One of my favorite pedantic activities is combing through IMDb to see what other projects key crew members have worked on in the past. Cinematographer Alex Nepomniaschy has a fun resume, including Bruce Springsteen's "Born to Run" music video and '90s movie classics "Safe" (1995) and Never Been Kissed" (1999). Amy and Dan first worked with him on "Bunheads" and then brought him along on all subsequent projects, including "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel." Casting director Risa Bramon Garcia, who I assume was hired to replace Mara Casey, knows the Palladinos from "Roseanne." She's responsible for casting some of my favorite movies, including "Desperately Seeking Susan" (1985) and "Something Wild" (1986). She and fellow casting director Jami Rudofsky worked together on "Masters of Sex," along with first assistant directors Matt G. Sheets and Eric Tignini, who also worked with Lauren Graham on "Parenthood."
If you dig deep enough, you'll find connections between a majority of the cast, crew, and even common Palladino movie references, like "A Star is Born" (2018, which I would love to hear their thoughts on) and "Fatal Attraction" (1987). Hollywood is insular and many behind-the-scenes professionals get work through referrals and name recognition. I appreciate when showrunners like the Palladinos find collaborators they enjoy working with and hire them as frequently as possible. When their regulars aren't available, they look to other trusted colleagues for recommendations, hence the overlap. The nepo baby conversation, which has been beaten to death at this point, makes for an interesting comparison because it affords immediate name recognition sans resume. It eliminates the most difficult part of the equation, which is finding someone to take a chance on a person with no experience.
Most batshit crazy outfit:
Rory and Lorelai enjoy dressing like extras from "Hair" while lounging at the Stars Hollow Municipal Pool. Lorelai's sheer coverup is relatively chic and her accessories complement it well, but Rory's look is tragic. She ruins cute shorts by pairing them with an ill-fitting empire waist tank top, raggedy tie-dye vest, and multicolor striped headband. She looks like a teen who raided Forever 21 in preparation for her first Rusted Root concert circa 2006. The result is more embarrassing than a privileged thirty-two-year-old moving back in with her mother.
Their opening scene pool outfits aren't much better. Between the "Totes Ya'll" bag, twee sundress, and copy of "Wild," I'm guessing Lorelai recently followed Reese Witherspoon/Draper James on Instagram and is now fantasizing about a move to some terrible southern state that's trying to eradicate child labor laws. I like Rory's distressed white jeans and round sunglasses, but the rainbow bucket hat is worse than her golf beret. It's something Portia (Haley Lu Richardson) would wear and almost pull off on "The White Lotus."
Speaking of tragic hats, it looks like April found Luke's "Reggae Fever" CD and decided to add a splash of Rastafarian culture to her headwear collection. At least this appropriative knitwear doesn't have fake dreadlocks attached to it. Tangentially related, I stumbled upon this article, which gave me a newfound appreciation for all of the knitwear featured in the series. I'm not sure if designers/knitters Lisa Whiting and Lucia Blanchet are responsible for April's hat, but they did create many of the pieces featured in both "AYitL" and "Bunheads." Many of their patterns, including Lane's coffee sweater from "Winter," are available on Ravelry.
Per usual (minus her brief encounter with denim), all of Emily's outfits are a massive slay. I love the neutral patterned jacket and pussy bow silk blouse she wears to her DAR meeting. It's very rich/preppy/old money bitch in a way that's more interesting than a tweed Chanel suit. Her black funeral dress with cutouts is another great look, especially topped with a floral print knit jacket.
All that being said, I must award best dressed to Lorelai, mainly for her patterned blazer at the end of the episode. The items she's paired with it are disappointing, but I'll be damned if it doesn't look great spotlit against a dark backdrop.
I feel similarly about her fruit skirt. It's a cool piece that is nearly ruined by a frumpy blouse and strange hair. While Lorelai's wardrobe feels appropriately updated for 2016, it's a little too boring. I miss her dumb graphic t-shirts and would have liked to see her wear one layered under a blazer to highlight the funkiness of the skirt. Someone needs to go through her closet and burn all of the silky blouses with weird boob pockets and unflattering necklines.
Most irritating Rory or Lorelai moment:
During the opening scene of the episode, Rory and Lorelai complain about the utility of swimming pools.
Lorelai: If the point of the activity is to cool off by being in water...
