For a while now, I’ve wanted to share some of my thoughts on the netflix revival of Gilmore Girls. By now it appears almost too late to post them – which probably says a lot more about our perception of time in 2017 than about the show. I am a first-generation Gilmore-addict, so please excuse if my enthusiasm shines through. I’m not fully ignorant of the show’s many flaws.
I caught a flu in the end of November, so I found myself watching A Year in the Life twice. I really only followed the story the second time around – the first time was all about the hype, I was waiting for particular actors to come on (Lane has a father! the troubadour has a sister!) and kept judging new developments against the original seven seasons (notice, for instance, that Emily orders tomb stones for her deceased husband although the Gilmores, in the original series, own a family mausoleum). Additionally, the sets seemed disturbing – Lorelai’s kitchen seems to have grown considerably (in an interview, Lauren Graham explains that the studio didn’t have sketches for the set, so sets were modeled after the actual early episodes). When I re-watched the four films, I was much more relaxed (well, and sleepy).
As all of the ‚original fans‘ do, I want to focus on what bugs me about the revival, which is simultaneously what I love so much about the original show: It fit neatly into the immediate post-2000s, and the revival couldn’t possibly recreate this particular moment in time when the internet was young and its media weren’t social. I worried about this as soon as I saw the trailer for A Year in the Life.
Rory and Lorelai sit at the tiny kitchen table, reeling off their usual routine of pop-cultural references. But now we not only know all the people they’re talking about (“Do you think Amy Schumer would like me?” /“Do you think John Oliver would find me hot?”) but John and Amy get hyperlinked in twitter conversations, answering Lorelai’s rhetorical question (clearly, John Oliver should have attended Dean’s introductory class in how to respond to Gilmore goofiness). Back in the day, more or less half of the show’s references were lost on most of its viewers (I estimate, I don’t actually have the statistics).
Lorelai’s and Rory’s go-to references are Yoko Ono, Björk, and PJ Harvey, and at least to teenage fans like me, the whole point of the internet was to look these things up and then pretend you didn’t have to. Google and the Gilmore Girls liberated us from pop-cultural ignorance and the prison cell of ‚Hit Me Baby One More Time.‘ The references we did get – Lorelai hates The Offspring and Jewel but loves Metallica and, as a teenager, listened to Nena’s 99 red balloons – were unapproachable, both to us and to Lorelai and Rory. It wasn’t about the people in the reference, it was about how the reference shaped our beloved characters (Lane is almost entirely made from pop-cultural collage, if you will). After all, the internet (as the show teaches us) is just a giant encyclopedia and we eat chips while we watch our computers slowly download bit after bit through blocked phone lines.
I was scared about how the show would react to cell phones, social media, and high speed internet – and the trailer matched my fears, peddling references and begging for twitter coverage. Yet, the show also shared my suspicions: When Lorelai mentions the stinking plant that blooms once a decade, Rory quickly googles it and kills the conversation. In 2002, this topic would have returned three times, becoming more obscure each time.
Stars Hollow seems to have undergone a similar (and similarly awkward) 21st-century update. In the original episodes, the town is a bricolage of 19th and early 20th century cultural practices, like the dance marathon, the festival of the living pictures, the haystack labyrinth, or window shopping. Most of Lorelai’s and Rory’s movie choices are from the mid-20th century, and Kirk produces firmly Hitchcockian short films. In A Year in the Life, the town musical is a self-acknowledged copy of Hamilton. While Luke seeks to stop progress, refusing to partake in the sewer lines project and giving fake wifi passwords to his customers, Rory cold-heartedly cuts the seasonal poem from the town gazette (entirely out of character, for her). Stars Hollow, that is, traded 200 years worth of cultural history for sewer lines and wifi passwords.
At the same time, A Year in the Life seems to at least try to somewhat clumsily address the fact that the original show created an almost exclusively white Stars Hollow that continuously othered the characters providing minimal diversity (Lane and Michel). On netflix, Michel’s homosexuality doesn’t have to remain implicit; he has a partner and relationship issues. Yet, the show’s aim for diversity backfires when the town’s gay pride parade lacks sufficient participation and the intended irony quickly drowns in awkwardness.
What bothers me is the coincidence of these developments in A Year in the Life. The show’s clumsy attempts at diversity coincides with the abandonment of its bricolage of American cultural history that, for me, defined the appeal of Stars Hollow. The new, somewhat diverse (or, at least, self-consciously not diverse), somewhat media-savvy character of the town is located firmly in the present, implying that the cultural history of Connecticut was an exclusively white, straight affair. The series retains its romanticized version of white small-town existence instead of opening its sense of history to a diverse Stars Hollow community. Or: why can’t Michel and his partner bid for picknick baskets at the town fundraiser.
PS: I dedicate this post to the people at the Dutch TV station Nederland 2 who scheduled afternoon reruns of the show 15 years ago and broadcasted to Germany’s rural Northwest, and to all the people who believe that reading subtitles is educational. If it was, I’d be fluent in Dutch by now.