Gilmore Girls Recap: On the Roading

Gilmore Girls

Season 8 Episode 1
Editor’s Rating 4 stars

Gilmore Girls

Season 8 Episode 1
Editor’s Rating 4 stars
Lauren Graham as Lorelai, Alexis Bledel as Rory, Scott Patterson as Luke. Photo: Netflix

When Netflix announced its reboot of Gilmore Girls, I had to make a few optimistic predictions. In my idealized version of the show, here’s what would happen:

1) After covering the Obama administration for years, Rory doesn’t get much time off from reporting on Hillary Clinton’s campaign, so Lorelai must spend their girls’ weekend on the press bus. Hijinks would ensue, along with pop-culture-laced banter about politics.

2) Eventually the series would wind up in Stars Hollow so we could revisit old haunts and check in on our favorite people. Jess would be a Bernie Bro, Kirk might even have a Trump bumper sticker, but ultimately the Girls would win out because how could they not? We already know that Rory Gilmore will meet with Michelle Obama. (Yes, an actual black woman will appear on Gilmore Girls!) The future is female and anything’s possible!

Could I have been so young?

The world has changed rapidly since those dreamy days, so it’s an extra-escapist relief to note that the miniseries reboot of Amy Sherman Palladino’s masterpiece — at least this first episode — is comfortably familiar. Watching the new Gilmore Girls is as pleasurable as putting on comfy pajamas and an old movie and pigging out on junk food. Our heroines are as flawed yet lovable as ever, and you could fill out multiple Bingo cards with guesses of which pop-cultural references from the last decade will make the cut, and which recent books Rory will name-check.

When a beloved show is rebooted, of course, we must catch up on what we’ve missed. Here are things that haven’t changed: Lorelai still wears bootcut jeans. The town troubadour is still troubadouring. Hep Alien, including Gil (Sebastian Bach), is still making beautiful music together. Paul Anka the dog is thriving. Rory and Lorelai still enjoy desserts before dinner. And coffee. Coffee endures.

Here are the most important changes to note: Kirk and Lulu are now the owners of a baby pig named Petal! Kirk has a new transportation business called Ooober! In a meta-twist, Doyle (Danny Strong) has left Paris and gone full-on Hollywood! Michel is married and his husband wants a baby! Lorelai makes jokes about Goop! Rory tap dances in the middle of the night to relieve stress! Luke’s has Wi-Fi to make the guests in his diner feel at home — just kidding! No cell phones, no laptops. Some things must never change.

The Netflix reboot comprises four 90-minute episodes to represent a year in the life of the Gilmores, split among the four seasons. And like any Stars Hollow fan would want, this first episode begins in the winter of 2016, with Lorelai whispering, “I smell snow” in the town gazebo, followed by Sam Phillips kicking in the “la la las” as the camera pans to reveal the town center is nearly all white. (Joke about weather and diversity!) Rory appears, returning for a brief break from her world travels as a reporter. Both women wear their jackets open because in this magical fairyland, Gilmore women are as immune to cold as they are immune to the physical consequences of binge eating. Their banter is as furious and zingy as ever.

Here’s how Rory is doing: She’s recently given up living in Brooklyn in order to travel the world for her writing career, sending various family members and friends boxes of her belongings for them to store. She’s written one well-received Talk of the Town for the New Yorker, a piece which can now be found laminated on the back of the Luke’s Diner menu. (Luke is a proud surrogate dad who now reads the New Yorker regularly.) She has a tenuous meeting scheduled with Condé Nast, as if the entire company might be waiting to talk to her.

Rory has a boyfriend whose name is not Logan or Jess or Dean, or even Tristan. His name is Paul. But forget his name. With the most unsubtle wink to fans ever, the show makes Paul totally irrelevant. No one can remember he exists — not even Rory, who has been dating him for nearly two years. There will be bigger fish to fry, and we all know it.

Here’s how Lorelai is doing: She’s got a DVR full of Lifetime movies in the bedroom she and Luke have shared for the past nine years. The Dragonfly Inn is still thriving — Michel even seems uncharacteristically sweet! — even though it’s slightly less charming without Sookie St. James (Melissa McCarthy) in the kitchen. Apparently, Sookie has taken a break from fighting ghosts in Manhattan and is working and living at Blue Hill Farm. Imagine trying to get a reservation now!

