Gilmore Girls: A Millennial Story Come Full Circle – The Atlantic

 In Entertainment
When it premiered this fall, the new CBS sitcom The Great Indoors came under fire for relying heavily on unimaginative jokes about Millennials: They’re obsessed with social media and political correctness, addicted to technology, sheltered, entitled, and lazy. But the series, which just received a full-season order, at least suggests that portrayals of Generation Y are prevalent enough in the public consicousness to justify a network show dedicated to making fun of them.

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.

Today, that description puts Rory in the company of the well-drawn stars of shows like Girls and Master of None that deliberately explore their characters’ flaws, often to make larger sociocultural points. (Behind some of these current programs are Millennials who were avid Gilmore Girls fans.) But Gilmore Girls had a bigger-picture focus: It was at its core a story about the intricacies of family relationships, told with fast-paced wit and through a feminist lens. In the pilot episode, Rory is accepted into the fictional, elite Chilton Preparatory School, forcing her free-spirited single mother Lorelai (the dynamic Lauren Graham) to reach out to her estranged parents for money. Rory’s grandparents agree on the condition of a weekly dinner, and so begins the storyline that drives the series’ rich interpersonal conflicts. The conceit is that Chilton will lead to Harvard, which will lead to a career in journalism, which will lead to a life of possibilities for Rory that Lorelai, who got pregnant at 16 and fled to the small town of Stars Hollow, never had.

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.

Despite its whimsical hyper-reality, Gilmore Girls was grounded in the idea that its characters were intrinsically and emotionally linked; it emphasized, vividly, how Rory’s decisions affected not just her own immediate future but also those closest to her. When, in season six, Rory crumbles under the criticism of a newspaper publisher, steals a yacht, and temporarily drops out of Yale, the most profound consequences are the ones that alter her family’s dynamics. (A brilliant, Woody Allen-inspired dinner scene in the episode “Friday Night’s Alright for Fighting” brings this conflict to a head and could easily serve as a thesis statement for the series.) Gilmore Girls’ closest relative on TV at the moment, then, may be the CW’s Jane the Virgin, another three-generational story about smart, complex women and the ways they mold each other.

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