Gilmore Girls – A Nostalgic Liar or a Compelling Comeback?


Revivals are a funny thing. One on hand, if a show has been mothballed long enough – and, perhaps more importantly, enjoyed an alarmingly devoted fanbase both during and after its run – then it will automatically be greeted and received with feverish enthusiasm. We will gawk at how that character is now bald and slightly more rotund around the middle. We’ll gawp at how the lead character hasn’t changed one iota, sans for a more nimble nose. We will find the same feelings of sympathy and satisfaction we had when we watched it in our salad days.

That’s all a given. Even a franchise as fraternised as American Pie flushed us with feelings of love and awe when they released their reunion movie. One could even argue (though would probably be forced to leave the room or, fittingly, hide in a toilet cubicle sucking one’s thumb) that Dumb and Dumber To, for all its lack of progression and ‘90s anachronism of a script, gave the audience, for the first fifteen minutes at least, a sugar rush of delight that characters we align so close to halcyon happiness were back frolicking on screen.

But let’s nip this in bud – nostalgia is a pretty liar. You know it, I know it and the makers of these products bloody well know it. It’s the girl you used to have sex with back in sixth form, the one that gave you the thrill and thrust your ex-wife never could. You’re naturally going to be glad to see them when you bump into them at that local bar. It’s the boy who gave you your first dance before jetting off to spend his father’s trust fund, leaving you to ponder what might have been. Nostalgia injects us with a giddy sense of wistful wonder and joy, but when the drug wears off, all these things must be judged on the ‘now’ and not the ‘then’.

The latest fodder to be thrown into the comeback canon was Gilmore Girls. It may have added the extra A Year in the Life, to propose feelings of freshness as opposed to a mere ‘Kirk is back and being goofy’ session, but all in all it was hard to ignore that warm feeling of homeliness that spewed forth. When Rory and Lorelai, the quick-witted, coffee-quaffing duo that demonstrated a solid independence and intelligence that was so endearing, walked together in snowy Stars Hallow, it was like someone had lit a Yankee candle in a room silenced by darkness. All of a sudden, that homely, heartfelt pang rushed through your body and the world felt alright again.


And as the show has gone through the different seasons, it has certainly been a hoot to see what the characters have been up to. Lest we forget, Gilmore Girls was as much about the town as the Gilmores themselves, a goldfish bowl that always teetered on the right side of Blue Velvet-esque distortion. It was a thrill to find Kirk was still as loveably eccentric as ever (his Oober racket just about worked without being too annoying), it was great to see Digger Styles, seemingly unchanged, drag up his off-centre banter at a funeral, and Babette and Morey were still a queasily approachable couple who you never knew where the line was towed.

However, once dust of nostalgic delight had been swept away, judging A Year in the Life on its merits reveals some flaws that you just wish would go the way of Taylor’s septic tanks. The main issue is the characterisation of Rory. Of course, the whole idea of nostalgia is that we want our characters to have been frozen in amber – we wanted Paul Finch on American Pie to be the same snobby intellectual he was at school. We wanted Mulder and Scully to share the same detached, wry outlook on their work. And, with Gilmore Girls, we wanted Rory to be the same sprightly, sympathetic girl she was in the show’s salad days.

That’s where the danger of nostalgia comes in – Rory has changed and grown up, which is obviously good; too much of the mild, inquisitive teenager of old might have not worked on a 32-year-old woman. However, at the same time, the Rory many viewers envisioned as a grown-up probably didn’t coagulate correctly onscreen. In this revival, Rory seems deflated, downbeat and, in some cases, even arrogant – there was always a defiance and determination within the youngest Gilmore, which is what made her character so endearing and influential. Here, though, it seems wrapped up in self-satisfaction – she shrugs off a website chasing her signature and, when she finally realises she could do with a steady income, decides in an “it’s a living” lurch that it’s the job for her. But it gets worse – she botches the interview after doing zero research or planning, and seems aggrieved when the CEO, however annoying she may be, isn’t won over. For the first time watching Rory, I wasn’t rooting for her.


Maybe that’s the point? That we needed to see Rory experience a downfall or two (in the second episode, ‘Spring’, a lot of her walls come crashing down) in order to show the brutal realism of adult life. But it would be more compelling if it was Rory questioning the karmic alignments of life (why is the girl who did everything right being given such a raw deal?), but in actuality it’s of her own doing – her faith in a sketchy feminist drunkard is slightly blind, as is her seemingly unshakeable faith that her portfolio alone will secure her work on a whim.

This is before we’ve explored the deeper issues. A particularly frustrating scene, and one that is thrown away as a comedic sidebar, is when Rory tells Lorelai she had a one-night stand with someone dressed as a Wookie. It’s brushed under the carpet using the standard Gilmore banter boilerplate, but is this what Rory has become? There’s nothing wrong with the odd dalliance in the bedroom, of course, and this is the modern world. She’s a modern journalist. But this is the girl who, at the tender age of 16, couldn’t tell Dean she loved him because she wasn’t sure she meant it. While she admits it was out-of-character, it feels way too dissimilar to Rory to ring true – no matter how tanked Rory gets, the idea of a girl so aligned to responsibility knocking boots with a Trekkie just feels a mighty stretch.

