Monday, March 28, 2011

Growing Into Adulthood In A Quirky American Town: Gilmore Girls - The Complete Series!

The Good: Funny, Well-written, Good characters, Decent acting
The Bad: Becomes soap operatic at times, Lack of great DVD bonus features!
The Basics: Lorelei and Rory Gilmore grow up together as mother and daughter in Star's Hollow, a quirky town where everyone seems to know everyone else's business.

Despite what it may seem like with my fairly obsessive Star Trek and science fiction reviews, I am actually a pretty well rounded person in the field of entertainment (now). Sure, I grew up on Star Trek: The Next Generation and an obsession with science fiction, but in college, I broadened my horizons and now my favorite series' include The West Wing (reviewed here!), Frasier (reviewed here!) and the family drama Gilmore Girls. What can I say? I'm a sucker for great dialogue and it was refreshing to watch a show where the characters spoke with a high level of diction - and impressive speed - that I could get into. After all, most shows like that get canceled early, like Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip (reviewed here!). But Gilmore Girls made it for a whole seven year run and now it is collected in one massive DVD boxed set that is a worthwhile addition to the collection of anyone who likes good drama and great dialogue.

Gilmore Girls is an adult (appropriate as well for older young adults) family drama about a woman coming home after years of not knowing her parents. Her reasons are simple: her daughter is in high school and has ambitions to go to college and she wants the best possible education for her, so she makes a deal with her incredibly wealthy parents; contact in exchange for sending her daughter to a private school. And if it were that simple, she show wouldn't have lasted a season; fortunately, it's a great deal more!

Lorelai Gilmore, who was once a rebellious teenager, left Hartford, Connecticut for Stars Hollow - a small, quirky Connecticut town - when she became pregnant with her daughter Rory. Rejecting the upper class social mores she was born into, Lorelai refused to marry Christopher (Rory's father) and she became a maid at an inn in Stars Hollow, where she worked hard and raised Rory on her own, with minimal contact with her parents. But when Rory becomes determined to go to Harvard and it is clear she won't get there via Stars Hollow's High School, Lorelai decides that to make her daughter's dreams come true, she needs to send her to Chilton, a private prep school in Hartford. Lorelai, not being able to afford this, bites the bullet and approaches her parents, Emily and Richard Gilmore, who are all too happy to let her have the money needed to send Rory to Chilton . . . with a catch; Rory and Lorelai must come over for dinner on Friday nights.

While Lorelai works hard to minimize the contact she and Rory have with her parents, she verbally spars with Luke, the local diner owner who has the best coffee in town and thus is close to Lorelai's heart. And while various men come in and out of Lorelai's life in the seven years, including a teacher of Rory's and Christopher, Luke remains constant and always on the verge of a relationship with her.

And while the show also evolves Rory from a nervous high school student into a self-assured college graduate, who has several boyfriends over the course of the series as well, what the show works hard to focus on is the relationship between Rory and Lorelai and their relationship to Stars Hollow. Yes, the setting has a pretty huge effect on the series and much of their dealings with the real world are complicated by the two of them having to deal with the citizens of Stars Hollow or Emily and Richard.

As previously stated what separates Gilmore Girls from virtually any other television show on television before (or since) is the dialogue and the speed of it. Gilmore Girls features fast paced dialogue delivered at Aaron Sorkin speeds (seriously, DVD is the best way to watch Gilmore Girls because in the average episode the viewer will need to rewind at least twice to catch an exchange they missed) with a boatload of cultural allusions - usually from the 1970s - 2000s. While not outrageous and shocking like Family Guy, Gilmore Girls relies on pop culture allusions in much the same way.

On par with the originality and sheer joy that comes with the experience of hearing the dialogue, it is the characters that make Stars Hollow a unique and interesting place and make Gilmore Girls worth watching and buying on DVD. The originality of the mix of people - though most are fairly well off - makes for an intriguing show and while the series is strongest as an overall arc, individual episodes do have adventures and standalone concepts. Because of the tight-knit nature of Stars Hollow, plots tend to engulf everyone in the town and, like the Friday night dinners which usually allow Emily and Richard to appear once per episode, frequently there is a town meeting in each episode as the series goes on. It is in that setting that the people of Stars Hollow deal with important issues like what to do with the interloping troubadour (the town already has one!), how best to plan local parties and events and dealing with rashes of local crimes.

