Back in the early ’00s, I saw a few episodes of Gilmore Girls, the dramedy that launched the careers of Lauren Graham and Alexis Bledel with their depiction of an overcaffeinated, fast-food-eating, wisecracking mother-daughter team. For whatever reason, however, I didn’t fully commit to the show. In late 2015, I finally decided to see what all the fuss was about and I binged on seven seasons of Gilmore Girls. I use the term “binge” a little loosely here, because I’d watch up to six episodes in a stretch, then I needed the pop culture equivalent of a Valium, such as a slow foreign film with atmospheric music and long segments of silent melancholy. Sweet cheese on a cracker, those Gilmore women are exhausting.
As I got closer to the end of the series, I decided to write a review/critique post of GG: the good, the bad, the ugly, and what I hope will be part of the revival coming to Netflix. If you’re a huge fan of GG and believe nothing bad should ever be said about the show or its characters, I suggest you move along, because some of what I’m going to say may piss you off. Go ahead, it’s okay. Same holds true if you’re weird about spoilers for shows that have been off the air for years. I’m going to start with the things I didn’t like or that didn’t work for me, aka the bad.
Gilmore Girls‘ premise, for those who are unaware, is this: a mother and daughter who are friends. According to my research, that’s how show creator Amy Sherman-Palladino pitched the show to network executives. If we dig a little deeper, the show is about mother-daughter best friends who are only 16 years apart in age and live in Stars Hollow, a quirky little fictional town in Connecticut that’s about 30 minutes from Hartford, where the wealthy Gilmore grandparents reside.
Let’s get two things straight from the start.
- Gilmore Girls is a show about rich white people problems. The back story: Lorelai Gilmore is a rich white teenage girl who gets knocked up by Christopher, her high school boyfriend who’s also rich and white, and she runs away of sorts (30 freakin’ minutes away from home) to have her baby and raise the child away from her rich white parents. The issues Lorelai Gilmore faces as a single mom of a teenage girl – in the snippets viewers see on the show – are never life-or-death situations. The first episode is about Lorelai deciding to re-establish a relationship with her parents because she wants their
moneyhelp in sending her daughter, Rory, to Chilton, a private prep school. Even the references to raising baby Rory in the potting shed at the Independence Inn smack of Marie Antoinette escaping from court life in the Petit Trianon: with just a word, Lorelai can return to the family home, or even live in better quarters at the inn, thanks to her compassionate boss, Mia. But she’s a stubborn, spoiled, rich white girl, and this fact colors every decision Lorelai makes throughout the course of the series. (One example: in S7, Ep 19, her Jeep dies and she doesn’t like any of the newer cars she test drives or looks at, so ex-fiancée/diner owner Luke finds the same model and says he will fix her car using parts from the other Jeep.) Same holds true for the problems Rory Gilmore, Lorelai’s daughter, faces. She may not have grown up with a silver spoon in her mouth like her mother, but she certainly didn’t suffer from hunger, not having a safe place to sleep at night, or lack of clothing and other creature comforts.
- Stars Hollow is the West Coast person’s fantasy of life in New England. Sherman-Palladino is from Van Nuys, California, essentially the heart of the San Fernando Valley. She makes no secret of the fact that she based Stars Hollow on a small Connecticut town she vacationed at with her husband. But as we all know, being a tourist in a small town is very different than living there. I grew up on the east coast and spent many a summer in New England, from Massachusetts to Connecticut to Maine. I went to summer camp in a small town in Massachusetts two years in a row. Many of my friends from camp, not to mention my friends from college, were from small New England towns, and they were all relatively normal in their quirks and weirdness. So I feel pretty confident in saying that not every little town in New England is full of the nosy, weird folks that populate Stars Hollow. There are actually normal people living in normal towns with normal civic issues. (That said, I’m a huge John Irving fan and he writes many books set in New England, with plenty of quirky characters. But he’s FROM New England, so he’s allowed to do this, just as I’m allowed to be contradictory.)
I point out these two things, because for me, it helped a little in suspending my disbelief about some of the situations that Lorelai and Rory get themselves into (especially point #1). In my opinion, Lorelai has never really grown up, even though the viewer is supposed to believe she had to grow up too soon, since she was a teen mom. Running away from home – and again, I want to point out she didn’t run that far – put her in state of arrested development. Let us count the ways:
- she is rarely, if ever, shown cooking a meal at home for herself or Rory, completing a household chore, or dealing with any sort of adult task without lots of whining and pouting
- she is committed to eating junk food, including pizza, candy, ice cream, Chinese food, and burgers, and often complains about having to eat anything resembling a vegetable
- she runs back to her high school boyfriend/Rory’s father, Christopher, when she a) breaks up with someone else or b) is avoiding some larger truth about herself
Do I hate Lorelai? No. She’s just a hot mess, which is okay. Flawed characters make for popular TV shows, especially in sitcoms or dramedys. But Lorelai is high maintenance, and for that reason, I needed to take extended breaks during my Netflix binges.
