Your Friend's 'Gilmore Girls' Obsession, Explained
Whether you're over paying credit card bills, wondering what a Trump presidency will entail, or figuring out how to get pizza sauce stains off a couch, every day provides another opportunity to develop an anxiety disorder. Thankfully, humanity has developed a coping mechanism for all that worry and panic, and it's called Gilmore Girls.
If you're old like me, you remember planning your whole week around this beautiful escapist TV fantasy. Now, thanks to Netflix, all of Gilmore Girls' seven seasons are available to binge, and the streaming service went above and beyond to give us a reunion in the form of four 90-minute episodes, which drop all at once on November 25th.
If you don't have 154 spare hours lying around but you're genuinely curious why your friend keeps screaming "OMG HOW HAVE YOU NOT SEEN GILMORE GIRLS?!" allow me to break down that devoted fandom for you. Because, yes, I am that friend.
OK, so who are the Gilmore Girls?
In case you weren't a 20-something woman in the early aughts and entirely missed this show, Gilmore Girls was a beloved hour-long series that premiered in 2000 and continued for seven seasons. It ran on the WB until the WB was shut down, and the newly launched CW picked up Gilmore's final season in 2006. The show, created by Amy Sherman-Palladino, followed the lives of Lorelai Gilmore, her daughter Rory Gilmore, and Lorelai's mother Emily Gilmore. Lorelai (Lauren Graham, whom you may know from Parenthood) was raised by a very wealthy Connecticut family, but got pregnant at age 16 and subsequently ran away, rejecting her rich upbringing to try to make it on her own as a single mother.
Lorelai and baby Rory end up living a few towns away from the Gilmore mansion in a small, ridiculously friendly town called Stars Hollow, which is sort of like a grown-up, sarcastic Neighborhood of Make-Believe, if King Friday XIII were town selectman instead of king and Henrietta Pussycat ran a dance school. Gilmore Girls begins 16 years later, with Lorelai working at an inn and bantering incessantly with her smart, bookish, ridiculously adorable 16-year-old daughter (played by the ridiculously adorable Alexis Bledel).
Stars Hollow is sort of like a grown-up, sarcastic Neighborhood of Make-Believe, if King Friday XIII were town selectman instead of king and Henrietta Pussycat ran a dance school.
When Rory gets into an expensive prep school, Lorelai approaches her estranged rich parents Emily and Richard Gilmore (Kelly Bishop and the late Edward Herrmann) to ask them if she can borrow the money to pay for it. They agree, but in an attempt to manipulate a relationship out of the girls, Emily adds a caveat: Lorelai and Rory must have dinner with her grandparents every Friday night. From there launched a weekly obsession for many of us as we followed the women and their lives, job changes, school difficulties, and, most importantly, their relationships -- romance, friendship, and above all, family.
Why do they talk so fast?
There are a few fundamental elements that make the Gilmore girls Gilmore Girls, and the rapidfire witty dialogue is key. In fact, Gilmore Girls' early tagline was "Life's short. Talk fast." Writer Amy Sherman-Palladino didn't invent this speaking style, of course; you'll find enough quick "walk and talk" scenes in this show for my brother to be justified in calling it "The West Wing about girls."
While Lorelai is undoubtedly the queen (and Lauren Graham the master) of machine-gun chatter and snide offhand remarks, just about everyone in the Gilmore Girls universe gets to play around with it. Take, for example, when Rory ran out of Luke's Diner, leaving her boyfriend Dean behind:
Luke (noting Rory's exit): Fast runner.
Dean: It's the coffee.
Luke: Not your face? Sorry, I just missed my youth for a second.
What's with all the pop-culture references?
Lorelai: You lost me at carrots, which by the way was the first draft of "you had me at hello."
As I said, Gilmore Girls is a show about a single mother and her daughter struggling through relationships, jobs, school, and life in a small town. No, wait: Gilmore Girls is like if Norman Rockwell and Dorothy Parker decided to write a mash-up of The Andy Griffith Show and Rhoda. We'll get to the music later, but the show's movie references could fill their own book alone, as could TV references, true-crime references, literary references, and so on. In fact, if you remove the pop-culture references, it would become a show about a lot of mute, pretty people whom Mrs. Kim (Emily Kuroda) occasionally disapproves of. Some of Emily Gilmore's jibes might get through too, which, in thinking about it, is still a show I'd absolutely also watch.