Then you get to the other men in her life. The idea of one of her three suitors occupying a romantic position feels right – otherwise it would just be a trio of shoehorned cameos that linger on past love (i.e. Jess). And it makes begrudging sense that it would be Logan, the man who was born into money and thus can offer Rory a plush pad. But in Rory’s role as ‘the other woman’, a role she seems to happily accept, is that destroying her character further? The old Rory surely wouldn’t be satisfied in being a dirty secret, someone who can watch on happily as a man cheats on his fiancée? Her conscience wouldn’t allow it. And yet here she uses Logan as a pillow as well as a sex-chum, and doesn’t really seem to care that he’s hitched. Sure, she slept with Dean when he was married, but there was a beautiful naivety to her first time. Here it just feels like pointless fucking.

Rory’s story arc rings the least true, simply because it feels like it has too much of an agenda – Rory is built up and knocked down, her previous innocence tarnished in a sea of freelance jobs (surely no journalist these days can afford to fly from London to the USA so frequently?), pointless trysts and an unplanned pregnancy. Gilmore Girls was a delightful reunion that tugged at the heartstrings and gave us the same sense of comfort it did before, but like all things comforting, it can be bad for you in the long run.



‘The Burns Cage’ – The Real Jail is the One Surrounding the Writers

The Burns Cage 1

Recently I made what I think is a salient, if trite, point about The Simpsons’ legacy. Like R.E.M., the show has made the protracted prance long into the noughties, but most people stopped giving a solid after about 1998. However, unlike the Athens trio, our yellow youths have continued to plough on right into 2016, and thus, particularly with Season 27, they are trying to stay relevant with ‘challenging’ plots.

The only issue is the writers, whether they be well-established wordsmiths or fairly fresh recruits, can’t masterfully skewer and satirise like The Simpsons could in its pop culture-baiting heyday. The season started with Homer and Marge allegedly splitting up and discovering new relationships, which was particularly plausible considering how unilateral Homer has become. However, that proved something of a red herring, as it was only a dream. Then we had Apu facing changes from Jamshed and, to a lesser extent, Patty and Selma deciding to give up smoking. However, every time this season, the writers have had a hovering hand descending over the ‘reset’ button. The show was once transcendent. Now it’s toothless.

On Sunday, one of the show’s most promoted episode in a long time aired, The Burns Cage, which was billed as the episode where Waylon Smithers told everyone the worst-kept secret – he’s gay. At first, it was met with cyber sighs and begrudging “whys” – as the show has become more and more blatant in its badinage, Smithers has transcended from a “young bootlick” into someone adorning rainbow suspenders and rollerblades, so what’s the point in letting him come out? We all know, anyway. It’d be like Ted Nugent selling his own bear traps.

However, despite my original reservations, I was swayed to change my mind after reading the touching interview with the episode’s writer, Rob LaZebnik, in which he explained the episode was inspired after his own son came out to him while the latter was in college. This sweet premise reminded me of one of my favourite scenes from another progressive show, Modern Family, in which Mitch discusses the time he came out to his insular father, Jay. “He used to ring me every Saturday, and I think it was in my second year when I finally decided to tell him,” Mitch explained, before leaving a crackling pause. “I pretty much spoke to my mom after that.” It was handled beautifully, with just the right amount of pathos.

With that in mind, here in this Simpsons episode, the patriarchal role of Jay is switched for the no-less close-minded malevolence of Mr. Burns. I sat down to watch and like many was hopeful this moment would be handled with the bittersweet bathos of The Simpsons of old. However, just like the many previous attempts at validity, the writers hurriedly slammed the car into reverse – in short, the moment never came. Smithers never uttered the words “I’m gay”. Did he need to? Not necessarily, but to hear those words would not have only allowed a collective sigh of relief from the slew of fans still watching, but it would have been a flagship moment of emotional release for a character that’s got nothing outside of his boss (even Principal Skinner has been given some character over the years).

The Burns Cage 2

Of course, if Smithers announcing his sexuality would stop the flow, then LaZebnik was right in omitting it. However, as the rest of the episode unfolded, I felt the same disappointment and short change that I’ve felt ever since Maude Flanders was killed. Attempts at poignancy and growth are often swiftly dashed in favour of a quick crude joke, the show’s erstwhile erudite attempts at satire are now blunt and brutish (their knowledge of Grindr is that, well, it exists) and even the show’s ‘happy ending’ felt, as old Sideshow Bob would say, “tacked on.”

The Simpsons continues to face a cultural quandary – it strives to remain relevant and aligned to the times. In its glory days, this was something it not only did well, but rallied against. Think back to another episode focusing on homosexuality, Homer’s Phobia, in which the script salaciously threw away peacekeeping with the aggressive, anti-gay stance of Homer. There, the gay character in question, John (John Waters), was camp but quirky and clever, and the ending felt totally earned. Go further back and we had one of our finest one-off characters, the gravelly Karl. Fast-forward to 2016 and, sadly, the show just cannot create coherent homosexual characters – the writers’ lack of imagination leads to Smithers falling for none other than Julio, who must rank up there with the Crazy Cat Lady and Booberella for most annoying regular character.

While it may make sense Julio is in the show (due to the episode title’s Birdcage homage), it’s regressive to the show’s cultural clout that they cannot create a homosexual character that is not a fiery Latino bartender that would be better suited fighting with Christina Ricci in The Opposite of Sex. Harvey Fierstein must be spinning in his grave.

Smithers may have gotten what he always wanted in this episode – approval from Mr. Burns – but the show once again demonstrates that the writers currently at the helm will not, or cannot, challenge the characters, themselves and, more importantly, the viewers. Where before the show was inspired, now it just seems tired.