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Monthly Archives: April 2010

Gilmore Girls is a show that I watched sporadically throughout its seven year run, missing most of the first and nearly all of the last two seasons. One of the pluses about the show is that, though there are several overriding arcs that sustain the show throughout its seven year run, nothing about the individual episodes ever really strays from the general tone and format of the show; every episode will contain rapid-fire dialogue, endless pop culture references (my favorite recently-watched one involves Rory and Jess in a record store asking what Slint is, and having the apparently know-it-all clerk describe them as “grunge,” a mis-identification that actually drove me crazy before I laughed at my dead indie outrage), crazy townsfolk, and some drama between the Gilmore girls and their romantic partners at the time or the Gilmore girls and their patrician lineage in the form of Emily and Richard. In essence—and completely opposite to The Wire, Friday Night Lights, and Breaking Bad, the only other dramatic shows from the oughts that I have loved—Gilmore Girls is a perfect show to watch as comfort food, out of order or in the background. It is serialized in that events which happen in one episode mean something in others, but not so much so that the minutiae in something like The Wire will be crucial in the constant build of the series.

To backtrack a bit: I had been wanting to go through this rewatch because of the fact that I missed whole chunks of the show, filling in the blanks through reruns or outright reference in other episodes (for instance, I missed the entire Max Medina debacle that occurs in season one, but knew of it because it is constantly brought up). After being excited by Parenthood because of Jason Katims (his involvement in both My So-Called Life and Friday Night Lights makes him a deity in this house) and Lauren Graham (consistently robbed of an Emmy for her work as Lorelai Gilmore), I became quickly disappointed with its muddled tone and inconsistent performances, though it is a show that is certainly entertaining while not even close to being good. Graham is, as ever, one of the bright spots, and seeing her in Parenthood only made me want to see her again in Gilmore Girls—a show that was not just good, but often great. This, combined with my recent layoff (yes I am now a victim of America’s economic climate!), made Project Rewatch: Gilmore Girls a go.

This time around—and possibly this has something to do with knowing where they end up and how they get there—I find myself oddly and somewhat disconcertingly much less sympathetic with Lorelai (Graham) and Rory (Alexis Bledel) than I am with most everyone else, including stuffy Emily and Richard (Kelly Bishop and Edward Hermann, two all-time greats) and gruff Luke (Scott Patterson) and caustic Michel (Yanic Truesdale) and boring Dean (Jared Padalecki) and jerky Jess (Milo Ventimiglia) and crazy Sookie (Melissa McCarthy) and insane Paris (Liza Weil) and flaky Christopher (David Sutcliffe, who looks the kind of man you couldn’t resist, making it perfect casting for a show about a girl who got knocked up at 16). Certainly they are our heroines, and complicated ones at that, but when I first started watching the show some nine or so years ago, Lorelai and Rory always seemed on the correct side of things, paragons of charm and cool and twee righteousness. Not that they aren’t this go-round, but more and more I find flaws where previously I saw none. I assume a lot of this is me getting old. Lorelai, for one, is not actually a great mother. She’s a great friend for Rory, and a barrel of fun, but whether it’s regarding nutrition or letting her own personal experiences with The Good Life sabotage Rory’s apparent (if sporadic) need for it, Lorelai Gilmore should not be anyone’s model of the perfect parent. And Rory is a bundle of naivete and bad decisions, mainly concerning boys; listen, I thought Dean was a drip and totally would have cheated on him with some bad boy wannabe like Jess too, but Rory’s very real disillusionment with having a Perfect Boyfriend and her subsequent behavior makes her into a not-very-likable girl at times (believe me, I speak from experience, being somewhat of a Rory myself, especially considering she later falls for a boy named Logan Huntzberger).

All this, of course, adds a lot of meat to the show; very much in the manner of Taylor Swift songs, Gilmore Girls has much greater depth and complication than it is given credit for, easily transcending the teen entertainment cliches it is unfairly saddled with. And much of Gilmore Girls‘ greatness rears its head when it confronts the issue of class, and with it the very real, decades-felt hurt felt by both Lorelai and her parents. The friction between Emily and Richard’s high-society life and Lorelai’s suffocation from it is a constant struggle throughout the series, and it was thrilling to discover how deeply embedded in the show it always was, specifically with three exemplary episodes from the first season:

  • In “Rory’s Birthday Parties” (episode 6), Emily throws a swanky party for Rory, inviting all her new classmates who hate her and whom she hates with equal measure, causing Rory to snap at Emily in front of everyone. Contrite, she later invites Emily to the party Lorelai is giving her the next day. Initially refusing, Emily and Richard show up to the predictably crazy bash in Stars Hollow, where Emily sadly realizes that she doesn’t know Lorelai and Rory at all.
  • In “Rory’s Dance” (episode 9), Lorelai has thrown out her back while making a dress for Rory, who is attending a Chilton dance with Dean. Emily shows up to see them off, and then stays to help Lorelai. They watch old movies and attempt to eat mashed banana on toast (a meal Emily made Lorelai whenever she was sick as a kid) and come very close to bonding, until it is found that Rory and Dean fell asleep (and nothing more) and never made it home. Emily is furious about Lorelai’s parenting skills and about Rory going down Lorelai’s path; Lorelai is in turn furious that her mother doesn’t trust Rory as well as furious that her mother could be right, and says so to Rory, who in turn is furious that her mother doesn’t trust her as much as she says.
  • In “Christopher Returns” (episode 15), Christopher returns. At Emily and Richard’s for dinner, Christopher’s parents (named Straub and Francine, amazingly) lash out at the Gilmores for ruining Christopher’s future, causing Richard to defend Lorelai for perhaps the first time in his life. Lorelai attempts to thank her father, who dismisses it, still stung by how her mistakes ruined his vision of her future. Lorelai and Christopher, alone on her balcony, where they had been countless times before, have sex. He wants to marry her, but she knows that he still isn’t ready to turn the Gilmore Girls into the perfect family picture that Emily, Richard, Straub, and Francine so desperately wanted all those years ago.

It is in these episodes—in these moments—where the glossiness of indie rock quips and coffee consumption and charming small-town preciousness melt away to reveal the big truth about Gilmore Girls: family is what you make of it. Sometimes you have to make your own family, because the one you have causes untold amounts of pain. Sometimes the family you want can never happen, so you make do with the family you have. And sometimes, even fleetingly, the family you have can be the one real thing that tethers you to something other, something greater, than yourself. When you see Lorelai shouting at her mother, feeling for all the world like a pregnant, scared sixteen-year-old girl, you see a woman who, despite her best efforts, hasn’t been able to grow up. And when you see Emily shouting at her daughter, you see a woman who so desperately wants to reassure her sixteen-year-old daughter that everything is okay, even though she knows it isn’t, and for the first time in her life feels powerless. These are the moments that make the show worth watching, when Gilmore Girls approaches something very near the sublime.