Illustration by Ipsita Sarkar
Gilmore Girls is not so much of a guilty pleasure, as a comfort watch. That’s an important qualification. As a self-confessed connoisseur of bad noughties teen television – One Tree Hill, Dawson’s Creek, Friday Night Lights, I’ve seen them all – I know what I’m talking about.
Without the cattiness of Gossip Girl, without the sheer implausibility of more recent shows like Pretty Little Liars and (worst of all) Riverdale, there’s something special about Gilmore Girls. This cult favourite explores the lives of its eponymous characters: Lorelai Gilmore, her daughter Lorelai “Rory” Gilmore, and, to a lesser extent, her mother Emily Gilmore. Played by Lauren Graham (Parenthood), Alexis Bledel (The Handmaid’s Tale; The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants) and Kelly Bishop (Dirty Dancing), respectively, the chemistry of these three women is phenomenal.
After becoming pregnant at 16 and running away from her wealthy, overbearing parents, Lorelai makes a new life for herself and Rory in a quiet, eccentric town. One of the consequences of becoming a mother so young is that Lorelai and Rory are close friends, as well as mother and daughter. This is an interesting dynamic, not to mention one which offers great scope for nuance and comedic effect. Grounded in a sense of community, the story aptly begins in Luke’s diner, a place of fundamental importance for the entire series. It is here in the opening minutes of the episode that the duo are both hit on by a passing traveller, whose moment of realisation is punctuated by Rory’s deadpan “Are you my new daddy?”
Charting seven seasons and a 2016 Netflix revival (‘A Year in the Life’), part of why it’s such a joy to watch Gilmore Girls is the fact that you can really age with the characters. In season one, Rory is just turning 16 and in season seven, she is graduating college. The in-between moments are highly relatable too (for me at least). Rory is a voracious reader, with a book always to hand. If you’re interested, there are a good few Buzzfeed quizzes out there, where you can compare how your own reading habits stack up. Rory is very academic; the show is launched by Rory’s admission into Chilton, a prestigious private school, but one whose hefty fees require support from Lorelai’s parents. In return for supporting Rory’s education, Emily extracts weekly Friday night dinners with her daughter and granddaughter, much to Lorelai’s unhappiness. In the early seasons, one of the key plots is whether or not Rory will end up at Harvard, where she desperately wants to pursue Journalism. Although she (spoiler alert) eventually ends up at Yale, Rory’s struggles in an elite university, – such as imposter syndrome, finding the work difficult, the interesting dynamics of student journalism, and obnoxious secret societies to name a few…, – can’t help but resonate with students at Oxford.
In the recent reboot, we see Rory adrift in her thirties. Whereas the early seasons play off Rory’s conscientiousness and type-A tendencies opposite Lorelai’s charming and funny, but messy role, later on this dynamic is inverted. This produces brutally realistic family conflicts, ones which offer reassurance that all families are dysfunctional to some degree or another.
The first time I watched Gilmore Girls start-to-finish, I was pretty critical of Rory’s presentation in the later seasons for seemingly acting out-of-character; one particular moment of controversy was her dropping out of college. But after re-watching it recently, as I go into my final year unsure and indecisive about what I want to do after graduation, I felt more compassionate. Even the revival episodes have grown on me. This is not to say that Gilmore Girls is the perfect show – what series is? I have to admit that the clunky introduction of you-know-who’s long-lost love child still baffles me. But on the whole, I can’t really complain.
Gilmore Girls is inherently comforting. This is in great part due to the whole entourage of quirky characters supporting the female leads. Worthy mentions include Edward Herrmann for his gruff but loveable depiction of Richard Gilmore; Melissa McCarthy (yes! Melissa McCarthy!) as Suki, the best friend we wish we all had; Liza Weil for her absolutely iconic role as Paris Gellar, Rory’s enemy-turned-friend (Blair and Serena have nothing on these two); and, finally, Scott Paterson for his role as Luke. His will-they-won’t-they romance with Lorelai anchors the show and overshadows Rory’s interesting but less compelling saga of romances with vanilla Dean (Jared Padalecki), rebel Jess (Milo Ventimiglia), and posh boy Logan (Matt Czuchry).
Furthermore, the small-town magic of the fictional Stars Hollow, with its independent shops and central town square – which plays host to a whole range of expected and unexpected festivals – create the most idyllic backdrop for a feel-good show. In short, Gilmore Girls has got it all: strong independent leading women; snappy dialogue and hilarious pop-culture references; and a whole lot of heart. Some say that Gilmore Girls is a guilty pleasure; I disagree.