If most American TV shows are performed in English, the language of Gilmore Girls is pop culture. Every quick bit of dialogue is coded. This is one of the fundamental reasons for our obsession, and the show's success: understanding a reference pulls us in, like when you hang out with old friends and finally get to talk to someone else who knows why that one day with the microscope by the window in 11th grade chemistry is still hilarious. Their references invite us in to Stars Hollow and make us, by virtue of getting what Lorelai's name-checking, her friends.
What are their relationships like?
Lorelai: Does he have a motorcycle? If you're gonna throw your life away, he'd better have a motorcycle!
It'd be easy to want to pigeonhole Gilmore Girls as some sort of romantic comedy drawn out over seven seasons, and the most hardcore fans have strong team feelings about which love interest was right for Rory. There was Dean (Jared Padalecki), her first high-school boyfriend, who at least early on embodies the tall, kind, protective, all-American boy we're told we're supposed to want to date; Jess (Milo Ventimiglia), her second high-school boyfriend and a cliché bad boy with a literary obsession to match Rory's; and her rich, smirking, twinkle-eyed college boyfriend Logan (Matt Czuchry). Personally, I'm Team Paris, because in my opinion, Rory's relationship with her uptight rival (Liza Weil) who starts off as a tormentor and turns into her roommate/BFF is the one I'm rooting for the most.
Really, the love stuff, while fun and engaging, is secondary to the relationships between the Girls themselves. We watch Emily and Lorelai struggle to relate to each other over the years; and Rory and Lorelai's love for each other knows no bounds, as exemplified by an emotional reunion scene where they run from opposite sides of the screen to embrace like partners in a sappy romance movie climax.
What about the rest of the people of Stars Hollow?
Lorelai: But he's our Boo Radley, and we don't have a Boo Radley, unless you count the troubadour or Pete the pizza guy or the guy who talks to mailboxes.
Sure, we watch the show to follow the lives of Lorelai, Rory, and Emily, but Gilmore Girls wouldn't bring us nearly as much joy if it weren't for the endless cast of quirky side characters. Sookie (Melissa McCarthy), Lane (Keiko Agena), and, as the show goes on, Paris, all have their own character arcs that pull us in as much as a Gilmore story, but there are some episodes worth watching just for the town's colorful cast of characters. There's Michel, the dismissive Frenchman who works with Lorelai; bubbly, crazed gossip Babette; former Broadway babe Miss Patty; uptight, controlling town selectman Taylor Doose; and humorless oddjob oddball Kirk.
Gilmore Girls wouldn't bring us nearly as much joy if it weren't for the endless cast of quirky side characters.
The side characters add weirdness and fun to a show where, oftentimes, nothing significant happens. Sure, there are dramatic major life events, but there are also plenty of episodes where, say, the town holds a dance-a-thon and the majority of the hour is spent … watching the town dance. The extra characters are the mayo to our turkey sandwich and keep us from ever finding it too dry. Not to mention, despite the fact that we love our Gilmore Girls, like any other friend or family member, there are some episodes (arguably some seasons, even) where Lorelai and Rory are downright irritating. Thankfully, in those instances, the pleasure of watching severe, unwavering Mrs. Kim will keep you going until you can forgive your best friend Rory for being such a brat.
How's the music?
Grant Lee Phillips plays Stars Hollow's town troubadour. Carole King, who sings the show's theme song "Where You Lead" with her daughter Louise Goffin, is the crotchety music-store owner. Sebastian Bach is a grown-up who happens to play guitar in some teenagers' band. Sonic Youth is... well, they're around, too, for some reason, at least in one episode.
