How many East Coasters are going to stay up till three in the morning on the night of Thanksgiving to start watching “Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life”? I’m going to go with, “A lot.” I will even be bold enough to say that the excitement surrounding the return of Lorelai and Rory is at a “Twin Peaks” level of cultish devotion.
In my experience, tepidity is impossible when discussing “Gilmore Girls”: You’ve either never seen it and don’t get what all the fuss is about, or you’ve seen it and think they talk too damn fast and you don’t get what the fuss is about, or you’re someone who stands in line for two hours at a cafe in Brighton just to get a $2 cup of coffee with the show’s logo on it. I fall into that last category. I was handed the DVDs of the first season on Thanksgiving (funnily enough) back in 2006, by my then-boyfriend’s dad. He said the show struck me as something I’d like. Exactly ten years later, I’ve seen every episode multiple (OK, several) times, and still cry when Rory gives her valedictorian speech.
So what is all the fuss about? I’m convinced answering that question in full would be novel-length. Let’s just focus on one important aspect of the show’s appeal: The music.
I’ll admit that I can’t stand the “la las,” and I actually really don’t care for the Carole King theme song, as blasphemous a statement as that is. But we’re talking about a show where a baby shower includes making David Bowie onesies. We’re talking about a show where Thurston Moore, Kim Gordon, and their daughter perform in the town square. Stars Hollow is a (ridiculously) fictional town where the cheerleaders dance to Madness at a pep rally. The song playing in the background during the series finale’s most climatic moment was a 1988 track from The Mighty Lemon Drops, a little-known band from the UK that hasn’t existed since 1992.
It’s not just the eclectic selection of “deep cuts” peppering each episode that make the show’s sound so unique (and well, fantastic). It’s how these songs are used to correspond to both plot and the inner-workings of a character’s psyche. Season 6 was all kinds of painful (one word: April), but it also contained the moment where I fully realized the show’s musical genius. Episode 18 ends with Lorelai standing in front of a mannequin draped in Lane’s macabre wedding dress. Lorelai’s own wedding dreams have just been ruined by the aforementioned horrible creature known as April. As Lorelai stares at the dress, “Angst in My Pants” by Sparks starts to play. Holding her obligatory mug, Lorelai shucks her coffee onto the dress, and looks pleased, in a mischievous kind of way. And then the episode ends, and “Angst in My Pants” continues to play throughout the end credits, instead of the usual theme music. If this scene didn’t exist, there’s no way I would like that song as much as I do.
Speaking of weddings, it’s probably pretty easy for any Gilmore Girls fan to get misty eyed at the opening piano notes of The Fifth Dimension’s “Wedding Bell Blues,” especially given the death of Edward Hermann, who played the Gilmore patriarch. The anecdote Grampa Gilmore shares at his vow renewal about the song is incredibly well-written, given the numerous opportunities in that scene to go the route of cheesiness and boring clichés of sentimentality. Instead, he just shares a simple story about how Lorelai’s ear infections as a young toddler drove nannies away, and yet “Wedding Bell Blues” was a song that calmed her. It’s one of those moments that makes viewers think about songs that exist in a similar way in their own lives. Do I actually like that Pearl Jam song, or does it just make me happy remembering that party 15 years ago where there was a drunken sing-a-long to it?
A show that has successfully incorporated both Outkast and The Andrews Sisters into its stories reflects the series’ multi-faceted moods. The goings-on at Stars Hollow can be corn syrupy sweet, sometimes making “The Andy Griffith Show” seem like “The Wire.” But when Jess tells his soon-to-be-stepfather to put a shirt on, the response he gets is, “Why? Am I getting you hot?” (Not to mention that the actor says the word “hot” without much emphasis on the “t,” so you wind up thinking his answer was a bit more phallic.) The storyline involving Jackson’s run for public office was not exactly the show’s most endearing, but it’s an understatement to say that the whole thing was worth it since it brought us a punk rock cover of “The Greatest American Hero” theme song featuring Sebastian Bach from Skid Row.
One can hope that “Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life” has more memorable music moments. In the topsy-turvy age of Netflix revivals — where you go into a “Full House” expecting a nostalgic return to innocence but instead find yourself gawking at Stephanie Tanner’s boobs — we should probably prepare ourselves for either more PJ Harvey B-sides, but also be ready for Coldplay-drenched montages that have already been done on “Grey’s Anatomy” 16 times. I’ll choose to be an optimist.