I don’t remember exactly when or where I was when I saw Gilmore Girls for the first time, but I can imagine how it must have happened. It was likely around sixth or seventh grade, sometime long, long ago in ’05 or ’06. I was probably sitting in front of my living room TV one day after school, channel-surfing to procrastinate from starting piles of middle-school homework. I must’ve landed on ABC Family, expecting to find repeats of Full House or The Cosby Show, but discovered a new, different show, instead. I was bored or curious or some mixture of the two, and before long, I found myself watching my first episode of Gilmore Girls.
Those details are fuzzy, but what I do remember clearly is what episode I saw. It was “They Shoot Gilmores, Don’t They?,” the seventh episode of season three, and, as I would later learn, one of the most famous and best episodes of the series. For those who don’t know, the story revolves around the 24-hour Stars Hollow dance marathon, a yearly event that Lorelai is determined to win. Her daughter, Rory, reluctantly agrees to be her partner, but their path to victory is ruined when Rory gets sidetracked by two fans in the crowd – Dean, her boyfriend, and Jess, the guy she secretly has feelings for. Dean catches onto Rory’s attraction to Jess and dumps her, leaving her heartbroken in her mother’s arms. It’s a pivotal episode that’s noted for the beginning of Rory’s relationship with Jess, as well as for how totally it captures the charm and essence of the fictional town of Stars Hollow, Connecticut.
On that weekday afternoon, seven or eight years ago, I watched all of this unfold and sat back in wonder. I had never seen anything like Gilmore Girls before. There were other shows out there that were smart, and plenty that were funny, but none that managed so successfully to be both at the same time. Other shows were set in fake towns or cities, but none as believably lived-in and as lovingly charming as Stars Hollow. As a first-time watcher, I knew nothing about the characters’ lives apart from what was revealed in the episode, but it didn’t matter. The writing was so sharp and so beguiling that by the end of the episode, I felt as if I’d known Lorelai and Rory for years.
After that day, I started watching Gilmore Girls most afternoons. The show was still on air, but ABC Family played repeats every day at 5:00. By the time the series finale aired in May of ’07, I had caught up on all seven seasons. I’d come to know and love Lorelai, Rory, and the rest of Stars Hollow’s loveably kooky cast of characters. I’d sat through countless Friday Night Dinners with the Gilmore grandparents, watched both Sookie and Lane get married and have babies, and cheered on Rory as she graduated from Chilton to Yale to Barack Obama’s campaign trail. I’d met all of the Gilmore boys - Max and Christopher and Luke, Dean and Jess and Logan – and, in the end, had deemed only Luke worthy of their affection. As I watched the beautiful, perfect series finale, where the town throws Rory a goodbye party, I knew I had been privy to something special. Over seven seasons, Gilmore Girls had grown from a little show into something so much bigger, something magical. It never soared to the top of the ratings chart or received a single Emmy nomination during its run, but every week, it gave fans entry into its own wonderful, unique universe. For a little while, I got to be a part of that.
What makes Gilmore Girls so special is its simplicity. It’s a show about family. It’s about the relationship between Lorelai and Rory, a mother and daughter who share insatiable appetites, a love of pop-culture, and an unbreakable, fiercely close bond. The conflicts are not far-fetched or ridiculous, but real-life issues, based around money and work, relationships and school. The biggest drama comes when Lorelai and Rory have a fight that leads to months of not talking, a realistic clash between a mother and daughter that avoids any of the fanfare of most TV and movie brawls. The discomfort that the viewer feels when watching Rory and Lorelai spend episodes apart is a testament to the quality of the show. The writing is so good and the characters so developed that the girls’ pain feels as real as our own.
I’ve heard Gilmore Girls criticized for playing it safe. And it’s true - many other shows are braver and bolder, more willing to take risks and change it up. But Gilmore Girls succeeds because of its innocence. It exists in a universe entirely its own, one in which all the town residents know each other and two people can survive solely on a diet of pizza and days-old Chinese takeout. There is no need for huge drama or fantastical elements because Gilmore Girls is a real show about real people – their lives, their relationships, and their love for one another.
A few weeks ago, while I was home from college on break, I started watching Gilmore Girls again. My parents, who had seen some episodes in the past, would join when they could, and together, the three of us revisited the world of Stars Hollow. The episodes were both familiar and new, a jumble of memories waiting to be recalled. Every so often, I’d get déjà-vu, and have the strange sensation that seven or eight years ago, I’d sat on the same couch, in the same room, watching the same episode of a show I loved. Years had come and gone, but nothing else had really changed. Rory and Lorelai were still having lightening-fast conversations; Luke and Taylor were still arguing over nothing; Stars Hollow was still as zany as ever. Seven or eight years after that first episode, I was still in love with Gilmore Girls. Time had passed, but the magic was still there.
This essay was originally posted on TheReelist.com.