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Will ‘Gilmore’ relationships pull out of slump?

Fans hope executive producers depart on a high note
/ Source: contributor

It was late 2004 when “Gilmore Girls” creator Amy Sherman-Palladino not to worry. After years of stalwart friendship and a growing flirtation, Luke and Lorelai were moving forward with a full-fledged romantic relationship. But Sherman-Palladino promised that the show would never settle into a lovesick schmooze-fest.

“Just because they’re together, they’re not going to suddenly become different people,” she said. “They’re not going to suddenly be sitting around going, ‘You know what, you’re pretty. No, you’re pretty. No, you’re pretty.’ It’s not going to be six hours of holding hands and bunnies hopping by.”

Sherman-Palladino kept her promise — with a vengeance. So far this season (the finale is set for Tuesday, May 9, on The WB), not only have Lorelai (Lauren Graham) and Luke (Scott Patterson) not spent hours staring longingly into each others’ eyes, they’ve barely registered as a couple. Weeks seem to go by with nary the slightest spark or even physical contact between the two. The lack of connection has made for an uncomfortable viewing experience.

At least viewers could count on the rapid-fire, pop-culture-loving bond between Lorelai and Rory (Alexis Bledel), right? Uh, nope. The Lorelai-Rory connection has traditionally ranked as the best parent-kid relationship on TV (although Keith and Veronica Mars are giving the Gilmores a run for their money, particularly this season). But this year, it all fell apart. Rory rebelled, and her Yale-leaving, crime-committing antics drove a wedge between her and her mom.

Yes, conflict equals drama, but Rory’s attitudes and actions felt somehow false this year, leaving audiences bewildered about whether they actually knew the character at all. More important, the rat-a-tat rhythms and I-know-what-you’re-going-to-say-before-you-say-it familiarity of the mother-daughter duo’s heartfelt discussions were relegated to a few awkward phone conversations as they moved farther and farther apart.

What happened to life in Stars Hollow? This season more than any other left viewers with the slight taste of soap. “Gilmore Girls” seems to be on the road to recovery, but will viewers forgive the producers for shaking things up “Desperate Housewives”-style with jarring character spats, dispassionate love affairs, and long-lost daughters? The last few episodes have made great strides in repairing the holes that threatened to sink the show. But is it enough, and will the patches hold?

They're outta hereWait — don’t answer yet; there’s more. Now that the sixth season is wrapping up, Sherman-Palladino and her co-executive producer husband Daniel Palladino threw another wrench into the show’s formerly smooth-running engine, one that’s sure to resonate throughout “Gilmore Girls’” seventh — and very possibly final — season: They’re outta here. After they couldn’t cut a deal with The WB — soon to be smooshed into rival network UPN to become The CW — the Palladinos announced that they’re taking their witty dialogue and long-sighted vision and going home. The show will continue without them, but will it contain the same originality, turns of phrase and real-life relationships of days of yore? It’s too soon to tell.

Some fans are hoping that the one upside of the Palladinos’ departure will also lead to the removal of a poppy seed in many people’s teeth this season, Luke’s daughter, April.

On top of all the estrangements and disconnection, the appearance of a not-so-welcome bundle of joy has some fans in an uproar. April, Luke’s long-lost — as well as quirky and brilliant — daughter, showed up on his doorstep this year, worrying longtime “Gilmore” viewers that her arrival would mark the beginning of the end. As anyone who owns a TV is painfully aware, the addition of an incorrigible moppet to a show often means it’s in its death throes. Cousin Oliver, we’re looking at you and your bowl haircut.

Frankly, I was less concerned about April’s arrival. If anybody could give a TV convention like an out-of-the-blue child a creative spin, it’s Amy Sherman-Palladino. And I stand by my assessment. In fact, if anything, Sherman-Palladino is guilty of heading too far in the opposite direction, throwing the April plot device into the show, and then simply letting it subtly fester without a lot of payoff. Luke’s new relationship with his daughter could have been fodder for a lot more interesting conflict. As it stands, April’s arrival only served to turn Lorelai into a passive person – something she is most surely not — as she waits for Luke to “allow” Lorelai into his newfound family.

I’ll argue that the addition of the April character did not kick off the demise of the show, as many viewers contend. Instead, downbeat, soapy plot turns sent some longtime “Gilmore Girls” fans heading for the exits.

Positive signsAs the season winds down, “Gilmore” is showing renewed signs of life. Little moments continue to remind viewers why they watch the show in the first place. Rory’s friend Lane’s wheeze as her mother talked to her about sex was a classic few seconds of television. And the remarkable montage of scenes — at once contentious, hilarious, painful and sarcastic — as Lorelai and Rory reconciled with grandparents Emily and Richard was simply phenomenal. Lorelai and Rory forgave each other, as well, and that old, familiar patter is back. Whew.

Just as good, a recent episode bodes well for the future of “Gilmore Girls.” Of course, the Palladinos’ unique stamp will be sorely missed. But in the April 25 episode, written by next year’s show runner Dave Rosenthal, Lorelai finally delivered a heartfelt defense of her relationship with Luke. “This has been a long time coming,” she said about their engagement. “A long time. This is real.”

Darn right it is. It’s true that the Palladinos could squander any goodwill they’ve built up if the cringe-worthy, “Dynasty”-esque rumors about how they might end the season are true. But for now, despite the forced discord that April’s arrival added to the mix and the distinct lack of warm fuzzies between the two characters this year, Lorelai’s speech that she and Luke are meant to be together resonates like the bell in the Stars Hollow town square.

For the first time all season, viewers believe it.

Brian Bellmont is a writer in Minneapolis.