'Gilmore Girls' isn't what it used to be
By Alan Sepinwall
September 26th, 2006
Lorelai deals with the aftermath of sleeping with Christopher, Rory pines for London-bound Logan, and Taylor's attempt at traffic management goes bad in the seventh-season premiere.
"I woke up one morning and looked around the room. Something wasn't right. I realized that someone had broken in the night before and replaced everything in my apartment with an exact replica! I couldn't believe it. I got my roommate and showed him. I said, 'Look at this -- everything's been replaced with an exact replica!' He said, 'Do I know you?'"
-- Steven Wright
WATCHING the season premiere of "Gilmore Girls," I couldn't stop thinking of that bit of vintage Wright. The show looks the same, the actors are the same, they're behaving in a consistent fashion, and yet... exact replicas.
I suppose that unsettling feeling was inevitable. At the end of last season, "Gilmore" creator Amy Sherman-Palladino and her husband, Daniel, quit because they couldn't agree to new contract terms with Warner Bros. studio. Sherman-Palladino not only created the "Gilmore" characters, she lent them her voice.
Like Aaron Sorkin on "The West Wing," David Milch on "NYPD Blue" and a handful of other over-stimulated writer/producers in network TV history, she either wrote or rewrote the vast majority of episodes. (And Daniel handled the ones she didn't.) Lorelai Gilmore is Amy Sherman-Palladino, give or take a fondness for big hats.
As if new showrunner David Rosenthal weren't already starting at a disadvantage, Sherman-Palladino scorched the earth on her way out. First she spent most of last season pushing popular couple Lorelai and Luke apart though the shark-jumping introduction of Luke's previously-unknown daughter April. Then, in a twist that was as loathed by the fans as it was irreversible, she had Lorelai break up with Luke and go to bed with her ex-boyfriend (and baby daddy) Christopher. Sherman-Palladino said she had hoped to stay and continue the story, but it was hard to watch the finale and not imagine her saying, "Get out of that one, suckers!" (Maybe something wittier; she's the Dorothy Parker fan, after all.)
Sorkin pulled a similar stunt when he was forced off "West Wing," contriving a way to put a Republican in charge of the White House in his last episode. It was a mess that his replacements clumsily tried to wave away in a few episodes, but the emotional fallout lingered over the show for months. Milch, meanwhile, left "NYPD Blue" without bothering to tell any of his successors what Ricky Schroder's deep, dark secret was; their improvised answer was so convoluted and lame that fans were almost relieved when the actor's character was killed off.
It's to Rosenthal's credit that he addresses the Christopher situation head-on. He doesn't make it into a dream, doesn't try to pretend they just cuddled all night, doesn't have Lorelai and Luke make a pact where he has a one-night stand and then they pretend like it never happened. The premiere deals honestly with what happened and how the characters would react to it.
Lauren Graham is so good in the final scene that she would deserve an award for it -- if, that is, Emmy voters weren't so oblivious to her existence that she couldn't even get nominated in a year when the TV Academy introduced a rule change that was nicknamed after her.
The problem is that if Rosenthal and company stay true to the characters, there is no realistic way Luke and Lorelai would get back together by the end of this season, which as of now looks to be the show's last. Luke's greatest fear was always that Lorelai would get back with Christopher; she did it, and if/when he finds out, he is not the type to forgive easily. A quick fix will feel phony; a realistic treatment will deny the fans the happy ending they've been pulling for practically since day one.
So if the dramatic, romantic core of the show is good and thoroughly bollixed, that leaves the comedy. And it's in the quippiness where Sherman-Palladino's absence is most keenly felt.
Rosenthal can write a funny line or 12, definitely. Liza Weil's underused Paris Gellar has a nice scene where she screens applicants for her new SAT prep class; when the mother of a prospective student insists her daughter has such potential, Paris snaps, "So did Charles Manson." And Alexis Bledel's Rory, failing to keep up a brave face after boyfriend Logan's forcible exile to London, goes on a memorable rant about whether the phrase "good-bye" is an oxymoron.
But the comedy half of "Gilmore Girls" has always been more than the sum of its punchlines. What's missing is that machine-gun pace, the sense that Graham and Bledel are always a second away from needing an oxygen mask. The season premiere is noticeably slower and less busy than usual. The Dragonfly Inn's kitchen, usually bustling with activity, now looks like it just got shut down by the health inspector.
"Gilmore" has had sluggish episodes before, but those usually came in the middle of a season, and you could always reassure yourself with the knowledge that the phrase "Written and Directed by Amy Sherman-Palladino" would pop up in an episode's credits in another week or two. That's not going to happen now. Anyone who's lived with this show and its characters for the last six years can see that something has definitely been stolen, even if, to the casual eye, the replacement looks and sounds close enough.