As character is so important to this series, it is useful to understand who the principle characters are in Gilmore Girls. They include:

Lorelai Gilmore - General manager of the Independence Inn and mother to Rory, she is a very loving parent and very protective of Rory, though she allows her daughter make many of her own mistakes. Obsessed with coffee, she is very talkative and loves to indulge her sweet tooth. She tries to avoid conflicts, but when she gets into fights, she barricades herself from the person she is fighting with, often making it difficult to bring about resolutions to her disagreements. Whenever she and Rory are estranged, she is absolutely miserable,

Rory Gilmore - The only daughter of Lorelai, she is young, bright and ambitious. Well-read and articulate, Rory wants to make a difference and she often finds herself at odds with her classmates at Chilton (and later on in college) because of her liberal views and voracious appetite for information. While she has three real boyfriends throughout the series and keeps a close friendship with Lane and has an improbable friendship with Paris, Lorelai is effectively her best friend and the person she is closest to in the world,

Sookie - The cook at Lorelai's Inn and her best friend in her peer group. She is a perpetually cheerful woman who delights in food, which makes Lorelai quite happy. She has a relationship with a local produce distributor that blooms into marriage, etc. and she often finds herself as a linchpin in Lorelai's crazy party schemes,

Lane Kim - Rory's best friend in her peer group, she continues on at Stars Hollow High after Rory starts attending Chilton. Despite that, Lane and Rory maintain a very close friendship throughout. Lane is obsessed with rock and roll music, probably because it is forbidden to her by her very controlling religious mother who works to shelter her and keep her from trouble,

Paris - Rory's sparring partner and reluctant friend at Chilton (she's like Cordelia from Buffy The Vampire Slayer but wicked smart) and later in college. She is an intellectual match for Rory and is a dominant voice, but terrible in relationships, which causes her to be alone most of the time. Afraid to seem vulnerable, she is often wounded by others and seems cruel in her responses,

Kirk - A jack-of-all trades, Kirk is an adult who used to live with his parents, has had a slew of jobs and pops up usually to make everyone else in Stars Hollow seem that much more normal in contrast,

Michel - The snide clerk at the inn, he is arrogant and elitist and French and while he appears in virtually every episode, he is largely just a support character who antagonizes Lorelai,

Emily Gilmore - Lorelai's mother, married to Richard, she is the embodiment of class and society. She uses her influence with Rory to get her granddaughter to accept some of the benefits of having wealth and she works to reconcile her relationship with Lorelai, though she does not understand much of what comes out of Lorelai's mouth,

Richard Gilmore - Emily's husband, father to Lorelai and grandfather to Rory, he is an extremely successful businessman who has unlimited love for all three women in his life. Efficient and constantly professional, Richard is an embodiment of the trappings of wealth and as such has difficult relating to Lorelai and Rory and their pop culture references, though he also has incredible patience. Richard will seize on a good business idea, no matter where it comes from (including Paris),

and Luke Danes - Lorelai's coffee supplier. He owns a diner and spoils Lorelai and Rory with his culinary creations, often saving the best for them. He is very much a working class guy who loathes children and entanglements, but finds himself growing closer and closer to Lorelai over the years, probably as a result of their flirtatious verbal sparring. When Luke needs help - he takes in a nephew, among other things - he often turns to Lorelai.

Gilmore Girls is like a giant, thinking-person's chick flick with amazing writing. The characters live and breathe on their own and seem quite realistic and motivated by their own sense of struggles and backstory. And all of the principle parts are well-played by their performers. Characters like Michel, who might only have one scene per episode, sparkle in the hands of performer Yanic Truesdale, who makes the most of the role. Similarly, Keiko Agena, Melissa McCarthy, Kelly Bishop and Scott Patterson all bring a wonderful sense of personality and truth to their roles. And as much as I love Edward Hermann, who plays Richard, this part is not a stretch for him. He always plays dignified individuals who are articulate and his role here is essentially a kinder interpretation of the character he played on The Practice.

The show ends up hinging on the performances of Lauren Graham and Alexis Bledel because virtually every scene in the series has one or the other of them in it. Graham, who I had only known before this from her guest starring role as the efficiency expert in the fourth season of NewsRadio becomes possibly the best speaker of fast-delivered lines of dialogue in the history of television. She is clear, articulate and has a manic quality to her performance that keeps Lorelai from becoming a parody of herself.

Alexis Bledel keeps up with Graham and proves that she is not just a pretty face, but rather a promising young talent. She and Graham have great on-screen chemistry that makes it seem like they actually are mother and daughter. She has a great sense of body language and is able to play nervous and confident in a way that is very realistic and engaging.

On DVD in this boxed set there is nothing new in terms of bonus features, which makes this something those who purchased the series as it came out in season-by-season boxed sets can live without upgrading to. This boxed set has a few goodies, like the collected "Gilmorisms" (phrases unique to the series, usually referencing pop culture) and an episode guide so you can find episodes on the discs. The 42-disc collection is fairly light on bonus features (season six is devoid of extras!) with the main bonus being featurettes reviewing the season. There is an audio commentary track on one episode and what is essentially a text commentary on a few others. As well, there are a handful of deleted scenes. In other words, there is not a whole lot that fans will get that they have not seen on television and casual fans will be more likely to catch the show in syndication than purchase this set.

But, for the rest of us, this is a great set. It captures arguably the best coming-of-age dramedy of the last decade and it's nice to have it all in once place. I'd been waiting for it . . . Great for all audiences, but likely to be appreciated most by those who have a lot of knowledge of popular culture as it comes at the viewer quick with the allusions.

For a better idea of exactly what is contained in this boxed set, please check out my reviews of:
Season 1
Season 2
Season 3
Season 4
Season 5
Season 6
Season 7


For other television series and episode reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2008, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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