by Michael B. Hock
Is there any other character on television that deserves more of our sympathy than Rory Gilmore?
The answer is obviously no, since I just wrote that sentence, and you, dear reader, agree with all of my words as if they are gospel, right?
Rory Gilmore, seems to have the best of all worlds. Born to a single teenage mother who was fleeing her parents, she’s an incredibly student, beloved by the town of Stars Hollow, loved by her wealthy grandparents, best friends with her mother who encourages her coffee addiction. She goes to the best schools, she seems to always get the guy she wants… on the surface, she has every opportunity.
And yet, there’s always a darkness to Rory Gilmore that comes out in think pieces about she’s the worst. Seemingly selfish, her life is so perfect that when things don’t go “her way” – that is she gets a bad (maybe honest) review from the dubious Mr. Huntzberger, her first instinct is to steal a yacht, then drop out of school for a little bit. (This, too is quickly resolved as her mother treats it primarily as a joke, and she manages to catch up through the power of television seasons.) But most of these “Rory Gilmore is the Worst” think pieces tend to skip over the fact that this young woman has had an incredible amount of pressure piled on her from an extremely young age, and she has handled it with a certain grace to the best of her abilities. But more on that in a little bit.
It’s nice to see that Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life, manages to maintain this darkness that makes this show so wonderful, while maintaining the wonder and spirit that made the original watchable, and made us all want to go back to Stars Hollow. It’s no surprise, since series creator Amy Sherman-Palladino and husband Dan Palladino return to make this unlikely revival as magical as the original.
I’ll be 100% honest, when I first heard that Netflix, seeing dollar signs and being able to read the new way we watch television better than most networks decided, “hey, let’s bring back Gilmore Girls!” my first instinct was what it always is: “Hey, you do know that we’ve only gotten the one Firefly Season and movie, right?” Because I’m selfish and I want to see more intergalactic space smugglers fighting an evil empire. (It’s a shame that I’ll only have the second Guardians of the Galaxy movie and the runaway success of something called “Star Wars” to tide me over with this very unpopular idea.) But, because I love Gilmore Girls, the original, (even the seventh season… it was me! Me who liked the seventh season!) I was happy to see the adventures of Rory and Lorelei.
Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life picks up 9 years after the events of “Bon Voyage”, when Rory (Alexis Bledel from the original Sin City.) was hired by a magazine to cover the campaign of some guy named “Barack Obama” as he ran for President. (I wonder what happened to that guy?) Not much has changed in the town of Stars Hollow, a place so perfect that it can’t be real, because it it were most of my blog would be about how I live there. Lorelei (Lauren Graham) is still running the Dragonfly Inn and living with boyfriend Luke (Scott Patterson) because Amy is merciful and decided not to mine more drama from will they or won’t they, and focus on other, more important things. Most of the town is still there as well, including Kirk (Sean Gunn, who will next be seen in Guardians of the Galaxy 2. Let that sink in.), Taylor, Mrs. Kim, Lane… they’re all there. Except Sookie (Melissa McCarthy’s career has taken off, so they needed to write her out for a little bit.)
Looming large over the entire series is the death of Edward Hermann (Richard Gilmore) and his widow, Emily (Kelly Bishop.) For a show called “Gilmore Girls” the lack of presence of this Gilmore Guy is felt. There was always a sense that he did what he could to tie much of the three women together because he loved them. This is evident in any scene where he goes to threaten someone that has hurt one of them, or… just any scene where he played the character. I can think of very few wasted moments with him, and that is certainly felt here. It says something about both Hermann and Graham during one of the final moments in “Fall” where she describes her favorite memory of her father… you can imagine him talking the cadence of his voice, how he would have approached her. Powerful.
The series is broken up into four, 90 minute episodes based on the seasons. I have to admit, this is the weakest part of the series, mostly because the 48 minute chunks tended to focus them a little bit, and because the timeline was never that clear… each story seemed to take place over a couple of days, maybe a week, until we finally got to the next season. It is an interesting gimmick: take a year and condense it down to a series of episodes, but to me it felt unnecessary, especially since the rest of the storytelling is that strong. (Indeed, that is my only real gripe with the series in general.)
The main focus of the story is the coming to terms of Lorelei and Emily with the loss of the one person that sort of tied them together. Prior to the start of the series there’s a riff between the two (because of course there is – that’s what happens) and much of the series is about them finding themselves. Lorelei trying to figure out what’s next… and we’ve all been there, and Emily trying to figure that out as well, as she has lost her partner of over 50 years. But there’s a calm understanding that comes from the both of them as they figure out their lives but also each other, coming to what It think is an understanding. Not that there won’t be future disagreements, but their story ends on such a wonderful note, I don’t know it can be improved upon. I was afraid that introducing what is essentially the same conflict that was seemingly resolved in the end of the series finale, “Bon Voyage” might get repetitive, but it’s an interesting story. I hate to keep bringing it back to Gilmore Guy Richard, but he’s such a strong force in the series it’s hard to frame their stories without acknowledging that his loss is one of the reasons this works so well.
That’s just the main story. We have to bring this back to Rory, who’s directionless again – finding herself in journalism (which was changing even at the end of the series, but has really changed now, playfully nodded at by the lack of cell phone coverage in Stars Hollow). She’s written a story of the New Yorker and seems to be a pretty well known writer, but she’s also essentially homeless. The story doesn’t focus as much on her with the loss of her grandfather, whom she loved, but so much of her story is relatable because of that lack of direction, because she’s way past the point where she should have found herself.
One of the funnier recurring gags is the group of Stars Hollow residents that went out into the world, but found themselves at home, making lame pop culture references. Rory keeps finding herself afraid of being drawn into them, (as well as Lorelei being afraid of being brought into the parental support group). But this speaks more to the character of Rory. She was so important to the town they they wanted to re-enact her getting her diploma from Yale. She was the one who was supposed to bring more to Stars Hollow, and she didn’t.
This series, while exploring the world of Emily and Lorelei post-Richard, does a good job of exploring the world of Rory and this immense pressure. She makes terrible decisions. She’s not sure where to go. What’s interesting is that this plot line is played almost in the background until the very end, when she writes a very meta piece of non-fiction at her grandfather’s old desk, re-using old footage that I have to admit had me tear eyed, if Lorelei’s speech about her favorite memory of her father didn’t already do it.
It’s this somewhat focus on Rory that is a reminder that Gilmore Girls is not just a generational story about a mother and daughter who are also best friends. It’s an exploration of all those things that make us who we are, and it’s an exploration of the pressures of what we think others need of us that ultimately make things that difficult for us.
This also leads to those final four words, which may or may not be the end of the story… I’ll be interested to see what happens because of them. There’s certainly more there to explore, but it would be very Lorelei and Emily lite, which I don’t know could work. It’s cliffhanger-ish, but not, say, a vampire and his friends talking about fighting a dragon and no one returning to that. (I know the comic books exist. It’s not the same!)
Did we need a Gilmore Girls revival series? Probably not, to be honest with you. Let’s face it, we have a lot of revival series now because we’re getting new forms of entertainment… a new season of Gilmore Girls (or Angel or Firefly) doesn’t require a bunch of actors to put aside everything to film for 9 months, then to create a schedule that will let people see the show (like airing it out of order, or on a funky night), then justify the ratings. It’s a new world of television out there, one that can sustain smaller revivals like this. I’m glad we got a revival of the show, mostly because I liked it, and this is as clear a return to form that we have been waiting for since Season Six, really. I’m glad that we got to return to this tiny town of Stars Hollow. I’m glad that this show is getting the love that it didn’t seem to get all those years ago.
Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life is worth a visit.