Harry Potter, Gilmore Girls, & the Uncertainty of Unexpected Sequels

If your name is Kelsey Ryan, these last few weeks and months have been pretty thrilling in terms of your pop culture fixes.

JUST ANNOUNCED: HARRY POTTER AND THE CURSED CHILD WILL BE A CONTINUATION OF HARRY’S LIFE AFTER BOOK 7

THIS IS NOT A DRILL: GILMORE GIRLS IS COMING BACK ON NETFLIX FOR 4 MINI-MOVIES

Bam. Just like that, all within late October. And there’s a part of me that heard this news and broke out in “Everything’s Coming Up Roses.”

In so many ways, this is a return to childhood. Young Kelsey wept endlessly in the last chapter of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Weeks and months were spent imagining within the Harry Potter universe. I practically went to Hogwarts—and I’ve still got the trivia knowledge to prove it.

It’s the same for Gilmore Girls. I remember my first episode of the show when I was in eighth grade. My middle sister had bought Season 3 for my oldest sister, and one day, during some day when I was sick at home with the flu, I figured why not give it a try? And I was hooked. Lorelai was who I aspired to be: independent, hilarious, and just the right amount of sassy. Mother and daughter quipping pop culture references nonstop like it’s some sort of new language. The show introduced me to binge-watching, and now that it’s on Netflix, it’s never far from my “Keep Watching” list.

These series are part of who I am, and they make me endlessly happy—still, to this day, I relive the series every so often when I’m down. But although a part of me celebrates this news that my childhood has NOT yet ended,  there’s a part of me that can’t yet join the party.

Why am I feeling like such a downer?

  1. I’ve already grieved for the end of these shows.

    I cried when Harry Potter ended. I felt the loss, knowing that Gilmore Girls was done when Rory showed up at her going-away party and the credits rolled. I’ve dealt with the feelings of emptiness and loss that comes with finishing something and knowing  that you can’t go back and experience it all again. And of course, there was a part of me that would have done quite a bit in order to get just ONE MORE PAGE or just ONE MORE MINUTE of these series, back at that time.

    But then I got over it. I know that post-series grief (pardon the expression), and I handled it by moving on, and reliving the beautiful moments we already had. Now that BOTH of these series are back in my life again, not with the friendly remembrances of familiar stories, but with NEW STORIES, I’m afraid I feel wronged. Why didn’t this happen years ago? Why couldn’t you have worked something out back then, back when I was crushed that the series was over? Where were you then, JK? Why didn’t you finish the series yourself, Amy Sherman-Palladino?

    I know these things couldn’t have been planned ahead. But some part of me feels like this is holding onto past events, rather than stepping ahead and making something new. Yes, I want these series to keep coming, but what will they even look like?

    Strangely enough, these series feel like long-lost friends, who disappeared for years but are now back and want to hug again and pretend like they never left. Are we that close still? I thought you had died. I’m not ready for hugs just yet.

  2. I don’t trust that these series were brought back for good reasons.

    This is pure speculation, I know, but it’s a thought that haunts me more than I’d like to admit. Why are these series being brought back now? Amy Sherman-Palladino has moved on. She’s done Bunheads (the critically acclaimed but short-lived series about little ballerinas that I could never get into). She’s supposed to have moved on, just like her audience was asked to.

    JK Rowling has done the same, and I’ve followed her to each of her other projects. She’s published  at least 4 unrelated books to Harry’s story, which has been satisfying and feels appropriate: I feel like I’m enjoying life after Harry, when I read these. I can see she’s doing well, and she CLEARLY doesn’t need the money. So why a play? (Why not something more accessible to the millions of fans Harry’s amassed over the years?) And why now? Why is this appropriate? Why try to turn this story into more money, when it feels like you’ve made  enough off this one story, this one character and world?

  3. I want these new versions to be done right.

    If we’re going back to Stars Hollow, you had best be bringing along Melissa McCarthy, because a Gilmore Girls without Sookie is absurd. And JK, if you expect us to all buy our tickets and shell out thousands and traipse along with you across continents to follow Harry, you are out of your mind.

    I know a remake/reboot/update of these series in this new form is exciting. (And theatre geek/daily Netflix watcher Kelsey is WILD about a new way to experience the magic.) But they’re also deeply concerning. Are we going to just have to trust that the series will do the old series justice? What about our headcanons? Whatever happened to “death of the author,” where you as the creator set down your creative control over these universes, offering it to your fans? These series had conclusions. They were finished. They are done, and they are now in the hands of us, the fans. Taking back creative control feels cheap, and I worry that our memories of “the good old days” of these series will be over.

    This is different from the transition from book to movie. This feels not like a retelling, but a reshuffling, a revision. And it will probably disappoint, even if these creators are as careful as can be. They are taking back control of the series from the fans, and that’s deeply concerning.

It’s given me a lot of heartburn, guys. More than a play and a Netflix series really should.

This makes me think there’s a problem in the way we deal with conclusions. We are a culture that can’t handle death, and one that’s obsessed with eternal youth. Why can’t we be happy with the endings that we’re given? Why must a story be told and retold until we’re finally able to move on? Because all we want is the happiest of endings, and media companies know they can eke out more money from the same story because of this. Why are we accepting a seventh Star Wars? Why are we cool with splitting up the Hunger Games into four daggum movies instead of 3, and why are we encouraging Stephenie Meyer to tell us more about the Twilight universe please please please?

There’s something in stories that keeps us coming back, whether we like it or not, even though we’ve grieved and tried to walk away. When we’re attached, we as people hold on for dear life, though it may have been 10+ years since we said goodbye.

