I was already finished with high school when I started watching Gilmore Girls on DVD, years after the series moved from the WB to the CW and was subsequently canceled. And by the time I finished, I was a college graduate. (It took me awhile to get through the whole thing, which is still further than creator Amy Sherman-Palladino made it.) My timeline rarely matched with Rory Gilmore’s: I laughed at her Chilton drama, but I would have cringed had I also been 16, when whatever happens in high school is the most important thing ever. Our paths were roughly the same — I’m a writer, she’s a writer; I enjoy stuffing my face with a comical amount of junk food, she enjoys stuffing her face with a comical amount of junk food — but they didn’t cross.
They did for millions of other viewers, though, who related with blue-eyed, rosy-cheeked Rory — they cheered when she got into Yale at the same time they were applying for schools, and cried when she cried at the end of “They Shoot Gilmores, Don’t They?” (Okay, I cried, too, but not because I went through a similar situation.) But that divide between myself and Rory no longer exists, because we’re both adults with grown-up problems, like when I’m unsure if I can afford my monthly trip to London to have sex with my ex-boyfriend, even though he’s engaged and I’m currently seeing someone.
Netflix’s Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life is, overall, a success: Lauren Graham and Alexis Bledel still have that indescribable spark, the flashback funeral is one of the most emotionally resonant scenes in the entire series, and Emily and Paris remain the best. But there are problems, like the fake Chad Michael Murray, the endless Stars Hollow: The Musical (I’m all for Sutton Foster in everything, but her bit with Christian Borle just kept going), and the fat-shaming “jokes” in “Summer,” the weakest of the four episodes.
But my biggest issue with the miniseries is Rory Gilmore. I’m not the only one.
In “Winter,” we learn that Rory had a piece published in The New Yorker, which has led to countless compliments but no job leads. In other words, she’s a freelance writer — it takes real commitment and courage to live (measly) paycheck to (measly) paycheck, and to learn to live with rejection for the love of the craft. Unfortunately, after a brief success, Rory lacks that commitment. She’s no longer the same person who quit Yale because a rich jerk told her she wasn’t good enough, that she doesn’t have “what it takes” to make it.
She’s worse. In A Year in the Life, Rory:
-Forgets to break up with poor Paul
-Cheats on Paul with Logan, who’s engaged
-Goes to a job interview under the assumption that she already has the position; she gets hostile when the editor asks her for ideas
-Falls asleep while on assignment for GQ
-Mocks the 30-Something gang
-Continually complains about being broke but still travels to London
Rory is Belle at the beginning of the Beauty and the Beast, looking down at the “little town” and its “little people.” It didn’t used to be that way. She loved Stars Hollow, while also still wanting to leave it. Which is understandable! I wouldn’t want to live in the house where I grew up, either. But in A Year in the Life, she becomes resentful of her upbringing — when the townspeople congratulate Rory on her return, she responds, “I’m not back!” Again, I get where she’s coming from. I had to move back home after graduating college because I couldn’t afford my rent, and it was one of the most humiliating moments of my life. But I also wasn’t being offered a prestigious teaching job at my alma matter, or assuming job interviews are formalities, or napping during interviews while on assignment — Rory’s undoing is her fault.
But Sherman-Palladino continually lets her off the hook with solutions she doesn’t come to by herself. The idea to write a book about her relationship with her mother? Jess. The clarity to make nice with Lorelai? Logan, after an Across the Universe-indebted night on the town. Meanwhile, her best friend Paris is a fiercely independent success who’s running her own business; Emily finds peace again without her husband at her side; and Lorelai, a force of nature who doesn’t need to prove anything to anyone, discovers self-awareness while “doing” Wild. There’s a lot of story potential in Rory, Stars Hollow’s “Chosen One,” struggling to get by, but unlike Lorelai, who lasted for years without her parents’ financial assistance, “Khaleesi” continually takes the easy way out, and makes a child follow her around with an umbrella.
This begs the question: Are we supposed to sympathize with Rory? I genuinely can’t tell. My hunch is, yes, we’re supposed to feel for Rory and cheer when she hands the first three chapters of her book to Lorelai. But her arc, from valedictorian to lazy writer who sleeps with her sources, comes across as frustrating at best, and trolling at worst. Sherman-Palladino had to know she was poking the online #content hornet’s nest when she turned Rory, who ended the original series covering this young up-and-comer Barack Obama, into an “actively bad journalist,” to quote the Atlantic, where Rory’s piece was spiked; they responded with 21 ways she messed up. Of course, if Sherman-Palladino, who wasn’t there for the final season, had her way, the series would have ended how A Year In the Life does, with Rory telling her recently-married mother that she’s pregnant. The way she’s depicted in the miniseries works for a confused 22-year-old, but it’s troubling now that she’s 32.
This is the same Rory Gilmore who turned down Logan’s engagement because she didn’t want to feel trapped by an emotionally manipulative man who throws money at his rich-people problems — a decade later, she has no qualms about being the other woman in an across-the-pond booty call. (Logan once also, accurately, called Rory out for lying to herself. “Wake up, Rory, whether you like it or not, you’re one of us. You went to prep school. You go to Yale. Your grandparents are building a whole damn astronomy building in your name.” In another version of the miniseries, Rory’s conflict is feeling like she’s trapped between worlds: Emily’s privileged elite vs. Lorelai’s folksy community. Or maybe she’s caught in Twin Peaks-meets-Wayward Pines, where she’s cursed to duplicate her mother’s life without being able to leave her small-town bubble. Instead, we got tap-dancing.)
Rory acts like a character from Girls, except we’re supposed to be horrified by the self-centeredness of Hannah and Marnie. Gilmore Girls plays that unintentional revulsion with a straight face, as if there’s nothing wrong with Rory’s entitled actions. The only explanation I can think of for this is that Gilmore Girls, the TV show, is adapted from Gilmore Girls, the book, written by Rory Gilmore. No wonder she’s the hero in her own story.
In anyone else’s, she’d be the villain.