There’s a running joke in creator Amy Sherman-Palladino’s beloved series, Gilmore Girls, that Emily Gilmore simply can’t find good help these days. With her devotion to her local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution and near-permanently pursed lips, to match her equally crisp attire and exasperation with her daughter, Kelly Bishop’s family matriarch was the PG-rated version of Arrested Development’s Lucille Bluth as much she was a nudge at an out-of-touch aristocratic society. Each time a new maid — to use the pejorative term associated with the show — greeted Emily’s fun and rebellious daughter, Lorelai (Lauren Graham), at the door when she came for dinner, she reminded Lorelai why she’d rebuffed the life her mother set out for her to raise her own daughter, Rory (Alexis Bledel), in the her own fast-talking, pop culture-loving likeness (no matter that she’d had Rory when she was still a kid herself).
Who knew that with Netflix’s four-part revival of the series, it would be Emily who seemed the most progressive?
In Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life, Emily not only gets a housekeeper she appreciates, but also the woman’s entire extended family. (Of course, she’s still Emily Gilmore, so she doesn’t bother to learn what language these new houseguests are speaking, or their nationality). Lorelai and Rory, however, are not so woke.
To be fair, Rory has never been fully aware of the riches life has afforded her. Yes, she was raised by a single mom, but it was in the safe and picturesque town of Stars Hollow, Conn.—a municipality that Lorelai describes in A Year in the Life as being “built in a snow globe”— and her brains, coupled with her grandparents’ willingness to pay for a fancy private school education, managed to land her admission to Harvard, Princeton and Yale. The fact that she more or less inexplicably dropped out of the latter during the series’ initial run still causes much outrage among fans, who deem such an offense to be out of character for their favorite Christiane Amanpour- worshipping overachiever. To make matters worse, Gilmore Girls also had Rory convincing her James Spader-in-Pretty in Pink-light boyfriend, Logan (Matt Czuchry) to help her steal a yacht.
A Year in the Life catches us up with a thirtysomething Rory’s life as a freelance journalist, one respected enough to score a byline in the New Yorker and at least get an editor at The Atlantic to pay attention to her. The finances of a freelance journalist are almost always in flux, and it’s a career path that usually requires accruing debt or finding some sort of personal financial backer, so these accomplishments are enviable, and often unattainable, for pretty much any journalist in Rory’s age group (myself included). Yet, she somehow has the funds to chuck it all and fly off to London to research a book proposal or take a GQ assignment on spec. Rory is also lucky enough to have friends and relatives willing to hoard her stuff after she gives up her Brooklyn apartment—so many boxes, in fact, that she apparently goes most of A Year in the Life without finding the one that contains her underwear. Despite telling her ex, Jess (Milo Ventimiglia), that she’s broke, she ends up working for free as the editor the Stars Hollow Gazette.
For Lorelai, it’s more of a riches-to-rags-to-riches story. In Gilmore Girls, she had to train herself to earn an income after she left the suffocating security that her parents’ money would have afforded her. There’s a pivotal moment in Season One where Straub (Peter Michael Goetz) the self-righteous, blowhard father of Rory’s dad, Christopher (David Sutcliffe), chastises Lorelai for only working a “blue-collar job” at a hotel. So it’s no wonder that now, as a successful co-owner of a boutique inn, she’d want to hold on even more tightly to possessions like (what appears to be) an Alexander McQueen handbag.
But Lorelai also knows that she can get a loan from her mother instead of the bank to expand her business and all it will cost her is a couple weeks of sanity a year when she’s forced to vacation with her. (Compare this with, say, the current season of Showtime’s Shameless, which sees Emmy Rossum’s working-class Fiona Gallagher risking her family’s home with her not-so-thought-through plan to take out a loan and buy a Laundromat.)
When it comes to finances, A Year in the Life comes across as tone-deaf at best, snobbish and entitled at worst, but it’s just plain mean with regard to other, less explicit markers of class status. No one needed to see a fully-clothed Lorelai and Rory body shaming people at the pool, then coming out of their own food comas to ask, “Did we order Chinese, Greek and Italian food last night?” And who knew it was possible to feel for Jack Carpenter’s Paul, a barely-seen beau of Rory’s in A Year in the Life, who’s somehow unaware that she’s cheating on him—with both her former flame, Logan, and, on a whim, with someone dressed as a Wookiee.
It’s very possible these characteristics have been with the Gilmores all along and rose-tinted nostalgia has made us forget them. The first installment of Gilmore Girls, which premiered, in 2000, on what was then the WB, came after the glitzy years of Beverly Hills: 90210, in which the main characters were either extremely wealthy or comfortable enough to fit in. (Sorry, Andrea Zuckerman and your ace ability to dodge the school district regulations.) Teen heroines like Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s Buffy Summers (Sarah Michelle Gellar) and My So-Called Life’s Angela Chase (Claire Danes) had plenty of angst, but their families could still afford for them to get a new white prom dress or flannel shirt. Keri Russell’s lead in Felicity came from a family that could afford to pay for her college, provided she stuck with the major her father envisioned for her. (She didn’t, so she got a job.)
An early standout against this was probably Katie Holmes’ Joey Potter on Dawson’s Creek, whose big doe eyes and long brown hair hid the inner scars brought on by a lifetime of her father’s poor choices and struggles to make ends meet. Veronica Mars’ titular scrappy gumshoe had the reverse problem, as she went from insider to, as her wise and amazing father once put it, an economic rung below the “lower middle class to which we aspire.” Eventually, Gossip Girl’s Dan and Jenny Humphrey (Penn Badgley and Taylor Momsen), The O.C.’s Ryan Atwood (Ben McKenzie) and Friday Night Lights’ Matt Saracen (Zach Gilford) would infiltrate high (school) society thanks to, in respective order, a determined father, a kind-hearted public defender and a quarterback who didn’t know how to tackle.
Gilmore Girls, like all of these shows, is meant to be relatable escapism for everyone in the family. It always had a way of driving home social debates like class or even abortion without hitting you over the head (by dint of its subject, it has an anti-abortion message; but it also stresses that this turn of events worked for Lorelai and may not for someone else). But A Year in the Life is airing in one chunk on a subscription platform, meaning it’s catering to those lucky enough to have the time and the money to enjoy it.
The fun of TV revivals is similar to that of reunions, as they give fans a chance to catch up with old friends and see how their lives have evolved. We want to see that Rory’s taste in men has improved along with her writing samples, that Lorelai’s Dragonfly Inn is a fixture in Connecticut tourism brochures—as much for her wisecracking banter as for its winsome location—and that she’s living happily ever after with curmudgeonly diner owner Luke (Scott Patterson). We don’t need proof, to use a left-field cultural reference that would meet with both Emily and Lorelai’s approval, that Oscar Wilde was right when he wrote that all women become their mothers.