I resisted Gilmore Girls for years. It was many seasons, they were hour-long episodes, I watched the pilot and wasn’t blown away. But then I ran out of things to watch and so started limping through season one, still not loving it. My friend Ariel encouraged me to keep going and at least make it to the second season so I could start listening to a fan podcast, the Gilmore Guys.
I almost didn’t make it to season two of the show, but then I did, and from there I kept going. Is it a show I love? Nope. My feelings about the Gilmore Girls are complex and kept evolving as I watched it. Here are various thoughts sorted into Red, Yellow, and Green categories.
Emily Gilmore, Lorelai’s mother and Rory’s grandmother, is a person I would move myself far away from, should I encounter her in real life. She’s wealthy and thinks that makes her better than other people, she can’t keep a maid, she treats anyone not of her class like they belong under her shoe, and she constantly is scheming, usually in ways I do not like.
None of this is a reflection on Kelly Bishop, who is absolutely amazing in every scene as Emily Gilmore. She’s incredibly fun to watch, and with the revival season she has the best arc of any of the Gilmore girls. But she was a reason I had trouble getting through the first few seasons. “I think Lorelai is selfish, and I think her mother is a completely horrible person,” I told Matt in one of the many monologues he listened to as I complained about the show. Kevin Porter, one of the Gilmore Guys, adores Kelly Bishop (“Bishop is Queen,” is one of the things he says about her and he’s not wrong). If not for his love of Emily Gilmore, I might not have stuck with the series.
Edward Herman is incredible as Richard, Rory’s grandfather and Lorelai’s father. He knows exactly what to bring to the role, mostly gravitas, but also humor when it is called for. Richard the character gets to spend the entire series as the good guy, but he does shady things I find unforgivable including throwing his business partner under the bus. He also, as many men of his generation did, overlooks the many contributions to the household his wife provides.
Amy Sherman-Palladino is a great observer of the small details of first loves and Dean starts off as a great first boyfriend. That goes south fairly early on when he shows his needy true colors. While the main Dean problem is that he gets pretty dumb once Jess comes on the scene, my biggest problem is that he’s full of all sorts of super controlling red flags, like breaking up with Rory when he tells her he loves her and she doesn’t say it back. And I’m not sure how I would handle the situation if my theoretical daughter’s boyfriend rebuilt a car for her and gave it to her as a present, but I would take it as a warning of not-great things to come. And that’s what we get with Dean.
Jared Padalecki was really young when he was cast—18 when filming began—and his acting chops were, shall we say, still in developing . He and Alexis Bledel had almost no chemistry, which made it that much harder to root for them. One of the things I find too crazy to be true is that Padalecki went from this show to Supernatural and that show just kept on running. He started with Gilmore Girls when he was still in his teens, and was on the air with a series until he was 38. That’s a crazy amount of longevity, and I’m guessing his acting got better as he went along.
By the time we got to Logan, the third of Rory’s three boyfriends, I was sick of Rory’s boyfriends (Jess had been particularly exhausting), and I wasn’t looking forward to meeting another one. When he first appears, Logan has a scene with Rory where I didn’t really catch his name and I thought to myself, “I really hope that blonde boy wasn’t Logan.” Alas, the Gilmore Guys confirmed that he was.
I’m not a fan of the super rich or their offspring, and Logan’s big-spending, reckless ways combined with his masterful gaslighting of Rory made their entire relationship torture, even in Season 7, when the writers were determined to make him as amiable as possible. It got so I wished Jess would come back to exhaust me.
The Not-Poverty of the Stars Hollow Gilmores
The Hartford Gilmores are wealthy, and that’s the premise the show is built on. Emily and Richard Gilmore do all the wealthy people things: go to the club, live in a massive house, employ people and treat them poorly, be overly concerned about everyone else’s wealth status, and vacation in Europe. The Stars Hollow Gilmores are, we’re repeatedly told, very poor. Lorelai left all that wealth behind.
