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.


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