What is the purpose of a revival?
by Danny McCarthy
Revivals typically come to accomplish one of two things: give the fans what they want, or advance the story.
Some shows debuted before their time and were granted revivals as a second chance. HBO’s The Comeback with Lisa Kudrow debuted in 2005. It was filmed in the style of reality television, a cousin to mockumentary. The Comeback focused on Kudrow’s Valerie Cherish, a former sitcom It girl trying to make her “comeback” through a reality television series. But whereas shows like The Office, Parks & Recreation, and Arrested Development succeeded, The Comeback fell flat. Maybe it’s because widespread reality television like The Real Housewives franchise wouldn’t begin until 2006. That franchise focused on adult women finding the balance, badly, between anonymity and celebrity. But when The Comeback aired, the world didn’t have the context or appreciation of a middle-aged woman clutching at fame with gel nails.
But once the proper context was developed, The Comeback became a cult classic. It was revived nine years later and its second season aired in 2014. Gilmore Girls, first airing in 2000 and finishing its seventh season in 2007, was gone for almost a decade before Netflix revived it. In that time, it had become an archetype of television, fast-paced witticisms and dramedies.
We sailed through six seasons of glorious, witty banter, and one season of tortured agony. The showrunners and creators of Gilmore Girls, Amy Sherman-Palladino and her husband Daniel Palladino, left after the sixth season due to contract disputes, and it showed. It was the prequel to American Horror Story: Murder House, where everything looks the same, but is terrible and, surprise, they’re all ghosts! So when the first hint of a comeback came, first in the possibility of a movie and then through Netflix, it felt like redemption.
Instead, it was horrible.
Gilmore Girls originally aired before social media had taken off, before audiences were divided up into teams favoring one love interest or another, “shipping” or fandoms. But its quickness and humor and heart kept it popular until it became ingrained in television culture. The show was included in TIME’s “All-TIME 100 TV Shows” and Entertainment Weekly’s “100 Greatest Movies, TV Shows, and More.”
Despite the dated references, Gilmore Girls succeeded because of the humor and the story. A mother who got pregnant at 16, and her 16-year-old daughter. A close-knit, quirky small town. Socioeconomic stratification and the pressures of society life. Complex inter-dynamics between mothers and daughters, fathers and daughters. It succeeded because at any age, family remained timeless.
The show became public domain in the way that cult classics become public domain. People grow up with it, but the real attachment bonding comes after the show ends. The reruns, the deep settling in and rote memorization of lines—everything about the show becomes well-worn and memories of the audience become ingrained in the show’s fiber. Gilmore Girls became a “more than” situation: more than a TV show, more than a comedy, etc. And the “more than” and attachment bonding created both fierce possession and hungry longing. “We want the show to come back, but we never want it to be touched.”
So in a way, the Gilmore Girls revival was always doomed. No matter what it did, it would never fulfill the wishes of a decade of longing. It would never, could never satisfy voracious fans.
The revival could’ve gone into either wish fulfillment or plot. Wish fulfillment would’ve put it into the category of the Sex and the City movies. Rotten Tomatoes gave the first movie revival a score of 49%. But the movie was never about creating great content. It was getting those four women back together, having Carrie proselytize, Samantha fuck some strangers, Charlotte be outraged, and Miranda be redheaded. And they did it. And they did it again for Sex and the City 2, except they Abu Dhabi-ed it.
Driven by plot would’ve been something akin to The Comeback—a story to tell and something to prove. But the revival—four 90-minute mini-movies under the overarching title A Year in the Life—somehow managed to accomplish neither of these options. It avoided wish fulfillment and didn’t have enough plot to satisfy one 90-minute movie, let alone four.
Ten years after the seventh season finale, Rory is 32. It’s serendipitously coincidental, because Lorelai was 32 at the beginning of the original series. That sense of “full circle” pervades the entire revival. Lorelai was 32 at the beginning of the beginning, Rory is 32 at the beginning of the end. It begins with death—that of the family patriarch, Richard—and ends with life—Rory’s surprise pregnancy. The sense of cycle feels comforting superficially as the banter of the girls and the warmth of Stars Hollow opens up in the first chapter, “Winter.” No one does winter quite like the Gilmore Girls. But after the initial nostalgia high fades away, the high-definition reveals something that was never apparent in the blurred glow of the original run.
Lines in the faces of the actors. A squeaky-clean, sitcom-like feeling to the kitchen. Everything feels Squeegeed, like the Lifetime Original adaption of Gilmore Girls. And once the initial banter dies down, the characters feel uncomfortable. Their deep appreciation for counterculture has become snobbish hipsterdom. They can’t figure out WiFi; they deride Tweets. Granted, their run was in the time of flip-phones, but Rory became an adult in the iPhone age. She knows how to Tweet. She might even know how to Snapchat.
Everything that was charming—references to The Go-Go’s, the Brady Bunch family, Brad and Jen—has curdled into general misanthropy. Lorelai and Rory seem stuck in the past, almost as if they were forcibly ripped into the future against their wills.
The format seemed to encourage lethargic timelines. Instead of 45 minutes, the showrunners played with 90. However, the general plot morsels seem to be the same, and moments that would be fun and fleeting become prolonged—there’s 10 minutes dedicated to watching a Stars Hollow musical in the theme of Hamilton. Just watching; not even intercut with anything else. Sherman-Palladino didn’t know what to do with the luxury of more time.
