Gilmore Girls: A Season One Review
Posted by therebelprince on July 18, 2009
Man, I love Gilmore Girls! I mean it. Sure, I can’t deny that the show had many faults – both on and offscreen – during its seven season run, but rarely have they taken away from the magic that the show produced. I’m going into these reviews watching episodes through for the first time in three or four years, and so I was prepared to have my nostalgia dashed. In fact, while some of the remembered complaints stand out greater than before, others appear to have been aspects of time, place, or the unfortunate mess that is the U.S. Television schedule. So without further ado, here is season one:
Gilmore Girls opens in late 2000 in the small Connecticut town of Stars Hollow, a storybook land where the quirky inhabitants host exquisite festivals every weekend, and coffee flows like tap water. Here, 32-year-old Lorelai Gilmore (Lauren Graham) lives with her almost-16-year-old daughter Rory (Alexis Bledel). 15 years ago, Lorelai ran away from home with her new daughter and took a job as a maid at the Independence Inn. She has now worked her way up to her manager, where she works alongside best friend and chef Sookie St. James (Melissa McCarthy), and the gorgeously snooty concierge Michel (Yanic Truesdale). Rory, meanwhile, attends Stars Hollow High with best friend Lane Kim (Keiko Agena) until – at the start of the 10th grade – she is accepted into the prestigious Hartford school Chilton. To pay for this, Lorelai reluctantly approaches her parents – blue-blooded Richard and Emily (the fabulous pairing of Edward Herrmann and Kelly Bishop) for a loan. In return, she agrees to weekly dinners on Friday night for the four Gilmores, and more access overall into their lives.
It’s a simple premise which opens up the first chapter in a cleverly written tale. Creator and head writer Amy Sherman-Palladino pens her series with a wit and verve that is rare to see, and somehow she keeps it up over the season. The cast are primarily well-established: Graham, Bishop and Herrmann are the standouts here, while Liza Weil (left) is the breakout star, shining as Rory’s newly found school nemesis Paris Gellar. Bledel, as Rory, is young and new to the game but is paradoxically at her best here in the first season, where she shines with a natural naivete.
The first season in some ways has the fewest faults, due to the fact that it has no past history to ruin, or viewer expectations to devestate. Rory and Lorelai spend so much time together that they have the strongest of bonds, and it shows in their clever banter. Around them, we meet many of the town inhabitants: Lane’s strict Seventh Day Adventist mother (Emily Kuroda), from whom her daughter hides an entire life as an audiophile; Town Selectman and pompous ass Taylor Doose (Michael Winters), town gossips Patty and Babette (Liz Torres and the husky Sally Struthers), produce man Jackson Belleville (Jackson Douglas) and the King of Quirk, Kirk (Sean Gunn, of whom many scenes will be forever in my memory).
We also meet the various love interests: Scott Patterson stars as Luke Danes, the diner owner and coffee pusher for the girls whose Spartan view of existence and predeliction for long rants compares and contrasts nicely with Lorelai. Teen heartthrob Jared Padalecki is Rory’s new boyfriend Dean, while she finds unwanted interest at Chilton courtesy of Tristan (Chad Michael Murray in the role that led to his dubious stardom).
And Scott Cohen puts in a nice guest turn as Max, the Chilton school teacher who tries to steal Lorelai’s heart and who she inadvisedly begins dating. (This relationship is looked back on in a wonderful new light at the end of the show’s sixth season, but that’s a bit of a way away)
Overall, there is little to fault here. The prime faults are few and far between: fighting between Lorelai and Rory runs a bit too rampant this season. Given their general understanding of each other, any time that these two fight requires a solid foundation for us not to see it as petty or unworthy of the two. However, this little issue will become less formulaic with each passing season. Occasionally, the show goes a bit too far out of its way to narrate the past to us: Lorelai’s ignorance as to Luke’s biggest relationship seems completely unreasonable, particularly when Sookie and Miss Patty know everything about the recently returned Rachel (Lisa Ann Hadley).
On the other hand, much is well done: the introduction of Rory’s father Christopher (David Sutcliffe) is deftly handled (although some fans may wish he had never appeared given the plot developments of season six); Rory’s growing friendship with Paris is very well done; and the town dynamics, which take a while to establish, are firmly entrenched by mid-season as we get the first of the town meetings which always provided ample fields for humour for Amy and Daniel Palladino.
Graham is the star here, and its easy to see already why critics routinely lambasted awards committees for not lavishing more praise on her (but as an actress on The WB, she was always going to be very lucky to get away with mainstream recognition). It’s an enjoyable, heartfelt experience, which occasionally plays a bit heavy on the heartstrings this season, but well recommended. In fact, this sickly sweet demeanour – which got the show perhaps at times stereotyped – is more indicative of Rory’s youth than anything else. As Amy Sherman-Palladino says in a revealing interview after she left the show, had they explained where Rory would be in a few years – a maturing young woman who, at one point, learns to cybersex – “our heads would’ve been chopped off, put on pikes and paraded around Burbank”. One of the strengths of this show is growing as its characters do. The light drama of the Chilton scenes may seem fluffy compared to most drama series, but we’ll see that fluff develop into real emotions as Rory grows.
It’s interesting to see how the Lorelai/Luke friendship is seeded into sexual tension, although here it is shown to be primarily on Luke’s side of the fence, as when he plucks up the courage to ask her out in “Double Date” only to be rudely interrupted. While Lorelai does question Rory in an early episode on what it would be like to date Luke, she doesn’t show any further signs of attraction this season… and won’t until season three, I believe.
Above: Liz Torres as the salacious Stars Hollow dance teacher Miss Patty
* We meet for the first time Headmaster Charleston (Dakin Matthews), the town troubadour (Grant Lee Phillips), Morey (Ted Rooney) Paris’ two minions Louise and Madeleine (Teal Redmann and Shelly Cole), and Richard’s overbearing mother Lorelai “Trix” the First (the divine Marion Ross).
* We also quickly lose Drella (Alex Borstein), the Independence Inn harpist, although I suspect it was never actually a long-running contract. Borstein – who knew Palladino’s husband and executive producer Daniel from her time on “Family Guy” – was originally cast as Sookie in the pilot, and I doubt they planned to keep Drella around for long.
* Sean Gunn, as everyone knows now, initially played a couple of minor townspeople until his role as Kirk finally blossomed into a long-time member of the town.
High points: “Rory’s Dance”, in which the three generations of Gilmore girls engage in some good battles; “Emily in Wonderland”, in which Kelly Bishop gets to flex her acting mettle as a devestated Emily discovers what life was like for her daughter 15 years ago; and “Love and War and Snow” in which we first get to experience Lorelai’s loving relationship with that particular weather phenomenon. There are in fact no weak episodes this season, and its not hard to see why this show returned for a second, third, fourth through seventh season.
Disclaimer: I’m actually not crazy! I promise that I will discuss the negative aspects that occurred, onscreen and off, during the series’ run… once they crop up!
Next time: season 2 – Jess Mariano divides viewers; Richard faces a midlife crisis; and Lorelai trades one dysfunctional relationship for another.