Gilmore Girls – A Nostalgic Liar or a Compelling Comeback?

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

Easy Ryder – Why The World Still Needs Winona

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‘Winona Forever’ goes the slogan. Immortalised by a generation raised on the Gothic glamour of Beetlejuice, it was also the phrase that was, ironically, temporarily etched onto the arm of eccentric movie alternahunk Johnny Depp. Even more ironically, such a statement – delivered in honour of Winona Ryder – hasn’t exactly rang true, for career-wise, Miss Ryder’s adulation has been the very definition of transitory.

Admired in the ’80s, adored in the ’90s and abolished in the noughties, recently Winona Ryder has undergone something of a career resurgence. Thanks to the cyclical nature of commercialism and a new generation raised on vintage fodder, Winona’s clout has been freshly anointed, young people the world over fawning over her antics in Heathers or her giddy graduate in Reality Bites. Not only that, but her new role in the stunning Netflix show Stranger Things has won her the kind of plaudits last uttered when she inadvertently played second fiddle to Angelina Jolie in Girl, Interrupted.

Stranger Things has succeeded in capturing kudos thanks to its love-letter approach to nostalgia – the science-fiction forays recall the gloriously kitsch ’80s output of E.T., the “kids fight back” ethos of The Goonies and generally enticing, character-driven stories of Spielberg. The scripts are strong and it is the perfect show for Netflix, a platform where binge-watching is almost a pre-requisite.

For Ryder, it’s an important role. Since her infamous shoplifting incident and appearance in an Adam Sandler movie, she became something of a Tinseltown pariah; or so you’d be led to think. Instead, she became more selective about her roles, taking on acclaimed performances in Show Me A Hero, Turks and Caicos and, most notably, Black Swan. However, Stranger Things marks a strong resurgence, the chance to re-appeal to a younger generation that have no doubt swooned over her slight, offbeat personalities in movies by Tim Burton and Ben Stiller.

It has also been a chance for Ryder to a play a role devoid from the rest of her output. From Edward Scissorhands to Mermaids, Ryder’s roles have generally been that of the proactive, the kooky and the off-kilter. She also often played characters a lot younger than her actual age, thanks to her seemingly ageless exterior (it’s startling to accept that she is now actually 44). As an actress, Ryder has shown consistency and versatility throughout her career, and taking on a role different from her previous posts has shown another side to her considerable acting talents.

From the 1980s to present day, anyone of a certain bent will adopt the same individualism, fashion styles and traits of Ryder, from her dark, luxurious hair, junkets of jewellery and her adoration of indie. She is an actress that has stood out for standing out, her Generation X wardrobe, pixie haircut and string of myriad roles giving her indefinite credence.

 

Winona Ryder still emulates the effortless chic that she did when she was hailed as the queen that wouldn’t conform all those years ago. Mixing adolescent innocence with a detached, world-weary reticence, Ryder’s personality is aloof, exciting and lovingly ironic. Her characters, always killer, sometimes cartoonish, have the ability to slide from enigmatic to excitable with one glance of her trademark wide-eyed stare. A born outsider, for those who struggle in their own skin, Ryder’s development in the public eye has been perversely refreshing, watching someone different, secluded offering glimpses of hope and realism to a generation raised on catwalk perfection. Her style, films and personality are permanently endearing, relatable and, above all, real.

Winona Forever…maybe it was apposite, after all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘When You Dish Upon A Star’ – The Death of the Celebrity Cameo?

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Welcoming celebrities into the blue-collar world of The Simpsons was always risky; if they were appearing via television or some fancy awards ceremony, fair enough, but if they happened to physically frequent Springfield, it had to be for valid reasons.

Not only that, but the celebrities had to be fair game for some gentle hazing. Over the years, some of the best celebrity cameos have been the most unusual – Peter Frampton was presented as a bitter curmudgeon, Dick Cavett was a washed-up namedropper and James Taylor was brutishly brusque. Furthermore, celebrities appearing as themselves didn’t happen very often, not until around the turn of the century, and on the infamous ‘When You Dish Upon A Star’, the trend of celebrities gracing the show became an unwanted occurrence.

