Monday, April 11, 2011

Love Grows, Love Falls Apart: Gilmore Girls - The Complete Second Season On DVD!

The Good: Funny, Clever writing, Interesting characters, Decent plots, Good serialization.
The Bad: Light on DVD bonus material, Some elements seem rushed.
The Basics: Despite being light on DVD extras, this boxed set presents a wonderful dramedy that is worth the time and attention of anyone who likes great television!

Gilmore Girls is one of those television shows that found its audience, had seven good years on television and yet seems to have almost no peripheral market associated with it. Unlike genre shows, like Alias or award-winning dramas like The West Wing (reviewed here!), Gilmore Girls seems to have found its niche, run its course and disappeared without a strong showing in syndication. This is especially disappointing to those fans who might like to see any other incarnation of Gilmore Girls, like a feature film. Without strong syndication, one wonders how the executives who made Gilmore Girls a small but significant phenomenon intend to sell things like the boxed set DVDs.

I suppose that's where reviews like this come in; we're happy to do our part to luring in an audience now that there are no new episodes to watch. With the second season of Gilmore Girls, the series continues on DVD on a high note, progressing the fast-talking characters Lorelai and Rory Gilmore, and exploring more of the quirky residents of Stars Hollow, CT. In order to properly review this season, some minor details about the final episodes of the first season of Gilmore Girls (reviewed here!) must be revealed, despite my having withheld them from that review.

Picking up the day after the prior finale, Lorelai Gilmore struggles to answer the marriage proposal from Max and his gaggle of yellow flowers. Rory, reconciled with Dean, begins to explore what it truly means to have a relationship. Soon, however, both Lorelai and Rory's lives take turns for the weird when Lorelai accepts Max's proposal only to flee town on him, leading to an awkward beginning of the new school year for Rory. Rory and Dean find themselves in awkward emotional territory when Rory finds herself pushed together at school with Tristan and later Luke's nephew, Jess, begins to intrigue her.

While Lorelai struggles to become more stable following her breakup with Max, she begins to focus on the plans to open her own inn with Sookie. Sookie, for her part, begins to stretch out on her own, moving her relationship with Jackson forward, despite meddling from Lorelai's mother. As well, Richard retires, leaving both Emily and Lorelai in odd situations with him and his sudden free time.

Gilmore Girls - The Complete Second Season is a strong dramedy that focuses primarily on Lorelai and Rory, but in this season allows more room for characters other than the main leads to progress. As a result, Luke has some moments - especially with Jess - where he dominates scenes, if not entire episodes. With Richard's retirement and the Sookie relationship arc, the time is further taken from the two mains and it works out surprisingly well for the show. Season two gives a more broad feeling of Stars Hollow and that sets up a realistic sense of place and establishes a precedent for future seasons that might not have worked had it not been for the groundwork laid in this season.

What makes Gilmore Girls different from virtually anything on television or DVD - outside an Aaron Sorkin production - is the speed of the dialogue and development of the characters. Gilmore Girls is most commonly about telling a story of a mother and daughter who have an emotionally symbiotic relationship and the foibles that come from having a parent who is more like a best friend than a parent. Thematically, the season is unified by the exploration of relationships, most notably love.

Lorelai and Rory have a strong bond and that makes them different from almost every other mother-daughter combination on television, whatwith Hollywood's preoccupation with portraying teenage rebellion as opposed to families that like one another. Sure, the Gilmores are not normal or typical, but they do make for pretty wonderful television! The plots range from such banal absurdities as the Gilmore house being infested with termites and Lorelai needing to get a loan for an exterminator/contractor to the annual basket bidding auction whereby townsfolk bid on baskets prepared by local women in order to win a date with said woman. As a result, plot tends to be far less important in the second season than the setting and the characters.

Stars Hollow is one of the most memorable television environments of the new millennium as it features the down home New England charm of Connecticut with a population of ridiculous locals who enhance the setting. Kirk, for example, branches out to make a short film that is the archetypal student black and white movie and is so strange that it's wonderful that it appears separate on the DVD as a bonus feature so it can be reviewed out of the context of the episode! With places like Luke's diner, Miss Patty's Dance Studio and the gazebo being central to the town and the plots, Stars Hollow becomes one of the most recognizable and significant settings for a series since Cecily, Alaska on Northern Exposure.

