My Summer in Stars Hollow

For years—when the show was originally airing and when it was in syndication re-runs—I had friends whoencouraged me to watch Gilmore Girls. These loyal fans assured me I would enjoy it by comparing the snappy dialogue to that of an Aaron Sorkin show, such as West Wing. (I’m a huge fan of his writing.)
But I never did.

But that changed this summer, when we spent a couple of months "binge watching" all seven seasons on Netflix.

For the uninitiated, Gilmore Girls centers on single mother Lorelai Gilmore and her daughter, Rory who live in Stars Hollow, Connecticut, a small town filled with quirky residents...and lot of festivals. We also met characters from Chilton Academy, where Rory attends Prep school, and later at an Ivy League University. (Will it be Harvard, or Yale? No spoilers from me.) The show presents a sharp contrast in two family dynamics. Lorelai and Rory are more like best friends, while Lorelai has a strained, difficult relationship with her wealthy parents, Emily and Richard. Throughout the show, we're also introduced to various guys the “girls” are dating.

Lorelai is the manager of a local Inn, and one of their favorite places to go for food—since Lorelai doesn’t cook—is Luke’s Diner. Her relationship with Luke, the owner, is one of those classic "Will they/Won't they?" slow-burn TV scenarios.

Here’s what I knew prior to our watch-fest:

  • It was considered a “chick” show, so I’d have to compromise a bit of my macho image to watch it. (Not like when I watched Sex and the City, Glee or Hallmark holiday movies!)
     
  • Lauren Graham! I loved her on Parenthood, so there was a built-in incentive for me.
     
  • The final season controversy. I remember reading that the creator/executive producer left the show, and some were disappointed with the season. Would there be lots of unresolved questions? (Hint: There are some!)
     
  • Netflix was doing a “revival” of the series that would continue (wrap up?) the story, so perhaps those questions would be answered.
     
  • There’s much disagreement about which of Rory’s three serious boyfriends was “the one” for her. In contrast, there is little discussion about the coupling of Luke and Lorelai!

Let me say first that I enjoyed the show. The chemistry of the mother and daughter—the focal point of the show—was wonderful, and as promised, the dialogue was captivating. (They talk very fast, and are incredibly witty!) I liked the running joke of Lorelai’s mother having a new maid/cook every time the girls visit. (I first enjoyed the gag on Murphy Brown, with all her secretaries.) I cannot believe anyone can eat as much as Lorelai and Rory...and stay thin. I like Luke, but am not a fan of his backward baseball cap! And as much as I hate to admit, after watching all seven seasons, I do have an opinion on which of Rory’s boyfriends I want for her.

That said, please allow me to offer a few of the things that stuck out to me:

Pop Culture Overload
I’ve always loved shows that utilize cultural references. (e.g., Chuck, Veronica Mars, Psyche, Castle) But it’s nearly impossible to keep up with all the them on this show. (e.g., more than 300 movies and nearly 200 TV shows are mentioned) The references range from RuPaul to Rosemary’s Baby to Eminem to the Menendez brothers. And that’s just in the first episode. Such references are fun, but it’s possible those cultural details can date the show after a few years. (e.g., in one episode, Lorelai makes a George Michael restroom joke!)  And, I have to wonder if any one person Rory's age can know all the things she knows, and not know others. (How can she love horror movies, but not know who M. Night Shyamalan is?)

Books and Music!
And as much as I love to read, I was stunned at the sheer amount of reading in this show, everything from Dostoevsky to Mark Twain to Dan Brown. I did a quick search, and found one site that listed more than 330 books mentioned in the show. The Stars Hollow library must be massive.

I enjoy a variety of music, but watching this show made me think I knew nothing about music. Most of the bands and songs they talked about were unknown to me! But I did enjoy some of the musical “inside  jokes” of the show. For example, the theme song was written Carole King, who later appears as the owner of the town’s music store. And in one episode, the background music in the music store is Pleasant Valley Sunday, a song King wrote for the Monkees.

