I’m proud that I have possessed the restraint to wait this long before reviewing the entertainment franchise that has influenced, shaped, and delighted me the most:
Gilmore Girls is about single-mother Lorelai Gilmore and her daughter Rory as they both struggle to find their way in the world, in their family, and in their snow globe of a town called Stars Hollow. Though she originally grew up in the wealth and privilege of the Hartford elite, Lorelai got pregnant with Rory at 16 and thus foiled the aspirations her parents had laid out for her. She ran away to Stars Hollow where she could be free to live her life and raise her daughter as she wished, rather than continue to be dictated by the whims of -for the most part- her mother, and the society set that she represented. Once in Stars Hollow, she was able to beg herself into a job as a maid at the local lodge, the aptly named “Independence Inn.”
I want to start by summarizing the Pilot as succinctly as possible, as it is the foundation for the rest of the series. The other episodes that I discuss below-listed in episodic order-are chosen based on how much I have to say about each of them.
The Pilot picks up 16 years after the aforementioned events have unfolded, when Rory herself is soon to be 16. Lorelai has since worked her way up to being manager at the inn, and due to the smaller age gap, her and Rory’s relationship is more akin to best friends (who get hit on by the same creepy guy) than to mother/daughter. When she gets the news that Rory has gotten into Chilton Preparatory School, she raves to her best friend Sookie, the accident-prone chef at the inn: “This is it. She can finally go to Harvard like she’s always wanted and get the education that I never got and get to do all the things that I never got to do and then I can resent her for it and we can finally have a normal mother-daughter relationship.” A lot to unpack there going forward.
However, reality comes crashing down on Lorelai when she receives the bill for Rory’s prestigious education and is forced to go to her estranged parents for the required money. She is given it, but at a price: she and Rory must attend dinner at the elder Gilmores’ house every Friday night until the debt is repaid. It is during the first of these dinners that Rory’s father, Christopher, is brought up for the first time. Richard, Lorelai’s father, is free with his praises of Christopher while in the same breath snubbing Lorelai: “A very smart man your [Rory’s] father. You must take after him.” It fails to occur to him that his misplaced esteem is quite ironic, considering he berates his daughter for getting pregnant at 16 and rearing a child alone, but Chris left his daughter, lives halfway across the country, and apparently doesn’t maintain enough contact with his child for Lorelai and Rory to already know about his recent business success. How much of this attitude is a result of sexism and/or feelings of resentment towards Lorelai is open for interpretation.
Kill Me Now (1.03)
After being set up on a grandfather/granddaughter day by Emily, Lorelai’s mother, so that Rory can learn how to golf for school, Richard and Rory spend it bonding at a golf club.
It’s disheartening to realize that Richard is dismissive of Rory because of what he assumes to be the typical interests of a teenage girl, and only warms up to her when he finds out she likes the same books as him-thus proving her worth and potential as a Lorelai do-over.
The old men in the sauna complaining about their granddaughters (“You’re lucky, my granddaughter looks like she just fell off a potato truck” “My granddaughter would never be caught here, it might get in the way of time spent in the tattoo parlor, or getting something pierced, or doing whatever it is she does while she runs through the streets like a rabid dog”) and Richard smiling with pride over Rory and nodding in agreement is something to ponder over when considering how sexism is involved in his attitude towards Lorelai, as put forth above in discussion of the Pilot.
Deer Hunters (1.04)
Lorelai acts as support to both Rory and Sookie as the former gets her first D on a paper at Chilton and the latter receives a mediocre comment about a dish that has personal significance to her in an otherwise glowing culinary review.
If Lorelai isn’t “a B-52’s girl,” whose shirt is it that she’s wearing? Why was it in her car to begin with?
Lorelai’s giddily whispered, “I really wanted her to go there [Harvard]” to Max immediately after she says “Rory has always wanted to go…ever since she could crawl,” does not instill confidence that the dream truly started with Rory.
With the wise words, “Violent pencil tossing usually signals a need for pie,” Luke’s paternal attitude towards Rory, a trait that will become central to his character in later seasons, is finally introduced. That being said, Luke at this point is reduced to the point most women were in television up until recently-he is solely defined by his relationships to the titular women, rather than the women being defined by their relationships with men.
I’ve always wondered why one of the last scenes, in which Sookie hunts down the critic who reviewed her food to his house, was filmed so his identity was never revealed. Was the actor a real food critic who wished to remain anonymous for the sake of professional integrity?
Cinnamon’s Wake (1.05)
Take note of how serious Luke is that Sookie not be allowed behind the counter of the diner: “You don’t do yoga on the Dalai Lama’s mat and you don’t come behind my counter, period!”
