by Josie Kafka
Welcome to Stars Hollow, a tiny Connecticut hamlet. It’s Cheers meets Wonderland, with more wackadoo and less beer. It’s also the home of Lorelai and Rory Gilmore, your two new best friends.
If you’d told me that I would fall in love with a dramedy about a single mother raising a precocious daughter, I probably would have choked on my coffee. That would have been a pity, as a caffeine-fueled death is something that the Gilmore girls would find amusing. In other words, they’re my kind of people: fast-talking, sarcastic when appropriate (all the time is appropriate, right?), addicted to coffee, and—in Rory’s case—addicted to books.
Lorelai Gilmore (Lauren Graham) had Rory (Alexis Bledel) when she was just a teenager. She left home and pulled herself up by her bootstraps. They were probably fashionable bootstraps; she likely made them herself. When the show starts, we see Lorelai and Rory after (most of) the hardship is over: Lorelai is the success manager of a local inn, Rory is a star student about to matriculate to a prestigious and pretentious private school. They are active participants in their bizarre little town community.
This is not, in other words, a story of a fallen woman struggling to redeem herself. It is the story of a successful woman—who followed a different path than her family wanted—raising a successful daughter. It’s a story of confident women negotiating the world with humor, grace, and lots of coffee. And it’s a story about the unbreakable bond between them.
It yanks on all of my heartstrings. Like most women, I have a complicated relationship with my mother. Like Lorelai and Rory, we have a unique, fast-paced rhythm when we speak to each other. Watching Lorelai and Rory struggle makes me sad, watching them interact in happy moments makes me delighted, and watching them be certain of the stability of their own relationship makes me bittersweet.
They don’t exist in a weird co-dependent vacuum, though: as Season One opens, Lorelai realizes she must borrow money from her wealthy, upper-crust parents to pay tuition at Chilton, the necessary stop on Rory’s path to the Ivy Leagues. That brings Lorelai’s parents into the mix: her prickly mother Emily, her stoic father Richard.
And—wait!—that’s still not all. Creator Amy Sherman-Palladino manages to portray the depth of the Gilmores’ lives: Rory’s grandparents, Rory’s school, the town of Stars Hollow, Lorelai’s friends, Rory’s friends, Rory’s boyfriends, Lorelai’s boyfriends—they all play a part, wandering in and out of the spotlight just like real people do in real life.
That makes these episodes, and even entire seasons, difficult to review. Interests and people ebb and flow. Rory struggles with the people at Chilton, then finds her niche. Lorelai struggles with her parents, then they reach a detente (lather, rinse, repeat). They date, they break up, they talk about it over coffee at Luke’s when they're not busy dropping cultural references at a mile-a-minute pace.
For me, some of the standouts of the first two seasons are Rory’s relationship with Lane, which survives Rory switching schools, and Lorelai’s relationship with Sookie (Melissa McCarthy before she became famous). The stability of those relationships helps Rory navigate the difficult waters of Chilton—where she is bullied by the girls and stalked by a very young, very creepy Chad Michael Murray—and helps Lorelai deal with the burden of having her parents back in her life.
I’d be remiss not to mention the boyfriends, of course. (In fact, I have three things to look for when trying to remember what happens from season to season on this show: boyfriends, where Rory is going to school, and where Lorelai is working.)
Dean is the standout. Played by a young, still-growing Jared Padalecki, he is the perfect first boyfriend: considerate, tall, and good with tools. The gradual, almost innocent, way that his relationship with Rory builds is charming more than anything else; its drawn-out conclusion is realistic, which makes it all the more heartbreaking. It’s also an example of the sort of thing this show does well: part of Rory’s distrust of her relationship with Dean—and the appeal of surly emo-boy Jess—is related to her issues with her father, who was a dud in the dad department. But that link is never made too explicit. Sherman-Palladino trusts us to figure it out.
While the first season shows Rory entering the exciting world of dating for the first time, it also shows Lorelai re-entering serious dating after sixteen years of other priorities. Now that Rory is growing up, Lorelai seems to realize she can allow a relationship with a guy to take up a bit more permanent space in her life. The result is Max: a teacher at Rory’s school, he is handsome and intelligent. And he is obviously not the right guy for her.
Because, as the show telegraphs rather incessantly, Luke is. Although I will gradually grow to like Luke (I will talk about this more in the next review), I struggled with his character in the first two seasons. He is so gruff that the grumpiness doesn’t seem charming. It just seems like he’s an asshole. He even makes Christopher, Rory’s dad, look appealing.
The men may represent epic ups and downs in the Gilmores’ lives, but they’re not the focus. This isn’t Sex and the Stars Hollow, with Lorelai and Rory gabbing about shoes and penises over fancy New York lunches. But it is a show that highlights some of the most positive portrayals of female lives I’ve seen on TV: the stability of female friendships, the complications of family life, and the vagaries of romantic relationships.
And the importance of coffee, of course.
Highlights from Seasons 1-2:
• Best Boyfriend: Dean
• Best Relationship: Sookie and Jackson
• Best Stars Hollow Semi-Regular: Sally Struthers
• Worst Moment: It’s a tie between the terrible things Paris does to Rory, and the fact that nobody within the show seems to realize that Tristan is stalking Rory. Shudder. I cannot even put into words how much Tristan creeps me out. I just try to ignore most of the Chilton stuff for the first two seasons, in fact.
• Best Episode: “That Damn Donna Reed” for the feminism and the sexy costume.
Three out of four Stars Hollows.
Josie Kafka reviews The Vampire Diaries, Game of Thrones, and various other things that take her fancy. She is a full-time cat servant and part-time rogue demon hunter. (What's a rogue demon?)