This episode, along with ‘That ‘90s Show’ and ‘The Principal and the Pauper’, has an infamous position in the show’s long-running canon. Not only is it lightweight in the comedic stakes, it is also where the trend for famous people popping up in Springfield ad infinitum began, as well as them being presented in the holiest of lights. From here on in, we’d be greeted to simpering send-ups of Mel Gibson, Michelle Obama, Lady Gaga and (shudder) Tony Blair. None are critically mauled or presented as absurd caricatures; instead, they come in for a scene, bend over to receive a scriptural rear-kissing and then get their cheque on the way out. George Harrison must be spinning in his grave.

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Season Ten represents an awkward middle-ground for The Simpsons – the halcyon days of Seasons One to Eight were, like adolescence, a pleasantly fading memory, although you could still, heartbreakingly, see it in the distance. The tenth season still gave us a few hearty chuckles – and there a few in here – but any emotional resonance was replaced by a cheap laugh. This is represented perfectly in the first few scenes of this episode, where, after an ironically soporific dream sequence involving Homer as Yogi Bear, the family attend the Springfield Lake for a day out.

The scenes where the family go water skiing are quite funny (particularly Bart’s deadpan “she’s down” after Lisa instantly descends into the shallow end). Homer’s insistence on going higher pays off, and his surprisingly eloquent line “I’m soaring majestically like a candy wrapper caught in an updraft” would occasionally appear on Simpsons Hit & Run, for some reason. The episode begins to plummet just as soon as Homer’s body crash lands through the plush property of Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger. From here on in, it becomes a disjointed, affectionate documentation of gentle maternal ribbing and Oscar polish.

I can almost forgive Homer’s garbled glee over sharing a futon with the thespian couple, even though he seems more like a fangirling teenager than a working-class slob. The most egregious line, though, is when, after Basinger begins to tell the origins of why they’re in Springfield, Homer arbitrarily interrupts with “wait! Tell me over breakfast! Who’s for pancakes?” For me, the Homer I know and love would never offer to cook – go back to Season One when he sheepishly ordered pizza while Marge bowled. Sure, he made that heart-clogging moon waffle in ‘Homer the Heretic’, but Homer’s energetic eagerness to become the Hollywood handyman feels especially out-of-character (a few moments later, he offers to fix their broken skylight and do their shopping).

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After that, he falls into a curious kinship with Kim and Alec, and, even stranger, they welcome it. Not only is it out-of-sorts for Homer to become such a vigorous assistant, surely two Hollywood stars wouldn’t succumb to this stranger so swiftly? Later on, there’s a strange scene where Basinger does a workout while Homer watches with a beer, acting like her trainer. She even suggests she wants a neck rub; it’s just so random how all of a sudden they see Homer as a fervent friend, and it’s not charming or endearing in any way. He also becomes snobbish to his family, refusing Marge’s food (again, completely out-of-character) and saying “I didn’t need to fake it with them, I was actually excited to hear about their day”, which is especially cruel.

There are good parts in the show, and the saving grace is Ron Howard, who is written purely to be ridiculed (as it should be). Not only is it heavily implied he is an alcoholic, there’s an amusing scene where he and Homer, who form a much more believable, almost brotherly relationship, play badminton and after Basinger says “in your freckled face, Howard,” Homer contemptuously mutters “unbelievable” at Howard’s poor play. The best moment of the show is in the by-now obligatory action sequence, where Howard says “I guess it’s up to me,” and launches himself from the car to Homer’s mobile museum…only to instantly miss and plummet to the ground. It’s a callback to the good old days where celebrities like Ernest Borgnine would end up killed in the woods, but it’s a jarring contrast to the blinding glow that basks the Baldwins.

This episode marks the beginning of the end for Simpsons celebrity cameos. Wooden stars like Jim Jarmusch and Ronaldo would appear to spout a few unfunny lines, and in easily the worst episode I have ever, ever seen (even worse than the Gaga one), some guy called Elon Musk, who can’t act for toffee, is presented as some sort of God. It was truly terrible. One thing was for sure, after this episode, the days of mocking celebrities with scalpel-sharp satire were, like Ron Howard’s vodka, fresh out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Feminism Isn’t About Appendages…It’s About Acceptance

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We go through different stages in life. At some point, we decide that drinking out of a toilet bowl and urinating into an empty Ribena carton isn’t acceptable. We begin to adapt to social norms, but the interplay between two genders is still an interesting one; when we’re ten-years-old, we live in fear of the opposite sex; we dread being accused of fancying someone, we avoid them like the plague and, in America, ‘cooties’ is always around the corner.

