The pop-cultural footprint of Millennials is especially apparent in the broader TV landscape, which has seen a boon of stories focused on members of that age group over the past five years. At least a dozen current shows examine the generation’s varied experiences with humor, pathos, and self-awareness, including Master of None, Love, Atlanta, Girls, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, You’re the Worst, Jane the Virgin, Younger, Insecure, and Broad City. As TV diversifies, and as Millennials—now aged 18 to 35, according to Pew Research Center—climb to higher positions in the industry, these shows are becoming increasingly nuanced and inclusive of different backgrounds. Collectively, they form an intriguing generational narrative that’s more meaningful than what The Great Indoors offers.
This week, joining their ranks is another show, one that partly owes its existence to Millennial nostalgia. The mini-series Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life premieres on Netflix Friday after nine years of lingering fan investment and dissatisfaction with the show’s conclusion in its seventh and final season. The revival, helmed by the original showrunner and creator Amy Sherman-Palladino, will offer closure for many fans, while also acting as a throwback to one of the generation’s earliest portrayals on TV: The WB dramedy was one of the first character-driven series to trace the transitional experiences of a Millennial protagonist. It’s fitting, then, that the miniseries will have to reckon with the contemporary struggles facing the younger Gilmore girl, Rory (Alexis Bledel), as a single journalist searching for fulfillment in her early 30s. While it might seem regressive to revisit a character from a more homogenous time on TV, Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life does have something fresh to deliver—the generation’s first full-circle story and, by extension, a case study for how a show can grow up with its audience.
When Gilmore Girls premiered in 2000, the audaciously clever show quickly proved it had little in common with the teen dramas that shared its target audience—Dawson’s Creek and 7th Heaven, and later One Tree Hill, The O.C., and Veronica Mars. Gilmore Girls’ portrayal of the 15-year-old Rory was instead more akin to My So-Called Life (five years prior) and Friday Night Lights (six years later), which stood out for their emotional realism and sophisticated perspective on relationships. Rory was more complicated than many of her onscreen peers. She was bookish and driven, a rare choice for a young female protagonist, but she was also at turns kind and selfish, independent and stunted, and almost always colored by the expectations of those around her.
Rory’s experiences mirrored what would become the challenges of her upper-middle-class fictional peers a decade later.
In other words, if TV’s modern archetypal Millennial story is about twenty- and thirty-somethings navigating an extended adulthood, Gilmore Girls was its prequel—a broader story about the deep familial history, baggage, and expectations that inform the generation’s coming of age. Gilmore Girls rarely looked at Rory’s life in isolation: Though her storyline occasionally went in its own direction, it was never long before she returned to Stars Hollow for comfort, sought support from her mother, or was roped into her grandparents’ hijinks.