Thursday, December 1, 2016

It's Time to drop the "The" from The Rory Gilmore (A Gilmore Girls Review)

It has taken me awhile to put into words the feelings I have towards the Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life revival on Netflix. Generally speaking, the joy of seeing all the characters I said goodbye to ten years ago was gratifying. A special shout out to my spirit animal Paris, who stole each of her scenes. Emily Gilmore's progress from heartbreak to healing in dealing with Richard's passing and her relationship with Lorelai was inspiring to watch. Lorelai and Luke's story was stagnant and at times hard to endure but they got married and that is all anyone wanted to see anyway. Let's all agree that the musical was a total time suck and Zach looks a thousand years old.

The only storyline that left me baffled was Rory's.  I could not in a million years have guessed where a year in her life would lead. Hearing Alexis Bledel speak in recent interviews, she didn't either.  Rory's journey was the hardest to understand.

"The" Rory Gilmore of the original series was a character that reminded me that I could achieve anything in life if I did my homework and studied diligently instead writing forceful letters to networks demanding second seasons of shows like My So Called Life and Relativity. Rory was an unapologetically smart and ambitious teenager with the singular goal of becoming the next Christiane Amanpour.

At the end of Gilmore Girls' original seven season run, Rory turned down a marriage proposal from her beau, Logan Huntzberger, to join the Obama campaign as a correspondent. As a 36 year old single woman debating how many dogs is too many, I would say she made a big mistake. My fresh faced twenty something self back in 2008 disagreed. I was proud she pulled a Kelly Taylor, choosing herself and her career over romantic love. Did I mention Logan bought her an Hermes Birkin bag? It was a fitting end to an earnest show that highlighted the complicated relationships between mothers, daughters, friends and lovers in a sleepy New England town.

When I found out that Gilmore Girls was getting a revival on Netflix, I was cautiously optimistic. Due to contract disputes, the show's creator, Amy Sherman Palladino, left after the sixth season and was not able to bring viewers the ending she had originally intended. It would be as if J.K. Rowling quit the Harry Potter series after book six and the ghost writer for Kylie and Kendall Jenner's masterpiece, "Rebels: City of Indra", was given the helm of the ship to sail into port. With this Revival, justice would be served and audiences would finally experience the real Gilmore Girls ending complete with the famous last four words of the series.

On a more girlish note, we would also revisit Rory's ex-boyfriends and get an answer as to which is the fairest of them all. Yes, yes, in real life the answer would most likely be "none of the above" but we're dealing in fiction here and Rory's love life was truly contentious. There was "Team Dean", Rory's first boyfriend. He was the patient, kind and endearing kid who sported the popular 90s butt-cut haircut, a mainstay of Devon Sawa's career. Knowing the actor playing Dean was only in one scene in the revival, "Team Dean" fans conceded without a fight. There was "Team Jess", the second boyfriend. Jess was the elusive bad boy who hated adults, sexual consent, communication, and higher education but was cool because he read "A Confederacy of Dunces" before everyone else. I don't think it would be a stretch to say Jess probably collected vinyl records from indie underground record stores for no other reason than to add volume to the army issued duffle bag he carried around like a vagrant's man purse.  Finally, there was "Team Logan", the rich, entitled, Yale playboy with an affinity for the high life, blazers and the occasional cashmere turtleneck. He is the guy in the 80's movie who leans on BMW sedans surveying his kingdom in cream colored linen suits. You can guess which "Team" I was on.

Since I knew the adult Rory would be a journalistic force to be reckoned with, surrounded by multiple awards including a Pulitzer Prize and a recurring byline in The New Yorker,  I did not worry about her professional life. That slight limp in her walk?  Just a byproduct of the shrapnel lodged in her knee acquired while covering the war in Afghanistan. With that aspect covered, the excitement for me lay in which of the two remaining men would win her heart. To say I didn't engage in heated textual exchanges with my sister extolling virtues and denigrating weaknesses of our opposing teams on Friday nights would be a lie. #SuckItJess.

At exactly 12:07am on November 25th, 2016, I started the revival. By 2:00am, I was concerned. By 4:00am, I calculated how many hours were left in the series for Amy to fix this. By 6:00am, I was wondering if it was too early to take shots. By 8:00am, I was sitting up in bed, covers drawn up to my chest, lights off, shades drawn, the remote control and several pillows strewn on the ground in furious upheaval, staring at an empty wall, motionless, while Simon and Garfunkel's "Sound of Silence" played softly in my head. "Hello darkness my old friend..." I coped much better than my sister. She sobbed for hours afterwards only stopping briefly to text her friend.

What bleak, morose excuse for entertainment did I just watch? I've seen World War II footage more uplifting than this. Those final four words? They should have been kept secret from the world, buried in the eighth page of a Scientology Bridge to Freedom OT Level XII document available only after your body goes "exterior". In the span of six hours, Amy Sherman Palladino destroyed the joy I found in Rory's story in the original series. A feat I thought impossible until now.