These are my nit-picky continuity issues, including a look at how Seventh Day Adventists (SDAs) are depicted in the show. As someone who was raised SDA and attended SDA schools and churches until I was 18 (and I still have many friends and family members who are practicing Adventists), I think I can speak to this topic with some authority. But first, a few random items:
- I counted at least two instances where Rory says “could care less” – she would not have done that, she’s too smart & well read. I also noted one instance where Doyle says “could care less” – again, he’s way too smart to do that.
- Hep Alien tour – As the band is in the van heading out on their tour of churches, one of them refers to “the 95” – NOPE! East Coasters don’t preface highway/interstate numbers with “the.”
And now, on to the SDA related mistakes and continuity issues. Based on my research, Helen Pai, producer and BFF to Amy Sherman-Palladino, was raised Adventist. More meticulous GG watchers are welcome to correct me on this point, but I don’t remember a specific instance in which Lane or Mrs. Kim said definitively that they were Adventist. That said, there’s plenty of allusions to SDAs that could have been tweaked for more accuracy and still would have been funny.
SDA References that Worked for Me
- Lane’s cache of music, clothing and makeup. I knew a few kids who had to hide any secular music from their super-conservative parents, and at least a few girls who put on makeup once they got to school and wiped it off before they went home. At many SDA schools, colored nail polish was not allowed.
- Lane’s secretive nature about boys. One of my closest friends at SDA school never told her parents when she had a boyfriend because they would have flipped out. I remember how her dad raged when she had co-ed parties in the basement rec room. I think this was partly a cultural thing (she was East Indian) more so than Adventist, but it could have been both.
- Vegetarianism. The references to the meals Mrs. Kim served and her scorn of anything with meat are pretty on point. While I do know a number of SDAs who eat meat, many Adventists strictly follow the vegetarianism that’s a SDA identifier. There was one Thanksgiving at my grandparents’ house where my young vegetarian cousins yelled DEAD MEAT DEAD MEAT when Grandma brought out the turkey. Good times. The salad water, though, is an Asian thing.
- Nonfunctional jewelry. For a very long time, any item of jewelry that wasn’t a timepiece or a medical alert was considered nonfunctional and therefore verboten. Many married couples didn’t wear wedding bands for this reason, and you knew a woman was engaged if she was wearing a really nice watch. It wasn’t until 1986 that the North American Division of the church modified their stance to say that wedding bands were okay. With that in mind, Lane’s line in S4, Ep 3 about getting busted wearing a bracelet at her SDA college had me cracking up:
I wore a bracelet to school today. My parents were called, there was a special service in chapel, and I’ve been ordered to a soul-searching seminar next week. I’ll be sitting between the nail-polish-wearing girl and the spicy-condiment user.
SDA References that Didn’t Work for Me
- Lane’s availability on Friday nights, Saturdays before sunset, and a throwaway reference to church services. For those who don’t know, a key component of Seventh-Day Adventism is observing the Sabbath, which for them is Saturday. SDAs observe the Sabbath in the same way as the Jews do, which is that Sabbath starts at sundown on Friday and ends at sundown on Saturday. A truly devout SDA parent wouldn’t let their kid run amok with their non-SDA friends on a Saturday before sunset, and yet looking at timelines of a few early episodes, that seems to be the case with Lane. I also remember a conversation between Rory and Lane about Lane being available to hang out after church on Sunday. Uh, if she’s really Adventist, Sunday is fun day. (I don’t have specific episodes to cite here, so you GG devotees can school me on this point.)
- SDA pastors don’t wear clerical collars. In one episode, the Stars Hollow church in town cycles through a Jewish service and an Adventist one. They showed the SDA minister wearing a black and white clerical collar. Adventist ministers in the U.S. wear suits & ties, or a blazer or jacket with dress pants. Never a clerical collar.
- Rock music in SDA church community rooms. I remember a time in the ’70s and ’80s when the progressive, more liberal-minded SDA church I attended was resistant to featuring any music that involved electric guitars or, heaven forbid, drums, during the main service. By the late ’80s, we had a couple Christian rock bands in the youth room, which got all of us secret (and not-so-secret) rock music fans excited. The more conservative churches in our area were slow to get on that bandwagon (no pun intended). Considering Mrs. Kim’s conservatism, I’m assuming she would have sent Hep Alien to perform at more conservative churches (she set up the Hep Alien tour in S5, Ep 22), so I question whether this could have happened. (If any readers went to a conservative SDA church in the early 2000s and had a Christian rock band perform in the community room, let me know.)
- Alcohol. Devout, conservative Adventists don’t drink alcohol. Period. That said, the most egregious error comes in S6, Ep 11. Lane is living at home again after a bad breakup with Zach and is pretty much impossible to deal with because she’s so upset over the breakup. Near the end of the episode, Mrs. Kim has Lane sit down at the kitchen table while she closes the blinds and gets out a hidden bottle of alcohol, pouring herself and Lane each a shot. While this is a nice moment of bonding between Mrs. Kim and Lane, a super conservative Adventist, like Mrs. Kim is depicted to be, would not have alcohol anywhere in their home.
Next week: Moxie’s Review of Gilmore Girls, Part 2: The Ugly