Fiddler on the Roof Deserved Better Than This
Megan Watches Episode 102: "Jews and Chinese Food"
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What’s Wrong With Episode 102: “Jews and Chinese Food”? It Does a Great Disservice to Both Rory and Fiddler on the Roof
As a teenager, I once played in the pit orchestra for a high school production of Fiddler on the Roof. As I alternated between my oboe and English horn, kept my reeds saturated in a Dixie cup of water on the edge of my music stand, and, with my fellow frustrated young musicians, struggled to play along with the runaway, off-tempo singing of adolescent Lutherans pronouncing words like “L’Chaim!” for the first time, the music and lyrics basically embedded themselves in my memory such that I remember all the orchestration in every song from that musical, including the cute little downward run in “Do You Love Me?” that comes between “After 25 years” and “it’s nice to know.”
In “Jews and Chinese Food,” Amy Sherman-Palladino tries to pay homage to Fiddler and this song in particular, sung by long-suffering long-married couple Golde and Tevye, whose marriage wasn’t really a love match but who’ve grown together over the years anyway, and it’s easy to see why Sherman-Palladino picked this song in particular. “Do You Love Me?” is a sweet, sad meditation on what partnership actually means, in a musical that I’ve always loved. (My favorite characters were Chava, an avowed bookworm, and her sister, Hodel, who disappoints everyone by falling in love with a Marxist. I’ve always been a Rory.)
Paying homage to Fiddler on the Roof is a great idea in theory, but what’s bizarre and honestly kind of ghoulish about Sherman-Palladino’s use of “Do You Love Me?” is that here it’s sung by a precocious child as Golde and fully adult Kirk as Tevye. Sabina Wex has already covered the weirdness of Gilmore Girls’ relationship to Judaism in an excellent bonus newsletter, and her analysis of that tension applies so well to the content of this episode that I’m not going to elaborate on it. But what I will say is this: It really gave me the icks to see “Jews and Chinese Food” play off a child paired with an adult singing a world-weary song about love as… touching? It’s weird. It’s awkward. But it’s not heartwarming.
Throughout the song in the original musical, Golde basically equates her labor as a wife and mother with love, in a very no-nonsense way, and I find it grotesque to see an elementary-schooler tasked with performing this maternal frustration. The subtext might be less creepy if she were paired with an age-appropriate scene partner, but even then, I dunno. Call me crazy, but maybe kids should just be allowed to be kids and we should all agree to save them the misery of performing adulthood before they actually have to. Who’s with me?
Apparently not Luke and Lorelai, who don’t find any of this weird. Instead, as they listen to the song backstage, they both well up silently. They’re so enthralled with this bizarre kid-adult duet that they can’t help but reflect back on their own breakup with sorrow. Lauren Graham and Scott Patterson do their best with this, I guess, but I don’t buy it! If you want to show adults being emotionally gutted by a love song that’s in part about the disappointment of adulthood, you need to frame it in a way that makes sense.
Because even setting aside the strangeness of its delivery, “Do You Love Me?” is about two people who had an arranged marriage and now find themselves raising three teenage girls and in the interim have grown closer. It’s not about star-crossed lovers. It’s about the challenges and joys of long-term commitment, which is something neither Luke nor Lorelai really seem to have experienced. Their breakup last week felt so manufactured and silly, and pairing them up with this iconic couple with their own very different set of problems — INCLUDING GETTING EVICTED FROM THEIR VILLAGE BY THE TSAR BY THE END OF THE PLAY — feels rude and confused.
But this is one of those episodes where I can see Sherman-Palladino losing the thread, and not just by bastardizing classic musicals. I also see it in some major changes in Rory’s character. In this episode, Rory does things like compliment Marty on the size of his coffee cup, calling it “manly” (why), and when Logan interrupts Marty and Rory’s movie night, she immediately throws Marty under the bus, coercing him into a meal with Logan and a vapid group of Life and Death Brigade friends. And they really are vapid: Colin and Finn can’t stop hitting on the girls, who can’t stop commenting on how iT’s sO aMaZiNg tHaT rOrY aCtUaLly eAtS, which is such a boring pattern on this show I can’t even dignify it with analysis. It’s fucked and we all know why.
When Logan says he’ll cover the cost of Rory’s dinner and Marty can’t afford his, Rory tries to throw money at Marty in the most insensitive gesture I think we’ve ever seen from her. Rory grew up with a mother who often needed help paying for school expenses and should presumably know better — she’s seen Logan treat Marty like a worthless pauper — but instead of actually being a decent friend to him, she puts Marty in an extremely uncomfortable position all because she wants to sleep with Logan. What’s weird about this is that Marty has been distancing himself from Rory because he knows this about her.