At the start of the revival, we learn that Rory has found little success in the last ten years. A set back many of us have faced and one I assumed would be addressed and corrected in the next four chapters. Contrary to my prediction, Rory continued to squander or dismiss every opportunity that came her way. She didn't prepare for interviews, slept with a source, fell asleep interviewing a subject and got fired from writing a gig to name a few troubling antidotes. Maddeningly, no explanation is given for her outrageous behavior. Rory settles for editing the Stars Hollow Gazette, which I consider one step above a Christmas newsletter from your cousins. Some questions: Are we supposed to believe Rory made zero connections in the last ten years? The DAR, Yale Alumni Association, the Stanford Gazette, Doyle? No one she could ask for additional work or an introduction? Did she have a lobotomy that I wasn't aware of or perhaps a mental breakdown?

Her personal life is worse.  Rory is cheating on her current forgettable boyfriend by having a transatlantic affair with engaged ex-boyfriend #3, Logan Huntzberger. We are asked to suspend belief and accept that the same girl who turned down his marriage proposal has agreed to become his mistress. Did I mention Logan bought her a Birkin bag? As a staunch Team Logan supporter, the amount of screen time they had together brought me joy for a bit but quickly lost its luster. Logan spends most of the year in tight fitting t-shirts pulling double duty as Rory's life coach and paramour. We frequently hear casual references to Logan's faceless fiancee, a french heiress named Odette, and in one shot we actually see the back of her head. She is sleeping soundly in the background while Logan takes Rory off another ledge. My body language analysis of her resting posture tells me she likes pilates and coming between true love. Unsurprisingly, the romance doesn't last, as affairs usually don't, and Logan and Rory say a final goodbye after one last perfect night together. Logan recruits his friends to assist in this magical event and they all descend on Stars Hollow dressed as deranged steam punk vaudeville superheroes. They convince Rory that the best way to mend a broken heart, outside leaving her alone, is to reenact a scene from the movie, "Across the Universe". No one told them the film has a happy ending. Tango, champagne, a whore's proposal and sex round out the evening.

"Team Jess" fans fare no better. He swoops into town arm guns blazing and tries to put Rory on the right path by suggesting she write a book about the relationship between her and her mom. Since we all know the best way to get out of a career rut is to write a self-indulgent niche book that has about a .02% chance of being published, Rory takes his advice and gets to work. And that's about it. Jess fans waiting for more to the story are left completely empty handed. It's a bitter pill to swallow, further exacerbated by Jess' final shot in the revival, a longing glance at Rory through a window pane. With that last look fans are left assuming he will never be able to quit her.  A crying shame considering Rory doesn't even have the decency to look back up at him and make eye contact, or hug him goodbye, or give a polite thank you, or smile, or even wave. It becomes even more brutal when you realize that as Jess pines, a fetus made with another man's sperm is developing finger nails in her uterus. Surprise! Rory is expecting.  A fact we discover when the last four words are spoken. They are:

"I'm pregnant."

Logan is presumably the father. I hear sex can make that happen. Technically, this means Team Logan can claim victory, but only if you're into babies and fatalistic views on life. Lorelai's horrified face at the news sums up the collective shock and disgust we all felt at that moment. She could not have looked more horrified if Rory's words were, "I voted for Trump." With the mic dropped, the screen fades to black and fans begin asking themselves what deadly sin they committed in a former life to deserve this vengeful open-ended finale.

The significance of those last four words are pretty obvious. The series has come full circle with Rory pregnant, single, unemployed and living at home just like her mother was at 16. The difference, of course, is that Rory is a 32 year old Yale graduate with writing credits, a trust fund, an empty mansion to live in, and a baby daddy who at a minimum would buy her a Birkin diaper bag and at a maximum would drop everything to be with her and their child, but sure, we'll go with full circle. If all else fails, we've got Jess sitting in his small publishing house in Philadelphia on the look out for a bat signal from Rory to notify him that it's time to come to her aid once again and raise another man's baby.

Man, I wanted so much more for Rory. Her behavior during the revival seemed inexplicable. Somewhere along the way Rory turned into a Shonda Rhimes character in their 4th season all whiny and entitled making terrible decisions. I thought she was destined to stomp on the last remaining shards of the glass ceiling broken by female leaders like Hillary Clinton. Instead we find that she couldn't escape the cycle. The sacrifices Lorelai made to ensure a better life for her daughter were for naught and we're left frustrated with the realization that Rory having had every advantage and every tool at her disposal was to no avail. What we're left with is a 32 year old woman with an uncertain future facing a new path. But maybe that's the point. Amy wrote the series before the election and couldn't have known what the results would be. Unintentional art imitating life at its finest. However, if there is one thing I've learned to accept this past year,  it's that a woman's path will never be paved in gold but in the setbacks she overcomes. Viewed in this light, Rory's pregnancy and recent failures are just additional bumps (pun intended) in the road. One she will know how to face head on because the strong women in her life paved it first.

No comments: