I am a “Gilmore Girls” fan. I cut my bangs when Rory cut her bangs. I rejoiced the day that Netflix began streaming all seven seasons and have rewatched the entire series twice, not counting of course the years of rewatching I did through ABC Family reruns, which I sometimes DVRed. I gobble up online analysis of which Gilmore boyfriend was best. I am, after catching an episode from season six recently, again considering cutting my bangs. Like I said, fan.
Yet upon hearing the news of a “Gilmore Girls” revival and four new episodes, I shrugged and went back to reading Variety.
It’s not that I won’t watch the episodes, because I will. But I don’t care that the whole cast is coming back. I don’t care to see Lorelai prancing around in highly fitted jackets while she condescends to Sookie. I’ll pass on another glimpse of a Dean, on the verge of a second divorce but weeks away from a promotion at Doose’s Market. There is one, and only one, reason to watch any of these new episodes, and that is to see Emily Gilmore.
Much of the magic of the show I experienced while watching it as a teenager has, understandably, dulled as I age. At 16, I enjoyed seeing the bookish Rory find success and plenty of boys to moon over her. She was a pleasant counterpoint to other teen protagonists of the day, with her giant backpack and no-fuss ponytails and penchant for Edith Wharton. Now, as an adult watching a show about a teenager, I’m struck by Rory’s lack of fire and find her supposed magnetism a bit baffling. More baffling is the show’s conceit that Rory, incapable of accepting any whiff of negative feedback, is destined for a career in journalism. One bad grade on a paper at Chilton and she melts down; some criticism at her internship and she literally quits college. This does not demonstrate the fortitude required to be a female journalist in the age of Twitter. Where is Rory now? Wherever it is, it’s not the New Yorker.
As for Lorelai, the series wisely ended with her pointed toward a future with Luke. The end.
But Emily Gilmore, the show’s true wit and best dancer, gives me a reason to tune in. A classist meddler with a mean streak, she was clearly set up to be the villain (though a complex one!) of the series. She treated the help abominably, she tried to sabotage her daughter’s relationship with Luke, she facilitated Rory dropping out of Yale. Emily drove Lorelai crazy, so she was supposed to drive us crazy too. But upon rewatching the series, I mostly just think she’s great.
Her biting humor was just as funny as Lorelai’s and always better delivered than Rory’s. “Hold on,” she told her daughter in her typical deadpan. “I’m looking up ‘aneurysm’ in our dictionary to see if I just had one.” The moments intended to show how out of touch she was — not understanding “barbecuing” — feel merely endearing. And Emily was the one who actually gave Rory practical advice on how to get through her community service hours with her fellow convicts. “Keep your fight face at home,” she advised, while slipping Rory a pack of cigarettes. “To barter,” she explained. “It’s currency to these people.”
And there was her impeccable taste. Remember when she chided Lorelai for having the word “juicy” across her butt? Fifteen years later, it’s obvious who won that argument.
As with any series reunion, fans run the risk of disappointing character tweaks or plot developments that threaten to spoil the memory of show they loved (see: “Arrested Development”). Emily, the only character with a chance for some actual evolution in the new episodes, makes the risk worthwhile.
Though much is made of Lorelai’s resourcefulness and determination as a teen mom, the viewer doesn’t see those years. Instead we see Lorelai quipping her way through her 30s, making poor, even cruel romantic choices. (It’s not clear that she ever told her fiancé, Max, that the wedding was off.) Her character arc is nonexistent. We see Rory grow more glamorous (bangs!), but generally she sticks to the same patterns at Yale that she demonstrated during her Chilton days (impulsive decisions, falling apart when things don’t go right). In fact, her behavior gets worse and more consequential as she gets older (breaking up a marriage, stealing a yacht!).
But Emily faced a series of complex problems over the show’s tenure, most of them stemming from the fact that she was a woman of a certain generation who had long tethered her future to little other than her husband. How a woman of her age and position should fill her days provided some of show’s tension — it seemed unsure of whether Emily’s charity organizations and involvement with the DAR were something admirable or a source of pity. For that matter, the show sometimes played Emily’s devotion to her husband for ridicule, including one scene in season one when Emily dances with a stranger in a bar and then freaks out in what is clearly supposed to be an unreasonable manner.
Meanwhile, every move Richard made had the potential to upend her life. A secret friendship with an old girlfriend, retirement (which he also initially kept from Emily), going back into business for himself — Richard Gilmore, sweet man that he was, generally went through life without much regard for how it would affect his wife, and Emily was expected to keep up while keeping up the house and their social calendar.
And now real life has thrown an interesting twist into the mix. Edward Herrmann, the wonderful actor who portrayed Richard, died in 2014. Any new episodes of “Gilmore Girls” will feature a widowed Emily, who now has a few decades of life left without the person for whom she seemed to live. What will she do? Whom will she date? How many more maids will she fire?
The other faces of “Gilmore Girls” promise little payoff in the new episodes. The whereabouts of Christopher, whose primary purpose on the show seemed to be to foil Lorelai’s happiness and wear leather jackets beautifully, hold no interest. Logan has changed his name to Cary and is now a lawyer in Chicago, so we need to know no more. Sweet Sookie and Jackson, the show’s best couple, are undoubtedly still having fun discussing produce in Stars Hollow, but Melissa McCarthy is probably too famous now for this reunion.
And then there’s Lane Kim, married off to an oafish husband and saddled with a life of bad sex in Stars Hollow, who better not appear in the new episodes unless she’s newly widowed and running off with Dave Rygalski to California, where she might be able to pursue a music career. Or to pursue any activity that isn’t pouring coffee at Luke’s or listening patiently to Rory’s problems.
The fact is that a well-ended show needs no update, and a poorly done follow-up can actually unravel years of character development. (The “Sex and the City” films make me weep for all that was lost in translation to the big screen.) I suppose there’s money to be made by someone, but for fans, there’s little to gain but heartache — except here, where we might get a glimpse of an underrated character undergoing a genuine story arc, one in which a woman finds herself with a blank script now that the leading man in her life has left. That’s a story worth watching.
Also: Jess. I guess I wouldn’t mind knowing what he’s up to.