Gilmore Girls

NOTE: This review ends in information that might spoil any viewer who can’t imagine how a man who already bought a future home for the woman he loves would respond to her proposal.

You know your mother, Rory. Everything’s the end of the world — so dramatic. Ladies and gentlemen, Lorelai Barrymore!
— Emily (Kelly Bishop), “The New and Improved Lorelai”

I have reformed. From now on, no more scheduling, no more planning. I am just going to spend my days making ice cream beer floats and just taking life as it comes. You’ll see: new me.
— Rory (Alexis Bledel), “The New and Improved Lorelai”

Note to TV creators: to achieve series longevity, ground your story in family pain. Quarreling parents and children make should’ve-known-better repetition feel organic and oh-so-true. Thus, the hurts-so-good appeal of Gilmore Girls. Now in its sixth season, the WB’s mother-daughter dramedy resumes tonight just where it left off: with Lorelai (Lauren Graham) heartbroken and daughter Rory (Alexis Bledel) way overdue for a swift kick in the ass.

Once everyone’s little darling, Rory has racked up a series of boneheaded moves since leaving home for Yale. Season Four ended with her sleeping with Dean (Jared Padalecki), the married ex, in an attempt to rectify a lonely, intimidating freshman year, and last spring she stole a yacht, landed in jail, and dropped out of school — all in reaction to a single negative performance review. On each occasion, Rory rebuffed her mother’s attempts at tough talk and tough love, establishing an unhealthy new family pattern: when she doesn’t like the vibe at home, she turns to Emily (Kelly Bishop) and Richard (Edward Herrmann), her wealthy, doting grandparents.

This latest escape hurt Lorelai doubly hard, because she had asked her parents (no easy thing, given their troubled history) to unite with her in insisting Rory re-enroll at Yale. Alas, Edward’s resolve crumbled when his tearful granddaughter showed up seeking help (“I’m so sorry about everything, I just don’t know what to do”) and threw herself in his arms. Just like that, the pool house was Rory’s.

Let’s hope she and the grandparents enjoy their new arrangement, because Lorelai is resolved to let the new threesome go it alone. “You finally got a shot at getting the daughter you’ve always wanted,” she tells her parents in tonight’s premiere. “Now you get your do-over: a new and improved Lorelai.” Though Luke (Scott Patterson) tries to talk her out of this hands-off policy, Lorelai won’t budge. “She knew exactly how I felt about the situation and she chose to ignore me,” she says of Rory. “She chose to move in with my parents, she chose not to tell me about it.” Therefore, she’s on her own, free to make her own mistakes just as Lorelai did when she ran away from her parents after Rory was born. “I had to go through that and Rory has to go through this. Now, she’s smart and she’s strong and hopefully she’ll figure it out, but I’m not gonna force my way in.”

But is Rory strong? Not like she used to be. In an enlightening Fresh Air interview last May, series creator Amy Sherman-Palladino said she created the character to fill a vacuum in TV’s representations of teenaged girls: “There wasn’t a girl who was comfortable in her skin and sort of had her life and didn’t really belong to any group and was kind of okay with that — and that books and reading and education and her future was the most important thing — way more important than boys. It just felt like, where’s the other girl?”

Five years on, Rory might be asking herself the same question. Since high school, she’s made bad choices with men and proved thin-skinned and naïve where her future is concerned. (That bad performance review came after she spent a few weeks playing assistant to the publisher dad of her wealthy boyfriend; when was there time amid the note-taking and coffee-fetching to determine if she had the “stuff” to be a hard-hitting journalist?) Rory is a Type A running scared, and, rather than dig in and toughen up, she seeks out those who offer shelter, distraction, and the words she wants to hear.

Among these is boyfriend Logan (Matt Czuchry, signed on for the season), the playboy who likes her so much he swore off other girls rather than lose her. A gold card-carrying troublemaker, he worries he’s been a bad influence on the girl he sees more clearly than she sees herself. You’ll be back in school within a month, he tells Rory. “You love school. I saw it. That doesn’t just go away.”

Roommate Paris (scene-stealer Liza Weil) can’t believe the news, either. Stunned to hear that her only friend (“She stays in the room until I’m completely done saying something”) and academic competition (“She’s my Pace car”) has dropped out, she rushes to Stars Hollow to plot with Lorelai. Echoing Luke, Paris suggests they kidnap Rory and convince her to return to school: “You can pull some of that supermom crap that you always do and get her to change her mind.” But Lorelai won’t be swayed, and, in a revealing bit, Paris backs down as soon as Lorelai says she can call her any time she needs to talk.

So: Lorelai and Paris, Rory and her grandparents… Gilmore‘s most long-standing relationships seem set for realignment in Season Six. Meanwhile, another pairing is poised for evolution. In last season’s cliffhanger, Lorelai offered Luke those four little words: “Will you marry me?” To no one’s surprise, he’s thrilled by the question. Yet he also knows that Lorelai is in pain. As in Sex and the City, Gilmore‘s girls make each other’s worlds go round; when they’re out of sync, the resulting dark shadows color everything else in their lives. “Are you sure you want to celebrate now?” Luke asks. Lorelai says she is. “I just want to be happy right now. Okay?” Wouldn’t it be nice — for Lorelai, for all of us — if shaking the blues were really that simple?