One of the 339 books referenced in the Gilmore Girls TV series is The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, Tom Wolfe’s 1968 influential account of druggy trips and the growth of the hippie movement. Jess Mariano — well, who else — is seen reading it. A very Jess choice.
But it’s the other Wolfe whose words have particular resonance as we look forward to revisiting the Gilmores and Stars Hollow in Netflix’s new four-parter, Gilmore Girls, A Year in the Life.
In his novel You Can’t Go Home Again (published posthumously in 1940), Thomas Wolfe warns us of the futility of nostalgia.
We can’t go back to old places and habits and to the people we once were. They don’t exist any more. The passage of time dictates that nothing is static. And of course, our perceptions change.
So during the last series (Series 7), has Lorelai changed, or do we see her differently?
The annoyance factor grows. Her habit of talking loudly in movies and similar venues becomes highly irritating, particularly in the scene where she and Christopher attend a lecture at Yale during Parents’ Weekend.
Lorelai yaks on her phone during a talk and mocks Chris for asking the professor a question. Her ‘I’m dumb’ act wears a bit thin. Lorelai has contributed her share of the programme’s plethora of cultural and literal references. However, marrying Christopher really is pretty dumb.
Other characters increase in stature. Luke turns out to be a great dad to April, mirroring the best of Lorelai’s upbringing of Rory. Valiant little Lane deals with adulthood, marriage, twin babies, and as ever, her fierce Korean Seventh Day Adventist mother. She makes Rory’s Yale friends seem cute but one-dimensional.
Rory’s buddies are intrigued by Stars Hollow and the promise of a stereotypical yard, porch and hired man, but when they visit, they stay inside the house and have a girlie time dyeing their hair. Stars Hollow isn’t really for them.
So who is Stars Hollow for? In some ways, it brings to mind the Danish concept of ‘hygge’. This idea is currently is having a bit of a moment, fuelled by marketing companies who encourage us to huddle together cosily under warm blankets with the candles lit, and share delicious food with our family and friends.
Sounds like Lorelai and Rory, back in the day, when junk food and binge-watching TV shows provided comfort and togetherness. Stars Hollow itself has a hygge vibe.
It’s a town from a fairy-tale, picturesque beyond belief and suffused in warmth and camaraderie. It has its own customs and traditions — the Town Troubadour, the Dance Marathon, the Hay Bale Maze, Movie Night In The Square, The Founders’ Firelight Festival — and a colourful population of idiosyncratic individuals and eccentrics who are given space to flourish. Up to a point.
A hygge huddle is great if you are on the inside. Stars Hollow looks after its own. It’s not so great with outsiders, like Christopher, for example.
Now we know that we are expected to view Christopher sceptically. After all, we want Lorelai to be with Luke. But she marries Christopher and returns to Stars Hollow, where he is greeted politely and coolly. These newly-weds don’t receive the quirky Welcome Wagon reserved for Stars Hollow’s most beloved, crammed with home-made artefacts. They get household cleaning stuff. Get back, mister, you’re not one of us.
Lorelai organises bonding events for her hubby and the other guys. When he goes to meet Jackson, Lorelai makes him change out of his rather nice black shirt so he will fit in better. So Emily. To do Jackson credit, all he is interested in is whether Christopher is committed to Lorelai. The wardrobe doesn’t matter.
But Chris messes up big time at the Knitathon. On a chilly autumn morning, the townspeople gather in the square for a knitting marathon to raise money to save the old bridge.
As the hours tick by and they complain about the cold and how stiff their fingers are, Christopher leaps in and donates the money, thereby bringing the event to a close. He is doing it as a favour for Lorelai and her friends. He doesn’t get that the communal achievement is what matters, and that the moans and complaints are part of the ritual. You know that Christopher’s Stars Hollow days are numbered.
You begin to wonder about a town that grumbles about but accepts the benevolent dictatorship of its leader, Taylor Doose. You wonder about how the lovely Kirk, whose off-kilter behaviour verges at times on manic and in need of help, is accepted without question because he is one our own. Lorelai and Rory are ours as well. We know what’s good for them.
In a way, it would be good to leave Gilmore Girls where we left it, frozen in time. Lorelai and Luke on the cusp, caught in their romantic moment forever. And there’s Rory, on the campaign trail for a young presidential candidate called Barack Obama — what a good thing that she can’t see the distant future. You feel like bottling those moments of hope, and in true Stars Hollow hygge mode, lighting the candles against the darkness outside.
Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life is available on Netflix from November 25.
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