'Gilmore Girls' Deserves to Be Remembered as More Than Just Feelgood Fluff
The family saga is returning to Netflix for a seventh season. Hopefully now it will be remembered as more than just a source of Rory reaction GIFs.
Last week, Netflix confirmed that it is bringing back Gilmore Girls for a seventh season. And lo, the internet, which is always calling for things to come back or be reunited because it has a real issue with time's linear progression, was finally satiated. Once-respectable news outlets were ablaze with excitement and the weekly Gilmore Girls podcast the Gilmore Guys went berserk. In the last week alone, there have been ten BuzzFeed articles about Gilmore Girls, including "This 4 Question Gilmore Girls Quiz Will Determine What Kind Of Coffee Drinker You Are" and "18 Times Paris Geller Proved She's The Funniest."
For whatever reason, Gilmore Girls has become the ultimate fodder for listicles and reaction GIFs. But like Friends, Frasier, The OC, Mean Girls, any Pixar film, and the literal ground that Beyoncé walks on, it has light and shade, progressive moments and some very problematic parts. Sadly this has all been subsumed into a Yassss Queen recall-a-thon where everything becomes one-liners and eye-rolls.
But unlike the other shows that have been collapsed under the internet's thirst for nostalgia, Gilmore Girls remains worth re-watching. It shows women in a way that they've never really been seen before on TV, with a quick-fire pop culture conversation style that is normally the reserve of the nerdy (usually male) characters in a teen movie. Lorelai and her daughter Rory, the two titular Gilmores, reference David Bowie, Sonic Youth, and joke about the Menendez brothers. They talk faster than Six in Blossom (the scripts were so dialogue-heavy they were about 15 pages longer than the average network TV script) and confront class, politics, and feminism in a way that still feels fresh by the standards of modern network TV.
A lot of the Gilmore cheerleading ignores all this. For example, in none of the cheery Rory-is-my-sidebitch online palaver is there anything about Emily Gilmore, Rory's grandma, who seems to register no facial expression other than mild distaste. You could show her 2 Girls 1 Cupand she'd probably just raise an eyebrow and say, "Well, that cup looks rather cheap."
When we're first introduced to Emily, she's a Republican monster, a demon of the DAR, who hires and fires maids on the turn of a salad leaf, ridicules her daughter for her haircuts and liberal life choices, and uses money as an emotional weapon.
A lot of the genius of the show comes because Lorelai Gilmore, Emily's daughter, thinks her mother is a stuck-in-the-mud old grump while she is a bastion of liberal parenting and JC Penney leather jackets. But we, the audience, can see the pair are exactly the same.
Lorelai has picked a life that is as small and confined as her mother's. She's lived in the same town since she was 16, worked the same job, had the same friends. She thinks she broke away from the stuffiness of her parents by moving out of their fancy home and into the picture-perfect fantasy land of Stars Hollow, which is actually just as insular, prissy, and incestuous as the upper-class world Emily inhabits. Emily's biggest flaw is that she expects her daughter to be exactly like her, but Lorelai gave her daughter her own fucking name and demands she spend every waking minute hanging out with her, so what do you expect?
Lorelai is a flawed antihero from a time before flawed antiheroes on TV were cool. She's the perennial teenager, a Petra Pan who has never grown up and wants to be her daughter's best friend. She does dumb things when it comes to men, shies away from honest discussion of problems, and also wears terrible hats—which somehow doesn't have any impact on her love life, but did seem to heavily influence the band Haim. There's a bite to Lorelai—you wouldn't want to cross her—and she has a core of steel. You fall in love with her not because she's super cool, but because when she fucks up, her loneliness and misery is brutally palpable as she tries to hold it all together.
Rory, meanwhile, is a walking parable of class and inheritance in modern America. Having an extra generation between her and Emily means she can see her grandmother's greatness, and she's more willing to embrace her posh heritage. The boyfriend she seems most comfortable with is Logan Huntzburger, who comes from an equally well-established family. She picks Yale over Harvard, with no qualms about the family connection (her grandfather is an alumnus)—indeed, that's part of the appeal. But she also loves the movies she watches with her mother, she's laid-back and warm, and never leans into the money at her disposal. But in the end, she finds the pull of her background becomes inescapable, and she finishes the show with the life her grandmother would have wanted for Lorelai.
Like any show from over three years ago, there's a lot about Gilmore Girls that seems politically out of step, and it's even more pointed on a show where the main characters are proud liberals who watch The Daily Show every night.
There's the junk food. It's a common TV trope that a woman's relationship to food is an indicator of her personality. While an uptight character will be pedantic and fussy over meals, chowing down burgers six days a week and only using your oven to store shoes or warm your jeans means a woman is cool, funny, and easygoing. It's lazy writing and it's also pretty batshit when you consider the message it sends—the ideal woman is one who eats crap all the time yet is still skinny. Which means when Emily Gilmore asks always-up-for-Chinese-takeout-and-let's-also-get-a-pizza-for-dessert Queen Rory if she's bulimic, I lean in extra close to the TV to see her reaction. But they skip over it like it's just another snappy gag that doesn't really matter to the story.
Gilmore Girls is also horrendously white. I mean, there is Michel, basically a snotty French cartoon cat who is obsessed with Celine Dion, and Lane, Rory's best friend, maybe one of the best teenage girls ever, but her mother Mrs. Kim is a highly devout Korean Seven Day Adventist whose two dimensions consist of hardcore antiquery and a brutal hatred of her daughter's freedom. Oh, and she's all about the tofu. It doesn't seem like creator Amy Sherman-Palladino was into complex and sympathetic representations of different nationalities and cultures.
To be fair, all the shows from this era—The OC, Dawson's Creek, Gossip Girl—are littered with white privilege and dodgy characters. The best evidence I have that this is a show that deserves far more respect than any other glossy sunshine teen drama offering of the 2000s is the episode when all three Gilmore girls, and Emily's husband Richard (played by the indubitably marvelous Edward Herman), finally make their peace with each other. The last five minutes of "Friday Night's Alright for Fighting" consist of a scene that smoothly wends its way between the family crying, screaming at each other, laughing hysterically, appreciating the delectable dinner, and finally collapsing with exhaustion. It's the most perfect representation of real family life that I've ever seen.
I can't believe this show only ever won an Emmy for makeup.
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