With Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life coming to Netflix, I wanted to add the multi-generational chatterboxes to the Must Watch Series Series canon. Gilmore Girls’ emphasis on the small, the relational, and the poignant make it a series worth watching. Set in the fictional small town of Stars Hollow, Connecticut, the show follows the relationship of the titular girls, mom Lorelai and daughter Rory, through Rory’s late teens and early twenties. Lorelai’s mother, Emily also features heavily throughout the series.
At its core, Gilmore Girls is the story of these three women and the differences and similarities that make them part of a family. If it sounds wholesome and sappy, it kind of is. It is also an earnest dissection of what it means to be a woman in the modern world, and the show does a particularly fine job of highlighting the differences between the worlds these three women inhabit.
Emily’s role is traditional: she is a lifelong wife and mother, and that is shown as very much her full-time occupation. Lorelai is the maverick who made her own way and left her parents’ comfortable mansion to raise a daughter on her own at the age of 16 because she couldn’t stand to live her life any way but her own. Rory is something of a wild card. Her intelligence is at the forefront of her character (her plans of going to an Ivy League school to become a journalist drive most of the plot of the series), but her mother’s independence also informs the choices she makes and the young adult she becomes.
It is the series’ investigation of these three women and their relationships that make it such compelling television. The history that Emily and Lorelai share drips from the scenes they have together—and most often they are brought together because of Rory, who they both have big plans for. One of the most memorable Emily and Lorelai episodes centers on the two of them sharing a spa weekend that Lorelai thought she was taking alone. After Emily irritates Lorelai throughout the treatments (even booking them in for a non-romantic couples massage), she is impressed by Lorelai’s ability to be free and buck convention when they need some food that isn’t raw and vegan. The Gilmores head out to a local dive bar, and their many years of conflict seem to start melting away, until a silver fox asks Emily to dance, breaking Emily’s proprietary code. Suddenly that easy camaraderie (that Lorelai and Rory more naturally share) comes crashing down when Emily feels that Lorelai pushed her out of her traditional role and into something she finds distasteful. It is a powerful episode because we see how much Emily and Lorelai could get along together, if only things were very different.
Lorelai and Rory also have their fair share of troubles throughout the series. They are presented as friends first and mother and daughter second, partially because of their relatively close ages and partially because Lorelai chose to raise her daughter differently than Emily. Their friendship is one that many women would be jealous of, but it isn’t without its problems. When Lorelai disagrees with Rory’s plan to quit college and just hang out for a year, the rift between the two is extensive and devastating to both. In the same way that Emily’s strict worldview drove Lorelai out of the house, Rory spends most of the year without contact with Lorelai. These are principled, stubborn women and they are very realistically drawn. It is to the credit of the show that both types of mother-daughter relationships are shown as problematic. A non-traditional approach to parenting a teenaged girl may seem easy and fun (and it is depicted as such many times in the series), but at the end of the day, all relationships have their ups and downs and Gilmore Girls gives us an honest look at these relationships over the span of seven years.
Lest you think Gilmore is all sap and cheese, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the other reasons the series is a must-watch. The first is the town of Stars Hollow and the kooky characters that reside within. From Kirk’s ability to do literally any job, to the sassy and smutty dance teacher Miss Patty, to Stars Hollow’s well-meaning Mr. Potter stand-in, Taylor Doose, to the acerbic mechanic Gypsy, not to mention the least helpful concierge in the world Michel Gerard, and Lorelai’s best friend and business partner, Sookie St. James (played by the now-famous Melissa McCarthy), this whimsical hamlet features some of the most memorable secondary characters out there. All of these characters contribute to an excellent ensemble and the feeling of a very lived-in New England small town. Gilmore Girls is on par with shows like The Simpsons or Parks and Recreation in its achievement in small-town world building.
In addition to these relationships and this world that are so well-developed, the thing that makes Gilmore Girls a fascinating series to watch (and re-watch) are the thousands of pop-culture and just plain old regular-culture references that are packed into each episode. Rory is a book junkie, and Lorelai is a loud advocate of movies, TV, and musicals (of all quality levels), and between the two characters, there is an entire cultural education to be discovered. If you thrive on knowing obscure facts about the media goods that you consume (which we truly support around here), this part of the series will validate every second you spent listening to audio commentaries on all of the Christopher Guest movies.
Gilmore Girls is, without a doubt, a series worth watching. Come for the fast-paced, witty banter about Fame and Riding the Bus with My Sister, stay for the earnest investigation of the relationships between family members and what it means to be a woman in contemporary society. Oh, and if anyone asks, I told you about this first—you didn’t hear it from Eastside Tilly.