The Volokh Conspiracy

Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent

Volokh Conspiracy

The only thing wrong with "Gilmore Girls: A Year In The Life"


That tiny fraction of you who also read my defunct law-school blog may remember my disproportionate enthusiasm for "Gilmore Girls." (Though it turns out I may not be the only Supreme Court nerd to also be a "Gilmore Girls" nerd, as evidenced by this Supreme Court amicus brief by Ilya Shapiro of the Cato Institute.) In any event, I therefore made it a high priority to watch the new Netflix revival of the show, "Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life." [BTW, modest spoilers will ensue throughout the rest of this post.]

There have been plenty of mixed reviews. Here are ten somewhat skeptical questions from our friends on the Arts & Entertainment pages. Here is Phoebe Maltz Bovy on Rory Gilmore's lackluster and spoiled writing career. Here is pseudonymous blogger "Miss Self-Important" worrying (among other things) that the revival is just "a series of cameos and inside-jokey flashbacks to the original series." And here is an excellent essay in the L.A. Review of Books arguing that the best thing about the revival is its failure: "the way nostalgia goes sour and you can't actually go home again, the way the story-as it should have been told-can't be."

Well say what you will about failure, but I am a sucker for sequels, and so I still basically liked it. The third of the four ninety-minute episodes was basically unbearable, but the other three combined glimpses of the charm of the original with new developments to both satisfy and frustrate the fans.

It's true that Rory's career is now disappointing, that the ending is ambiguous at best, and that the more one sees of Rory and Lorelai and Stars Hollow the more one sees not virtue and utopia but a bleakly prolonged adolescence. But all of those seeds were planted in the original series too, for those who had eyes to see.

Indeed, I've been rewatching the original series at the same time as the revival has come out, and I've found myself much more interested in the bad things about the seeming-heroes of the series and the good things about the seeming-villains. Here, for instance, is the positive case for Paris Geller, Rory's frenemesis, and here is the case for grandmother Emily Gilmore as the real hero of the show. The flaws in the show's main characters are not the same thing as flaws in the show.

My friend Josh Chafetz floated the following interesting theory on social media (with the caution that it was a "crazy, 1/8-baked hypothesis"): Whether one liked "Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life" is positively correlated with whether one liked "Star Wars: The Force Awakens." Both sequels seem guilty of the recycling of motifs and narrative repetition, which could sit uneasily with those who want to see a progressive arc out of history.

I liked this theory, but I had a very different reaction. I basically liked the Gilmore Girls revival while I basically refuse to acknowledge that "The Force Awakens" takes place in the Star Wars universe. For me, the big difference between the two is the extent of their fidelity to their original materials. "A Year in the Life" recycled motifs in a way that was incredibly faithful to the original material, while "The Force Awakens" recycled them in a way that did violence to the original material. (I'm speaking of the material itself rather than authorial intent, but it's still probably not a coincidence that "A Year in the Life" was made by the original creator of the show, while "The Force Awakens" was made by an entirely new team with no relationship to the original creator.)

And that brings me to my one real beef with "Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life." A minor MacGuffin in the revival is the plan for Stars Hollow to finally switch off of an outdated septic system to the sewer system. This provides a minor plot device for town politics and must have seemed to the creators like a nice reminder of the quaint low stakes of municipal governance in Stars Hollow.

But you know what? Stars Hollow already switched from septic to sewer years ago, and I found myself repeatedly screaming this fact at the screen. From Season 1, Episode 16 ("Star-Crossed Lovers and Other Strangers"):

DEAN: Man, I thought Christmas was a big deal around here.

RORY: Well, this is a town that likes the celebrating. Last year we had a month long carnival when we finally got off the septic tank system.

DEAN: A month long? You're kidding.

RORY: No. There were rides and a petting zoo and balloon animals and a freak show.

DEAN: Uh huh. Okay, you almost had me going there for a second.

RORY: Well we did have a ribbon cutting ceremony.

It turns out that I can tolerate the bleak turns in Rory's life and career, and the way she's gone from charming to cruel; I can tolerate the lack of communication in the Luke/Lorelai relationship; I can tolerate Stars Hollow's descent from eccentric to dystopia. But the one thing I wanted in exchange for all of that was narrative continuity, and alas, I didn't quite get it.