Gilmore Girls and Freshmen Comp

***while this is a pedagogy blog, I warn you there are Gilmore Girls spoilers***

It is the point in the Fall semester where I’m both preparing students to complete the term, and hopefully take away good writing practices, while also developing syllabi for a new semester and therefore reflecting on my pedagogy from the current term. This is a unique struggle to the Fall semester as I have the summer to plan for a Fall semester, and Summer terms operate differently so they present their own unique challenges.

While reflecting on my approaches to teaching freshmen comp I also watched the revival of Gilmore Girls on Netflix – all 4 episodes over too short a period of time. By the start of Fall – the final episode – the foreshadowing of the infamous Four Final Words was strong. As the episode came to a close I really struggled with the disorganized chaos of this revival.

I should note that i’ve been rewatching the original series for a while now. it began with my students watching it Spring 2016, lengthy discussions on healthy relationships and all the ways Dean was an unhealthy relationship (sorry Dean but thanks for helping me broach difficult subjects with college students!). I continued, albeit rather slowly, through six of the seven seasons – so I was well prepared for Gilmore Girls, snappy dialogue, pop culture references galore, and fast-paced story telling. My reaction to the show as disorganized chaos had nothing to do with forgetting the show format.

Instead, I was confused. So, so confused. As I discussed the show on Facebook, and over text (hi Natalie!), I began to see patterns in the development of the Gilmore Girls revival and common problems I encounter with freshmen comp research essays. This post begins my discussion of the ways the writers (Amy Sherman-Palladino and Daniel Palladino and others) wrote the show like a freshmen comp essay.

One of the practices I try to help my students develop is working from a research question, to a working thesis, then searching for secondary sources. This helps focus research, which helps them develop connections between body paragraphs. Does this always work, of course not! But, the allure of less time researching often encourages students to at least try this approach, so tangential research is easy to spot before the rough draft!

The major problem with this approach is students don’t often consider the working thesis to be a work-in-progress.  They assume the thesis is written, they’ll account for changes in the conclusion paragraph. They also then try to write sticking to the original thesis and the goals it sets forth. While this helps with the overall focus of an essay, it doesn’t allow the thesis to develop to encounter the ideas discovered while writing (writing helps us learn!).

So, what does this have to do with Gilmore Girls? Those who have previously discussed this with me, or who have seen the episodes probably see where this is headed – the Gilmore Girl writers (again Sherman-Palladino and Palladino et al) ran into contract negotiation issues during the original airing and were not a part of season 7. At the time, Sherman-Palladino was very open about her vision for the ending of the series – while also being mysteriously vague, and the final four words quickly took on a life of their own as The Four Words. With the revival, Sherman-Palladino planned to reveal the four words, and end the series with them. This would fulfill her original intention for the show and answer so many fan questions – everyone should be happy.

Except, the working thesis as Thesis (I love how simple capitalizations help cement the importance of these concepts) allowed Sherman-Palladino et al to forget to consider it a work in progress.

***Reminder, spoilers coming***

In this way, Sherman-Palladino fell victim to the freshmen comp working thesis. Instead of adapting the words as the series writing developed, she worked backward, planning the series to end with The Four Words. In the revival almost 10 years have passed, meaning Rory’s character is in her 30’s instead of 20’s.

At 22, as the series ended, Rory turned down a marriage proposal to then-boyfriend Logan to follow her career dreams. Did this marriage ultimatum undermine the character development of Logan, YES. However, it allowed the series to end on a high note with Rory making grown-up decisions and owning her new life as a Grown Ass Woman (this requires capitalization, I promise, and Cindy and Dawn can back me up on this). If the series had instead ended with a turned down marriage proposal AND a pregnant Rory returning to Stars Hollow – the entire series would’ve been completely different (although the likelihood of a proposal from Logan may have been more slim given the parallels between Logan and Christopher).

With all these variables, how did Sherman-Palladino fall victim to freshmen comp? She approached the revival with the goal of ending the revival with The Four Words, she wrote her Thesis never her working thesis. In writing her Thesis Sherman-Palladino was able to ignore the character development of Season 7 which ended with Rory as a Grown Ass Woman, and instead focus on The Four Words and work backward.

I will update future posts using details from the show to explain the ways the show development did not begin with Rory as a Grown Ass Woman (Lorelai or Mrs. Gilmore either, but their development during the series was much more productive) – instead began with the need to end with a pregnancy announcement and found ways to hinder Rory’s adult growth so the ending would make sense. Forcing details to form a forgone conclusion will not help a writer craft a strong academic paper. Again, this treated the working thesis instead as a Thesis, leading to disorganized chaos in plot development. The supporting details of the show did not work together to develop the overall argument of The Four Words, and instead read like a poorly written freshmen comp essay. An essay authored by a student who used Google Scholar to find resources, selected the first 10 in the list (because 10 was required) and added them all to an essay because they related to the key words so they MUST work with the Thesis.

NOTE: I’m using Sherman-Palladino as the stand-in for the many writers, creators, producers, etc. that develop this show. Everyone forgot freshmen comp 🙂

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