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Thursday, December 07, 2006

 

Gilmore Girls: Haters, You're Wrong.

Despite what you may have heard, Gilmore Girls is still a very smart television show. The new producers and writers of the CW program have been met with enormous skepticism as they try to create a seventh (likely final) season for the series. As this season has progressed, many critics and fans have complained about a dulling of the dialogue, questioned themes and character choices or jumped off entirely. While the show is somewhat slower-paced this year, and the repartee is less obscure-pop-culture-sharp, I think Gilmore Girls is still one of the brightest spots on the dial--and the new creative team clearly knows the characters. The latest, very good episode, "Merry Fisticuffs", is a great example.

The leads, Lorelai and her daughter Rory, have always gotten themselves into trouble by avoiding unpleasant situations; they''d much rather white lie, outright lie or sin by omission than deal with painful or awkward truths. Last season, this shared character flaw kept Rory from talking to her mother or facing up to herself for half a year, and it eventually led to Lorelai's break-up with her fiance Luke, who has--or rather used to have--his own avoidance problems. At that point, fans (and even the actress, Lauren Graham) complained that Lorelai was acting out of character--but that has been her character since the pilot episode. Avoiding her parents. Avoiding commitment. Avoiding bad news. Rory was the exception to the rule. Currently, the avoidance trait has alienated Rory from her new friends and boyfriend, while it has caused Lorelai to elope with Rory's dad Christopher, which is seeming like a dumber idea with each new episode. Of course she's in denial about it.

This week finds Lorelai resisting Christopher's attempts--desperate and immature though they may be--to genuinely become part of her life. His efforts to ingratiate himself into her Stars Hollow community failed last week, so this week he wants to buy them a new house out of town. He sees Lorelai holding Luke's new niece, so he immediately wants to impregnate her. It's dawning on him that ring or no ring, he can't really ever "have" her for sure--which terrifies him. His fatal flaw is that he wants her but he can't accept her--catch the bit where he keeps taking out the groceries she puts in the cart. If anything is going to break up this marriage, it's Chris denying her food. From the junk food binges to Friday Night Dinners at Richard and Emily's, food has always symbolized the nuturing Lorelai never got from her mother. It is no coincidence that Luke runs a diner, feeding people for a living.

As Lorelai's mother Emily says to her daughter at the end of the episode, in the best scene Kelly Bishop has gotten all season, Christopher is weak and a fool, but likable. Emily believes that he, like all men, needs to be carefully managed, and that Lorelai needs to drop her self-denial and independence in order to protect her own interests. It's mercenary, cynical, heartfelt, at least partially true and totally in character. Of course, Lorelai always ends up following the opposite of her mother's advice, so we can see where this is all going.

The old show under Amy Sherman-Palladino was consistently good at creating complicated situations where you could empathize with everyone involved, and every conflict was motivated by character. (Up until Luke's secret daughter arrived, anyway.) Tuesday's show captured that dynamic better than they have all season. I appreciate that the writers made Christopher right to be upset, even if he's really reacting to his own impotence, overcompensating in all the wrong (but understandable) ways. Lorelai should be more willing to compromise, just as, paradoxically, Chris should be more willing to let her be herself. By the way: has there been an episode yet this year when Chris didn't have to flaunt his insecurity by reminding people that's he's rich? Again, he's still likable, even when he's being pathetic. Too bad for him that he knows it.

Meanwhile, Rory has allowed herself to become entangled in a pathetic lie told by her former friend Marty, who took a walk a few years ago after Rory rejected his advances for those of Logan. Now Marty is dating Rory's new friend and pretends that he and Rory have never met. Rory, not eager to reveal Marty's weird behavior to her friend, says nothing, and lets the pretense drag on far too long, even after Marty makes it clear he still wants her. (Yes, goddamn it, it's a soap opera and I. Don't. Care.) Logan, rich enough never to have to worry what anyone thinks, refuses to play along and explains the charade over dinner--causing Rory's friend, quite understandably, to flip out. Rory is mad at Logan for embarrassing her, not allowing her to control the situation. Logan seems contemptuous of Marty and Rory's weakness--and is probably more than a little vindictively jealous. (After two and a half years I still don't know if I like Logan, which is probably good. All the best characters on the show are at least that ambivalent.) The Rory and Lorelai plots have mirrored each other all season, and that doubling has only been heightened over the last two or three episodes: Logan/Chris, Rory/Lorelai, Marty/Luke. It was amusing how Rory was unable to use her Gilmore superpower of talking someone into submission in order to make herself feel better, as she went to her friend's apartment to explain, only to have the door shut in her face. Kid, you should know by now that stuff only works in Stars Hollow.

The climax of the episode is the fistfight between Christopher and Luke--Chris frustrated by Lorelai's resistance, Luke frustrated by the seeming futility of his efforts to gain partial custody of his daughter and still in shock over his break-up with Lorelai. I find it amazingly perverse for the show to have Luke and Chris beat on each other as proxies for the woman they can't lay a finger on. Clever, and about as dark an idea as the show has ever flirted with. Not to mention one more example of massive avoidance.

Beyond occasionally weaker patter, if anything makes the show seem more conventional this season, it's that the new writers seem to have a harder time juggling the supporting cast; the absence of people like Lane, Sookie, Michel, Jackson, Emily, etc. for weeks at a time is more noticeable than it used to be. The original creators were better at that, I think. Perhaps it's because they've slowed the dialogue down--there's less time to get that extra subplot in there each week. It's also because they've split Lorelai, Rory and Luke onto more or less separate tracks--shuffling amongst them, plus finding room for Taylor or Paris, would be hard for any writer. The direction of the storyline appears to be bringing Luke back into the Gilmore orbit, though, so perhaps this will improve. Given the writers' clear control over the overall plot and character arcs, I'm in it for the duration.

Comments:
I actually think that Logan was going to let Marty's secret lie uh, lie until Marty made a crack about people with trust funds. We've seen in a prior episode that this is a sore spot for Logan. Once Marty said that he was pretty much done in. Stupid Marty. I hate that guy.

Which is actually a pretty original touch. On most shows the under-funded striver would be unambigously the hero. Here he's creepy.

Anyway, I thought this dinner scene was well-written and avoided hitting you over the head with Logan's motivation. Rang very true to me.
 
I agree--that's what I meant by saying Logan was being vindictive. As smug and rude as he can be (as he was last season in a similar situation with Jess), here he was justifiably pissed off at being turned into a cartoon in order to make a loser like Marty feel better about himself. Logan made the quick calculation, Rory's covering for *this* chump?, and called her on it.

Logan has serious limitations as a person, but they can't be reduced to his wealth. Just as Marty's lack of wealth doesn't make him a good guy. It's too bad; I used to like Marty, and up until the "stalker" story I still felt bad for him. Now he seems like a sociopath.

I agree with many critics that it's too bad Rory continually makes herself subservient to her boyfriends, but I think the writers know this. She wouldn't be the first person to diminish herself in bad relationships. And once more, it creates an interesting contrast with her mom, who has paid for her independence with a lack of serious, committed relationships, whereas Rory gave up her independence to Dean, Jess and Logan.
 
And of course Logan was provoking Marty by telling the story of all the incidental nobodies with a crush on Rory--letting Marty know he was no different than the guy at the ice cream shop or whatever it was.
 
Jesus Christ. I got halfway through the second paragraph, found myself wishing Angelus would show up and KILL EVERYONE, and skipped down to the comments threads.

Sorry.
 
While Gilmore Girls was on air, the character of Sookie St. James became one of the most liked characters of the show.i love to watch gilmore girls episodes online
 
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