Gilmore Girls is better than everything else that’s out now, so let’s talk about it.
The show, still deservedly a favourite among very many, has a conspicuous and especial place in the lives of many a Gilly, this author no less. Having watched the now classic (non-sequentially) following its release, when I was just a few years shy of Rory, I returned to it in 2019 to watch it the whole way through, now a few years shy of Lorelai.
The difference in perspective, and all that which still resonates to boot, is astounding.
Somehow the ending wasn’t ruined for me, nor A Year in the Life which we’ll get to later. I’m far from the first guy to write about or fall madly in love with Gilmore Girls and if you’re not listening to Kevin T. Porter’s and Demi Adejuyigbe’s Gilmore Guys then you’re really missing out. Take these as the reflections of a most ardent fan who came to the show relatively afresh, did a Luke, went all in and found something that still sets a standard in scripting, character-building and female-driven storytelling, for which we are sorely lacking and still so grateful to Amy.
Spoilers herein for Gilmore Girls and A Year in the Life and, just so it’s out of the way; Jess, obviously. Dean quickly became a one-note boyfriend (who cheats), Logan (yes he did grow as a person) never near actively enough supported Rory in furthering her aspirations unlike others around her and Jess was the only partner who both held a candle to her intellectually and didn’t let Rory coast on her least forgiving qualities. I’m not counting Marty.
First thing’s first – story and plot. More often forgotten than not, they’re two different things. Gilmore Girls, as it was hurriedly pitch in a last ditch attempt to sell a show to the network, is about a mother and daughter who are more like best friends. Whenever it’s just the pair interacting the show was at its far and above best and never got tiring, not once, and was never as strong when Yale split them up or the revival, atypically and so consequentially, chose to see Rory and Lorelai apart for whole stretches.
Exceptionally cast, as good as Alexis Bledel was its Lauren Graham who ultimately drove the show and she never gets near enough credit for her nuanced portrayal of one of the most complex characters in modern television. Just look at the wordless despair, affection and resolve that passes across her eyes in the seconds before she steels herself for the proposal and season 5 cliff-hanger. Ask yourself how many performers can achieve such a range of emotion without dialogue in so few beats; there are few.
Significantly, mother and daughter besties are actually not what the show is about. What’s really going on is the tragedy of intergenerational disharmony as the mother who rejected her wealthy upbringing for a more regular life sees her daughter in turn rebel against her for the elite world she abandoned. With story and plot elements as strong as this, there was much to work with.
The spectre of a 16 year old Lorelai with a little bundle rocking up on the porch of the Independence Inn pleading for any job hangs over the show’s entire run. There’s been a fair few critiques over the years that Gilmore Girls is elitist or insular for its focus on small-town Connecticut which for many who haven’t been there can appear like a privileged haven.
Gilmore Girls is more accurately about a young woman and mother who didn’t get the support she needed from her family and set out to make a life where she wasn’t reliant on anyone but herself. The show, thankfully absent hackneyed flashbacks to supplement a narrative which didn’t need padding out, did however proffer us one glimpse into Lorelai’s early years establishing that Richard, amidst a great disdain for what was then very scandalous, insisted Lorelai marry the useless Christopher.
Anyone who thinks Lorelai’s circumstance or Rory’s for that matter reflects a privileged position needs to check it and on the matter of Connecticut there are many families who arrived there far from being a Richard or Emily, this author’s included; it being as diverse a place as the show’s myriad of characters suggests.
Now to Rory. Many (most) viewers were disappointed in the arc she undertakes and continues well into A Year in the Life. Yes it’s frustrating when you see characters you love take paths you’d rather they didn’t (those hoping for a happier end to Jaime’s story can relate) but her simply being on this trajectory as disappointing as it is isn’t a fair criticism of the show in and of itself and is one it has been unreasonably burdened with. For those who hate to see elitist Rory, it bears acknowledging the subtle parallel the series draws with Lorelai’s own (if more widely relatable) snobbery; think just how many times she judged or forewarned of someone simply for their being rich.
Those who were sad to not see Rory (or Lorelai) grow in key respects at least until the very end of season 7 point to this as a flaw in the series. This mistakes however the important distinction, one drawn as rarely as between story and plot, as regards character building and character growth. For the volumes we come to learn about Rory and Lorelai they conversely (and uncommonly for a character-driven series and moreover one of this length) don’t grow very much. We may not like it but hey, it’s a fact of life and often people don’t change, sometimes even after 10 years. It’s an unusual, dramatically refreshing theme befitting a drama and yes, Gilmore Girls is a drama. Like The West Wing given the volume of dialogue and hilarity it remains funnier than most comedies yet is still at the core a coming of age drama.
