Why I Hated Gilmore Girls & What Changed My Mind

Photo: Warner Bros/REX/Shutterstock.
A year ago, when the Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life Netflix revival announcement was made, my reaction was this: How nice for everyone else. Then: Oh, good, another year of pretending to like that overly precious festival of girly quirk. Sorry, past self, you were so wrong. For most of the time Gilmore Girls aired, I worked at TVGuide.com, which, thanks to my colleague Michael Ausiello, was basically Gilmore fandom central. I was surrounded by people constantly telling me how much I would like this smart, funny show. It was tailored to my demographic! It was a feminist TV show! How could I not? But every time I tuned in, I was put off and couldn't even sit through a full episode. Plus, knowing you're supposed to like something often has the opposite effect. My impressions at the time: That fast-talking style is fine for a 1940s screwball comedy, but after about five minutes, it's an overused gimmick. Everything is so nauseatingly cute, from Rory's Precious Moments doll face to Lorelai's wardrobe to that picture-perfect small town. Those cartoonish peripheral characters might as well be standing in the town square yelling, "Ha! How funny are we?" And the whole premise of a mother and daughter being best friends? C'mon, my mom and I could barely speak to each other when I was in high school. If you haven't yet egged your computer screen, you can now read how I changed my mind this summer, when my dog died and I turned to Netflix for something to numb the pain. For some reason, that thumbnail photo of Alexis Bledel and Lauren Graham surrounded by New England fall foliage looked like just the streaming therapy I needed. I dove in and soon began to correct 16 years of wrongness.
Photo: Courtesy of CW.
The fast-talking serves a purpose.
There are certainly moments when the rapid pace of the dialogue overwhelms the story and character development, but when you're deep into the show, your ear adjusts to it, like its own dialect. The more I watched, the more I could appreciate the way the fastest talkers — particularly Lorelai, Rory, and Paris (Liza Weil) — used their waterfalls of words to overcome insecurities and push through any obstacle in their way. All of the men on the show speak slowly and steadily, so sure that their audience will listen to everything they have to say. The women have learned that in this world, they have to say twice as much for half their message to be heard. That is a rather depressing takeaway, sure, but it's a far cry from my initial impression that they were just doing it to sound like Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday.

Rory and Lorelai are a very different kind of cute.
Lorelai's girlish wardrobe, tastes, and mannerisms have an obvious origin in her rebellion against her prim and proper mother and the hardship of raising a child at 16. Though in one way she had to grow up pretty fast, she decided to give herself the gift of perpetual girlhood, too. The early 2000s fashion trend of dressing like a little kid (bedazzled Henleys!) made this even easier to depict. Rory, meanwhile, treats her girlishness like a burden. She's a nerd with the soul of an older woman, but that sweet face makes everyone assume she's just dreaming about unicorns and kittens. It's fascinating to watch her gain her voice — often due to the encouragement and rivalry of Paris, the one person who knows just how tough Rory can be.

The cartoonish town is, well, a cartoon.
Okay, I had that right. There are some episodes that focus far too much on characters like Kirk (Sean Gunn), Taylor (Michael Winters), Mrs. Kim (Emily Kuroda), or Michel (Yanic Truesdale). Even beloved Sookie (Melissa McCarthy) has a tendency to veer into caricature. We'll just chalk that up to this being a TV show with a lot of airtime to fill, and sometimes the scenery takes over a bit. Could Stars Hollow use some more people of color? Of course. Would it have been better if, say, Michel were allowed to be an out gay man with a little complexity? Yes. Does the ridiculous fact that Skid Row's Sebastian Bach became a regular guest star make me temporarily forget most of my complaints? Also yes. My childhood love of hair metal is my Achilles' heel.
Photo: Courtesy of CW.
The mother-daughter relationships are real.
Emily Gilmore (Kelly Bishop) is the key to this. In the real world, most daughters and mothers have relationships that are something of a mix of Emily and Lorelai's, and Lorelai and Rory's. Maybe some are as close as the younger two or as distant as the elder two, but we almost all love, hate, amuse, encourage, discourage, disappoint, admire, and tolerate each other. Here's an eerie coincidence I can't shake: The season when Rory moved in with her grandparents and wasn't speaking to her mother aired exactly when my own mother and I went months without speaking to each other. This was not a perfect show. I'm not quite to the point of forgiving the frequent that's-so-gay jokes everyone makes, and I kind of still hate the way the Gilmore money becomes a magical cure for all problems. But there's much more to like than I can even mention in this space — the cute boys, the love triangles, Lane's music, the weird cameos, the bit actors who went on to become favorites elsewhere. After all my years of skepticism, there's no higher praise I can offer than this: If my mother were alive today, I'd be sending this essay to her, demanding that she binge all seven seasons in time for November 25, when the two of us would order enough takeout for 10 people and watch A Year in the Life together.

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