Internet-trawling fans of the Gilmore Girls received some bittersweet news yesterday afternoon. After seven seasons, the beloved mother/daughter beyond-bonding dramedy will be going off the air in just two short weeks. Even those of us who anticipated the show’s demise were shocked – two weeks? We’ve loyally followed the misadventures of Lorelai and her daughter Rory; decoded their banter; chuckled at the spoofy-quaint village of Stars Hollow; and, along with Lorelai, fell for the town’s diner-owning grumpypants, Luke… it feels like an awfully sudden breakup.
The sorrow only runs so deep. It’s like being broken up with by someone who suddenly found religion – or yoga – and switched personalities; you still love them after seven years, but you’re also kind of relieved that your new incompatibility has finally been recognized. To say it plain: this season of Gilmore Girls has been so abysmal, it’s quite possible that enduring another year would have brought more pain than saying good bye – however hastily — now.
Don’t blame the show’s current crappiness on Lauren Graham (Lorelai), Alexis Bledel (Rory), Scott Patterson (Luke) or any of the other many, many fine cast members on Gilmore Girls. (I join a chorus of voices that have already called for the Emmys to recognize Kelly Bishop, who brilliantly plays Lorelai’s difficult, uber-WASP mother, Emily.) No, the problem isn’t the casting or the acting — it’s the writing. Last year, the show’s creator and executive producer Amy Sherman-Palladino and her writing-producing-partner husband David Palladino left the show after the two couldn’t come to a contract agreement with the newly formed CW network (which continued the WB show after the WB merged with UPN to make the CW). This season, in the hands of showrunner David Rosenthal, Gilmore Girls has become a Bizarro version of itself. It looks like Gilmore Girls; it sounds like Gilmore Girls, but it’s no longer the Gilmore Girls we’ve known, loved, and most important, respected.
Is that the sound of chuckling? It’s true: Gilmore Girls was a show to admire. Sure, it scores high with the teen girls each week, even as it faces off against American Idol in the 8 p.m. Tuesday spot. But it has been a show for adults too. The screwball dialogue blows past like the roadside scenery outside a speeding car — Gilmore Girls shooting scripts were often twenty pages longer than that of the average hour-long drama — and if you strain to keep up, you will catch a tangle of references, forget the tweens at home, well over your head: to Robert Benchley, drunk again at the Algonquin; to the fate of the Romanovs and the seduction habits of Titian; to The Great Gatsby and The Odd Couple and Candide. I mean, Chris Eigeman – whose charms no doubt worked better on now-30 year old fans of Whit Stillman movies than 14 year olds – had a long-running guest arc as Lorelai’s neurotic, hirsute, workaholic boyfriend. It was a brilliant choice: what other man could appeal to literate moms, dads and single people all at once? And opposite Lauren Graham? A dream. She is just one of those actresses that you want to be friends with, or date, or both.
We’ve followed Lorelai and Rory as the former has done her best to teach the latter how to be a single, capable woman in a world populated by jerks. It’s not girls v. boys on Gilmore Girls, but there’s no question that all along this has been a television show devoted almost singularly to female empowerment. Lorelai Gilmore – who became pregnant with Rory (short for Lorelai, by the way) as a teenager and fled her socially conservative and disapproving parents’ home – has been nothing if not the best role model for women of all ages on television. She worked her way up from cleaning girl at a country inn to owner of her own country inn; she always had men around, and was an excellent flirt, but was choosy about love; she didn’t cook – she was too busy being a mom and having a job and watching old movies. And she never apologized. Not for getting pregnant; not for running away; not for over-mothering Rory; and not for being pretty and smart and young. Ms. Sherman-Palladino made her a strong character who overflowed with love and enthusiasm. We responded to her in kind.
Mr. Rosenthal, however, has seemed to want to punish the Gilmore girls for having too much fun — and too much independence – over the last six years. Not a single character has escaped this season without tragedy or curse. After the collapse of her relationship with Luke, Lorelai made the very unlike Lorelai decision to marry Rory’s dad, Christopher (David Sutcliffe), perhaps the least reliable person she’s ever known. The notion that Lorelai would be swept away by a romantic gesture (Christopher proposed in Paris after a shaky and swift post-Luke reunion) is totally ludicrous – this woman never even had a one night stand up to now. (Well, except with Christopher.) Luke, who having gotten to know the teen daughter he’s only recently become aware of, became embroiled in a nasty custody battle – this is a man who didn’t want a lawyer to help him get divorced a few seasons back. Rory is graduating from Yale (finally!) but has been dragged down by her boyfriend Logan (Matt Czuchry) who lost all of his family-bestowed millions on an internet merger deal gone bad…. And now, at 23, he’s proposing! Mr. Gilmore, Lorelai’s dad, had a heart attack; Rory’s best friend Lane had sex once – on her honeymoon –hated it, and got pregnant with – wait for it – twins!
Seriously: when all the joy has been sucked out of a show that has been known for its joy, we can only be glad that it’s going off the air. Two episodes don’t leave much time to tie things up – will Lorelai and Luke reconcile? Will Rory turn down Logan’s proposal? – but perhaps it’s better this way. Who knows what other damage Mr. Rosenthal could inflict on these women and their world if he had more time?