And Nothing Happens: The Fast and Slow of Gilmore Girls

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In my secondary school years, on the good days when I managed to get home before 4 o clock, I would switch on to E4 for the daily episode of Gilmore Girls. It had a feeling of familiarity that existed not only in its repeated transmission but built into the show itself, into the bizarre but affable town characters, the dizzying dialogue and the captivating relationship between mother and daughter. When the news rolled in of a return to the show, a revival season consisting of four 90-minute episodes, I returned to the show to fill in those days I had missed and to experience again that unique warmth. It helped, too, that Netflix, in preparation for the November revival, was airing all seven seasons of the show from July. What I found when I returned much exceeded the expectations I had set myself in memory, however, and revealed a subtle and intelligent structure behind the show.

Watching the trailer for the revival show, named ‘Seasons’, is weird. Coming from the fuzzy quality of the early-noughties, this new vision of Stars Hollow is overwhelmingly sharp, with precise, and beautiful, shots of The Dragonfly Inn, the town square’s gazebo and Dosey’s market. The contrast I felt, having come straight from the original seasons to this brand new trailer in which we can see every intimate detail – detail I look forward to finally seeing all of Sookie’s culinary creations in – focussed the new perspective that had emerged for me when I watched the show again.

Nico Lang at The Daily Dot has written about how “as an adult, the ‘Ulysses’-like nature of each episode only fuels the show’s rewatchability”. “Part of the thrill of rewatching any given episode of the show”, he says “is picking up the little jokes and asides you might have missed when you were 14, giving new meaning to an episode you thought you knew like the back of your hand”. Almost ten years on I was definitely able to decode far more than I once had, but what struck me most was the way that my emotional response to the show and its characters had developed. It wasn’t just that I understood more of their language – a language that it is eclectic and delightfully bizarre – but that I could now read in between the lines. This language wasn’t just referential but emotional too: it was what drew them together and locked everyone out.

So captivating is the relationship between Rory and Lorelai that the broader familial relations can easily be neglected. The relationship between Lorelai and her mother, Emily, however, is another layer of female kinship that is rich in depth and story, revealed so poignantly in moments that simultaneously tune into and defy the hectic pace of the show. In the show’s finale, for example, Emily consolidates her new and evolving relationship with Lorelai, now under threat by Rory’s departure, in the only way she knows how: by repeatedly pressing Lorelai to extend her inn, thus ensuring Emily’s own involvement in Lorelai’s life. When Lorelai keys in to Emily’s tactic and sees through the façade of brisk functionality, she agrees with a softness and insight which has developed as a balancing element of her personality over the seven seasons.

It is this contrast between pace and pause that underpins what is most subtly impressive about Gilmore Girls, aside from its rich comedy, consuming dialogue and feminist politics. It is also a contrast central to the new trailer, as the slowly panning shots of Stars Hollow are dissolved by a sudden shift to Rory and Lorelai in full-on Gilmore mode. The swift change from wide shots of the town, accompanied by the softer melodies of Carole King’s soundtrack, to the Gilmore girls themselves, followed by the rousing chorus of ‘Where You Lead’, plays on this balance: between slow and fast but also soft and hard in all their emotional tones, distance and intimacy. The most striking moments come soon after, just before or, sometimes, right in the middle of the most hectic of scenes. When, after a flurry of confused arguing, Luke finally kisses Lorelai in season 4, she steps back and asks him what he’s doing. He responds, in his typically snappy tones, with ‘will you just stand still?’ When, straight after, Luke responds in exactly the same manner to Lorelai moving forward, she echoes him (‘will you just stand still?’) in a gentler voice. A few moments later, Kirk, in the midst of a night terror, interrupts them both. This is a scene that indulges in precisely what Gilmore Girls does so well – pace building to a pause, motion climaxing in stillness, before reminding us, ingeniously, that there are always other people’s lives moving forward too, intersecting with our favourite characters. In season 1, when Rory shows Emily the building they (Rory and Lorelai) used to live in, Emily’s own emotional reaction is cut into by Rune, Jackson’s charmless cousin. As an audience, we are constantly aware that the tempi of a whole town are at play, and constantly compelled by the emotional fluctuations in speed.

Emily Yahr at The Washington Post writes that it was the show’s “ability to expertly mix both outlandish and quiet scenes together” that “made it feel like you were watching something special, something that doesn’t come along too often on TV”. It is also the show’s ability to place these scenes in a causal relationship that is so skilful, for this is a show, and a town, in which the subtle and slow perfectly adds up to allow and ensure a change in pace (and vice versa). There is momentum without drama, which is part of what differentiates it from a soap opera. When creator Amy Sherman-Palladino and producer Dan Palladino left the show, they gave an interview in which Dan pointed out that it took a great deal of development in Rory’s character – and a number of seasons – for the audience to trust in the writers’ decision that she would lose her virginity to a married man. That fact is a credit to the show, which managed, in seven seasons, to create a believable rhythm of life, a quality I hope the new shows retain despite the changes in format. In Gilmore Girls, as in Lorelai and Rory’s notably ‘incomparable’ Donna Reed Show, nothing happens and yet so does everything. This dynamic contrast in pace (of dialogue, of events, of the town itself) underpins the entire structure of Gilmore Girls. On reflection, it is a show that can strike you as dizzying, full of busy town scenes and breathless speech, but the reality is sturdier than the hints of unreality the show can sometimes suggest. It is a show with great emotional and structural intelligence, with a pace that is considered at every step.

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