Saturday, May 26, 2007

Gilmore Girls, RIP

The best-written show in a very long time has passed, not with a bang, but with a sigh. Gilmore Girls never got great ratings, and was probably dismissed by most men as a “chick show,” scheduled as it was against the testosterone-driven 24. Nonetheless, the quick wit, fast-paced dialogue, avalanches of pop-cultural references, and heart of the show should have appealed to men and women alike.

The basic story was about a mother and daughter who are best friends, Lorelai and Rory Gilmore. Having given birth to Rory at the age of sixteen, Lorelai had run away from her upper-crust parents' home to make a life for herself and her daughter in the small, quirky town of Stars Hollow. As the show began, Rory was now fifteen and obviously an intellectual prodigy with ambitions of becoming a journalist. Lorelai knows that for Rory to realize her ambitions and potential, she needs to go to the best schools, so she reluctantly crawls back to her parents to borrow the money for Rory's tuition to Chilton, an exclusive private school. The parents, Richard and Emily Gilmore, agree to loan her the money, on condition that Lorelai and Rory begin having Friday night dinners with them--they want to reestablish a relationship with their granddaughter, and be able to exert some "influence" (read "control") over her future.

So there's tension in the relationship between Lorelai and her parents, tension between the down-to-earth Rory and her new prep school environment (and her continuing relationship with friends from Stars Hollow), and tension caused by both Lorelai and Rory dipping their toes into the dating waters at the same time. Lorelai had a few different relationships, including one with Christopher, Rory's charming but undependable father, all the while avoiding her real attraction to the local diner owner, Luke. Rory falls for a nice guy, Dean, but then leaves him for Luke's much more edgy nephew Jess. Description doesn't do the show justice; it was the sharp-edged wit that made it work. That and Lorelai's character, played inimitably by Lauren Graham: having been thrust into adult responsibilities at an early age, Lorelai is emotionally the peer, or even the junior, of her own daughter. A charming veneer of clever verbal repartee covered a heart of pain and fear--primarily, the fear that she may have missed the chance for a lasting romantic relationship forever.

Eventually, the show changed. During Rory's final year at Chilton, she gave up her lifelong dream to go to Harvard in order to attend Richard's alma mater, Yale, doubtless to keep her in closer proximity to the other principals in the show. It didn't really work; the show about a mother-daughter best-friendship struggled with trying to put its two principals on the same set at the same time. It became two parallel stories, not a single complex intertwined one. Plotlines were invented to accommodate the exit of supporting cast members. Other plotlines worked better in anticipation than in execution: for instance, Rory's friend Lane was originally an extremely hip music afficionado whose ambition was to be in a band; once the dream was achieved, though, the band was just silly, sporting a thirtysomething (fortysomething?) front man who looked like a David Lee Roth wannabee, and touring Seventh-Day Adventist churches under the direction of Lane's mother, the stereotypical religious zealot whom Lane has been trying to get out from under all her life. And Rory, heretofore driven by ambition and a love for learning, dropped out of college for no particular reason other than getting involved with a slacker rich kid boyfriend, evidently because college life didn't provide any interesting plot lines to develop. Even when she returned, the focus was more on her out-of-nowhere promotion to editor of the Yale Daily News; evidently Yale doesn't require the taking of any actual classes.

But the major cause of plot gridlock in the show's later years was the unwillingness of the show's creators and writers, primarily Amy Sherman-Palladino and her husband Daniel Palladino, to allow Lorelai to move forward in her emotional and relational development. In the fifth season, the relationship that everyone was waiting for between Lorelai and Luke finally materialized and culminated in a proposal of marriage; however, in the sixth season, the writers invented a long-lost daughter for Luke, eventually spoiling the wedding plans and ending in a breakoff of their engagement. Wanting to avoid the mistakes of Moonlighting and Cheers, the writers didn't want to lose the romantic tension by putting the principals together; they didn't notice that the romantic tension had already dissipated because of the increasingly artificial plot devices to keep them apart.

In the final season, the Palladinos left the show over contract disputes and their heir apparent, David Rosenthal, became the primary writer and showrunner. Rosenthal developed the relationship between Lorelai and Rory's father Christopher, culminating in a quickie marriage in Paris which Lorelai immediately regretted. Fans faulted Rosenthal for losing the pace of the Palladino-led show; in reality, much of that had already been lost in the angst-ridden sixth season. Rosenthal obviously wanted to explore what a marriage to Christopher would have meant (something the show had hinted at throughout its run), while reestablishing Lorelai and Luke's relationship. Unfortunately, this meant rendering Lorelai and Christopher's marriage vows meaningless. I had always wanted to see Lorelai and Luke end up married, but once married to Christopher, that should have meant something.

Anyway, the final episode was charming and fitting. Rory, who had (incomprehensibly) been moping around about What To Do After College, regained her lifelong ambition to pursue journalism and got an opportunity to cover Barak Obama's campaign. The town, led by Luke, engineered a surprise party as a send-off (overruling objections by Taylor, the heavy-handed mayor of Stars Hollow). Lorelai is busy being supportive while covering her grief at her daughter moving into full adulthood without her--a characteristic "roller coaster tour" that Lorelai and Rory were planning during the summer after her graduation will have to be put off, and we understand that it's never going to happen. Richard Gilmore finally acknowledges that Lorelai has done a good job with her daughter, and comes perilously close to asking forgiveness for the rigid disapproval that had pushed Lorelai into having to do it on her own in the first place. Meanwhile, Emily is busily plotting subterfuges to keep a relationship with Lorelai alive, now that all obligation regarding Rory is discharged; Lorelai graciously offers to keep the Friday night dinner tradition going. And, Christopher having disappeared several episodes earlier, Lorelai kisses Luke, suggesting that their relationship will be reestablished. But the show ends just as the pilot episode had ended, with Lorelai and Rory sitting in Luke's diner, mother and daughter and dear, dear friends. It was a fitting end.

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  1. Hi, Keith. I disagree completely with many of your complaints. In fact, they say more about you than they do about the story.

    I wrote a blog post of my own in response: Still Complaining About April? Deal With It Already! Lorelai Did..


  2. I'll miss the show, too. I loved it best for its fast-paced dialogue. I love quick, clever, dialogue and it is far too rare on shows without laugh tracks. Gilmore Girls had it in spades.