As a fan of shows with strong writing, and by that I mean good witty dialogue, people often keep asking if I’ve watched Gilmore Girls. I hadn’t, but people often cite my liking of Joss Whedon and Aaron Sorkin’s gift of writing quick, witty dialogue as a reason why I’d like this. Completely missing the fact that I’m open to a bit of teen-friendly family drama (loved The OC way back in the day) and this seemed like a dead cert. Time passed. And passed. And passed. And getting in before Armageddon strikes, I got to it!
And boy, it was a bit worth the wait. The dialogue funny bone is tickled rigid here, with Amy Sherman-Palladino possessing the ability to craft a unique flow to dialogue that immediately makes it stand out and recognisable. Full of pop-culture references and wordplay, it may not feel realistic, but it’s entertaining. Damn entertaining. It makes the familiar dramatic beats easier to watch.
And those said dramatic beats follow mother/daughter duo Lorelai (Lauren Graham) and Rory Gilmore (Alexis Bledel), a family who feel much more like friends than a mother and daughter. Lorelai is the slightly unhinged immature (which isn’t a *fair* assumption as you later get into the season) one who had Rory when she was sixteen, and Rory is the level-headed, wise-above-her-years daughter with dreams of Harvard. They live in the tight-knit town of Stars Hollow where Lorelai runs an Inn and managed to survive and build a home for themselves amongst colourfully eccentric characters.
The inciting incident for the show is when Rory gets into a private school, and the tuition is a bit steep – which means that Lorelai has to reach out to her estranged parents, Emily (Kelly Bishop) and Richard (the late Edward Hermann). Now there’s a bit of complex family history here that I won’t delve into, but they’re wealthy socialites blah blah blah rebellious daughter blah blah blah…but there’s an agreement in that Lorelai and Rory have to attend dinner and Emily and Richard’s every Friday as they want to get to know Rory. In return, Richard and Emily pay for Rory’s tuition (that Lorelai is adamant to pay back).
Okay, okay, the above synopsis might sound a little bit on the boring side I’ll grant you, but there’s a throughput of strong character work being churned out – coupled with the sparkly dialogue – that makes what would be very predictable tosh turn into something quite watchable. The tale of the three generations of Gilmore women never feels like a dull Lifetime TV Movie; as they argue about different viewpoints of life (and both of Lorelai and Emily’s admittedly narrow-minded views of each other clash often) there’s always a quickly spun trade of barbs that works quite well.
These do fill quite predictable plot beats, though. So as the season develops, of *course* Lorelai will end up being romantically involved with a teacher of Rory’s (because, you know, conflict), and they’ll break up due to the mother-daughter bond they have. There’s also Luke (Scott Patterson) a cafe owner who keeps trading barbs with Lorelai and the show makes no effort to be subtle in the whole “endgame” love that these two will undoubtedly develop.
There’s also Rory’s first boyfriend Dean, which admittedly was relatively drama free until he drops the “love” bomb and she freaks out. That said, the season does a good job in highlighting that whilst the town of Stars Hollow turns against Dean, he’s not really at fault. There’s also the “predictable” high school rival that Rory develops in Paris Geller (Liza Weil) which turns on its head quite quickly, and probably (after Lorelai – more on her in a minute) is my favourite character.
Now, teen-based drama usually brings out the “high school bitch antagonist” early, and shows do attempt to eventually flesh them out. I can cite Cordelia Chase from Buffy as an example, but they still had quite unacademic goals and were sometimes portrayed as quite shallow. Now Paris is far from unshallow, but the usual blonde queen-bee situation is turned on its head. Paris isn’t the head cheerleader, she’s very academically focused and isn’t dating the “star quarterback” (she does have questionable taste in liking the quite deplorable Tristian). She has a lot in common with Rory, whilst also being a contrast. And as you realise this, and is sometimes shunned by her more “flighty” friends that are more in common with the usual bitchy trope, she becomes more entertaining and interesting. To further confuse and twist this on
She has a lot in common with Rory, whilst also being a contrast. And as you realise this, and is sometimes shunned by her more “flighty” friends that are more in common with the usual bitchy trope, she becomes more entertaining and interesting. To further confuse and twist this on its head, Paris’ friends are actually outwardly nicer to Rory. It’s refreshing to watch. Then you realise this was 14 years ago and try to work out if it’s been done on this level. But throughout this, some of the season highlights have been when Rory has been paired alongside Paris.
But the inevitable MVP of the show is Lauren Graham’s Lorelai. She’s not perfect, she’s impulsive and quite immature and leaps before walking (ie this relationship with Rory’s teacher) – but her heart catapults back in the right place when it needs to be. She can hold her own and manages to get the audience (well, me) on her side. Even as she makes the odd mistake and has to ask for help, she still has the emotional anchor that is wanting to do right by Rory that affects her decisions.
Whilst you have these strong characters, some of the more peripheral supporting characters seem to drift and have little or less to do. Case in point is the baffling reason that Yanic Trusedale is a main cast member when all he does is be there in the background and make snotty comments to Lorelai. Richard and Emily also appear to only show up on occasion and half way through an episode where they should’ve been in it a little more.
And it doesn’t seem to fully grasp the concept of compelling conflict at times. The show does very well to address the closeness of Lorelai and Rory, but sometimes things get too neatly wrapped up. Perhaps that’s the idea, though, as there’s a definite falling out between Rory and Lorelai later in the season which does have an impact because of how rare it is – but it feels too easily wrapped up. It does, however, seem to focus more on the conflict between Emily and Lorelai; in that there’s a definite contrast in Lorelai as a mother and Lorelai as a daughter. Maybe it’s not a fair criticism to give at this stage, but I’m hoping there will be more conflict between Lorelai and Rory. Particularly as Rory starts to grow up and branch out a little more.
But, despite that, it’s still heartening to have a show that can manipulate light melodrama (you can argue it isn’t melodrama) and still make the bits you’d usually skip immensely watchable. Sometimes things don’t seem to click, but it balances this out in other areas. Bring on season two!
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