Rory: I like where you're going with this.
Lorelai: Then why don't they just stay home?
Rory: And take a bath.
The same logic applies to these two assholes who spend their entire time at the pool bitching about fat and/or scantily clad swimmers. If the point of activity is to sit around judging people like mean girls stuck in the early aughts, why not stay home and watch "Keeping Up with the Kardashians"? "Gilmore Girls" was never a bastion of body positivity, but this jackassery is even more mean-spirited than S4 Rory's ballerina takedown. I can only imagine what the demeaning casting call for "Back Fat Pat" (Timothy E. Goodwin) looked like...
Updated character attribute that feels most realistic:
April's trajectory from overbearing nerd to wannabe political activist stoner makes total sense. Every kid at MIT is smart, so an edgy little crusade helps give her the illusion of a unique identity. The manufactured "4/20 for life" bullshit dissolves as soon as Rory's sad adult life induces an anxiety attack. Despite her previous posturing, April admits that she had insatiable cheese cravings the only time she smoked ganja. This is the most likable she's ever been in the entire series. "Lawyers are fascists!" will live rent free in my head forever. For her sake, I hope the stress tap dancing videos help and she's able to avoid the crushing defeat of getting spit out of the real world like "a stale piece of gum."
Clunkiest pop culture reference:
I don't understand the thirty-something gang's fascination with "There Will Be Blood." Do the Palladinos think this is a millennial obsession? I saw the movie when it came out in 2008 and remember a mild, short-lived film bro fixation with "I drink your milkshake." Is their point that the gang is so stunted they haven't moved on from their early twenties? I feel like they're trying to serve up a generational burn that never quite lands because it's not rooted in reality. The pop culture references that work best are the older ones that have proven longevity, not the internet hot topic du jour.
Cutest callback to the original series:
"Alive or dead" must be a Palladino favorite because it comes up a few times throughout the series. Sookie and Lorelai ponder Jack LaLanne's status in "Last Week Fights, This Week Tights," Emily and Richard argue over which of The Beatles are still kicking in "Scene in a Mall," and Rory and Emily consider Andy Griffith in this episode. The older I get, the more I find myself wondering about certain people, like attorney Edgar Snyder and the original host of "Antiques Roadshow." If I had to guess, I'd say they're both dead (weird sex stuff).
Therapist Claudia goes from being somewhat credible to accosting Lorelai outside auditions for "Stars Hollow: The Musical" and begging her to put in a good word with the director. The underlying message seems to be that even mental health professionals are boundaryless weirdos with terrible taste in extracurricular activities. I suspect Taylor's septic system crusade is just an elaborate ruse to detract from the alarming levels of lead in Stars Hollow's water supply. There's no other explanation for Claudia's unprofessionalism, Sophie's newfound friendliness, and the advisory committee's dismissal of "I Feel the Earth Move."
Dumbest plot contrivance:
I got more stoned than I thought physically possible and still couldn't fathom what Daniel Palladino, the writer/director of this episode, was trying to accomplish with the musical. I suspect he wanted to use that sweet Netflix money to do something truly outlandish and self-indulgent, which... mission accomplished. The musical does nothing to move the plot forward and forces viewers to suffer through nearly ten minutes of musical numbers involving brother/sister incest and Pu-Pu-Pu-Pu-Putin. If you want to see Sutton Foster (Violet) and Christian Borle (Carl) together under slightly better circumstances, check out S5 of "Younger."
Favorite song of the episode:
"Unbreakable" reminds me of "The Last Five Years," a musical written by Jason Robert Brown that I was obsessed with in high school. Foster is undeniably a great performer who has the power to make even blatantly manipulative writing/directing very moving. Taken out of the context, the scene where Violet sings to Lorelai is one of the strongest from this supremely shitty reboot; taken in context, the emotional payoff is unearned because the show spends little time building toward it.
Regardless, I enjoy it as a standalone song. The lyrics were written by the Palladinos with music by Tony award winner Jeanine Tesori ("Fun Home," "Caroline, or Change," "Thoroughly Modern Millie," and many other hits).
Luke Danes wig watch:
This section is starting to make me feel like a real dick but instead of discontinuing it, I'm going to take a note out of the Palladinos' book and embrace the assholery. Luke's wig person got tired of trying (and failing) to make magic happen, so they took the easy/smart way out with a perma-baseball cap and a dusting of scalp makeup to fake a denser hairline.
