As we continue our “Girls, Girls, Girls” series, we turn to a much-beloved show about two women and their life in a picture-perfect New England town: Gilmore Girls.
Like Designing Women, this show was on the air for seven years debuting in 2000 on the WB; it produced 154 episodes which are often shown in syndication.
When the series begins, Lorelai (Lauren Graham), age 32, lives with her intellectual teenage daughter Rory (Alexis Bledel) in Stars Hollow, Connecticut. Lorelai has a difficult relationship with her parents Richard and Emily (Edward Herrman and Kelly Bishop) who enjoy a high-society type of life. One of the running gags on the show is that most of the times Rory and Lorelai visit Richard and Emily, they have a new maid. The series can be summarized as a mother and daughter going through both joy and heartache who meet a lot of quirky characters along the way.
Created by Amy Sherman-Palladino, the show was filled with fast-paced dialogue and tons of pop culture references; e.g., their dog is named Paul Anka. Sherman-Palladino says after several of her pitches were rejected, she proposed a show where the mother and daughter were more friends and it was accepted. She now had to devise the show. After staying at the Mayflower Inn in Washington Depot, Connecticut, she decided that was the perfect setting for the series. She said she felt the “warmth and small-town camaraderie.” As she put it, she wanted to create a “family show that doesn’t make parents want to stick something sharp in their eyes while they’re watching it and doesn’t talk down to kids.”
Sherman-Palladino chose her writing philosophy to “make the small big, make the big small.” She said the drama is low-key because “sometimes the average everyday things are more impactful.” As journalist Constance Grady reflected, “On Gilmore Girls, the explosion is never what matters: It’s the fallout.” The show had a small writing staff that changed throughout the series. Amy and her husband Daniel wrote many of the scripts.
As we learn the backstory of the main characters, we realize Lorelai became pregnant at 16. Rory’s father, Christopher, is still a friend and in the picture. Lorelai could not adjust to the wealthy lifestyle of her parents and moved to Stars Hollow a year after Rory’s birth. She worked as a maid at a local inn, eventually becoming the executive manager.
Lorelai loves being independent, but she loves her daughter more so she is forced to ask her parents if they would provide tuition for Rory for a private school. They agree, with the condition that the two women join them for dinner every Friday night. Sherman-Palladino summed up this conflict: “I think the theme was always family and connection. I always felt like the underlying thing about Gilmore was that, if you happened to be born into a family that doesn’t really understand you, go out and make your own. That’s what Lorelai did. She went out and she made her own family. The ironic twist in her life is that then this daughter that she created this half family for, likes the family that she left. It was a cycle of crazy family.”
The show also follows the path they took to attain their dreams: Rory to attend an Ivy League college and become a journalist and Lorelai to open an inn with her best friend Sookie (Melissa McCarthy). At the end of season three, Rory decides to attend Yale, and Sookie and Lorelai are able to buy the Dragonfly Inn after a fire. (If you look closely, you’ll notice the exterior of the Dragonfly is the home of the Waltons.)
Of course, romance also has a big part in the series. Rory has three very different boyfriends during the course of the show: likable new kid Dean Forrester (Jared Padalecki), somewhat bad boy Jess Mariano (Milo Ventimiglia), and wealthy playboy Logan Huntzberger (Matt Czuchry). In real life, Bledel and Ventimiglia had a three-and-a-half-year relationship. While Lorelai dated other people on the show, her primary relationships are her unresolved feelings for Christopher and her love affair with Luke Danes (Scott Patterson), who owns the local diner.
Patterson was originally hired to be in the pilot only, but there was so much chemistry between him and Lorelai that he became a regular. Ironically, his nephew (bad boy Jess) was also only scheduled for a couple appearances, but he also became a regular for a couple of years.
Luke’s Diner is a key setting on the show. Characters often stop in there for coffee. Rory and Lorelai are there for many major discussions. Ironically, Bledel hated coffee but since Rory “loved” it, Bledel put Coca-Cola in her coffee mug.
The pilot was shot in Unionville outside Toronto while the rest of the series was filmed in Burbank, California, far away from New England. Because there was so much dialogue in the scripts, it took eight days to shoot one episode and days were often 14-20 hours long. The actors commented on the complicated filming often. Czuchry said “The pace of the dialogue was what made that show incredibly unique, and also incredibly difficult as an actor. To be able to maintain that speed, tone, and at the same time, try to make layered choices was a great experience to have early in my career. It really challenged me.” Graham commented a few years ago that “never before or since have I done as many takes of anything. . . that show—as fun and breezy and light as it is—is technically really challenging.”
Many actors got their start on the show, and many famous actors made guest appearances. This was Bledel’s first acting job. Sherman-Palladino mentioned her shyness and innocence which were essential for the character of Rory. Liza Weil tested for the role of Rory; she didn’t get the part but she was offered the role of Paris Geller, Rory’s classmate.
