Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Goodbye, Gilmore Girls

Coming at the end of a lackluster seventh season (that only seemed good compared to the truly abysmal sixth season), I thought the series finale of "Gilmore Girls" was damn near perfect. No stunning drama, no grand surprises - just a lot of wonderful quiet moments and a welcome focus on the relationships that formed the original bedrock of the show: the intra-Gilmore relationships and the relationship between the Gilmore girls and Stars Hollow. It invoked the spirit of seasons past, right down to the final tableau, which no devoted GG watcher could fail to notice was an exact recreation of the last scene of the very first, pilot episode.

It was especially poignant for me because I distinctly remember watching that pilot episode when it originally aired - and being distinctly underwhelmed after all the critical buzz. "Gilmore Girls" did not become part of my regular TV regimen (which was already pretty small), and though I caught an episode now and again, it took me a long time to warm up to the show. The bright fast talk sounded artificial to me, as did the quirky eccentricities of the characters and faux small-town charm of Stars Hollow. They seemed to have no grounding in reality at all, even for TV. Worst of all was the character of Mrs. Kim, the hyperreligious and controlling Korean mother. Though she represented a stereotype that (speaking from personal experience, though my own mother has no religious tendencies) definitely has a basis in truth, she came across as little better than a caricature, and one that made me wince. Eventually I tempered the wincing with the realization that everyone and everything on the show was a caricature, to varying degrees.

I'm not sure when or how I became a fan. It was a gradual turn. I got into the habit of watching it more regularly during the fourth season, partly because so many of my friends at the time seemed to watch it and love it. One of them lent me the entire first season on DVD, and since I'd barely watched any of the first season beyond the disappointing pilot, I decided to give it another chance. And lo and behold, I was hooked for life. As soon as I'd finished season 1, I ordered seasons 2 and 3 in lightning succession on Netflix and literally binged every time a new GG DVD arrived in the mail.

What changed? Well, it wasn't that the show got more realistic, because it didn't. But what did feel real, the more I got to know these characters, was the emotional give and take among the main players. The mother-daughter dynamics struck an especially deep chord with me, since I'm an only daughter who considers my mother to be my best friend, and at the same time chafes and rails almost every day at how much she and my dad try to exercise their influence on me to shape my life. Interestingly, the best and most poignant moments of "Gilmore Girls," for me, have just as often involved the interaction between Lorelai and her own mother, Emily, as the ostensibly central relationship between Lorelai and Rory. Perhaps more so, since both Lauren Graham and Kelly Bishop are fantastic actresses. (Alexis Bledel is fine, perfect for her part, but still has a ways to go. Edward Hermann, on the other hand, was terrific as Lorelai's dad, Richard, who also reminded me of my own father.) But anyway, both pairings reflect different sides of any meaningful mother-daughter relationship.

The emotional resonance was what locked me in, but I also couldn't fail to appreciate the wit that bubbled through the light-speed dialogue. And the plethora of cultural references, which ranged from the poppiest of pop to the most esoteric of esoterica. It ceased to bother me that no one in real life actually talks like this. Because these people were now real to me, and their clever conversational skills were just icing on the cake.

Sure, the show peaked in its third season (though fourth season was still very good), started to go downhill towards the end of the fifth season, and plummeted when Rory made the weak-kneed - and in my opinion completely uncharacteristic - decision to drop out of Yale. I knew it wouldn't last, yet it still annoyed me, and the rift that opened up between her and Lorelai at the beginning of sixth season felt equally annoying and unconvincing. Sixth season was a banner year for characters acting completely out of character, as Luke turned into an insensitive clod, Lorelai became incapable of communicating her frustrations, Rory started acting like a trust-fund baby, Emily morphed into the Wicked Witch of the West, and laid-back, untrustworthy charmer Logan overnight became a jealous, possessive yahoo in response to the brief reappearance of Jess. Topping it all off was the introduction of a gratingly precocious and totally gratuitous surprise daughter for Luke, apparently there to serve no other purpose than to drive a wedge between L. and L. Amy Sherman-Palladino, god bless her, made this show what it was, but there's no question she let it all go to pot before she and hubby Palladino headed for the exit signs.

Things were such a shambles in her wake that the producer and writers had their work cut out for them, and to their credit, I think they mostly succeeded in cleaning up the mess she left behind. Season seven was at least mostly watchable and had its moments, if it never scaled the heights the show reached in its first four seasons. And it brought everything full circle in the finale, which ended up being the series finale, and plays very much as if it was written to be one. I for one was glad to learn there would be no season eight. The entire show has, in one way or other, been building up to this - Rory launching her career and leaving Lorelai and Stars Hollow behind, physically if not emotionally.