I wasted ninety minutes of my life suffering through this episode and now I have to write about it? I'd rather jump headfirst into the wood chipper from "Fargo."
"Summer" is a prime example of how easy it is for the Palladinos to move from quirky, cohesive vision to unwatchable cringe fest when given too much creative freedom. Imagine how much better this episode — nay, this series — would have been if someone stepped in and forced them to focus on plot and character motivation while eliminating the excessive scenes that don't pertain to either. It reminds me of "Bunheads," and not just because of the shared cast of characters. The short-lived ABC Family dramedy (which I like significantly more than "AYitL") is similarly, detrimentally unrestrained and full of high-strung theater kid energy. Some of the individual storylines are intriguing, but they never come together in any kind of meaningful way. Both shows would have benefited from a heavy edit and an outside point of view.
In theory, I like the idea of new Stars Hollow events and locations. As much as I adore "The Festival of Living Art," I don't want to watch a 2016 redux without the addition of fresh material. This is one of the big challenges of any reboot. Viewers want to see beloved aspects of their favorite shows updated for modern times. While there are several attempts at this in "AYitL," I can't think of a single one that actually works. Luke's crusade against Wi-Fi is lazy, low-hanging fruit; The Secret Bar once again negates an (admittedly stupid) element from S7; the pool is rife with offensive body-shaming; the musical is more unhinged than Dan's most obnoxious OG townie shenanigans. It's as if the Palladinos completely misunderstood what fans enjoy about their work because instead of focusing on those elements, they amplify the oft-criticized shit.
When I initially watched "Summer," I thought the pool scenes might morph into tongue-in-cheek commentary about how casually cruel Rory and Lorelai have always been. Surely no one would expect an audience to root for two grown women who publicly criticize the appearance of anyone they come across. Especially with the addition of child servants, I anticipated some acknowledgment of their awfulness... a little wink at the audience as if to say, "We know they suck, too." Of course, there is no sign because the Palladinos find this problematic behavior hilarious. No matter how blatantly Rory berates them, the townies can't wait to welcome her back to Stars Hollow. My husband says that, like royalty, Rory and Lorelai's place in the town hierarchy is not merit-based, but a birthright.
As Rory rereads "Anna Karenina," I wonder if she notes the parallels between the book and her own life. Much like the titular character, she uses a clandestine affair as a way to distract herself from her own unhappiness. After Anna gives birth to her paramour's baby, she suffers from (potentially post-partum) depression and commits suicide by throwing herself under a train. I don't expect the Palladinos to continue the analogy in the inevitable second season but, considering the number of clues sprinkled throughout, I think it's safe to assume that Logan is responsible for Rory's cliffhanger pregnancy (in "Fall").
What I find strangest about their affair is the show's insistence that it is somehow not supremely douchey. When Rory calls Logan from Lorelai's porch in Stars Hollow, a shot of the full moon lingers over the opening dial tone audio. As they discuss the impact Odette's presence in London has on their relationship, the mood is wistfully romantic, as if housing your secret girlfriend in a hotel to evade your soon-to-be wife isn't scumbag behavior. The most annoying part of the situation is the lack of clarity. If this arrangement is above board, give us a line of explanatory dialogue. Maybe Logan says, "When Odette moved in, we agreed to only sleep with other people outside of the apartment." If Logan is straight-up cheating (all evidence points to yes), some backstory is required. In the original series, he's a reformed bad boy trying to break away from family pressure; now, suddenly, he's marrying a woman he doesn't love or respect to preserve the Huntzberger legacy? Make it make sense.
This is the episode where Rory truly hits rock bottom. No matter how much she tries to vehemently deny it, she's officially living back in her hometown and has become a default member of the thirty-something gang. As she later tells Jess, "I have no job. I have no credit. I have no underwear." Now that Odette has moved in with Logan, she doesn't even have frequent London trips to distract herself from the reality of her stagnation. While peers like Paris kick ass and take names, Rory puts her Ivy League degree to sad use at The Stars Hollow Gazette, a failing newspaper with two octogenarian employees (the delightful Jackie Hoffman and Norman from "Ghost World") and computers that still use MS-DOS.
