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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Screwball Television
Critical Perspectives on Gilmore Girls

edited by
David Scott Diffrient
with David Lavery

general information | our review | links

To purchase Screwball Television

Title: Screwball Television
Editors: David Scott Diffrient with David Lavery
Genre: Anthology
Written: 2010
Length: 363 pages
Availability: Screwball Television - US
Screwball Television - UK
Screwball Television - Canada
Screwball Television - India
Gilmore Girls on DVD: Gilmore Girls - Seasons 1-7 - US
  • Critical Perspectives on Gilmore Girls

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Our Assessment:

B : enjoyable, wide-ranging considerations of Gilmore Girls, with a few stand-out pieces

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       Screwball Television collects seventeen Critical Perspectives on Gilmore Girls, the television series that ran for seven seasons, from 2000-2007. (The collection, from 2010, does not, of course cover the four-part follow-up, Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life that first aired on Netflix in 2016.)
       The essays are grouped into four sections, addressing different aspects of the show, beginning with pieces on: 'Authorship, Genre, Literacy, Televisuality'. Here, the background of the show and its creators, specifically Amy Sherman-Palladino, is helpfully introduced. Famously the first program subsidized by the (apparently short-lived) 'Family Friendly Programming Forum', the show is placed in its period-context -- the shift to a much greater variety of offerings (scripted and otherwise), and the related shift away from 'network' television dominance, already well-underway, but the proliferation of shows we have become used to still a ways away --, with reminders of its limited ratings success (but strong niche support) as well as the critical favor it generally found while receiving practically no industry accolades (in the form of Emmys, Golden Globes, etc. -- the lone Emmy it ever received being in the 'make-up'- (!) category).
       A variety of features that crop up repeatedly throughout the volume are also introduced, including the series' hallmark style -- specifically, the rapid-fire (and cultural-reference-filled) dialogue --, as well as the lack of (ethnic and other ) diversity, the Stars Hollow (where mother Lorelai lives and raised daughter Rory) - Hartford (where Lorelai's parents live) divide, the generational relationships (Lorelai and Rory famously considered/treated more like best friends than mother-daughter), and the focus on (often excess) consumption (especially -- but not solely -- of food (and coffee)). Giada Da Ros' look at the "liturgy" of the series -- repetition and familiarity, such as the 'Friday night dinners' at Lorelai's parents, but also the: "many festivals, community rites, and bizarre characters" of Stars Hollow -- is also a useful reminder of the underlying framework of the show that made it so successful.
       The second section, 'Real and Imagined Communities (in Town and Online)', begins with editor David Scott Diffrient's look at 'Fan Podcasts and the Task of "Talking Back" to TV'. Here and elsewhere, some of the contributors try to consider fan-engagement with the series, but while this is a potentially interesting area, this piece and, for example, A Rochelle Marry's 'Java Junkies Versus Balcony Buddies' feel far too anecdotal. Even when Marry does offer quantitative information ("As of March 2008 the "Lorelai and Luke" thread at TWoP [TelevisionwithoutPity.com] has more than 1,590 pages with more than 23,800 posts, compared to the 117 pages and just over 1,700 responses in the "Lorelai and Christopher," "Lorelai and Rory," and "Lorelai and Emily" threads combined") the analysis doesn't seem very substantive; she and Diffrient select what may be representative commentary, but it offers only limited insight into a limited sub-group of fans (and fandom). (It doesn't help that many of these fora are now inactive or that the discussion boards -- such as at the shuttered (and much-missed) Television without Pity -- are now more or less inaccessible.)
       The pieces that look more generally at the 'spaces' of Gilmore Girls are of greater interest, specifically in considering the fantasy-idyll of Stars Hollow (and its unusual town-features, including its (many) town meetings), especially in contrast to Hartford, as well as Rory's school-spaces, Chilton and Yale. As also noted by several writers, one of the reasons the seventh (non-Sherman-Palladino) season did not work nearly as well as the previous ones is because it ranged too far in space(s), specifically in abandoning Stars Hollow so often -- with Alyson R. Buckman observing that at least they got it right at the end: "Significantly and satisfactorily, though, the series ended with the old community back in place".
       The third section addresses 'Race, Class, Education, Profession', and offers some of the most interesting pieces in the collection, beginning with Hye Seung Chung's look at 'Cultural Authenticity and Asian American Identities in Gilmore Girls', focusing on Rory's Korean friend Lane and her mother, Mrs.Kim (both of whom were played, as Chung notes, by Japanese actresses). The hyper-literacy of the series -- more cultural in the case of Lorelai, while Rory owns that as well as the more bookish kind -- is also thoroughly considered, as is the attitude towards education. It's notable that, while Rory's ambitions are entirely college- (and, initially, specifically Harvard-) focused, as Matthew C. Nelson notes: "As far as the audience knows, not one of the adults in the town holds a bachelor's degree" -- and those of Rory's generation who remain in Stars Hollow (notably Lane and Dean) do not complete college either. (As is also noted, Amy Sherman-Palladino didn't attend college either, but an obsession with forms of education and cultural literacy are hallmarks of the show.)
       The final section discusses 'Food, Addiction, Gender, Sexuality' and the way these are handled. So, for example, Susannah B and Leah E. Mintz suggest, in 'Pass the Pop Tarts':

     To the degree that Lorelai and Rory seem to eat without consequence (without guilt, apology, weight gain, or routinely feeling sick), their flaunted proclivity for junk food is also a stand-in for sexuality.
       The (often ritualized) role of food and meals (and coffee-at-Luke's) is fairly thoroughly covered throughout the volume -- part of the show's liturgy -- and makes for an interesting vantage point from which to consider it.
       The pieces collected in this volume do offer the promised 'Critical Perspectives' on many aspects of Gilmore Girls, without too much repetition yet sufficient complementary overlap. There are issues deserving of additional treatment, but a good deal is covered, and only the pieces that focus on fan-engagement feel somewhat inadequate.
       While a useful, wide-ranging first section that, along with the actual Introduction, serves to cover the essentials even for readers with only a glancing familiarity with the show, Screwball Television is primarily of interest to those with specific interest in the show, popular television, and popular culture as presented on television. The continuing fascination with Gilmore Girls -- see also its 2016, four-part revival -- suggest just how much there is to the show, and the essays in this collection mine much of this territory quite well. And while this is a more 'academic' collection, it rarely bogs down in the too-scholarly (moving past the Bourdieu references fairly quickly) and is certainly both accessible and of interest to the more casual fan.

- M.A.Orthofer, 19 November 2016

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