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