It is a nominally rare thing to see sustained character growth in this most distinct of series, later rendering Emily’s arc in the four most recent instalments all the more resonant. When Lorelai cautions Lane in season seven (the only era of the show when overwrought story beats infamously overtook character-driven drama) that she had best prepare for a circumstance where Lane’s children embrace the religiosity Lane rejected, it could fairly be highlighted as an unnecessary meta intrusion or an annoying ‘state the moral’ moment. It is however one of the only occasions emblematic of explicit character growth, coinciding as it happens with Rory having to contend with her most consequential instance of professional rejection. For being distinctive it resonated all the stronger in a series that would rather grow its characters and their world than the characters themselves; in modern terms a relatively novel and here welcomely idiosyncratic approach to storytelling emphasising bittersweet and very relatable aspects of our lives and interpersonal relationships.
The realm of Star’s Hollow being invested with a great deal more personality than most fictional settings, Lorelai and Rory’s narratives notably ground to a halt in Summer to see a musical tableaux of the town. If admittedly outstaying the welcome, it was a nice opportunity to say a farewell to the only significant character herein which didn’t get any dialogue. An affectionate ode throughout to small town life, it was well to remind us that every stop on the highway has a Taylor and Kirk, though rarely ones so lively and repeatedly entertaining; even if Kirk towards the end did go over the top.
Who never went over the top was Melissa McCarthy; it being a special pleasure to see her in pre-mega fame mode sharing her best moments alongside Yanic Truesdale, as well as a few hints at the more exaggerated roles she would later take on in some of Sookie’s most strident moments. The pop culture references were too a joy for any junkie; with the show (take note modern cinema) graciously never skipping whole beats to let one-liners or hark backs sink in, instead trusting that we’d get it or appreciate the resonance nonetheless.
This was conversely one of the flaws of A Year in the Life; but for allusions to Game of Thrones and a couple of other tidbits there wasn’t much acknowledgement in the scripting choices that this world had aged at all. There still being the ‘no cell phones’ sign in Luke’s after all these years, as fond a recall as it is, was just too much a stretch; on par with the infamous Game of Thrones-esque (yes Gilmore Girls did it first) roll credits moment when Rory delivers her manuscript.
For all its flaws and clustered cameos the addendums did however bring back Jason Stiles for a dignified farewell. A character very short-changed by his series’ conclusion (and lack thereof), when written out there was never a sense of closure like that proffered his contemporaries which fans indeed got ten years later.
And this brings us to the much touted ‘last four words.’ “Mum,” “Yes,” “I’m pregnant.”
It’s both a lacklustre and exceptional end in respects. Sure it would have had more of the intended resonance those ten years ago when Rory, mirroring Lorelai’s earlier experience, found herself at a stage of her life still yet to realise many of her goals that a newborn child would then and here implicitly affect. It still bears its impact but like much of A Year in the Life’s recurrent storytelling and character motifs it doesn’t resonate as desired and as it would have that era ago within a world and set of people who have now inevitably aged.
The theme and consequences of unplanned pregnancies has also already been widely explored in the series between the experiences of Lorelai, Christopher, Lane and, most unnecessarily, Luke. It’s far from improbable that any one or all of these figures, including Rory, would experience an unplanned pregnancy, yet when it came to introducing April the familiar story beats had already been well played out, as distinct from the more intimate and procedural arc with which Lane’s pregnancy is treated.
Rory’s announcement does however reflect the core theme of the series in children and parents, despite intentions and efforts made, replicating their forebear’s cycles. Despite it being foreshadowed that Logan is the father, he being evidently modelled on Christopher, here the show does not go for a bittersweet note but a heartfelt, cautionary one. As the series repeatedly reminds us, it’s far from unfortunate that children have similar experiences to their parents, or indeed that families continue to procreate. It’s just that, as when Rory dropped out of Yale, whatever happens in children’s lives may or very likely will still happen in spite of anything and everything a parent may want or try, and we’re all just along for the ride.
A Year in the Life’s highs and lows notwithstanding, it was well worth the hours to spend that much more time with our girls and loved ones (the most hilarious Paris’ return was probably the highlight) as it was over so many months and years. If you’re craving the qualities and depth that so much modern storytelling is so lacking, look no further.
Gilmore Girls is now streaming on Netflix