) have a somber fight, one more serious and difficult to watch than any in the original seasons, jarringly genuine and moving. The arc of Emily’s story—away from the WASP-ish, high-status world she used to hold dear—is fascinating, touching, and humorous at times. Her relationship with her daughter matures and develops in believable ways. It isn’t too smarmy, while giving needed closure and maturity to their story.
The other perfect character in “A Year In the Life”? Paris Geller. She’s exactly herself, yet she’s matured and changed in brilliantly Paris ways. Her haircut is perfect, her job hilariously autocratic and bizarre, her return to Chilton dazzling. Her monologue in the school bathroom with Rory, puzzling over relationships, is one of the best moments in the season.
Why So Many Musical Montages?
Stars Hollow also delivers, for the most part: with important cameos from Kirk, Babette, Lane, Zach, and the band, Mrs. Kim, Taylor Doose, and Dean. Yes, Dean: he has an excellent appearance—one that’s endearing, nostalgic, and not too long.
What are too long in this series, though, are the musical numbers and montages: from the town troubadour’s lengthy serenade in “Winter” to a town musical in “Summer” that just will not end. (A couple of the songs were amusing, but it just kept going and going and going.) It began to feel as if the Palladinos were employing these musical bits to fill space in the 90-minute episodes, rather than proffering the funny, quick-witted dialogue of seasons past. One welcome deviation from this tendency: Kirk’s second film, featuring a black-and-white tragedy in which his pet pig dies. It’s all that we love about Kirk.
Luke Danes is also wonderfully himself, and his relationship with Lorelai is properly endearing. He’s always been a doggedly traditional, loyal, and lovable character, but has displayed a frustrating passivity in past seasons. This season, fans needed to see him overcome that tendency. And he does, in an ending scene that will (I believe) both thrill and placate fans who were frustrated by the developments in the show’s seventh season.
Lorelai Gilmore is wonderful: she is a more settled and mature, yet still sparkly version of her former self. In one segment that still befuddles me, she decides to follow the example of Cheryl Strayed in her bestseller “Wild,” and hike the Pacific Crest Trail. Anyone who knows the series knows that Lorelai Gilmore is not your outdoorsy type. She eschews working out, makes fun of gyms, teases Luke for his fishing and camping habits. So this decision to backpack through the great outdoors is strangely bizarre. And despite the fact that (SPOILER) she does not, in fact, do any hiking, the fact that she would so seriously contemplate the act seems strange.
The Biggest Disappointment in the New Season
The most disappointing aspect of the show, though, is Rory Gilmore (Alexis Bledel). In past seasons, Rory is sweet, resolute, and bookish. She is a determined leader (taking over the campus newspaper when it threatens to fall apart, leading and organizing her community service team after she gets in trouble). She is an intentional and deliberate person: making endless pro and con lists, considering the complexities of every decision (though occasionally throwing out common sense when a cute boy comes along). She also has an important moral streak: despite some disappointing life choices in the show’s fourth season, Rory has always been a strong anchor to the show’s more fluctuating, unsteady characters.
So it’s strange to see her so unmoored in this season: not just physically (she’s homeless, drifting from place to place), but romantically and career-wise as well. At the beginning, she’s supposedly written some pieces for Slate, The Atlantic, The New Yorker. Yet over the course of the next four seasons, she picks up and then drops a series of leads and job opportunities (not Rory-ish). She has no intentionality or drive. She ends up at the Stars Hollow Gazette, but instead of reorganizing and leading this local newspaper, turning it into something wonderful, she ends up dropping it as well.
Then there’s the romance. Be warned: many spoilers follow.
At the beginning of the new season, Rory is sleeping with her old boyfriend Logan—despite the fact that he is an engaged man. She pouts about this, frustrated and offended. But she doesn’t do anything about it. Her romance with Logan is supposedly a no-strings-attached relationship, one they’re both okay with. But both characters walk around with a continued air of woundedness.
We also get no explanation for Logan’s fiancée (Odette): she’s an heiress, but Logan’s parents are exceedingly rich. Why does he need to marry an heiress? And if he is about to get married, why does he act so completely in love with Rory? And why would Rory so passively accept this distasteful relationship?
This Ending Suits Post-Grad Rory, But Not 32-Year-Old Rory
In the most bizarre turn in the series, Logan shows up with old pals from the “Life and Death Brigade” in Stars Hollow for the show’s “Fall” episode. They kidnap Rory and go on a nostalgic adventure, full of booze, random tomfoolery, and sarcastic dialogue. But these characters are in their early to mid-30s. It would be one thing to see this return of the Life and Death Brigade for a post-graduation fling. But these characters have obviously aged. It’s too youthful, too strange a moment (even for “Gilmore Girls”).
As I was critiquing this moment with friends watching the show, it occurred to me: Amy Sherman-Palladino has said that this is how she originally wanted to end the “Gilmore Girls” story. Imagine this, then, as the ending to Season Seven—a post-grad Rory is spending the summer at home, unmoored and unsure of what job to pursue. Her boyfriend Logan shows up with his friends, and they have one last adventure, before deciding it’s best for them to go their different ways.
This makes infinitely more sense. The aftermath of that strange nighttime fling with Logan Huntsberger is a baby—and that makes much more sense for a 22-year-old Rory than for a 32-year-old one. That decision gives us the show’s infamous, long-awaited “final four words.”
The Final Four Words (Spoiler Alert)
Many fans expected this. In many ways, it makes sense. I would look forward to seeing Rory-as-mom. I think it does bring the series full circle in an interesting and fulfilling sense.
But. The greatest weakness of this plot twist is that it turns Rory into her mother, Lorelai. It turns Logan into a type of Christopher (he even has a French fiancée, just like Chris has a Parisian ex-wife and daughter). And it turns Jess into a type of Luke.
Instead of appreciating the complexities of the characters we’ve seen in the first seven series, it feels as if the next generation just becomes an echo of the first—even though we know that Rory is very different from her mother.
Jess’s appearances in the show are uniquely inspiring and enjoyable. He is the one who inspires Rory—in the most real, Rory-ish moment in the whole season—to write a book about her relationship with her mother. It’s a moment that hearkens back to “Little Women,” with Rory as Jo and Jess as a sort of Professor Bhaer. In deciding to write this book, thanks to Jess’s inspiration, we get a little bit of our old Rory back.
The Show Could Have Been So Much Better
But if only. If only Logan didn’t have to come back, at least in the way he did. If only Rory wasn’t acting out a script invented and lived out by her mother (although, in her mother’s defense, she was 16—Rory’s 32, and should know better). If only Jess wasn’t turned into a new Luke, waiting around for the woman he loves, as she bears and raises another man’s child. “A Year In the Life” could have been more than this.
The new series is still good, enjoyable, funny. We still get some funny references to Goop and Marie Kondo and Kiefer Sutherland. I’ll still watch it with my sister over Christmas.
But this season reminded me that sometimes, watching an old favorite is better than any sequel we might get. Sometimes, the original is the best.