Gilmore Girls Goodbye

First The O.C., now The Gilmore Girls. I have to stop watching TV, because it appears that every show I love gets killed. Don’t try to sell me that Veronica Mars trip. I’ve tried. It’s not happening.

I’m told it’s hugely draining to create a weekly hour-long drama. Everyone who works on such a show must grievously sacrifice their personal lives. And granted, Gilmore had a good run — seven years. But come on. We needed this show! Or at least I did. The Gilmore Girls — about a 30-something single mom, Lorelei (Lauren Graham) and her brilliant young daughter, Rory (Alexis Bledel) — was a program I could share with my own mom, who lives 2,000 miles away, and is 37 years older than me. (“Did you see Gilmore last week?” is a common question for me to ask her during our phone chats.)

This was also a show I shared with my landlady, who is only a little older than me. We started watching four years ago when both our dogs were dying (and our personal lives weren’t exactly winning best in show). I think we both felt too smart to be watching Gilmore, and maybe a bit mistrustful of its obvious grab at our demographic. But I guess I gravitated toward it anyway because, frankly, I needed the entertainment. So we watched The Gilmore Girls together, for the first time, at her house. And throughout that first episode, we offered running (snide) commentary about how ridiculous the show was. Real people don’t talk like that was the main critique. I’m so sure.

After it was over, we went out on her front porch to smoke. And as we sat there in the pleasant evening calm, smoking and gabbing, I noticed that something was different. We weren’t just talking — we were bantering. We were talking faster than usual. And we were cracking more jokes, with a much drier delivery than usual. In short, we were talking like The Gilmore Girls.

It was a little embarrassing, but I couldn’t deny it: It was fun. In fact, I actually felt happier talking like The Gilmore Girls. I literally felt my mood lighten.

And so began a weekly ritual. I needed that little, mid-week perk-me-up. No show has ever cheered me up quite so effectively. And the longer I watched it, the more I understood that there was no need for shame. The Gilmore Girls was an exceptionally well-made show, with some of the best acting I’ve ever seen — on a stage, movie screen, or on TV. And as my life changed (and I dare say improved), those are the qualities that made The Gilmore Girls an enduring pleasure. Yes, the show featured a fantastic running role by Sebastian Bach as a bar-band hack, and a gratifying occasional appearance from Carole King (who recorded the show’s theme song with her own daughter). Yes, Gilmore featured many other bands and musicians (Sonic Youth, blah blah) and relatable references (Excedrin PM hangovers, Hello Kitty) — and often referenced my top-favorite bands (White Stripes, Art Brut, Wolfmother — they were inside my head, dude!). But the pop-cultural trivia for which the program was known seemed to fade in importance as the show developed. (And I’m hoping against hope all those name-brand references in recent times — Target, TiVo, MySpace, Jeep, Pussycat Dolls — were not backed by dollar signs. Oh, the insidious compromises one must make to watch TV these days!)

Working late over the past couple years, and often preoccupied with American Idol, I’d usually tape Gilmore to watch later. And that’s partly how I came to understand just how well-crafted the show was. Certain scenes and even individual lines were so right on, I’d find myself hitting the rewind button constantly. I often felt guilty for not writing a thank-you note to the show’s creators, just so they’d know their attention to nuance was not in vain. And I’m talking emotional nuance here: Practical details went out the window on a weekly basis. For starters, as mentioned, nobody talks like that in real life. Lorelei’s dog, Paul Anka, was AWOL half the time. I never saw Lorelei clean her way-too-tidy New England cottage. And how she could eat so much and exercise so little — while wearing such tight jeans — remains a question.

That wasn’t a weakness per se. I’m a girl, after all, and I savored the show’s idealised aspects — the shabby-chic interiors, the soft-focus charm of the buildings and town square, the coffee carts, the shiny hair and cute dresses.

And yet as stylized as the show’s surface was, its guts were real. How I marvelled at the lengthy, Altman-esque takes during one unusually tense dinner scene between Lorelei and her wealthy, 60-something parents (Edward Herman and Kelly Bishop). At the scene’s opening, the old folks are strangely cold. Lorelei prods them, repeatedly, and finally they explode, and we watch a tangle of messy, decades-old, perfectly plausible emotions and frailties spill out onto everyone’s sherbet bowls. And we watch them go back and forth: grandma, grandpa, daughter, granddaughter, grandma again — on and on, for minutes, each character expressing something intense and real and understandable — and actually speaking to each other more harshly than ever before, saying things they’ve never said. But that happens in real life. Sometimes, after years, people will suddenly address each other in a totally different tone.

And that’s what happened. And they worked it out, and we got to see a new side of each character. And at the end of dinner everyone was exhausted and bruised, but also maybe a little happier. And their relationships did change a bit after that.

On most shows, characters have crises, and then afterwards they go back to being exactly the same as they were before. That can be comforting for the viewer, but it’s also kind of distancing. It’s just not real. The converse problem is that sometimes when characters evolve a little too much, a show loses its sense of dramatic conflict, and stops being funny and compelling (I think that happened to M*A*S*H).

Gilmore’s grasp of human brains and hearts was so subtle, it didn’t get boring. And because it wasn’t plot-driven, the writers didn’t have to jump the shark. As in real life, everyday things and events — a school paper, a new dog, a grandfather’s heart attack — were plenty interesting. The main show was what was happening inside and between the characters. And again, as in real life, it was always shifting.

Take Rory’s complicated relationship with her college boyfriend, Logan (Matt Czuchry), a great but privileged kid who’s just learning for the first time how to really love another person. At first he was fun, free-spirited, but obviously deep; then, over the past season or so, he became an internet-startup guy, and started using corporate lingo. He changed. Maybe he became more himself. That’s what happens as people get deeper into their 20s. You’ve seen it happen in real life a million times.

See, The Gilmore Girls didn’t just want us to have complex feelings about it characters (like, say, House). It wanted us to have complex and ever-changing feelings about its characters.

That’s a big risk for a show to take, and it didn’t always pay off. Last year, Lorelei broke up with her great love, Luke (Scott Patterson), and tried — unsuccessfully — to reunite with Rory’s father, Chris (David Sutcliffe). He was a nice, decent guy who bugged the shit out of me. He thought his own jokes were cute. Worse, he was rubbing off on Lorelei. And that happens in real life.

The payoff was that I shifted my attentions to the marvelous supporting cast — and discovered the best actors on the show. My favorite was Melissa McCarthy, the actress who played Lorelei’s best friend. On a show where everyone talks over each other, her ability to listen was pretty stunning. It made every single line reading a thing of beauty, note-perfect. (In fact, I look forward to the DVDs mainly to watch her performances.) And I cheered out loud when the noble Luke finally stood up to the mother of his child (a dreadful bitch). How I enjoyed his growing relationship with his science-geek daughter (also wonderfully played, by young Vanessa Marano) — and how I wished Lorelei could see it!

That happens in real life, too. So often, people need to break up and be alone for a while in order to become good enough for each other.

The series finale was nice, mainly because Luke and Lorelei got back together. (And were their names a joke on General Hospital’s “Luke & Laura” the whole time?) But I didn’t really cry or anything. I guess that’s because the characters seemed happy. And it occurs to me now, in light of Grey’s Anatomy, Ugly Betty, and other girly shows of the moment, the characters on Gilmore Girls were always happy. They had tragedies and disappointments in their lives, but they were basically happy people.

And though we rarely see it reflected on TV shows, and never on the news, that’s a part of real life, too.

Kate Sullivan previously wrote about the cancellation of her favorite shows in “Oh My. Oh No. O.C.!”

The Gilmore Girls - last scene


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