Slurs Bring it Down
Many considered the show Progressive, particularly when it came to politics and women’s issues. But there were a few occasions when that progressive slant was hindered by hurtful slurs, such as using “gay” or “retarded” to refer to something/someone lame. While I wouldn’t accuse the show of direct homophobia, there were a couple of times when being gay or lesbian was used as a punchline.

Tokenistic Diversity
The people we meet in the show are eccentric, but there were two other aspects that stood out for me:

  1. The population was kinda pale. Granted, we do had the Kim family, who were Korean, and a few are Latin/Hispanic. But for the most part, while the characters were colorful, there wasn’t much...color.
     
  2. Where’s the Rainbow? In this show, the writers seem to go out of their way to “hint” at a character’s sexual orientation with what we'd consider clichéd, stereotypical mannerisms, such as fashion, interest in musical icons, affectations, etc. However, none of the characters openly identify as gay or lesbian. I saw an interview with the creator and she responded to a similar statement by saying: “We had characters that we thought of as gay [but] we just thought of them as characters.” I find that answer a cop-out. Every show doesn't have to include gay characters, but if this show was so progressive, I don’t think it’s a stretch to expect more visibility. Yes, it was a different era, but when Gilmore Girls was airing, TV had already given us gay characters on shows like My So-Called Life, Ellen, Will and Grace, Dawson’s Creek and Friends.

Religion is a bit Fuzzy
Just to be clear, I don’t look to TV shows for confirmation or affirmation of my faith, but Gilmore Girls often addressed the idea of religion, so I paid attention. I loved that the one local church building was a shared space—used by a Christian congregation on Sunday, as a synagogue on Friday, and probably by the Seventh-Day Adventists on Saturday. The local minister wears a priest’s collar, but is referred to as Reverend; the denomination of his church is never given.

Lorelai and Rory don’t talk much about religion, and unlike other characters, we don’t see them attending church, unless it’s a special occasion, such as a funeral. In one funny scene (cf: video), they’re meeting with the pastor to prepare for the baptism of Lorelei’s best friend’s baby, and he uses that occasion to probe them about their religious affiliation. After one funeral, Lorelai and Luke discuss heaven and the afterlife.

Rory’s best friend. Lane Kim, is from a Fundamentalist Korean Seventh-Day Adventist family. Her mother is a devout (extreme) adherent—rigid in her rules about no TV, no dating, no secular music, no meat, etc. Many of Lane’s stories involved her finding ways around her mother’s religious restrictions to date, enjoy the music and play in her rock band. Strangely, later in the show...and without much explanation...Mrs. Kim loosened up. She essentially became the manager of her daughter’s band and then agreed to the wedding of her daughter to a non-Korean. I wish they’d dealt with that change in attitude, because it was inconsistent with the cold, unyielding person we’d known in earlier seasons.

Lorelai's parents, Richard and Emily, don’t talk of religion or personal faith, but in an episode where they’re concerned Rory might be planning to have sex, they bring in a minister to give Rory “the talk” about virginity and virtue. (Hint: that ship had sailed!)

That Seventh Season
When the creative mind that brought a show to life leaves, often the show suffers. That happened between the sixth and seventh season. And I think any time a show introduces a “surprise” kid that no one knew about, it’s not a good sign. But for the most part, I was not as bummed by the last season as some of the more die-hard fans. I actually thought some of the storylines made sense, given the set-up in prior seasons. And while I expected the show's "big romance" question to be left a complete mystery, that wasn’t the case.

Though I’m not sure I’d want to live there, I enjoyed my visit to Stars Hollow. It provided a nice summer "vacation" spot, and I have my souvenir coffee mug to help me savor the memory. I look forward to returning and renewing old acquaintances with Netflix’s four mini-movies, airing this fall.

 

Side Note: I've long been a fan of Edward Hermann, who played Lorelai's father on the show, and was saddened by his death. He was a gifted, versatile actor. I've read that his death will be written into the story of the upcoming revival, and his character will be remembered in a loving tribute.
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