Nostalgia is a powerful force. And I’m no exception: I know I’m waiting with bated breath for Netflix to announce even one more detail about the series update, and reading every article about The Cursed Child.

Sign me up for that sequel. But when we’re waiting around to see Harry Potter 30: Harry Reloaded, and we’re all a little discouraged with the person Harry is now, at age 52, just know that I totally called it.

 

Why I Hate “Your Mom” Jokes

“So what do your parents do?”

I tense. I’d been expecting the question: as you’re making friends, it’s hardly unusual to be asked about your life. But I could foresee the end of the conversation from here, and I’d grown tired of having this exact exchange.

Usually, I give my father’s profession definitively to try to settle the matter, and make a desperate attempt to change the conversation. “Enough about me; what about you?”

But more often than not, I’m pressed to continue. And this time was no exception. “Wait, what does your mom do?”

Breathe in. I say, with as much casualness as I can muster, “Oh, she died when I was 14.”

A stutter. A beat. “Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that. That’s terrible.” Pause. Sigh. “I didn’t mean to make you…”

I imagine my poor new friend is picturing what loss at 14 might look like. A teenage girl losing her mother? Nightmare. I shouldn’t have pressed her. I feel awful. What if I had lost my mother at 14? I would be so lost. How did it happen? Is that okay to ask? Why isn’t she crying? What am I supposed to say? Should I give her a hug?

Or maybe my friend is simply thinking, Oh, right, some people’s parents are dead. How sad!

And then, I say the words I hate, because I can’t think of anything else; the words I’ve used every day since I was 14.

“It’s okay.”


It’s not okay. My mother died when I was 14. There was a long time when I couldn’t admit to that without tearing up, or even downright sobbing. Yes, it was a nightmare. Cancer always is.

But sharing that story with others even years later is still a mess. In that one moment, I must play both roles of victim and comforter. I inflict pain with my unpleasant story (how dare I not have a happier response?), so I must perform tenderness as well as sadness. I must assure my conversation partner gently (not too emphatically; that’d just be disrespectful) that no, they had done no lasting harm; it’s a terrible story but yes, yes, I’m not crying, see? I’m okay. So it’s okay. We’re okay.

What a racket.

It’s a silly thing: there’s really no great response to the question, but the question itself isn’t flawed. It’s polite to ask about one’s family, and it’s certainly not anyone’s fault my mother died. But there’s an angry part of me that asks why the onus always falls on me to make you okay. Why must you apologize? Why do you ask forgiveness for an event that is completely out of your control? Why should I have to teach you about death?

It’s not as though reminding me is something unusual. I remember my mother daily. I know that death happens. Asking about her doesn’t make me any sadder (or frankly, any less sad) at her death.

That’s the thing about grief: losing someone you love is filled with pain, complicated emotions, loneliness, and a lifetime of remembering. But in that death, you must grow to accept a society that finds death so incredibly bizarre. As a society, we’re afraid of dying, and of being left behind. And my reminding you that no, my story is not “a lifetime of mother-daughter brunches” is a sad moment for you. Death happens to everyone, remember? I’ve let you in on a moment of my lifetime of sadness. And I’m the one who has to see to your comfort (no no, we’re still alive, see?), to guide your temporary grief.

Experiencing death is supposed to turn you into an expert on teaching others in moments of grief. You’ve been through it, so you’re different. And I’ll admit, I’ve felt different after loss. But as someone who experienced death at so young an age, I’m an unusual professional griever. You’re supposed to lose a parent when you’re 60—that’s partly why you stop asking about parents’ professions after a certain age. You’re not supposed to lose your parent the summer after your freshman year of high school.

But those same words that we use to comfort others in grief aren’t useful when your mother died so young. I can’t say, “She lived a long full life,” or “At least she’s not in any pain anymore.” And so I just say, “It’s okay,” even though it’s not, and I’m sad, and it’s gross and miserable and wrong and unfair. My peers still had their mothers. Why couldn’t I? Why didn’t I?

A friend of mine, who lost her mother at 18, has a passionate loathing for those middle school “your mom” jokes.

“Your momma’s so fat, when she walks in a room, she sits next to EVERYBODY!”

“Your momma’s so old, she went to school with JESUS.”

And the classic response to any insult: “So’s your mom!”

Hilarious, right?

When my friend comes across anyone still willing to use these jokes, she’s perfected her response: “Stop. My mother is dead.”

Cue panicked expressions. “Are you for real? Dude, that’s not funny.”

“I know. Stop using that joke.”

It’s fast. It’s direct. It gives immense power only to the person using it, while making the joker into a villain—who can call you out on that? (And honestly, the joke is a miserable excuse for an amusing comeback, so this technique is a fast way to help this joke format die out.)

The “dead mom” card is the ultimate trump.

And I’ll admit, when I’m in this situation (or something similar), I often want to use her response. When I’m sick of answering politely about my family, when I’m feeling vulnerable or when people are willfully ignorant, or when I’m tired of grieving on my own. It could be a comeback to a stupid joke, or a quick response to a casual question, or a reply to a friend’s story about a fight she had with her mom.

Suck it up. At least your mother isn’t dead.

Instead of walking someone through the experience of grief, it’s a quick punch to the gut, a reminder of the nearness of death without that comforting, “There, there; it’s okay!” I could use my mother’s grief as a weapon, to get what I want, or to make others feel sad. And doesn’t misery love company?

Yes, but I love company, too. And knowing the pain I’ve experienced, I want to be careful not to show people this sadness unless they’re already there. So I wait, and I comfort when I can.

As a whole, our society needs to be more open about its relationship to grief, and to understand the permanent identity shift with someone who is living with loss.

Death is not okay. But it happens. And it’s okay to feel loss, and to talk about it.