Except they are not poor. They eat out nearly every meal (and yes, they seem not to pay for their food ever at Luke’s Diner, but surely they haven’t charmed all the other restaurant owners in Stars Hollow.) They shop a lot. They have many magazine subscriptions. They live in a big house. My guess is that Sherman-Palladino grew up fairly well off in a community where everyone else had much more money than her, so her idea of poverty is different than actual poverty. At one point, when their fortunes have turned, Rory says, “No more clipping coupons?” and I snorted. They’ve never clipped coupons in their life.
I won’t even get into the number of times they are rescued from their theoretical poverty by various wealthy people around them.
Cool Girl Feminism
In Gone Girl Gillian Flynn has a most excellent takedown of the idea of the “cool girl.” It says, in part:
Being the Cool Girl means I am a hot, brilliant, funny woman who adores football, poker, dirty jokes, and burping, who plays video games, drinks cheap beer…and jams hot dogs and hamburgers into her mouth like she’s hosting the world’s biggest culinary gang bang while somehow maintaining a size 2, because Cool Girls are above all hot. Hot and understanding.
Lorelai Gilmore was invited long before Gillian Flynn wrote that passage, but she could have been thinking of Lorelai when she wrote it. And I think Amy Sherman-Palladino embodies a kind of Cool Girl Feminism. Lorelai and Rory eat whatever they want without gaining weight. They are kind to their female friends, but they don’t have many of them, and they don’t have anything nice to say about women who aren’t their friends. They actively body shame anyone who isn’t as thin as they are. They chart their own course and then have other people heavily subsidize it. Most of their relationships rotate around men.
I could probably do an entire series about Cool Girl feminism. Alas, it would mean rewatching the series.
Rory’s arc is that she starts out kind of cool in a nerdy way and gradually becomes insufferable. I can’t say I blame her. Something has to be sacrificed when a mother and daughter are best friends and it’s usually the daughter. Alexis Bledel is incredibly pretty and she does a great job, especially given this was her first acting gig and had a dialog-heavy script that she was responsible for large chunks of. But boy, I do not enjoy Rory, especially once she goes off to college.
The not-Poor Start Hollow Gilmore Girls party line centers the scrimping, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at Rory’s path. Private high school education. A new car when she graduates high school. Yale, paid for by her grandparents, with the promise of also paying for graduate school. A summer in Europe with her grandmother because she doesn’t want to deal with her mother’s anger over dropping out of Yale. A free place to live (her grandparents’ pool house that her grandmother redecorates for her) when she drops out. Yale, junior and senior year paid for by her father so she doesn’t have to “be under her grandparents’ thumb” anymore. A passing reference to a trust fund established by her grandmother. And through all those things, Rory continues to act as though she is so very different from her classmates.
It’s also interesting that she’s billed as a girl who is more into books than boys, but then most of the show revolves her story around the boys in her life. And my goodness do they stand in line for her. One of my favorite comments from fans of the Gilmore Guys podcasts was “Who is this girl whose greatest pleasure is spending Friday night alone folding laundry, and why do so many guys like her?”
Plus! (I have a lot of thoughts about Rory) She’s one of those characters that we’re told is super smart and amazing and seems, well, normal? She likes to read. Cool. That doesn’t make her smart. She’s good at being good at school. That’s not the same thing as being amazing or even someone who is very good at life, as we find out in the revival. Overall, she seems like a nice, quiet girl who likes to read and is pretty good at planning parties. Nothing to write home about.
She’s not my favorite character, Lorelai. She’s great with the quips, but I found her parenting style (especially in the first three seasons) to be annoying. I think it’s possible for a mom to be best friends with her daughter, but I don’t think it’s advisable and I don’t think it’s great for the daughter. I don’t think it’s possible for daughters to be best friends with their moms, especially when still growing up. The power differential is too much and there’s all sorts of weird enmeshment issues. Go find best friends your own age, Lorelai!
I also think Lorelai isn’t happy unless the spotlight is on her. I think she is selfish and self centered in a way that had me groaning aloud multiple times during the series.
