Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Gilmore Girls Turns 15

Fifteen years ago, on October 6, 2000, Gilmore Girls debuted on The WB.  I watched that debut episode with my mother, and I have to admit I really did not expect too much from the show. After all, while The WB had aired both Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, they were best then known for rather overwrought teen soap operas. Fortunately Gilmore Girls far exceeded my expectations. It was not a teen soap opera, but a well written, well acted comedy-drama made for adults. Unfortunately following the second episode I would miss the rest of the first season. As it turned out, my mother died after the second episode aired, making Gilmore Girls the last show she ever watched. As a result I found I just couldn't bring myself to watch Gilmore Girls. Eventually I was able to start watching Gilmore Girls again, and I got caught up on the first season through reruns. It has become one of my favourite shows of all time.

For those unfamiliar with the show, Gilmore Girls centres on  Lorelai Gilmore (played by Lauren Graham), a single mother who left the privileged life of her parents for a quieter life in the small town of Stars Hollow, Connecticut. She has a close relationship with her daughter, also named Lorelai Gilmore (played by Alexis Bledel) but called by her nickname "Rory". At the beginning of the show Lorelai is the manager of the Independence Inn. Particularly at the start of the show, Lorelai's relationship with her parents,  Emily and Richard Gilmore (played by Kelly Bishop and Edward Herrmann respectively) is difficult, to say the least. The townsfolk of Stars Hollow play major roles on Gilmore Girls, and many of them are as central to the show as the Gilmores themselves. Quite simply, like Mayberry, North Carolina and Cicely, Alaska before it, Stars Hollow is a town filled with some rather colourful characters.

Gilmore Girls was created by Amy Sherman-Palladino, who had previously served as a story editor on Roseanne and created the short lived show Love and Marriage. Her inspiration for the show stemmed from a trip to Washington, Connecticut and the inn that she stayed at there, the Mayflower Inn. She was impressed by both the small town atmosphere (the population of Washington, Connecticut as of 2010 was 3,578 people) and the inn at which she stayed (the Mayflower Inn).

Upon its debut Gilmore Girls was well received by critics.  It also did very well in the ratings for a show airing on The WB. At its peak it was viewed by about 5.2 million viewers, not that far off from another cult show that had debuted on The WB, Buffy the Vampre Slayer (which received 5.3 million viewers at its height). The show ultimately lasted seven seasons. Its cancellation did not come due to a decline in popularity, as is the case with many shows, but instead due to an unresolved contract dispute with The CW, the network that had resulted from the merger of The WB and UPN during the penultimate season of Gilmore Girls. While Gilmore Girls had been cancelled, it was hardly dead. The show found new life as a syndicated rerun where it has persisted ever since. The show ran for many years on the ABC Family Channel and SOAPnet, and is currently airing on UpTV. The show is also available on Netflix and Amazon Video.

There can be no doubt that much of the success of Gilmore Girls was due to its excellent cast. Lauren Graham was ideally cast as Lorelai Gilmore, so much so it is hard to see anyone else in the part. Kelly Bishop and Edward Herrmann both excelled as Lorelai's parents--little wonder given their considerable experience on Broadway. The care taken in casting Gilmore Girls even extended as far as the townspeople of Stars Hollow. Every actor did well in his or her role.

Of course, much of the show's success is also due to the show's excellent writing.  Amy Sherman-Palladino created a show in which the characters were four-dimensional and the dialogue often came very fast. And while the show was filled with pop culture references, it was also very intelligent. There were references to Madame Bovary and NSync, references to Moby Dick and Casablanca. It seems likely that many of the pop culture references on Gilmore Girls might have gone above the heads of some younger viewers.

While Gilmore Girls boasted both a great cast and great writing, ultimately I think its success might largely rest with the format of the show itself. Gilmore Girls has at times been called a "family drama", and certainly the Gilmores are the heart of the show. That having been said, in many respects Gilmore Girls is about Stars Hollow as much as it is the family. Gilmore Girls then actually has less in common with family dramas like Eight is Enough and Seventh Heaven, and more in common with shows about quirky small towns, such as The Andy Griffith Show, Northern Exposure, and Doc Martin. Indeed, even though Stars Hollow is in Connecticut, as a resident of a small town in Missouri I can readily identify with the town. My hometown has the same sort of offbeat characters and small town problems that Stars Hollow has, and I suspect most small towns do as well. All small towns have someone like Kirk, someone like Luke, and even someone like Taylor. Of course, even urban dwellers who have never experienced life in a small town could probably still identify with Stars Hollow to a degree. I rather suspect most people, even those in cities, know at least one person like at least one of the residents of Stars Hollow, possibly more.

Despite the fact that the decade was dominated by police procedurals, reality shows, competition shows, and game shows, I suspect Gilmore Girls will be the most lasting show to emerge from the Naughts. People will still be watching the show fifteen years from now and even fifty years from now. While other family dramas have fallen by the wayside, I suspect Gilmore Girls will continue to be seen for years to come.

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