Gilmore Girls elevates the use of a score to something special, placing the perfect song at the perfect moment not to act as sole way to communicate the emotion of the scene but to enrich it. And the music they choose is eclectic and cool: from Bowie to XTC, Dolly Parton to Björk, watching the show is akin to listening to some great college radio station -- and yes, it especially appeals to those of us old enough to remember the idea of great college radio. Sherman-Palladino believes fully in finding the right song for the right moment, not just something that melodically works. If you listen closely you'll often walk away learning a new artist (yes, everyone who got a mix CD from me in 2007, this is where my love of the band Slumber Party came from).
The importance of music in this show is probably best communicated by Lane, who hides albums under her bedroom floorboards to keep her overbearing religious mother from finding them. In an episode where Lane tries to place an ad for bandmates, she neatly sums of the musical interests of the show when she can't narrow down her list of influences:
Rory: Let's see, "Drummer with strong beat seeks band into the Accelerators, the Adolescents, the Adverts, Agent Orange, the Angelic Upstarts, the Agnostic Front, Ash..." You went alphabetically.
Lane: I can't make cuts.
Rory: It's three pages, single spaced -- make cuts.
Lane: But this is the cut-down version. I mean, just from the letter A, I excluded AC/DC, the Animals, and A-Ha, footnoted as a guilty pleasure.
Will it allow me to escape from the real world?
Work sucks. Dating sucks. Paying bills sucks. At the end of the day, some people want to disappear into dystopian horror, which I guess makes the real world seem gentler, but some of us just want to see something nice. And at its core, Gilmore Girls is nice. Stars Hollow is an impossibly quaint, quirky place where neighbors help water each other's lawns, hold fall festivals, and even join together in loving mockery of one another. The town is like a macrocosm of what we all want a loving family to be.
The wish fulfillment doesn't end there. Lorelai and Rory have the sort of mother-daughter relationship that most mothers and daughters imagine they'll have but never really do. And the girls each have the sort of best friend who doesn't mind if you show up unannounced to bitch about your life. Who doesn't want a talented chef best friend like Sookie, who's always making something delicious? Who doesn't want a brilliant musical friend like Lane, who can make sure you know all the best bands?
Lorelai and Rory have the sort of mother-daughter relationship that most mothers and daughters imagine they'll have but never really do.
Perhaps the biggest wish-fulfillment element in the show is the existence of Luke's Diner. It's owner, the curmudgeonly attractive backwards-baseball-hat-wearing guy (Scott Patterson) of the same name, always has a table available for the Gilmore Girls. While he might grumble about their food choices, if the Gilmores want a cheeseburger in the middle of the night, Luke's magically opens for them. Which reminds me: there's no better wish fulfillment than two impossibly thin girls eating whatever takeout junk food they want and never once having to worry about a dress fitting.
Why is Netflix making a revival?
All shows must come to an end, and when they do, diehard fans wish and hope and beg for more from the characters they came to love and care about. With Gilmore Girls fans, the ache was a little bit more poignant. For better or worse, creator Amy Sherman-Palladino was fully in control of Gilmore's tone throughout the first six seasons, but after contract disputes with the WB, Amy and her husband/executive producer Daniel Palladino left the show, leaving the seventh and final season adrift. Season 7's writers did the best they could, but it's hard not to feel out of place: lines stop feeling as natural as they had before, and generally speaking, the whole thing was a bit of a letdown.
To add insult to injury, Sherman-Palladino had said she'd planned the final four words of the show for years, and there was a comfort in knowing that the creator had a vision for the end of the journey she was leading us on. Sadly, it was a vision we never got to see.
Until now. The Palladinos are running this revival, in which each 90-minute episode represents one season of a full year in the later life of the Gilmore Girls. So fans are bingeing the previous seasons (yes, even Season 7) and speculating what those final four words will be. Personally, I was hoping there'd be five, so it could end with my favorite line, "Oy with the poodles already!" But if we can fudge the word count slightly, a more appropriate closer would be Lorelai's line to a bewildered Luke in Season 6 after he's just had dinner with and been emotionally manipulated by her parents: "You've been Gilmored."
No matter what the final four words of the revival are, if they're anything like the billions upon billions that preceded them, we'll be listening, laughing, and crying along with our Girls -- the ones onscreen, of course, as well as the real-world mothers, daughters, and girlfriends who sat by our side through all seven seasons.
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