Saul recently sent me an article by Andrea Francese about how this storyline, while maddening, is realistic. The tl;dr is that "Rory Gilmore wasn’t really a failure; she was experiencing burnout." I don't disagree with Francese's argument, but my issue is more with the show's execution of her downward slump, not so much the rationale behind it. As with the Logan dalliance, a richer backstory is necessary to bridge the gap of the last decade. Has Rory been steadily trying and failing or has she been too scared to take big chances that might not pan out? Is it constant rejection or merely the threat of it that has her feeling so defeated in "AYitL"? The distinction is important and unfortunately, the writing never addresses it.
And for fuck's sake, I know Amy loves Milo Ventimiglia, but I am so sick of Jess swooping in and telling Rory what to do with her life. It happened when she dropped out of Yale and now, after four years of not seeing each other, he somehow has more effortless advice to dispense. "You should write a book [...] about you and your mom [...] It's a cool story. It's got a point of view. It's something only you can write." In lieu of reading the Jess scene literally, I choose to view him as an afternoon Scotch hallucination. Or maybe he's a ghost, momentarily returned to prevent Rory from ten more years of aimless wandering. (The corporeal Jess died in a motorcycle crash or maybe while doing weird sex stuff with attorney Edgar Snyder. I'm still ironing out my fan fiction.)
Immediately, Rory gets to work, looking up old Gazette articles on microfiche from the day Lorelai arrived in Stars Hollow. One hard-hitting headline reads,
Teen Mom Lorelai Gilmore Arrives in Stars Hollow
Takes Job at Independence Inn
Is this what was happening in the pre-Internet era because honestly, I think it's worse. The idea of someone disseminating mundane facts about my personal life without my permission makes me want to light something on fire. Shockingly, this is basically what Lorelai says when Rory pitches the whole "riches-to-rags" book proposal at the cemetery. Lorelai "went to all this effort for many, many years, making sure people only knew what I wanted them to" and isn't keen to have her dirty laundry aired for all to see (which is why she moved to Stars Hollow, a place where everyone is up each other's assholes). Deciding who has the right to tell certain stories is a problem all writers, especially those working in personal narrative/memoir, have to face and occasionally pissing off loved ones is par for the course. I like this as a point of contention between Lorelai and Rory, I only wish we didn't have to slog through three long episodes and tons of inconsequential nonsense to get there.
Post-cemetery fight, we get a nice scene with Lane, who is apparently only valued when she's acting as a makeshift therapist. As Rory flies around in a blind rage, she calls Logan several times out of habit, hanging up when he answers and she realizes what she's done. The only drug Lane has to offer in her time of need is Lipitor, which is the most surprising part of the episode for me. If my twins had the vitriol of "five little Korean people," I'd have Xanax hidden all over my house. Eventually, Rory talks to Logan and when Odette is heard calling his name in the background, they break up ("Except we can't break up... because we're nothing").
The fight — along with the death of her father, Michel's impending departure, and Violet's moving ballad — also pushes Lorelai to take drastic action in the form of "Wild." It infuriates me that we rarely get an impactful moment that isn't tarnished by some dumb non-joke on this show. I want to see Lorelai break down and exhibit vulnerability (a la Mimi) that isn't punctuated by immature pitter-patter. If not for the lengthy musical filler and Pacific Crest Trail idiocy, this episode could have naturally culminated in an emotional scene where Lorelai tells Luke she's confused about what she wants out of life and needs time alone to consider next steps.
I wish the writing had laid better groundwork for Lorelai's disappointment with Luke. I don't believe that after all the hell he put her through, he's still stubbornly fixated on keeping April a separate part of his life. When Lorelai offers to help pay for her grad school, he adamantly declares, "April's mine. I got it." Bitch, do you not remember what happened last time? Do you want her to run off and start fucking Christopher again? Lorelai longs for them to share a life together and she wouldn't have gotten back together with him unless he demonstrated an understanding of this (and he did, in S7). Their relationship feels boring and passionless, but it doesn't even seem like this is what is bothering her. It would all be less frustrating if she and Luke would communicate with each other for once. Air your grievances, brainstorm solutions, and either work on implementing them or go do something stupid and self-destructive. In other words, shit or get off the pot because we've already watched this trainwreck transpire and no one is clamoring for part two.