Instead of picking up on this like an adult — sometimes it’s really not all about you, Rory — she strong-arms Marty into hanging out and then drags him to what’s basically a date with Logan and his shallow friends. This is a bad way to treat your friends, and it’s pure selfishness on Rory’s part. The selfishness isn’t what bothers me about this, though. She’s a college sophomore, a peak selfishness age! No, what’s weird about this is that it just doesn’t seem like something Rory would do. But I said it last week and I’ll say it again: Rory’s personality is now in slow decline. Her actions will get more and more out of character as this series progresses, until it makes no sense at all.
And that’s a bummer, because one of the things that drew me to Gilmore Girls in the first place was its insistence on depicting a nerdy, self-possessed teenage girl. In its early seasons, it really was a show for girls in the orchestra pit, which makes it especially disappointing to watch our idiosyncratic nerd queen devolve into a bland, male gaze-catering woman who hangs out with shallow jerks and treats her real friends like shit. But such is the devolution of Rory Gilmore. Sunrise, sunset.
12 Other Things Wrong With This Episode
Lorelai’s hat in the opening scene is very orange. Remember when it was 2005 and orange was on-trend? It took me years to lose all the orange that crept into my wardrobe during that time.
When Logan interrupts Duck Soup night, Rory’s clear that she has a friend over, but Logan can’t really hear no and insists that they both come to dinner. This is a manipulative thing to do. I hate that Logan acts like he and Rory can’t just spend a night apart because her social life matters, too. Or, I dunno, just come over later? You live on the same campus. This is not a time-sensitive situation. I like that Rory goes after what she wants with Logan, but in some subtle, insidious ways, it’s pretty clear Logan already has all the control in their relationship — and prefers it that way. Creepy!
As usual, there is anti-fatness. It’s terrible and I will not repeat it.
In a parallel to Rory’s situation, Paris’ personality has also taken a turn for the worst. In this episode, she stands around shouting at Doyle and talking about how often they have sex to anyone who will listen? I mean, good for them, but this seems out of character for Paris. Also am I hallucinating or does it look like there is something the matter with Danny Strong’s face in this episode? Is he OK?
There are totally cliques at college. Rory is lying to Lorelai.
We haven’t had a lazy set deco alert in a while, and I feel the need to announce one just for the comically huge fake “Snap’N” chip bag that makes an appearance in this episode. Especially on Gilmore Girls, a show with copious product placement (brought to you by Pop-Tarts!), I love when we get a bunch of nonsense food labels instead of a paid-for brand name.
Stars Hollow is having its first Botox party? Really? Wouldn’t Mary Kay or Tupperware be more their speed? I bet Crazy Carrie is an MLM lady.
During the Lorelai-at-Yale-for-dinner scene, Alexis Bledel is taking the tiniest bites of food I have ever seen. I know by now that this is a signature move, but I have to say, the food acting on Gilmore Girls is generally pretty abysmal. You know who’s a great food actor? Cynthia Nixon. I fully believed she was really eating all those salads at every Sex and the City brunch. If only Gilmore Girls had a Cynthia Nixon.
Lorelai says that Emily got her dumped, but didn’t Lorelai kind of get herself dumped by not having a real relationship check-in with Luke last week? Emily meddled, Emily does terrible things, but this is not all on Emily.
Lorelai and Rory seem really baffled by trying to eat ice cream in cold weather. They live in Connecticut, though, and seem to get ice cream outside regularly. This shouldn’t be a surprise. I also don’t understand why they couldn’t just eat ice cream in the dining hall? Are they in an Aaron Sorkin show now? Were they forced into a walk ‘n’ talk?
There’s a pretty offensive ongoing bit about an elementary-school kid who has lesbian parents, which prompts Luke to say he knows “three, maybe four” lesbians, and I just… where? There are canonically no lesbians on Gilmore Girls. There’s subtext with Gypsy, but it’s not canon. I just would like to know who Amy Sherman-Palladino thinks Luke is referring to, because this is pretty iffy territory for a show that rarely acknowledges the idea that gay people exist unless it’s making an unsavory “joke.”
Rory is reading A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers, which was the height of literary cool at the time and which I still think about a lot because it includes a section about working at an indie magazine that’s still one of the best things I’ve read about alternative media. Maybe there’s still hope for weird Rory after all.
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