However, is Lauren Graham brilliant at being Lorelai? Yes. Yes she is. She’s very fun to watch and I think Lorelai could have been so much worse without Graham’s skill as an actor.
Man did I hate Jess from the moment he showed up. Full of dumb anger and no where to go with it and why exactly did Rory like him again? Ariel received more than one postcard that gushed, “A Jess-free episode!” When I asked her how she felt about Jess, she told me that because she’d already seen his whole arc, she had trouble putting herself back in the place where she didn’t know how he turned out.
I did enjoy his needling of Luke, though. And now that I’ve gone through the Jess arc, I can remember how much I hated him, but he somehow managed to redeem himself. Maybe partially because Logan was so bad?
Melissa McCarthy is the best, and she’s delightful as Sookie. However, Sookie’s plot arcs aren’t great. With a few exceptions, she exists to (1) listen to Lorelai (2) be surprised every single time she gets pregnant.
Like Richard Gilmore, Christopher is a man who escapes a lot of aggro that should probably come his way. As the father of Rory, he’s not around when she’s growing up. There’s no mention of him paying child support. And yet he waltzes in when Rory is sixteen and all is forgiven. Not to mention that there’s a plot arc later in the season where he tells Lorelai and Rory he does want them to be a family and just as Lorelai comes around to the idea he pulls the rug out from both of them and switches tracks. And yet this also does not follow him.
David Sutcliff is an adequate actor, but really what makes Christopher fun to watch is the A-plus chemistry he has with Lauren Graham. It’s probably that chemistry that makes him so easy to forgive.
I had a hard time getting through the first season. When I slogged into the second season I queued up the podcast with a skeptical eye. Why should I listen to two guys talk about a show that was famously created by a woman and about women? But the Gilmore Guys won me over. It helped that I had a mirror in Demi, the host who had never watched the show. He said he liked it, but it didn’t feel like he was bowled over by it. And Demi’s underwhelm combined with Kevin’s encyclopedic knowledge was a great combo. I was never going to love it anywhere as much as Kevin, but at least I got insight into why it was popular.
Gilmore Guys built a great following, had interesting guests, and gave me something to talk back to after each episode. Did I love that there was seemingly no editing and the episodes eventually dwarfed the 90-minute to 2-hour Filmspotting podcasts I used to complain about? I did not. But I enjoyed their homespun segments (Fa-fa-fa Fa-fa-fa-fa Fa-fa-fa-fa Fashion!) and their amusing asides. They were people I could interact with in real time (usually by shouting at the podcast) even though the episodes were more than six years old.
Writing postcards after every episode
“HE MADE HER A CHUPPA????!!!!???!?!?!?” was on the first postcard I wrote to my friend Ariel. That was the third episode of the second season when Luke passed off an intricately carved chuppa as something he just whipped up for Lorelai’s wedding to a guy who wasn’t Luke. From that point, Ariel got a postcard after every episode that included my reaction to the episode and my agreements and disagreements with the Gilmore Guys as I listened. I’m not sure she could read everything I wrote (oh, my terrible handwriting) but I had fun writing them. The Season 2 finale had so much happening, I had to switch to a letter, but other than that, it was my chicken scrawl on postcard after postcard.
Oh Lane Kim, the great tragic character of Gilmore Girls. She’s so very cool, what with her love of music and her tricky ways of hiding that love from her disapproving mother. She’s much more interesting than Rory. And like most interesting girls in high school, the boys did not flock to her. She had a brief moment of perfect boyfriend in Dave Ragowski, but Adam Brody went off to do the OC and never came back. She also was on a great trajectory as a drummer. But then came lunkhead boyfriend Zack, a very early marriage, a very early pregnancy (that the real Lane Kim probably would have aborted), twins, and stagnating in her small town forever.
Keiko Agena was always cheerily up for anything and I’m sorry she didn’t get a better character.
