In a nod to the KonMari method, Lorelei offers her grieving mother Emily a healthy pour of whisky. “Taste it,” she says. “See if it brings you joy.” Equally funny and poignant, the line could serve as a thesis for “Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life,” the six hour, four-part miniseries recently released after the original series ended ten years ago.
Although booze always had a role in the original series (what would Friday night dinners be without the bar cart?), “A Year in the Life” finds Rory, Lorelei and Emily swilling morning, noon and night.
Hour-long TV dramas (approximately 45 minutes of television program, with 15 minutes for commercials) are composed of an open, plus six scenes. Since each episode of “Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life” is 90 minutes long, we can view each installment as two traditional episodes of the series, comprising approximately 12 scenes.
Episode one, Winter, features ten scenes including alcoholic beverages; Spring contains seven scenes of drinking; Summer, the driest season, has a mere five scenes with alcohol; and Fall contains a whopping twelve scenes of boozing. Although the “Gilmore Girls” certainly have their signature tipples, drinking in the final episode is fairly catholic; in 90 minutes the girls consume boxed wine, whisky, champagne, martinis, gin and tonics and sherry.
In a 2015 piece in Macleans, Jaime Weinman writes that drinking culture on television has changed drastically in the last ten years. Partly reflective of the growing role of product placement, Weinman also argues that “increased drinking on TV may also reflect the medium’s increased respect for realism.”
A heightened interest in realism may account for booze’s more prevalent role in the series’ renewal, but is that all it is? While Emily has always had a WASP’s tolerance for a drink or three, and Lorelei’s love of fun has never precluded her from knocking back a Long Island iced tea, Rory has generally been characterized as an abstainer.
Yet as the four-part series rolls along, so does Rory’s drinking life: in Winter, she is boggled by feminist-eccentric-drunk Naomi Shropshire’s habit of knocking back bourbon at lunchtime; by Fall, Rory’s most serious relationship is with the bottle of Scotch in her desk at the Stars Hallow Gazette.
In 2014, Eric Asimov theorized on wine as a character development device in primetime’s leading ladies. From “Scandal” and “The Good Wife” to “Homeland,” heroines’ beverage choice is a shortcut to, and underscorer of, their chief characteristics. Fast forward to Rory — underemployed, peripatetic and pregnant — who is in the worst pickle of her life, and her problems are only mounting. Though we have six hours to explore her human frailty, it is her sudden penchant for Scotch that reveals the most about her inner turmoil.
Perhaps Rory’s drinking also serves to underline her own lack of self-knowledge. “She’s a drunk!” complains Rory to Paris’s twins when Shropshire’s lawyer requests all her notes from the two writers’ short-lived collaboration. This is, interestingly enough, just minutes after we see Rory and Paris in Paris’s living room. Though they are discussing Paris’s marital difficulties, it is only Rory who has a glass of white wine in front of her. A similar parallel is established when Rory and Logan share a bottle of wine over lunch while Rory complains about Naomi’s day drinking.
Vanity Fair’s Laura Bradley writes, “It’s unclear precisely when Rory discovers that she is pregnant — we could always try to gauge it by re-watching to see when Rory stops drinking at her desk.” But I believe Bradley is missing the point — and my re-watching indicated that Rory downed a bottle of champagne moments before she told her mother the news of her pregnancy. Rory has no interest in acting responsibly. She’s already off the rails.