The Dragonfly kitchen is now home to a variety of pop-up chefs, none of whom can fill the Sookie-shaped hole in Lorelai’s heart and belly, not even Anthony Bourdain. Things get weird when Lorelai is astoundingly rude to her latest chef, Roy Choi, the Korean taco-truck king of Los Angeles. Once you’ve begun parsing just how racist Lorelai’s snottiness towards her staff is, you then see how Emily treats her new maid and handyman and suddenly realize: “Oh! Lorelai is turning into her mother!”

Also, Lorelai admits to Rory that she’s been feeling her mortality lately. “I miss him,” Rory says 20 minutes into the episode, and we finally address the biggest change in the Gilmore Girls world: Richard Gilmore has died. (The new episodes are dedicated to the memory of Edward Hermann, who died in 2014.) At this point, the reboot becomes not just a nostalgia trap for sentimental fans, but a show about something new that feels deeply aligned with its past. How will three generations of Gilmore women cope with Richard’s death?

Lorelai and Rory arrive at Emily’s Hartford manse, where they see a wall-length portrait of Richard that Lorelai mercilessly ridicules until her mother nearly breaks down. Flashback to Richard’s funeral four months earlier, as Tom Waits’s “Time” plays over many scenes of mourning. Thank you for letting us wallow in our grief, Gilmore Girls. He (and we) deserved that montage.

After the funeral, after Luke drives Rory to the airport to go back to London and Lorelai catches up with her ex, Digger, Emily insists that the drunken mourners who remain at her home tell a favorite story about Richard. First up to tell a story about their good old Yale days is Jack — a.k.a. Ray Wise, a.k.a. Leland Palmer, who keeps the flow of notable Twin Peaks actors on Gilmore Girls going strong.

We know it’ll be bad when Drunk Lorelai is called on to speak, and it is. Her stories are angry ones about Richard’s abandonment, and they gut Emily, who was hoping for some fond anecdotes. Emily and Lorelai have always known exactly how to push each other’s buttons, and both of them are as distraught as they’ve ever been. They have one of the darkest fights in the show’s history, and that’s truly saying something. I only hope they’ll show a clip of this scene at awards shows next year.

Cut to the present day, when Lorelai has finished telling the story of the post-funeral blow-out to Rory. The fight ended with Emily, having been married for 50 years, angrily questioning what Lorelai would know about romantic relationships.

Rory: “You couldn’t have just said he was well-read?”

A deliciously awkward dinner follows, per usual. Tonight’s agenda is Rory’s status. Emily worries that Rory is homeless and “traipsing around from one couch to the next like she’s Llewyn Davis,” while Lorelai insists that Rory is just On the Roading it for a bit. For much of the episode, it’s unclear where Rory is staying or how long she’s been on which continent. She’s 32 years old and she’s unmoored. She’s lost, more lost than any of us would’ve hoped for her.

Back at the diner, Lorelai finds Luke deciphering his daughter April’s letters from college — she’s at MIT, of course. Recalling the fight with her mom, in which Emily pointedly wondered if Lorelai ever asked Luke whether he wanted children of their own, things take a turn for the serious. “Did you ever want a fresh kid?” she asks.

Cut to a doctor’s waiting room in New York City where Luke and Lorelai page through a binder full of women — potential surrogates to carry their potential child. And OMG, the doctor they’re waiting to see is PARIS GELLER! The self-proclaimed “Pablo Escobar of the Fertility World” visually susses out the situation “down there” — Luke’s junk is apparently very well-aligned — then reveals that Neil Patrick Harris was a client. “I’ll send you a copy of Gone Girl. NPH was great in that.” Later, Paris brings a few top breeders to break bread at Luke’s Diner, but no dice. It’s clear that using a surrogate is a bad idea.

Cut to London: Rory is drinking at a private club with feminist legend Naomi Shropshire, interviewing to be the ghostwriter of her memoir. They hit it off brilliantly, even though Naomi seems like a lunatic, and we hope that they’ll get a huge advance to split. Then we find out who Rory’s staying with in London. IT’S LOGAN! They have a “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas”–style relationship happening in his flat. This can only end well, right everyone?

In the final scene, Marie Kondo’s influence has turned Emily’s home into a disaster. Wearing a pair of Lorelai’s old jeans, Emily bemoans that none of her clothes bring her any joy. She’s so out of sorts that when Lorelai suggests that Emily see a psychiatrist, she agrees and invites her daughter along. Is this a breakthrough moment, or a recipe for disaster?

Unanswered Questions:

  • Jess?
  • Dean?
  • What happened to Rory’s political-journalism career?
  • When will we get a GIF-able moment of Rory reading a book?
  • Does Paris watch Empire?

Gilmore Girls Recap: On the Roading