Gilmore Girls Full Circle
The internet, at least my internet, is swarmed with Gilmore Girls articles in preparation for the Thanksgiving revival, and still I feel the need to tell my Gilmore Girls tale. Perhaps that’s what’s special about the show – it seeps into your DNA, especially if you were growing up while it first aired. Now that I’m a Gilmore woman, so to speak, I’m able to watch the show more critically, and not surprisingly, analyzing the show quickly becomes very personal. So much of what happens on the show is tied up in my own experiences and coming of age. Re-watching the show on Netflix, I consume it fiercely, devouring the show as if by studying it I will discover some hidden truth about my past. I watch two to three episodes a night. I think about the characters when I’m not watching. I leave social gatherings early so I can watch the show. My boyfriend tolerates it by giving himself over to his own entertainment addiction, Skyrim, so we sit next to each other and seek a mysterious, soothing succor from similar but very different sources. At crucial moments in the show, I’ll spin my iPad around for him to see Lorelai and Luke’s first kiss. He is a fan of the show, more than I’m a fan of Skyrim, but he doesn’t find the show to be as delightful as I do. “It’s an emotional roller coaster!” And he’s right, but it’s a roller coaster I seem to want to ride, over and over again.
It’s not always an exciting or compelling ride. There are episodes where Kirk or Taylor go on and on, demonstrating their various neuroses, and you wonder why you’re still watching. With its appetite for detail and mad array of characters, Gilmore Girls reminds me of the dollhouse I had growing up. Sometimes playing with my dollhouse was just about rearranging the furniture, and other times the dolls fought melodramatically. The father doll had multiple wives, and there was a set of twins, causing a whole manner of mistaken identity and jealousy issues. Ironically Lorelai was also a dollhouse enthusiast as a child. It means so much to her that she keeps the dollhouse in her living room. Perhaps it does for her what the Gilmore Girls does for me. However, I think my dollhouse was more racially diverse than Gilmore Girls. It’s not until the 4th season that the show tries to address its almost complete whiteness. And they do this by adding actors of color in the background, which sadly, by their pitiful standards, is a big improvement.
This is an observation I’ve made now. When I first watched the show, I did not think about diversity in my regular TV viewing. I was also growing up in a predominately white town, and when I first discovered Gilmore Girls in high school, the whiteness must have made it feel even more familiar. Mostly of course, I was excited to discover women who talked as quickly as I thought. They were neurotic nerds, but also incredibly attractive and well liked. For a bookish, movie freak with anxiety issues like me, they were definitely aspirational, but they also seemed attainable. And I had reason to believe that I too could be like the Gilmore Girls- we were connected by many similarities.
I am close with my mother in a Lorelai manner. When the show was playing live, I would pause in my homework and skip to the living room to enjoy the show with her. My dad would walk through the living room and absorb certain scenes, long enough for him to approve of some of the writing and also express that it wasn’t really his cup of tea. His cynicism and fondness for baseball hats and flannels must have made us point out that he was very Luke-like. He also wasn’t really my father – just the man who was raising me – just like Luke raises Rory. So in my tiny high school world it all made sense. My mom was Lorelai, father Luke and I was Rory. I thought it was obvious that I was Rory. I was also at a private school, academically slaving away. I didn’t plan on going to an Ivy League school – I lacked Rory’s connections and good breeding. Still my grandmother even had a passing resemblance to Emily Gilmore, something my mom and I would remark on while watching Emily’s obsession with keeping up appearances and cleanliness. Well, also her passive aggressive vindictiveness.
Rory is also the exact same age as me. When she graduated from high school as a valedictorian so did I, and then we both went off to college, and that’s when I stopped watching the show. I wasn’t going to go into the communal lounge and change the channel to Gilmore Girls. It was too private an experience to share. Also the romance that most interested me (Jess + Rory = 4 eva) had ostensibly ended. And as an 18 year old, I didn’t understand why that made sense. Jess and Rory understand each other, and he obviously cares about her, so why don’t they get married? Now I watch the show and Jess gets me hot and bothered in an entirely different way than he used to. I want Rory to run from him, but I know she can’t. I couldn’t. I dated Jesses – emotionally troubled, unavailable, trainwrecks – for close to a decade. I feel sorry for Rory – she has father issues that probably lead to her “breakdown.”
Had I kept watching the show, I would have witnessed something that mirrored my own experience at college. I did not steal a boat, but I did drop out of my prized, fancy college, just like Rory. We both took hiatuses, although Rory returned to Yale, and I never went back to NYU, choosing to go to college in my hometown, safely near my therapist and family. Watching Rory at college, I find myself thinking about who I was then, and I think the show doesn’t take Rory’s breakdown as seriously as it should. There is no reckoning between Rory and her disastrous father–she never expresses real anger with him. The few mandated therapy sessions Rory attends are broad caricatures, played for laughs.
Really the show is too preoccupied holding another generation of parents accountable (i.e. Emily Gilmore) to take on Rory’s parents and childhood. The show rarely questions Lorelai or her parenting, which is quite a feat considering she’s such a mess; it’s part of what makes her great and worthy of watching. She is frequently horrific to those around her: she loves to patronize, delighting in the fact that she flies over most people’s heads (she’s particularly cruel towards sales people). But mostly she’s unforgivable because of her relationship with Rory. The central relationship of the show – Rory and Lorelai – no longer looks appealing. It’s no longer cute that Rory is the adult and Lorelai is the child. My adult self finds Lorelai repugnant and dependent. Of course, Rory isn’t a saint either (see her treatment of Dean). But Rory is an adolescent, while Lorelai should know better.
I wrote all of the above ignoring what is also abundantly clear about the show. That this is about mothers and daughters and their complicated relationships. That everything I’ve said about Lorelai’s misbehavior is true, but that they also love each other, and they’re good for each other (on the most part). Lorelai is there to put Rory back together. And this is something I’m lucky enough to also relate to. It’s another reason why I like the show so much, both as a girl and as an adult.
This is all to say that my expectations for the Thanksgiving revival are high. To watch Gilmore Girls “live” feels like a continuation of my own story, or if not my own, what it could and maybe should be. How will Lorelai and Rory interact now that Rory is an adult? Has Lorelai matured? Is Rory more independent? Are they less self-involved? These are questions I need to see answered. Where they lead I will follow.