Luke (though season 5) (then he turns yellow)
As we have established, I’m not much of a fan of Lorelai or Rory and I’m not a fan of Dean, Jess, or Logan. But I am a fan of Luke. Does he overly involve himself in solving problems for other people? Sure. That’s not great. But other than that, he’s the kind of solid guy everyone should have in their lives. Small business owner, hard worker, grumbles a lot, but does so while donating his time and skills for causes.
When Luke and Lorelai finally got together, they had terrible communication and it wasn’t great. Plus, Luke got all weird about introducing his teenage daughter that he never knew about to Lorelai and it messed up their relationship. That was dumb.
But other than the April Nardini wrinkle, I always loved plots that involved Luke. Except for the ones where Emily and Richard Gilmore treated him like crap because he owned a diner.
Before Gilmore Girls, I knew Sean Gunn as a minor character in the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise. After Gilmore Girls, I know him only as Kirk, the guy in the town who had every single job. His odd, deadpan delivery and earnest nature perked up my viewing and distracted me from the many things I didn’t love about the show. I think the Kirk apex is him playing Teyve in a production of Fiddler on the Roof that otherwise starred children (and culminated in a performance of “Do You Love Me” with a tiny Broadway Baby that helped bring Luke and Lorelai back together), but anyone watching Gilmore Girls has their own favorite Kirk moment.
When Luke’s nephew Jess showed up in town, his mother eventually made an appearance. And with her came TJ, her eventual husband. TJ is played by Michael DeLuise, and as someone who Michael’s older brother Peter DeLuise imprinted on early thanks to 21 Jump Street, I was on board for TJ’s New York-accented idiocy. (This is not generally a popular opinion among Gilmore Girls fans)
Around Season 3, I was all in and probably this had to do with the townies. Babette, Morey, Miss Patty, Gypsy, Kirk, Grant, the Troubadour, and even Andrew all brought a lot of fun to the series. EW has even ranked them for your enjoyment.
Daniel episodes are written by Daniel Palladino, Amy Sherman-Palladino’s husband. He’s not great a female characters (his Emily scenes are incredibly shrill), but he does like a weird plot. And I liked his weird plots. My favorite was when the hermit came to protest. The town of troubadours was also quite fun, and includes a Daniel cameo.
Gilmore Girls Promos
Partway through the Gilmore Guys podcast Kevin asked for and received audio of the original WB (and then CW) promos for each episode. And let me tell you, those promo people did not at all care about spoilers. We listened to them during the podcast episodes, after we’d presumably watched the episode in question. But real-time viewers had to contend with them before they had watched the promoted episode. The marketing people resorted to not only spoilers, but all sorts of trickery like cutting a tiny part of an episode and making it look like a big thing, or stealing scenes from future episodes and making them look like they belonged in the upcoming episode. Shame on them! But very hilarious to listen to after the fact.
TWOP sounds vaguely dirty (“Dirty!” as Lorelai would say.) but it stands for Television Without Pity, the most wonderful website for early-in-the-millennium TV commentary. Aside from TV recaps, they had a robust group of smart, witty, and sometimes very angry commenters who liked to give their own takes about each episode. And Gilmore Guys liked to read some of those comments aloud. And some of those real-time comments from back in the day were written by Gilmore Guys host Kevin T. Porter when he was sixteen. Aside from being a fun time capsule, it was interesting to see the clever wordplay and the rage. So much rage.
Singing along to the theme song
Famously, Carol King rerecorded the theme song with her daughter. I say famously, because that was one of the press things when the show originally aired that I remember all these years later. It’s a bit of the song “Where You Lead.” The title credits are terrible, though, and since Netflix gives me the option to skip them, I do. The credits are bad enough that I would probably fast-forward if Netflix didn’t have that handy skip option. But, but, but! The Gilmore Guys end every episode by singing along to the theme song and I’m totally on board for that. Especially the part where Kevin throws in a “choo-choo” when the train is mentioned.
My ranking of seasons (original) and parts (of the revival)
- Season 5
- Season 4
- Season 3
- Season 2
- Season 1
- Season 6
- Season 7