Are We Emotionally Ready To Return To Stars Hollow?

If you’re looking for a lengthy meditation on why ‘Team Jess’ is obviously the most rational group of all of the Gilmore Girls fans, you’re not going to find that here. (For the record, I’m ‘Team Rory-Doesn’t-Need-a-Man’).

I’m not even going to try and convince you that Gilmore Girls is one of the best shows of all time. (I will admit the revival launch date is in my calendar. I’m currently trying to book it off work).

Instead, I’m going to try to and uncover why the upcoming Netflix revival is such an emotionally-charged, kinda life-impacting big deal for so many fans – myself included. This is my attempt at tapping into what’s behind all the feelings. Here we go.

We care about Lorelai and Rory a lot

In The Psychology of Entertainment Media: Blurring the Lines between Entertainment and Persuasion (2004), Russell et al. write that when viewers watch a TV show over a long period of time they develop a parasocial connectedness with the characters that mimics actual relationships with other human beings.

So essentially, when we have an a show like Gilmore Girls (or How I Met your Mother or Battlestar Galactica, if that’s more your cup of tea…) it’s precisely that – a relationship. No will disagree that over the years, Lorelai, Rory and the rest of the Stars Hollow gang have become more than just TV characters. In a way, they’re our and friends.

Some might find this idea a little disturbing because in excess it has the potential to breed nations of couch potatoes that get their social connectedness exclusively from shows. I don’t think I need to tell you that everything is better in moderation and I also think saying that would piss off some fans.

So if we have these relationships with Lorelai and Rory, then what happens when we meet them again and suddenly don’t recognize them like we used to?

Just like any time you check in with a friend you haven’t seen in a very long time, interactions can be awkward at first. Unmet expectations and feelings of loss are a definite possibility. These characters have been suspended in reruns for almost a decade and all of a sudden, they’ve arrived in our present. They’re using smartphones for god sakes! If they don’t act how we expect them to, our intimate relationship with them and the show is at risk. I have no doubt it will all take some getting used to.

We have our own memories tied to watching the show

Beyond just a personal connection with characters, I often find I return to Gilmore Girls to back to a time in my own life.

I didn’t start watching the show when it first premiered. I caught Season Two re-runs on the W Network the after Grade 8. I would watch with my sister at 5 pm and my mom would be starting dinner and would join us intermittently.

We lived in a tiny town – not unlike Stars Hollow – with its own charming landmarks, themed events and quirky characters. In the fall, I was to be starting high in the city in an arts program I had auditioned for. None of my elementary classmates would be coming with me – not unlike Rory’s experience at Chilton. For whatever reason during that summer we were always listening to a Women and Songs compilation album in the car with the song “Good Mother” on it by Jann Arden – cheesy and bizarrely apropos, I know. Though this song was never featured on the show, I always associate it with Gilmore Girls, that summer and my own good mother.

I was brutally homesick when I went off to university and would watch Gilmore Girls not only when I visited home, but when I wanted to be home.

So for me personally, I don’t just revisit Gilmore Girls to connect to the characters. I watch it to tap into memories of my family and the euphoria of nostalgia. I watch it to go home.

When the four 90-minute episodes air on Netflix on 25, a lot of fans will be going home again. The emotions will kick in the second Carol King sings “If you’re out on the road…” Those of us who care enough to tune in have an intimate relationship and for many of us this is tied to memories of watching it with whomever we choose to call family. Memories can be intense. When we connect ourselves to a time we haven’t in a while, the emotional impact can be a little overwhelming.

We see ourselves in Lorelai and Rory

Beyond memories, I think if we’re drawn to certain shows, it’s usually because we see of the characters in ourselves. Gilmore Girls typically attracts an audience of geeky-in-a-cool-way women (and often – but not always – mothers and daughters!) who reflect the signature Gilmore balance of virtue and edge. The show was pretty revolutionary in showing confident, funny and flawed women (however the central characters are white and are fairly privileged – the show is definitely not without it’s representational setbacks…) with storylines that focus on a strong relationship between a mother and a daughter. I know for myself as a viewer, it was inspiring to see so many multidimensional, intelligent, unafraid-to-take-up-space women in one show.

So if we see ourselves reflected in – and we’re inspired by – the characters in Gilmore Girls, then our investment in the show becomes more than just a continued about their lives, but a about our own lives as well. The show becomes a bit of a self-help tool. We search for clues from Lorelai and Rory on how we could act in certain scenarios. Though we may not even realize it and would certainly never admit it, we find ourselves in real-life situations asking ourselves: what would Paris do? When navigating an often chaotic and confusing world, it’s human (and useful!) to look everywhere for clues.

The ability to “see” ourselves in television characters is really why diverse media representation is so important. If we understand aspects of ourselves through the media we consume and we don’t see those aspects well-represented, then navigating our place in the world becomes a lot more challenging.

So when we’re watching on November 25 and suddenly don’t see ourselves in the show’s characters, it could be because the revival was poorly executed, but it could also be simply because we have changed. If the latter is the case, then perhaps November 25 provides an opportunity to explore where we’re at now.

How to deal

For the superfan, TV is so much more than entertainment. It’s a combination of relationships, memories, an inadvertent self-awareness tool and cultural clues on how to exist in the world. All of these factors come into play when we tune in on November 25. How do we deal with it all?

Perhaps we just remind ourselves that the show’s primary purpose is to entertain and we let ourselves be entertained. Perhaps we remember that relationships change and letting go is vital to growth. We’re presented the opportunity to reflect on why we’re responding to it the way we are. We’re presented the opportunity to reflect on why the show doesn’t quite “fit” with us anymore. We can learn. Or we can simply just watch.

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About Sarah van den Berg