Kiss and Tell (1.07)
Well, it seems the behind the counter rule doesn’t apply to everyone. Almost immediately after giving Taylor- the annoyingly persistent town selectman- a death glare for attempting to do the same, all Luke does when Lorelai goes behind the counter to get muffins for herself and Rory is hand her a utensil to pick up them up with and chastise her, “Don’t use your hands.”
Love and War and Snow (1.08)
The first snow fall of the season progresses the relationships between some of the characters.
Considering Rory was born October 8, 1984, there is little to no chance that it was snowing when she was born, and even less when she took her first steps about 10-11 months later.
First town meeting!
The bond that exists between Lorelai and Lane is always beautiful, but is especially apparent and sparkling in this episode.
Christopher Returns (1.15)
I discuss (rant about) the main subject matter of “That Damn Donna Reed” (1.14) below in my “Worst Episode” section, so I will touch upon the ending of that episode and how it leads to this episode here.
I find it difficult to believe that it is a coincidence that Christopher returns during the same episode in which Lorelai admits to Emily that she may have feelings for Luke. It may never have been shown on-screen, but in my head Emily contacted Chris to get him to inadvertently interfere in the budding relationship before it was too late. They never do explain what purpose Emily has in initially calling him when he, Lorelai, and Rory are sitting in the diner…
It’s made clear over the course of this episode how little Christopher knows his daughter. Besides having never come to Star’s Hollow, he’s also unaware of Rory’s studiousness or of her boyfriend. How often do they even talk?
Dean tells Christopher in this episode that he has an ’86 Suzuki bike, but he had told Lorelai in “Kiss and Tell” (1.07) that he didn’t have a motorcycle.
The manner in which Straub and Francine treat Rory during this episode encapsulates why Rory is the way she is-her overachievement is a way for her to justify her own existence to both herself and others. Without it, she loses her sense of self.
Star-Crossed Lovers and Other Strangers (1.16)
Rory and Dean celebrate their three month anniversary while Emily sets Lorelai up on a blind date at Friday Night Dinner.
The way Dean freaks out when Rory can’t say I love you back is the most disgusting, emotionally abusive/manipulative thing I’ve ever seen on television without the series in which it is occurring treating it as such. In the previous episode, Rory asks Lorelai why she and Christopher aren’t together if they love each other, and the gist of what Lorelai replies is that love isn’t always enough. Rory is understandably confused about what love is in the aftermath of her father breezing through town, as any teenage girl would be. “You don’t get pregnant saying I love you?” Go take the car you’re building and drive off a cliff, Dean.
The highlight of this episode is when Lorelai is trying to escape from her blind date out her old bedroom window and Richard catches her, but covers for her against Emily. Whenever Lorelai calls Richard “Daddy,” I melt every time.
P.S. I Lo… (1.20)
Lorelai learns the true reason why Rory and Dean broke up.
Lorelai is the only person in Luke’s life who can ever get him to change, to step out of his comfort zone. Rachel witnessing that first hand when she walks in on Luke trying on new clothes is what leads to her breaking up with him in the next episode.
While the lesson Lorelai tries to impart on Rory, that one shouldn’t be afraid to say “I love you,” is important, by the end of her speech it feels like saying those three little words is more about jumping a personal hurdle towards overcoming the natural fear of commitment than necessarily feeling the emotion behind them.
Best Character of the Season: Lorelai Gilmore
Lorelai is the one who holds this series together, and its plain to see how/why in this first season. She is both a responsible, loving mother and an immature, juvenile daughter. Not only is it rare to see both facets in one character on television, even more so back in 2000, it is reassuring to be shown proof that to “grow up” doesn’t have to mean losing fun. Lorelai serves as a reminder that you can still mock bad movies and eat junk food, after you come home from making your willful harpist play classical music and threatening your snooty French concierge with unemployment. It’s criminal that Lauren Graham, the actress who brought Lorelai to life for seven plus years, has not earned an Emmy for the emotional range she presents in the episode “Rory’s Dance” alone. Which leads us to…
Best Episode(s): “Rory’s Dance” and “Love, Daisies, and Troubadours”
Though the Pilot does an exemplary job of setting up the emotional complexity and enduring points of contention within the Gilmore family, it is “Rory’s Dance” that reveals the lingering scars, deep and raw. After a surprisingly pleasant night of bonding and reminiscing, Lorelai and Emily viciously have it out when they are faced with the possibility of both of their worst fears coming true-Rory following in her mother’s footsteps and becoming pregnant. It will always be one step forward, two steps back in the Gilmore family, and this episode is the viewer’s first taste of that.
