Editor’s Note: TV moves on, but we haven’t. In our new feature series It Still Stings, we relive emotional TV moments that we just can’t get over. You know the ones, where months, years, or even decades later, it still provokes a reaction? We’re here for you. We rant because we love. Or, once loved. And obviously, when discussing finales in particular, there will be spoilers:
There are some mysteries that loom large over the TV landscape, becoming the stuff of legend. What did it mean when the screen went black in the series finale of The Sopranos? What happened between Julianna Margulies and Archie Panjabi that was so bad that they couldn’t even be in the same room on The Good Wife? And what were the planned final four words of Gilmore Girls?
Let’s rewind. The beloved Gilmore Girls, about the fierce bond between single mom Lorelai Gilmore (Lauren Graham) and her teenage daughter Rory (Alexis Bledel), premiered in 2000 and ran on the WB and eventually the CW for seven seasons. Series creator Amy Sherman-Palladino and her husband, writer and executive producer Daniel Palladino, departed the show in 2006 after failed and fairly contentious negotiations. That left the series in the hands of David S. Rosenthal, a writer on the series who became the showrunner for the series’ seventh and final season, and who penned the series finale. In it, Rory graduates from Yale and heads off to cover Barack Obama’s presidential campaign for an up-and-coming online outlet. Although it was not the ending Sherman-Palladino may have planned, many fans found it to be a fitting conclusion. Our Rory had grown up and was successfully heading out into the world.
But still, we wondered: What were those four words? How would Sherman-Palladino, the original creator of the series, the one who dreamed up Lorelai and Rory and Emily (Kelly Bishop) and Sookie (Melissa McCarthy) and Luke (Scott Patterson), have finished the show’s run?
Those elusive four words were locked in a vault in Palladino’s mind until 2015, when Netflix announced it had struck a deal with Sherman-Palladino and Warner Bros. to bring the show back for a four-episode event. Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life premiered on November 25, 2016 which great fanfare and anticipation. Finally we would know those four words and our long-gestating speculation could end. Fans rejoiced!
But a funny thing happened from when the series ended in 2007 to when it returned in 2016. Sherman-Palladino seemed to have forgotten that nine years had passed and that the characters, specifically Rory, had grown up. The writing of the revival reminded me of the cliché of the high school quarterback who peaked his senior year and is constantly reliving his glory days unaware that time has marched on and he’s no longer the hero. A Year in the Life was a study in arrested development.
To the dismay of many, many fans, Rory was written as a young twentysomething (or maybe even younger) instead of the thirtysomething she was—aimlessly wandering, rudderless in her career and still hung up on her college boyfriend. Now, I love Logan (Matt Czuchry). Charming TV bad boys are my weakness. But Rory cheating on her boyfriend with the now engaged Logan wasn’t charming or cute or sexy. It was depressing and a repeat of the mistake Rory made when she slept with the married Dean (Jared Padalecki) back in the show’s fourth season.
Rory was suddenly a self-centered brat, and Logan suddenly someone who couldn’t make his own choices when it came to his love life. Further, seeing Logan cavort around with his buddies as they bought and sold bars and rented out entire hotels wasn’t romantic and appealing. It was offensive. And let me tell you what didn’t sit right in 2016 feels even more wrong in 2020.
But back to Rory; let’s pause for a moment to review those final four words between Rory and Lorelai as they sat in the Stars Hollow gazebo after Luke and Lorelai’s wedding:
Rory: “I’m pregnant.”
Even four years later my critical reaction is “UGH!” Would being pregnant at 32 be a crisis? Especially when the show had spent four 90-minute episodes demonstrating for us how much money and financial stability Rory had? How her career now would be writing a book which doesn’t even involve having to go into an office? It just didn’t seem like this was going to be a crisis for Rory, but it also wasn’t presented as a joyous declaration (Lorelai as a grandma! A Stars Hollow baby shower!) As such, the long-awaited and pondered ending landed with a thud.
But you know what’s even more upsetting? That this was the way Sherman-Palladino wanted to end the show in the first place. It’s not like these final four words would have been any better back in 2007. I get that Sherman-Palladino was going for the whole circle of life thing here. That Rory’s story would now repeat her mother’s. But in the show’s first season, Lorelai declares, “Let’s be honest, I certainly don’t want Rory to turn out like me.” The entire series was predicated on Lorelai wanting more for her daughter, wanting her to have more choices and options than she had. But this ending leaves Rory pregnant and with the prospect of raising a child by herself just as her mother had done. All Rory and Lorelai had worked for would be on pause. Given all that came before it, I much prefer an optimistic-heading-off-to-cover-the-Obama-campaign Rory than a pregnant-and-sad-and-most-likely-stuck-in-Stars-Hollow Rory.
In the finale of A Year in the Life Rory goes to see her father and asks “Do you think it was the right decision that she raised me alone?” We didn’t know it at the time, but Rory appears to be wrestling with whether or not she should tell Logan she is pregnant. (At least, we think Logan is the father. Revival Rory had a few suitors. Never forget the Wookie….) Again, if Sherman-Palladino was trying to draw some parallel to Lorelai’s life, it doesn’t track. Lorelai and Christopher were 16 years old, still in high school, still living with their parents, still children themselves. Rory is now twice as old as her mother was, with a career and a life of her own.
In general, very few things can live up to pop culture hype—especially something like this which had been written about and speculated about for years. But these final four words were so disappointing on multiple levels: As a coda to the Lorelai/Rory relationship; as an idea that this was ever a good or satisfactory way for fans to say goodbye to these characters; and not to mention, a little antiquated to think that this would now be a crisis for a 32-year-old who very consciously made bad decisions.
Yes showrunners should obviously be able to have the final say on how their creation will end. And it was, of course, totally Amy Sherman-Palladino’s prerogative to end the show the way she had always envisioned it … the current age of her characters be damned.
But that doesn’t mean we had to like it. Oy with the poodles already!
Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life is currently streaming on Netflix and will make its network premiere on the CW from November 23-26th
Amy Amatangelo, the TV Gal®, is a Boston-based freelance writer, a member of the Television Critics Association and the Assistant TV Editor for Paste. She wasn’t allowed to watch much TV as a child and now her parents have to live with this as her career. You can follow her on Twitter (@AmyTVGal).
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