When Amy and her husband left the series, she mentioned that there were four words that she had known since the beginning would be how she ended the show. However, they left before its ending and the last four words remained a mystery. She never divulged them in case someday, somehow, the show came back. If there are going to be more seasons in the revival, the showrunners have not yet let on. And if anything were to confirm the opposite, it would be the use of the Last Four Words.
The three storylines—Emily (Lorelai’s mother), Lorelai, and Rory—seemed to have been decided importance in descending order. Emily, a widow after fifty years of marriage, unravels in a posh society that does not abide unraveling. Lorelai, after twists and turns in her relationship with the diner-owner Luke and the ultimate achieval of owning a successful inn, is unfulfilled but doesn’t know why. And Rory, the original ingénue, is resting on wilted laurels from a piece in the New Yorker.
Rory’s was particularly painful to watch. At 32, she’s more unmoored than in the original run. She’s not a very good journalist; she can’t land a book deal. The hits started early, and kept on coming. And throughout it all, you don’t even feel that bad for her, because she doesn’t seem to be trying very hard to change it.
She’s snarky about the woman she’s profiling for the book. She walks into a job interview without a single pitch. On assignment for GQ on the mentality behind people waiting hours in line, she literally walks past a long line at the head of which is just two guys eating a sandwich. Rather than utilizing that—which perfectly exemplifies line culture—she keeps walking. Opportunities, or opportunities at opportunities, seem to be throwing themselves at her, and nothing sticks.
Emily received the richest narrative. Throughout the entire run, her grief is palpable as she redecorates her house, tries mother-daughter therapy with Lorelai, tries to start a business franchise with Luke. And in the end, she curses out her society girlfriends at a function and realizes that the life she’s so desperately trying to fit back together died with her husband Richard. The world of a society wife is not the world of a society widow. So she picks up everything, moves to Nantucket and starts working as a docent at a museum. It’s odd, but it fits.
Lorelai’s storyline was not as satisfying or nuanced, but it still works. Her business partner has up and left, and she’s struggling to figure out how to take her inn to the next level. In the end, a lot of her unhappiness is wrapped up in the fraught relationship with her mother. A failed attempt to go on a Reese Witherspoon’s Wild-worthy adventure ends with actual self-realization with Emily. And after that fog clears up, she asks Luke to marry her, and she looks at properties to expand her business.
As for Rory, things couldn’t pan out because they had never been fully fleshed. Her storylines felt like a series of failed pitches. She’s working on a book with a British author—that falls through. She’s hounded by the wunderkind CEO of an online media site, but when she goes in for an interview expecting a job offer, she’s sorely disappointed. Her attempts at pitching for GQ fail. In the end, she conceives the idea of writing a book about her and Lorelai. It has all the desperation of Valerie Cherish and the ladies of Real Housewives.
This is her “last shot.” But is it? She received a job offer to work at her old high school. She’s still relatively young. She’s Yale-educated. How can writing one book—set aside the reality and rigors of getting something published—be the answer to all of her prayers? A 32-year-old’s last result should not be writing a memoir. She would’ve died on the streets in her 20s if she was so unprepared for life.
So at the end of “Fall,” the last of the four episodes, Rory and Lorelai are sitting on the steps of the town gazebo after Lorelai’s long-awaited wedding. Rory is still lost, but plans to write a book about her and her mother (annoyingly titled Gilmore Girls). She’s ended things with Logan, her one-time college boyfriend, with whom she’s had an on-again/off-again friends-with-benefits situation for the entire revival.
Lorelai muses about being a married lady and doing “married-lady things.” Rory’s hands strangle each other in her lap.
“Hey, what’s going on in there?” Lorelai asks, putting a hand on Rory’s leg. Rory’s eyes—vivid blue and one of the eerie similarities she shared with her mother Lorelai—are swimming with tears.
“I want to remember it all, every detail,” Rory answers. The camera flips to the back of them, watching them as they watch the town.
CUT TO BLACK. END OF SERIES.
There’s so much left unsaid that at the arrival of the last four words, they don’t ring of series-ending closure. Instead it seems like, somehow, she’s more unprepared than her mother, who had a child at 16, got a job and a degree.
The stories felt unfulfilled in the end. We had no reasoning for Rory’s intense ennui, or Lorelai’s moodiness. They were dredged down. They were weighty. So when the last four words arrived, the question was not, “What happens next?” but “What the fuck was that?”
Even the filming of the final words resists closure. Rather than tacit resolution, perhaps Lorelai grabbing Rory’s hand in comfort and solidarity, or a steady panning out over the town they love—it cuts to black. It’s jarring and more resembles the cliffhanger at the end of a season than a tantalizing peek into future at a series’ end.
The Gilmore Girls revival resisted spoon-feeding the fans what they wanted. It could’ve gone the easy route, made the easy laughs and ended the entire thing with a flourish of guitar music. Instead, it tried to tackle uncomfortable subjects like the death of a parent, or the fallout from a fizzled-out career. But instead of tackling them full on, the show cantered over and hastily wrapped them up with a bow and some emotional music.
I could see where the revival wanted to go. It had a bigger budget, a more cinematic scope, and it wanted to have issues that measured up. But they fell flat and, combined with the overhype, gutted the series of success. Superficially, Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life does what it says. It brings us the Gilmore girls, and takes us through a year in their life. Some years just suck.