Even more significant than the locale are the people. Here are the primary characters of the second season of Gilmore Girls:

Lorelai Gilmore - Having chosen Max, then rejected him, she remains single for a time, only to find herself increasingly drawn to the ever-more-responsible Christopher, Rory's dad. After taking Rory to Harvard, she finds herself befriending Dean, becoming wary of Jess and strengthening her friendship with Sookie. While working to avoid her mother's influences, she finds herself working with her father as he struggles to find joy in retirement. Often flustered and coffee-high, she spars with Luke throughout,

Rory Gilmore - After declaring her love for Dean, she discovers that relationships have a complexity to them that she finds troubling. As she is drawn to the bad boy charm of Jess, she struggles to feel as much for Dean. She also finds herself somewhat estranged from Lane, who shocks her and she finds an unlikely ally in Paris,

Luke Danes - After accepting that he might have some feelings for Lorelai, he withdraws when he sees her pursuing Christopher and going on a date with a younger man. When his sister falls down on the parenting, Luke agrees to take in her troubled son, Jess, but finds it is more work than he can handle,

Dean - Fully in love with Rory, he is shocked when her grandfather Richard summarily rejects him as a suitor. Having built Rory a car, he stands up for himself and endears himself to both Rory and Lorelai. He soon finds himself feeling threatened by Jess and what he represents to his relationship with Rory,

Sookie - Eager to go into business with Lorelai, when their relationship becomes minorly strained, she turns to Jackson and the two begin to advance rather quickly toward marriage. Lured in by Emily's vision of a wedding, Sookie finds she must stand up and discover her own voice,

Lane - Deported for a time to Korea, Lane returns eager to resume her friendship with Rory. Neglected by Rory and frustrated by her attraction to a boy who she can't date given her overbearing mother, she becomes a cheerleader. Her audiophile tendencies outlast her grounding and Rory becomes a smuggler of new material into her house for her,

Paris - As the editor of the school newspaper, the Franklin, she is forced to accept Rory when Rory produces the best work for the paper. So opens the erosion of Paris' hatred of Rory, who even works with Rory on volunteer work and several school projects. When Rory makes it clear she has no interest in Tristan, Paris lightens up significantly on her,

Emily Gilmore - Lorelai's mother, frustrated by Richard being around constantly when he retires, she uses Lorelai to act as a buffer between them. Always seeking to reconcile the problems of the past with Lorelai, she offers to loan her the money to save her house and even goes on a spa trip with her. Still unable to keep a decent housekeeper,

Richard Gilmore - Lorelai's father, increasingly frustrated with the demands of work, he abruptly retires and begins puttering on cars. Given a purpose in designing a consumer product for a school project with Rory and Paris, he soon finds his calling as a consultant,

Jess - Rejected by his mother and forced to live with Luke, the young man avoids school, thumbs his nose at authority and plays pranks on the townsfolk - like the chalk outline and police tape in front of Taylor's market. He is intrigued by Rory and despite his slovenly attitude, he is a bookworm with much in common with her,

and Michel - He shows up virtually every episode to make quips at Lorelai. His mother visits and he is flustered when he is forced to talk with her about substantive issues.

The cast of Gilmore Girls is rather consistent and in the second season, both Jared Padalecki (Dean) and Lisa Weil (Paris) are added to the main cast. While Milo Ventimiglia - who would later become well known for Heroes (reviewed here!) - makes an auspicious outing as Jess, he is simply a recurring guest star.

In the second season, Kelly Bishop, who plays Emily, is given far more to do in her role. Bishop becomes a surprising standout, lending dignity and a strong undertone of caring to the role that was not there before. Bishop infuses into almost every scene she is in a sense that Emily wants to make things better with Lorelai, even when she is being antagonistic. She becomes one to watch this season!

But the show rests heavily on the shoulders of Lauren Graham and Alexis Bledel. Graham reinforces her character's flustered qualities by presenting more moments where Lorelai's emotions turn on a dime and she flees situations. Graham is given the opportunity to play Lorelai as protective and suspicious in a way that she had not previously done. As well, Graham is given the difficult task of selling the most implausible moment of the season; when Lorelai makes her decision to let her cold feet dominate her and flee town. Without words, Graham makes a convincing performance that makes the character's journey emotional real.

But it is Alexis Bledel who comes into her own as Rory. Bledel proves yet again that she is more than a cute face and in this DVD set, she embodies Rory with more confidence and infuses her with both realistic maturity and shockingly real indecisiveness in the face of two boys she is attracted to. Bledel begins to use more body language to express herself and her emoting progresses in a way that makes her character vital and real.

On DVD, Gilmore Girls - The Complete Second Season remains somewhat disappointing in terms of DVD extras. While there are a number of unaired scenes added at the end of several episodes in this set and the uncut version of Kirk's movie is at the end of the disc, there is not much exclusive content to the set. While there's a featurette on the dubbing for the international market and another on the arguments in season two, there are no commentary tracks. The closest is a pop-up trivia/commentary on one of the episodes that appear as a second time on the final disc with the added text commentary. I can always go for more commentary tracks and it is disappointing this set does not provide that.

Still, it is not enough to bring down the content on the discs and not recommend this. Gilmore Girls - The Complete Second Season is a solid set that is likely to delight anyone who likes smart drama or subtle comedy. Anyone who likes a family dramedy will find much to be entertained by with this set.

For further information on Gilmore Girls, (including links to my reviews of other seasons!) please check out my review of Gilmore Girls: The Complete Series here!


For other television episode, season and series reviews, please be sure to visit my index page for an organized listing!

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

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