Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life, A Love Story (Contains Spoilers)

Netflix released the much awaited four-part Gilmore Girls revival the day after Thanksgiving. The revival represents a chance for creator Amy Sherman-Palladino to wrap up the series the way she would have had she not left the show before its seventh and final season due to contract disputes.

Much of the old magic is there: The witty repartee peppered with pop-culture references, the quirky cast of characters that populates the progressive utopia that is Stars Hollow, and the delightfully unorthodox bond between Lorelai and Rory. In its worst moments (a prolonged and somewhat nonsensical musical sequence comes to mind) the revival almost seems like a lampoon of the original show, but the relationships between the titular girls of the house Gilmore still enchant.

As with the original series, the revival centers around the relationship between Lorelai Gilmore and her daughter Rory Gilmore. We find Lorelai happily shacked up with Luke, the stoic diner owner/lumbersexual who patiently waited for her through the original seven seasons. Rory, meanwhile, is flailing both romantically and professionally. She is casually sleeping with her engaged ex-boyfriend Logan Huntzberger and precariously hovering somewhere between employed and unemployed. She is a millennial after all.

The four episodes also deal somewhat more peripherally with Lorelai’s complicated relationship with her own mother, the newly widowed Emily Gilmore (Edward Herrmann, the actor who played Richard Gilmore in the original series, passed away in 2014). Their already fraught relationship is further strained when Lorelai is caught off guard at Richard Gilmore’s funeral and makes some insensitive remarks. The resolution to this plot line, when Lorelai calls Emily and bares her soul to her mother in a rare moment of vulnerability, is perhaps one of the most moving moments of Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life.

Even when the jokes fail to stick the landing (which is disappointingly often), the revival resonates emotionally because, like the original series, it gives a genuine portrayal of the dynamism of mother-daughter relationships.

While the conflict between Lorelai and Emily is rooted in the fact that Lorelai became pregnant as a teenager and left home to raise Rory on her own, it is perpetuated by the fact that they are both blinded by their shared obstinacy to the other’s point of view. Conflict arises between Lorelai and Rory when Rory wants to write about her and Lorelai’s life. Understandably, Lorelai objects to having intimate details about difficult experiences broadcast in book form. This type of discord is familiar to anyone that’s been a mother or a daughter, even if the circumstances are not, because negotiating shared personality traits and different interpretations of shared experiences is an inevitable part of familial relationships.

The fourth and final part of the revival ends with Rory revealing to Lorelai that she is pregnant, presumably with Logan’s child. This ending was originally intended to close out the series, but is more believable in the context of the older Rory’s story arc, even if it leaves viewers with a somewhat infuriating cliffhanger. Luckily, Sherman-Palladino has indicated that more episodes are a possibility. Regardless of likely baby daddy drama with Logan and the possible rekindling of Rory’s teenage romance with Jess, the exciting potential of new episodes would be watching Lorelai help Rory navigate the challenges of single motherhood.

What makes Lorelai and Rory’s relationship a joy to watch is the fact that they are best friends as well as being a mother and a daughter. They are able to balance those roles because they give value to one another’s personhood independent of their kinship.

As daughters, we tend to forget that our mothers had full lives before us, that they have individual aspirations, dreams, and disappointments that shape who they are separate from who they are to us. Our expectations of our mothers can sometimes be shaped by ideas about what a mother should be in ways that can be detrimental to our relationships with the unique and varied individuals our mothers actually are. And it goes both ways.

The gamble of parenthood is that children can turn out to be radically different from the people who raise them. Having expectations of other people is not a bad thing in and of itself, but they have to be tempered by an understanding that when others fail to meet our expectations or when we fail to meet theirs, it’s not personal.

Lorelai and Rory model this to a degree that probably isn’t possible in non-fiction mother-daughter relationships. Even when Lorelai is disappointed in Rory’s choices, her disappointment seems rooted in what Lorelai sees as a dissonance between Rory’s poor choices and her character, rather than being rooted in how Rory’s choices reflect on Lorelai’s parenting. Even as a teenager, Rory seems never to be embarrassed by her mother, which seems like an inevitable part of adolescence, nor is she resentful about the absence of her father. Our mother-daughter relationships may never be as well-adjusted, but of course we don’t have Sherman-Palladino writing for us. Nevertheless, the show and the revival offer a lens through which we can see each other a little differently.

When we think of a love story, we usually imagine a romantic couple. Literature and film provide countless permutations of the various internal and external obstacles that keep lovers apart and the ways they either overcome or succumb to those obstacles. The unrealistic expectations these portrayals set for real romance are not only cliched presumption, they’ve been studied. And even though the relationship between Lorelai and Rory is not necessarily realistic, Gilmore Girls is a refreshing reminder that the most enduring love story most of us ever experience is the one we are born into.

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This column is informed by the belief that an honest and brave conversation about what it means to be a woman is vital to understanding what it means to be a human. Its scope is temporal but its ambition is to discern the essential. Above all, it seeks to connect Milk readers to each other and the world around them. Email Jennimaria with corrections, questions, comments, and suggestions at publicfiltermilk@gmail.com.

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