From October 2000 through May 2007, the most action-packed sixty minutes of television was not The Sopranos or The Wire or CSI:Miami. No Stringer Bell beatdown was so violent, no NASCAR accident so whiplash inducing, as the verbal sparring on Gilmore girls: the WB dramedy about the trials and tribulations of a young single mom and her teenage daughter in Stars Hollow, Connecticut (the cutest TV town east of Stuckeyville, Ohio). Those Gilmore girls sure could talk; while scripts for most TV shows of that length are 40 – 50 pages long, Gilmore girls scripts were known to hit 80 pages.
And I loved every page.
That is a lie. I did not love every page. Gilmore girls lost its footing in its seventh and last season, after creator and executive producer Amy Sherman-Palladino left the show, and I’d argue that the show actually jumped the shark in Season Six. More on that later.
Because for most of those seven seasons, I loved Gilmore girls with a love that was more than love. Here are ten reasons why.
1. The quips. Gilmore girls was a pop culture smorgasbord, and the jokes were often inside and generation-specific. (One of my favorites: Lorelai Gilmore [Lauren Graham], upon hearing that the singer she’d been listening to was Claudine Longet, remarked, “The chick who shot the skier? Wow, Renaissance woman.”) All the characters had arcane knowledge in their areas of interest, which included movies, music, TV, junk food, music, literature, politics, music, history, and music, and you never knew what would fly out of their brains. Which made them, in a weird way, both deeply cartoony and deeply real. Take Joel and the ‘bots from Mystery Science Theater 3000 off the Satellite of Life and plop them down in ’00s America, and you’ve pretty much got Gilmore girls.
2. The writing. To follow up that last point: I’m not a huge fan of the jokey style of comedy that’s epitomized by Scrubs and Family Guy. It’s much trickier to find humor in character, but it makes for richer, truer comedy. Gilmore girls was all about character: the funny things Emily Gilmore and Mrs. Kim and Zack and Kirk and Taylor and Paris and all the characters said were funny because the characters were funny. And recognizable. Peter Griffin is not a funny character; he’s robot on which to hang jokes. Homer Simpson is funny. So, in one way or another, is practically every character on Gilmore girls. Good writing makes it so.
3. The characters. A show with this much talking had better have interesting characters, and even the minor characters on Gilmore girls were memorable. A few were just annoying; I’m thinking of Babette, manic neighbor played by Sally Struthers; and Luke’s daughter April (Vanessa Marano), who was the result of a tragic story decision. But most were delightful, and each had an actual personality upon which to draw comedy. I listed six of the show’s most memorable characters above. It would be easy to add another 20.
4. The music. No TV show in the ’00s featured better music than Gilmore girls. Yes, all the Sam Phillips “la-la-la” interstitial music could cloy. But the soundtrack featured XTC, the Shins, John Lennon, Pernice Brothers, and Yo La Tengo, all represented on the most excellent soundtrack album Our Little Corner of the World.
5. Their little corner of the world. Stars Hollow was the nicest town in America. Well integrated, diverse, charming, clean, all-American cute, and friendly to a fault (except for curmudgeon-with-a-heart-of-gold Luke Danes [Scott Patterson]), Stars Hollow was like a Ray Bradbury town without the underlying evil. Amy Sherman-Palladino once told Salon’s Joy Press that, in Star’s Hollow, Al Gore was President.
6. All the rock stars in Stars Hollow. Among the rockers making appearances on Gilmore girls: Thurston Moore, Kim Gordon, Joe Pernice, Sparks, Yo La Tengo–all in one great episode where they tried out for the position of town troubadour, recently vacated by series regular Grant-Lee Phillips. According to Kirk (Sean Gunn), he was discovered and offered a spot on Neil Young’s tour. Ask who Neil Young was, Kirk responded, “One of the Monkees.” Oh, and the great Carole King sang the theme song–and had a recurring role on the show.
7. Hep Alien. Hep Alien was the name of the band that featured Lane Kim (Keiko Agena), best friend of Sweet Rory Gilmore (Alexis Bledel), and her boyfriend/husband Zack (Todd Lowe)–and Skid Row’s Sebastian Bach. Here was the exchange among band members after Bach, as sandwich shop manager/guitar player Gil, auditioned for the band:
Zach (pointing to his eyes): Right here. He’s got some lines. That blows my mind.