“Love, Daisies, and Troubadours,” meanwhile, is one of the series’ iconic episodes for a reason. Ironically more so than that of her teenage daughter’s, Lorelai’s arc is about reaching maturity while still maintaining a sense of self. Her even considering accepting a marriage proposal-one that involves a thousand yellow daisies!-while being excited to share that joy with Rory, rather than attempting to shield her from the possibility of heartbreak as she has in the past, is a big step in that arc (regardless of whether or not Max is The One for her.) Yet, in the same episode that shows Lorelai facing such a life-changing decision, Lorelai and Luke being together has never seemed so much like a matter of “when” and not “if.”
(The episode may have also included the reconciliation of Rory and Dean-complete with her declaring her love in a final ditch effort to get him back- but, hey, she did call him an idiot. Small victories.)
Worst Episode: “That Damn Donna Reed”
Few episodes of television, let alone of this show, make me feel as physically uncomfortable to the point of anger as this episode does. The episode starts off well, with Rory and Lorelai mocking the antiquated basis of The Donna Reed Show. True to form, it is when Dean joins them that things start to go downhill. In what should be a breaking point moment for Rory, he doesn’t understand why she and Lorelai would find the titular character’s role in life worthy of scorn. He appreciates the nice, simple family life that is depicted without considering the deeper cultural context. Rory herself says it quite well, “It’s – it’s the having to have the dinner on the table as soon as her husband gets home and having to look perfect to do housework and the whole concept that her one point in life is to serve somebody else.” When Dean replies that his mother cooks dinner for her husband whenever she can, Rory shuts him down succinctly: “She has a choice and Donna Reed didn’t.”
Sounds like a girl who has a good head on her shoulders right? BUT THEN SHE DECIDES THAT SHE’S THE ONE AT FAULT HERE, DRESSES UP LIKE DONNA REED, COOKS DINNER, AND ACTS OUT DEAN’S HOUSEWIFE FANTASY.
Ok, I’m cool. I took a deep breath… It may have been seventeen years since this episode aired, six since I first saw it, but to this day I contend that it’s the worst episode of Gilmore Girls ever made for its poor messaging to their teenage girl demographic.
Allow me to also take this opportunity to keep a running tally of Every Time Dean Forrester Was The Worst:
- Borderline stalking her from the Pilot through “Cinnamon’s Wake.”
- Lying to Lorelai about having a motorcycle.
- What shall hence forth be known as “The Donna Reed Incident.”
- Pressuring Rory to say I love you on their three month anniversary.
Best Lines (in chronological order):
“Please, Luke. Please, please, please.”-Lorelai (“Pilot”)
“People are particularly stupid today. I can’t talk to any more of them.” – Michel (“Pilot”)
“Oh, behold, in theaters now, the thing that reads a lot.” – Lorelai to Rory (“The Deer Hunters”)
“I’m attracted to pie. It doesn’t mean I feel the need to date pie.” – Lorelai (“Cinnamon’s Wake”)
“Will you marry me?…Just looking for something to shut you up.” – Luke to Lorelai (“Rory’s Birthday Parties”)
“You and I have bonded already. In fact if we bond any further, we will be permanently fused together.”- Lorelai to Rory (“Concert Interruptus”)
“We could talk about me for years, and believe me, we will.”- Lorelai to Rory (“Star-Crossed Lovers and Other Strangers”)
“Your [Richard’s] mother is God?…So God is a woman…And a relative! That’s so cool. I’m gonna totally ask for favors.”- Lorelai (“The Third Lorelai”)
“Am I more beautiful today than I was yesterday?…But then I thought maybe its not that I’m more beautiful today. Maybe I was just as beautiful yesterday, only I lacked the self-esteem to recognize it.”-Lorelai (“P.S. I Lo…”)
[What’s the opposite of ennui?] “Off-ui. Hey, I’m cured!” – Sookie replying to Lorelai (“Love, Daisies, and Troubadours”)
“No, it [a proposal] has to be planned. It should be magical. There should be music playing and romantic lighting and a subtle buildup to the popping of the big question. There should be a thousand yellow daisies and candles and a horse and I don’t know what the horse is doing there unless you’re riding it, which seems a little over the top, but it should be more than this.” – Lorelai to Max (Love, Daisies, and Troubadours)
Now, rather than rating each individual season, as the series is too close to my heart to differentiate in such a manner, I am going to add each season to the following list as I go through them according to my order of preference. For this review, only season 1 will be on the list, but that doesn’t mean season 1 is actually my favorite season. It can/will be moved further down with each subsequent review that will be posted every day this week. So buckle up because Gilmore Girls isn’t just a show. It’s a lifestyle. It’s a religion.
RANKING OF GILMORE GIRLS SEASONS:
- Season 1