Lauren Graham was asked to audition, but she was committed to an NBC show. When that show was cancelled, she was able to accept the role on Gilmore Girls. Herrman was always in mind for Lorelai’s father Richard. Bishop received an offer immediately following her audition for the mother. Alex Borstein was cast as Sookie in the pilot, but was replaced by McCarthy when she could not get out of her Mad TV contract.
Some of the famous cameos include Carole King who appeared as a music shop proprietor in season 6;
Christiane Amanpour, Rory’s idol who she met at the Dragonfly Inn; Jane Lynch as a nurse when Richard has a heart attack; Madeleine Albright; Norman Mailer who was the first person to learn Sookie was pregnant,
Jon Hamm, pre-Mad Men days; and Seth MacFarlane, Family Guy creator, appeared as a boyfriend of a classmate at graduation; Sherman-Palladino’s husband Daniel was a producer on Family Guy.
With a show like Gilmore Girls and all its allusions to pop culture, literature, and movies, the music was an important part of the show. Sam Phillips composed the music score for the entire run of the series. Phillips relied primarily on acoustic guitar and voice for his composition with an occasional piano, violin, or drums. The theme song is Carole King’s “Where You Lead.” King recorded a version with her daughter Louise Goffin just for this show. Many musical groups were featured performing on the show including The Bangles, Sonic Youth, the Sparks, and The Shins. In 2002, a CD soundtrack for the show was released as “Our Little Corner of the World: Music from Gilmore Girls.”
Critics adored the show. John Carman, writing for the San Francisco Chronicle, declared “It’s cross-generational, warm-the-cockles viewing, and it’s a terrific show.” The New York Times called it “a witty, charming show” that “is redefining family in a realistic, entertaining way for today’s audience, all the while avoiding the sappiness that makes sophisticated viewers run from anything labeled a ‘family show.’” The Hollywood Reporter’s Ray Richmond said “it was a genuine gem in the making, a family-friendly hour unburdened by trite cliché or precocious pablum.” The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Jonathan Storm described it as “a touching, funny lively show that really does appeal to all ages” and David Zurawik of the Baltimore Sun said “Gilmore Girls is one of the most pleasant surprises of the new season.”
For a small network, the ratings were good, and the show became one of the mainstays of the new network. It debuted on Thursday nights up against Friends on NBC and Survivor on CBS.
For season two, the show was moved to Tuesday nights. It became the third-highest rated show on WB. The critics continued to praise the show. Hal Boedeker of the Orlando Sentinel said it “was one of television’s great, unsung pleasures . . . Amy Sherman-Palladino writes clever dialogue and ingratiating comedy, but she also knows hot to do bittersweet drama.” The Washington Post’s Emily Yahr said the second season was “pretty much a perfect season of television.”
Seasons 4-7 pitted the Gilmores against the US’s top-rated show of the time, American Idol. Although there was a decline in viewership, season five finished with Gilmore Girls the second-most-watched prime time show on WB.
For the final two seasons, most critics jumped ship. Maureen Ryan of the Chicago Tribune, said it was “uneven at best” because “the protracted fight between Lorelai and Rory Gilmore left the writers scrambling to cram the show with filler plots that stretched many fans’ patience to the limit.”
There was already speculation that the seventh season would be the last one because both Graham and Bledel had contracts ending. To make matters worse, in 2006 the WB merged with UPN to form a new network, The CW. Gilmore Girls was put on the new schedule but the new network could not come to an agreement with Amy Sherman-Palladino so she was leaving the show. After having Amy as a controlling voice in all the scripts, ensuring consistency in the writing, this was a death knoll for the show. A finale was planned that could serve as an ending for the show or a new beginning for an eighth season. CW considered bringing the show back for a shorter 13-episode season but nixed the idea. Part of the issue for the two main actresses was the amount of time each episode required to film.
It was not the end of the story for Lorelai and Rory though. Nine years later, Netflix had a miniseries. Spoiler Alert Coming: Rory was well into her journalism career. While she had a boyfriend, she was having an affair with Logan who was engaged to another woman. Lorelai and Luke live together but still have arguments often. Richard had died of a heart attack. Emily and Lorelai try joint therapy to heal their relationship. Lorelai decides to take a trip to clear her mind and reflect on her life. She comes back, tells her mother a moving story about her father; her mother sells the house and moves to Nantucket to work for a museum. Lorelai proposes to Luke and they marry. Bad-boy Jess, still around, encourages Rory to write a memoir called, what else, Gilmore Girls. In an ending with a twist, Rory reveals that she is pregnant without sharing who the father is.
I must admit I did not watch the show when it originally aired, despite my niece Joylyn telling me how wonderful the show was. When I did begin to catch episodes in syndication, I also fell in love with the writing and characters. Part of the reason fans related to the show was because they were able to watch both Rory and Lorelai grow up and mature. The show has been in syndication since 2004 and has continued to find new generations of fans. Gilmore Girls is the perfect show to binge watch during a winter snowstorm, so buy the DVDs and keep some popcorn and hot chocolate on hand for the first blizzard of the season.