But what about the change that happens with adolescence? Or, rather, the perception that occurs? For when puberty strikes and we become stumbling vessels of hyper hormones, all of a sudden members of the opposite sex no longer become someone of the opposite gender, they become targets.

And that’s not me talking from personal experience. That’s me talking from experiencing typically ‘male’ viewpoints. All of a sudden, the notion of becoming friends with girls is ridiculous, a frivolous pastime where the end result is like tipping a bus conductor; it’ll get you nowhere, fast. Unless you plan to sleep with them, then you’re making an idiot out of yourself. Forget making meaningful conversation, sharing common interests and enjoying one another’s platonic presence; if you’re not secretly working on some sexual subterfuge, then you might as well move to Brighton and scour Will Young’s LinkedIn page.

I spent eighteen months working within a cramped, typically male office environment, wherein it contained its own pool table and work finished at 12pm on a Friday for four hours of beer and pork. Not a problem as such, but women were viewed with disdain and carnality; on Christmas, they were given ironing boards as a present while the guys were given aftershave, every Monday morning was a conversation on who’d they slept with and the best sex they’d had period (and they’d later be referred to as “slags”), and their complaints about the pool table itself were laughed off, with the men proposing they could install “foxy boxing.” To add to that, strippers were regularly hired for birthdays and interviewees were judged on their looks.

One time, a co-worker eavesdropped in awe at my Facebook thread, in which I’d engaged in several conversations with different women. Disappointingly, the first thought that crossed his mind was that I was a serial ‘player’, rather than just someone who had female friends. They began surreptitiously hunting for tips. “How many are you shagging?” they asked. “None,” I replied. “And I don’t intend to.” “There’s something wrong with you,” came the crestfallen riposte. And, being naïve, I believed him. When you’re young and you enter a workplace like that for the first time, you start to unwillingly mould yourself to their alpha males.

Surrounded by guys who kept their craniums in their crotches, I began to think maybe the typical male representative should be ripped, randy and risqué, with a disposable attitude to women. I began to study their methods, and all of a sudden, my conversations with women changed – I was no longer genuinely conversing, I was no longer discussing similar interests and just passing the time innocently; I was instead urgent and full-on, with every response being sexually suggestive badinage that geared the conversation to only one place.

Of course, the guys in question admired me for it. But soon enough I finally realised that this wasn’t what I wanted. I’d begun adapting to what I thought society wanted in a man – someone that is cocksure, confident and concupiscent. But if that’s what a guy is meant to be, then I didn’t want it. I’d lost so many interesting conversations with girls, all because I was after something I didn’t even want. I was like a 12-year-old boy buying his first Rizla, only to discover he’d rather have spent it on some Haribo.

It opened my eyes to how some men think – social media can be a sexual fortress, where you can begin a conversation with a random girl and try your hardest to get their numbers. You can dare to send a dick pic in the hope it will “speed things up.” But is this what we want the female generation to think? That every time a guy pops up and says “hi”, that it’s merely a matter of time before they unleash a barrage of clunky catcalls and the dreaded wink emoticon. Nowadays, I do sometimes speak to girls on Facebook or Twitter, and even though my goal is just to talk and nothing more, I have a pang of guilt that I know half of these people will think I just want sex.

Some people view feminism with a degree of mistrust – if you’re not a girl, it doesn’t apply. But feminism isn’t about what’s in your pants, it’s about what’s in your head. It’s about acceptance – I’ve spoken to girls who are genuinely inspiring and innovative, and conjure up ambitions in me that a lot of men wouldn’t. I’ve met girls that are driven and energetic, with opinions and interests that coagulate with my own. To simply tut at them, ask them for sex and then buy them an iron is ridiculous. One day, we will be able to completely whitewash the phallic-shaped elephant in the room, where a male and female can walk across the room, shake hands and talk, without either party thinking about sex. Unless they want to. In that case, go ahead.

One day, a guy will be able to list Emma Watson in their heroes without people saying it’s because she’s “fit.” Do we ask the same if a girl lists Barack Obama in it? Perhaps we do flippantly, but we never mean it. To judge feminism, and girls too, by their gender assignment is insane. It’s an open book, a fascinating world where we can do away with sexual oppression and start anew.

One day, we will be able to ask this question – “what if a guy can talk to a girl, be friends with them and the thought of sex never cross their mind?”. And one day it won’t be greeted by chauvinistic snickering.