And that was what the last episode was all about: Lorelai and the town throwing her a party and seeing her off. All the extras, the people from outside who'd loved and left the Gilmore Girls (Logan, Chris, the other boyfriends, even Paris, whom I did miss) were gone, leaving the focus on the people who most shaped Lorelai and Rory into the mature mother and grown daughter - the independent women - they became. And even though Lorelai and Luke did get back together, that wasn't the focal point of the episode: Luke's significance lay less in his role as Lorelai's ex-fiance and more in his acting as surrogate father to Rory and support for Lorelai - the man who would do wonderful things for them both because, as he said to Lorelai, "I like to see you happy." It was, in a way, perfect that the episode - and the series - ended with Luke in the diner, serving Lorelai and Rory, reflecting both the beginnings and the possible future of their respective relationships.

Good night, Gilmore Girls...and thank you for enriching my life, more than I ever imagined a TV show would.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

They will survive being "Fuzz"alicious!


directed by Edgar Wright
starring Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Jim Broadbent, Timothy Dalton, Paddy Considine, others

Confession: I have not seen “Shaun of the Dead.” But I’ve heard great things about it—enough to spark my interest in the reunion of Messrs. Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, and Nick Frost. From what I can tell, it’s a worthy follow-up. Whereas “Shaun” was reportedly a funny, lightweight, fundamentally affectionate send-up of zombie movies that also gave a good-natured nod to slacker and romantic comedies, “Hot Fuzz” is a funny, lightweight, fundamentally affectionate send-up of buddy cop movies and Michael Bay action flicks that gives an equally good-natured nod to Agatha Christie murder mysteries and twee comedies set in quaint British villages. (Oh yeah, and apparently also to “The Wicker Man,” though that may give away a bit too much of the plot...not that the plot is really the driving force behind “Hot Fuzz.”)

Second confession: I haven’t seen most of the cop movies Wright and Pegg are spoofing. I passed on both installments of “Bad Boys,” which are heavily quoted in “Hot Fuzz.” I believe I saw part of "Lethal Weapon 3" at a high school party but nodded off midway through, one of only two times I can remember falling asleep during a movie. I did catch a good chunk of “Point Break” on TV once, though I don’t remember thinking much of it other than to observe that Keanu Reeves has grown handsomer, if not exactly more dramatically expressive, with age. However, I’ve seen enough of the Bay-Bruckheimer school of bang-boom-cut filmmaking to appreciate the wit that infuses what is, at its root, a painstaking labor of love. In this respect, the movie calls to mind a certain high-profile Tarantino-Rodriguez project that so recently and spectacularly bombed. If “Hot Fuzz" thrives where "Grindhouse" languished, it's not so much because "Fuzz" is a better film, but rather because it's more easily sold as a comedy - and perhaps because its cultural vocabulary, apart from some jokes that may get lost in transit across the pond, is more familiar to people who didn’t grow up watching B movies in the 1970s.

Pegg stars as Nicholas Angel, a London supercop who’s so good at his job he makes his fellow officers (or "fuzz," as the Brits call them) look inept by comparison. As a consequence, he’s both promoted and shunted to the position of sergeant in tiny Sandford, a pastoral hamlet with the lowest crime rate in England. There he finds himself holed up in the local station with Danny Butterman (Frost), an amiable, roly-poly bumbler of a cop who happens to be the son of the inspector (Jim Broadbent), and a crew of dimwits who seem to spend most of their time eating sweets and cracking puerile, mildly off-color jokes. They have little use for the new sergeant’s zealous ways—except Danny, who cherishes fantasies of big-city policing derived entirely from his encyclopedic knowledge of the aforementioned buddy-cop movies.

Initially glum Nicholas has little to do at his new post other than bust underage drinkers, chase down an escaped swan, and allow the awestruck Danny to initiate him into the rituals of Hollywood cops. But when a series of gruesome deaths takes out several of Sandford’s most prominent citizens, he suspects foul play, even as everyone around him dismisses the incidents as unfortunate accidents. With Danny as his only ally, the avenging Angel proceeds to investigate, leading to a blow-out finale that manages to evoke not only half the DVDs in Danny’s collection but a Clint Eastwood spaghetti western.

The result is nothing more or less than inspired silliness. The yuks range from slapstick that would do the Three Stooges proud to surprisingly sophisticated throwaway references. (Keep an ear out for the “Chinatown” allusion.) Pegg and Frost make an appealing pair, and Timothy Dalton is a howl as the smarmy, slickly sinister proprietor of the local supermarket, who Nicholas suspects is behind the murders. The movie takes its time getting where it needs to go and overall could have used some tighter editing, yet it still outshines most specimens of action bombast for sheer entertainment value. Not many films could parody an entire genre and simultaneously school it in how such movies can and should be done. The brilliance of “Hot Fuzz” lies in its ability to do just that.