Maybe Lorelai's not even specifically dissatisfied with Luke, but her life in general. Maybe she's, as Samantha Jones would say, "having [...] a midlife thing." Her kid, who was touted as the next coming of Christ, has moved back home in a directionless haze of malaise. Michel is bored with the Dragonfly and plans to leave for the W Hotel unless Lorelai can give him more money/responsibility in preparation for the baby Frederick probably ordered. The inn has already gone downhill without Sookie and if Michel leaves, there will be no one around to whine to and trade blistering barbs with. Emily is sleeping until noon and clearly suffering from depression which vexes Lorelai because she has the emotional intelligence of a caterpillar. She can't even let Emily enjoy the attention of cologne-scented Jack without making it weird. Her life is in free fall and she feels like she has no control over anything. Nothing turned out the way that she wanted it to, for her or her progeny. They were supposed to have more, be more, goddammit. Their ancestors came over on the Mayflower!
If the Palladinos were hellbent on including the musical, why not have the entire thing mirror Lorelai's life and speak to her in some deep way? As presented, the setup is very "not like other girls" with Lorelai disparaging the universally beloved run-through and crying over Violet's add-on song that the townies all hate. It took every ounce of self-control not to skip through these scenes. I always thought acid flashbacks were a legend, but I definitely think I had one during the pilgrim song. Either that, or I bet wrong on Pascal's wager and experienced ten minutes of hell. I could probably write five thousand words on the musical alone, but I need to log off and let my brain recover from what I just witnessed.
- My theory on the thirty-something gang is that when they first arrive in Stars Hollow, they're pale and depressed like Nat. After their town-mandated ECT, they return happy and with zero memory of their previous failures.
- Who vandalized the floatie hut? The suspense is killing me.
- Michel's attitude toward children reminds me of Jennifer Barkley. I chortled at, "On a scale of one to ten, how much did I sound like a child molester?" Without missing a beat, Lorelai replies, "Six."
- Why isn't Kirk in this tai chi scene? Missed opportunity!
- What happened to the original DAR ladies? I suspect many of them fell prey to raging alcoholism, financially catastrophic insurance scams, and/or class action lawsuits from wronged employees. Nora drank one too many vodkas, drove her car into the side of a White Castle, and is currently on house arrest. Nancy and Lucy were ousted from the group when the rest of the women learned that their "friendship" was really more of a Sarah Paulson-Holland Taylor/May-Ming Dynasty romance. The new women are not nearly as memorable.
- Charles C. Stevenson Jr., the guy who plays Charlie, was in the original series as two different characters: Julian Johnson, Richard's friend at the club who doesn't understand the appeal of Fez, and Reverend Wilder, the Florida pastor who can't remember which Lorelai he buried (it was gran).
- Dialogue Coach George Anthony Bell (AKA Professor Bell) is also back in a different role. In "AYitL," he plays Stanley, the unfortunate cemetery employee who suffers Emily's wrath over Richard's single quotation mark gravestone.
- I'm happy Rory appreciates the Tori Spelling classic, "Co-ed Call Girl" and I agree with Lorelai that Lifetime should make a movie out of her Benihana tumble and subsequent personal injury lawsuit.
- Are we sure this musical, which includes nine ABBA songs, wasn't "written" by Muriel Heslop and Rhonda Epinstalk?
- The "Break up with P" Post-It sure feels like a "Sex and the City" reference.
- Rory has traded in her Brian Eno picture for journalist David Carr, the daddy of "Girls" (yet another Lena Dunham connection).
- I rolled my eyes at every "Game of Thrones" mention. I imagine the Palladinos being like, "Check! We updated the pop culture references now and they are, as the kids say, 'On fleek.'"
- Predictably, I loved the Nora Ephron joke.
- Does Berta remind anyone else of Ms. Fieldmouse from "Thumbelina" (1994)? Not so much in looks, but in voice.
- If I missed anything, it's because my brain went into self-defense mode and purged it all immediately. I also only paid half attention because focusing too hard felt like staring into the sun.
- My husband says, "Stars Hollow feels like the 'It’s a Small World' ride. All of the characters pop up like animatronics. Oh, look, there’s Babette and her cigarette laugh. Here's angry Taylor. Lorelai is like the Truman of this town. Everything is performed only for her and she just whirligigs her way through the spectacle."