Cleverness is not a term that you often hear
used for television series. You find shows that are quirky, or
intelligent, or strive for importance. It's sadly rare that you run
across a show that is truly whip-smart. Gilmore Girls is one of
those special shows. It is a jive-talking, fast-thinking,
name-dropping, gut-busting good time. Gilmore Girls has an
encyclopedic knowledge of popular culture and yet it also has interesting
storylines and close to perfect writing. The show luxuriates in the
beauty, wonder and humor of words, like this description of a cup of coffee: "This is not
coffee. This is a mocha-chocolate-caramel swirlaccino with extra
whipped cream. If it was physically possible to make love to a hot
beverage, this would be the one."
Shows that strive for this
delicate balancing act almost never last long. The closest
approximation of a hit along these lines in recent years was Ed with Tom Cavanaugh
which stumbled through three low-rated seasons on NBC solely because of a
reputation for quality. Gilmore Girls is still going strong
with respectable Nielsens in its sixth season (though, granted, it is graded
on the curve of being on the WB network, which is desperate for anything to
point at as a hit of any sort.). And as good as Ed was,
Gilmore Girls is way better.
Now I have to admit right
off the bat that before receiving this DVD box set that I had only seen
maybe one or two episodes of this long-running series. I had thought
they were good, but never was moved to seek it out on a regular basis.
Now, after absorbing the 22 episodes of the fifth season, the show is a drug
in my veins. I need to see what I've missed.
is, at its core, simply the story of a mother and
Graham) and Rory (Alexis Bledel) Gilmore have a
surprisingly close, casual and jokey relationship. They almost seem
more like girlfriends than relatives. "You're my only
daughter. That I know of...," Lorelai cracks, but it isn't
mean-spirited. There is deep love here.
Interestingly, they are also
very different personalities. Lorelai is a free-spirit, brave and
adventurous. Rory is much more uptight, shy and introverted.
Although she is a student at Yale, she is not a typical college student.
When a boy asks why he hasn't seen her recently, Rory haltingly says, "I'm around..."
When he asks where, she admits, "Class. The
coffee cart. The student store when I run out of thumbtacks."
When Rory is asked to show a sixteen-year old
prep school student the campus, she gives the girl a tour of the important
libraries, statues and benches of New Haven. When college boys ask
them to come to a party, Rory responds, "Our schedule is completely full at
the moment. But, if that changes, if things lighten up, or she
suddenly ages two years in the next three hours then we'll know where to
find you, okay?" Still, she is shocked when the girl disappears and
ends up being arrested while drunk at the party.
Rory is sweet and just a
little bit innocent, however she can have a temper when pushed. As Lorelai's
boyfriend says without a speck of irony, "You have a daughter who looks like
she belongs on the top of a Christmas tree."
Season five opens with Rory in what is obviously a very different place in her life -- being
a bad girl. She lost her virginity in the final episode
of the fourth season to a married old boyfriend (Jared Padelecki of
Supernatural). The new season opens the morning after, when the
enormity of what they have done starts to come to roost. At first,
Rory tries to cling to the romance and the afterglow of the situation.
She wants to choose a song to celebrate their relationship. "Something
romantic, but not mushy. Something that will make us remember this,"
Rory says. She ends up suggesting Sammy Davis, Jr.'s "The Candy Man"
as their anthem to her dumbfounded beau. "It's perfect," Rory
explains. "It's happy. It's hopeful. It's got the word
'candy' in it. Hey, what is more hot than candy?"
By the end of the season,
trials and tribulations lead Rory to another boyfriend, a spoiled rich kid
named Logan (Matt Czuchry). The relationship and Rory's life take a
turn for the worse though, leading her to drop out of school and lash out by
committing a felony. "The penal system is not something we enjoy,"
Lorelei says when she comes to bail her out. "It's something
with a name that makes us giggle."
While Rory's life is in
turmoil, Lorelai's life is suddenly in synch. She has opened a
charming bed and breakfast called The Dragonfly Inn which is becoming a
popular vacation destination. Her best friend (Melissa McCarthy) is
about to have a baby. Lorelai has finally given in to a long-simmering
passion and is in love with Luke (Scott Patterson), the owner of the local
diner. Luke is the perfect man for Lorelai, because he
is strong, soft-spoken, caring, supportive -- and he can cook.
Lorelai's kitchen skills are not nearly as profound. "I'm not good with big
spoons unless there is ice cream at the end of them," she explains.
However, Lorelai finds
herself in an odd place -- she is used to being the one with drama in her
life, not her daughter. For as close and loving they are, Rory is
actually much more like her Grandfather, played by eternal "special guest
star" Edward Herrmann. The two are traditional, a tiny bit uptight and
a bit anal. Lorelai sees this similarity and slightly envies it,
though she does not like to let on that she feels this way. "There are not many
ways I can outdo my father," Lorelai complains when Mr. Gilmore gets the
skinny on Rory before her. "Info on you, and looking better in
chiffon, that's about it. Oh, and my pole dance is way hotter."
However, if Lorelai feels a
tinge of envy when it comes to her father, she is in the middle of an all
out war with her own mother. Emily Gilmore (Kelly Bishop) is
manipulative and casually cruel, giving Lorelai backwards compliments like,
"Isn't she hilarious? I never have any idea what she's talking about,
but she's so entertaining. Like a chimp."
As often happens in these
shows, the small town in populated by lovable eccentrics played by veteran
actors like Sally Struthers and Liz Torres. Rory's best friend Lane
(Keiko Agena) has started a rock band (which includes former Skid Row leader
Sebastian Bach on guitar) and Lane has fallen for her lead singer.
"It's like having a perfect haircut every day," Lane tells Rory about the
relationship. The town has a power-hungry assemblyman and an odd but
lovable loser named Kirk who is like the town mascot. ("I had an
imaginary girlfriend for a while when I was young, but she left me," is just
a little part of Kirk's good natured tale of woe.) And Carole King
(who also provides the theme song -- an update of her Tapestry
classic "Where You Lead" done as a duet with her daughter Louise Goffin)
owns the town music store.
You have to respect a show that is hip and
quirky enough to make two (count 'em) subtle references to the GoGos' 1981
debut album Beauty and the Beat in the first two episodes of the
season. The series is intellectual enough that when they invite a
celebrity guest to portray himself they choose aging literary lion Norman
Mailer -- and savvy enough to get him to play the part as a pompous, cheap
blowhard who almost everyone finds to be an annoyance. They can make
references about everything from Pippi Longstocking to Aleksandr Pushkin. It takes a
brilliantly warped world view to make a pun cross-referencing the Gutenberg
bible with actor Steve Guttenberg of Police Academy fame.
You also have to like the fact that the writing respects the
audience enough to believe they will grasp the reference when they make a throwaway line about the death of Dick Shawn.
The Gilmore Girls assumes that even in you don't know who Shawn was
(a long-time stand-up comic and offbeat character actor probably best
remembered for portraying the musical Hitler in the original version of
The Producers) or have no idea how he died (a massive heart attack in
1987 while performing onstage at the University of California in San Diego
-- the audience assumed his falling forward was part of his shtick). In a world of dumbed-down
entertainment, it's kind of nice that the show takes these chances and
recognizes that not everybody has to get every allusion thrown out there.
Now, if you'll excuse me,
I've got seasons one through four to catch up on.
Jay S. Jacobs