Gilmore Girls

Life is full of drama and conflict and confusion and choices you make and choices you regret. I think that’s what makes for good storytelling.

–New executive producer David S. Rosenthal, at the TCA Press Tour

It wasn’t just the fight, Sookie. It was him not fighting for me. I gave him an ultimatum and he let me walk away.

–Lorelai (Lauren Graham), “The Long Morrow”

It’s been a tumultuous year for Gilmore Girls loyalists. On screen, the long anticipated romance between Lorelai (Lauren Graham) and Luke (Scott Patterson) corroded before our eyes, destroyed by tongues held and warning signs unseen. But the off screen drama was equally compelling, as series creator Amy Sherman-Palladino held out for a satisfactory two-year commitment from Warner Brothers. Could she really, we wondered, abandon the six-year-old show she ran with an iron fist?

She could.

So the series resumes tonight under the CW’s green banner, guided by new show runner David S. Rosenthal, but without its lightning-rod mama bear. Some of you no doubt welcome this change (Ding-Dong, Amy’s gone!) as a chance for Lorelai and Luke to start behaving again like the characters you believe them to be. Others might feel CW’s Tuesday flagship now carries an asterisk beside its title, a reminder that Gilmore Girls without Sherman-Palladino just isn’t quite Gilmore Girls. I tend toward the latter, but at the moment I’m too busy marveling that fans so quickly found a new whipping girl — Lauren Graham — to blame for their dissatisfactions.

TV Guide‘s Michael Ausiello got that ball rolling early this month. Though he’s typically her number one fan, he expressed disappointment over Graham’s “emotionally guarded” performance while previewing tonight’s premiere at his

blog. “Much of the episode called for Lorelai to be distraught over what she had done to Luke (i.e. bedding Christopher), and, unfortunately, LG rarely gives you a sense of that anguish,” he wrote. He also detailed a deviation from the script that seemed to favor Lorelai pursuing a romance with Christopher (David Sutcliffe), Rory’s (Alexis Bledel) father, beyond the one-night stand at the conclusion of last season. As Graham has defended the appeal of that relationship multiple times, Ausiello speculated that the change might be an indication of Graham’s increased creative input now that Rosenthal’s in charge.

As you might guess, his conjecture was enough to set comments boards aflame. Lorelai/Luke ‘shippers threw around words like “train wreck” and declared Graham an ingrate for not heeding the wishes of the viewers who’d made her a star. On the one hand, this is typical behavior when fans see a series’ end in sight and want their happy ending assured. But it seems particularly shortsighted where Gilmore Girls is concerned. The “fun” of the series has always been in watching strong personalities make controversial choices, for good or ill.

Often the choices repeat, whether it’s one character sabotaging her relationships again and again (that’d be Lorelai) or multiple characters unwittingly charting separate but similar paths. Sherman-Palladino built her series into a veritable chamber of echoes, with stories overlapping and mirroring each other. In early seasons, this was most apparent in Lorelai’s relationship with Rory, as they both struggled to “grow up” and let others — namely, romantic partners — into their insular mom-and-daughter-as-best-friends world. Last season, however, the parallels extended to Lorelai and Luke, as he discovered he had a daughter and swiftly moved that new relationship to the forefront of his life. Just as Lorelai had put their marriage on hold until she could reconcile with Rory, Luke asked to do the same while he forged a bond with April (Vanessa Marano).

Even Anna (Sherilyn Fenn), April’s mother, hit familiar notes. A protective single mom, she insisted Lorelai keep away from April until she and Luke were married to avoid April being hurt if the couple failed to make it to the alter. Lorelai didn’t like this — the relationship was solid, she tried to assure Anna — but she did understand. She’d shielded Rory from her own few suitors for the same reason.

And now the wedding isn’t happening after all. Much of tonight’s premiere, “The Long Morrow,” revolves around this big shift, as Lorelai wakes the morning after and sets about breaking the uncomfortable news to best friend Sookie (Melissa McCarthy), Rory, and Luke himself. No one believes her at first — it was just a fight, fights are okay — a recurring pattern that just adds to her pain and frustration.

In truth, Lorelai and Luke have been “over” for some time. It was a long, difficult descent, punctuated by misplaced outbursts and missed chances to speak up, but viewers can’t say they didn’t see it coming. Communication is always the problem on Gilmore Girls: though mom and daughter are famous for their witty banter (which still exists under Rosenthal), they’re terrible at mustering the courage to say what they want.

Rory will need to get better at this, and quick, if her romance with Logan (Matt Czuchry) is to last. With the rich playboy off in London to dig into his daddy’s business, Rory’s wondering where they stand. She thought she knew, but once Paris (Liza Weil) starts asking questions, she realizes they didn’t discuss anything at all. Now they’re relegated to phone conversation, which cuts off Rory’s ability to read his expression. “How am I ever supposed to know what he’s thinking or feeling?” she rants to Lorelai. Tellingly, her mom doesn’t think to tell her to ask.

And so it’s more of the same, in a good way, in this first episode of the post-Sherman-Palladino era. Paris still steals the show, Taylor (Michael Winters) continues to annoy, and the girls return as we left them last spring, zigging and zagging toward happiness.

RATING 8 / 10