Brian: What is he, late thirties?
Zach: Approaching forty.
Brian (incredulous): He was alive before man walked on the moon.
Zach: Don’t do that, man. You’re freaking me out.
Lane: Let’s not be over-dramatic, guys. I mean, he is an incredible guitarist.
Zach: He’s had a lot of time to practice.
Brian: And the bicentennial – he was alive for that.
Lane: This is the best we’ve sounded since Dave, and he’s really…
Brian: He was our age when we were born.
Lane: He thinks we’re great.
Brian: There were no CDs when he was born.
Zach: Stop it, man. I mean it.
Lane: Maybe there’s a way to offset his oldness. Put a hat on him. Dress him up like Angus Young in AC/DC – that schoolboy outfit.
Brian: He could have seen AC/DC with their original lead singer.
Zach: And 1980 is when that guy choked on his own vomit. That’s old.
Lane: You want to stop the audition?
Brian: We shouldn’t be rude.
Zach: Fine, we’ll keep going, but remember, any new member has to be approved by all of us. So one vote against, and he’s back at bingo.
Lane: I know.
8. Norman Mailer. Norman Mailer? Yes. Norman Mailer guest starred on one show. So did Madeleine Albright. So did Barbara Boxer. So did Paul Anka, who was the namesake of Lorelai’s dog. That dog was just there for cuteness. Lorelai Gilmore was not the sort of person who should have owned a dog.
9. The cranks. Yes, I’ve already mentioned the characters in general. But Gilmore girls’ greatest characters were the not-quite villains: Lorelai’s mother Emily Gilmore (Kelly Bishop), a wealthy, controlling society bitch; Paris Geller (Liza Weil), Rory’s roomate/pal/nemesis; and Mrs. Kim (Emily Kuroda), Lane’s Korean uber-mother, who, in a smart, unexpected twist, ended up managing Hep Alien. All three could be incredibly rude, even vile, and not one had a heart of gold. Which made them all so easy to love.
10. Lorelei’s uncanny ability to screw up her life by choosing the wrong man. The girl who had a baby at 16 continued to make bad boyfriend choices well into her 30s. Rory’s teacher at Chilton, Max Medina (Scott Cohen) had an anger problem. Jason “Digger” Stiles (Chris Eigeman) was a quirky, ruthless dick–sort of a male Emily Gilmore. Most shocking of all, Luke Danes, the font of unrequited love who was meant to be the right man for Lorelai throughout the series, was an asshole. He was crabby, controlling, quick to anger, and completely unable to express his feelings for Lorelai. But he made great coffee, which was probably enough for Lorelai to consider him her soulmate. Her real soulmate was Chris Hayden (David Sutcliffe), her irresponsible rich-boy baby daddy. Chris was the only character in the show with the wit and charm to keep up with the likes of Lorelai Gilmore. She married him in the disastrous Season Seven, and she should have made it work.
Alas, it was not to be. But Lorelai seemed a better catch than she probably was. She was, perhaps, the prototype for Nathan Rabin’s Manic Pixie Dream Girl; her boyfriends were all lost souls who needed saving. Going out with Lorelai Gilmore was going to be the most fun you ever had for a three weeks. But you could never spend a quiet evening with her, because she was never going to be quiet. It was why we loved her so much. And why we just couldn’t live with her.
Like the characters, the show was not perfect. When Rory went away to Yale, it became tougher to keep the mother-daughter banter alive. In Season Six, the creators unwisely introduced a surprise daughter for Luke: a precocious tween whose name might as well have been Rory II. It was one of those telling TV moments that signals the beginning of the end.
The end came swiftly. Season Seven was unlovely and unconvincing. Lorelai married Chris, and the show runners couldn’t undo that mistake fast enough to get her back into the arms of Luke by season’s end. As much of a jerk as Luke was, Gilmore girls fans deserved to see them together at the series conclusion. It was a bad mistake that hacked up one of the decade’s best TV shows.
A year ago, there was talk of a Gilmore girls reunion. That would be a great good thing. Because, somewhere in the fictional wonderland of Stars Hollow, Lorelai Gilmore is still talking. Rory is off saving the world. And Luke is still schlepping coffee. It’d be wonderful to catch up with them.
Note: the Gilmores apparently like their privacy, so I can’t post video. But if you’ve already wasted this much time on Gilmore girls, you should go to YouTube and play some.