I am not the target audience for Gilmore Girls.
Gilmore Girls was on the WB, was ostensibly about a mother/daughter (Lorelei/Rory) who were best friends, and had a lot of talking. A lot of talking. Enough talking to make Aaron Sorkin look terse. Scripts for the show were famously 50% longer than any other show on TV because there was SO. MUCH. TALKING.
All of that means the target audience was a third to half my age and a different gender.
And yet, were I to have to choose between my heretofore favorite comedy (the first five years of Cheers1) and GG for the infamous desert island, I would be hard-pressed to pick. GG isn’t just funny, it’s intelligently funny. There is no laugh track telling you where to laugh, and where else are you going to hear jokes referencing Sylvia Plath, or Visigoths, or Marianne Faithful? Netflix is the perfect home for it, because it means you can hit “back” several times an episode to catch the one you missed while you were laughing at the last one. This is dialog that would make the Algonquin Round Table fall over laughing. (It’s not a coincidence the production company is “Dorothy Parker Drank Here Productions”.)
If you think something is supposed to be funny but aren’t sure why (“A trench coat would be too All the President’s Men” but my blue coat would be too My Girl Friday"), do some research! Watch the movies, read the books, listen to the songs (“ ‘I remember something about Rome. Romans live there. Audrey Hepburn took a holiday there. It’s the name of a B52s song.’ ‘Different Rome.’ ”), expand your horizons. That’s right, it’s funny and educational.
Did I mention the French-Canadian? He has possibly the greatest accent in the history of television, has a stereotypical French-Canadian (and French) attitude (“People are particularly stupid today. I can’t talk to any more of them.”), which intimidates everyone but his boss (“You know who’s really nice to talk to? The people at the unemployment agency.”), who also happens to be Lorelei. He’s usually only on-screen for four minutes or so an episode, but it’s a fantastic four2 minutes.
But wait, it’s a floor wax and a dessert-topping.3 Not only is it laugh-out-loud funny, it’s also a study in dysfunctional relationships. You remember how much talking there was? There are that many dysfunctional relationships, too.
- Lorelei and Rory are “best friends”. Mothers need to be a lot of things to their teenage daughters; best friends isn’t one of them.
- Lorelei and her parents, whose pictures are beside the word “snob” in the dictionary. In fact, their pictures are on several pages — “condescending,” “manipulative,” “control freak,” …
- Lorelei and Rory’s father, a teenage fling that turned into Rory. Lorelei uses him as a crutch; as just one example, she calls him from her bachelorette party for her marriage to a different guy.
- Rory’s best friend Lane and her mother. Lane wants to play drums and date cute guys, her mother wants her to live in her room until the day she marries a (Korean) doctor.
- Rory and any of her three boyfriends during the series. Dean is a first-love puppy dog, Jess is channeling James Dean and doing a bad job of it, and Logan is the rich goof off who’s going to inherit his dad’s business and is used to getting his way all the time.
- Luke and everyone in town except Lorelei/Rory. Luke runs the local diner, and his picture is beside “curmudgeon” in the dictionary. In fact, he has the whole page to himself.
- Luke and Lorelei. In true Sam and Diane4 fashion, Luke is crazy about her, everyone around her but her knows it, and she insists (and believes) they’re “just friends.” Luke’s “realization” in season 4 that Lorelei is the one is one of the series’ few mis-steps—Luke’s known from well before the first episode that she’s the one.
- Paris and everyone. Paris is a rich girl at Rory’s school who has a colossal inferiority complex and overcompensates by massively overachieving in e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g. Including lunch. She’s frightening and hilarious. In that order.
I could go on. The only semi-normal relationship on the whole show is between Lorelei and her best friend Sookie, played wonderfully by Melissa McCarthy in what is easily the best role of her career.
What is amazing about the show is how often they turn on a dime — you’re laughing yourself silly one second, and the next you’re sitting in stunned silence wondering what just happened. What is fascinating about the show is, again, how much intelligence there is. These characters are oblivious to much of their dysfunctionality. Lorelei blames all of her problems with her parents on them, but doesn’t realize how her actions contribute. She also doesn’t see how her overcompensation has affected her and Rory. Rory doesn’t see that Logan represents the life that she would have had if Lorelei had towed the line with her parents. Lane’s mother doesn’t realize her smothering is having the opposite of the intended affect. In short, there’s a lot going on underneath the surface; there’s the written plot of the (very many) lines, and there’s the unwritten plot between all of those lines.
It’s educational in a different way than the humor — it’s a clinic in all of the ways we screw up in our relationships, and how often we continue to screw up in our relationships because we don’t know we’re screwing up in the first place. We blame all of the problems on the other party. Or we blame ourselves for the parts we’re actually not responsible for, and therefore can’t fix. Or we run over someone because we’re too focused on ourselves to see what’s happening to them.
If you can watch one episode, identify all of the interpersonal problems, and for each one list a couple of ways they could have been handled better, it could probably save several sessions of counseling. Or maybe it takes several sessions of counseling to be able to identify the problems and/or solutions. Either way, by the end of the series you could have a counseling degree.5
It all goes swimmingly until about halfway through season six, at which point the creators lost their minds. They were then cast to the side for the seventh season following the WB/UPN to CW merger. That seventh, and last, season is a total disaster without them, but the seeds had been sown in season six with them.
So, if you like sharp, smart, sarcastic wit with a side of relational angst, give it a try. It’s not for everyone (my wife has tried to watch it twice and given up both times), but for those it’s for, it’s a treasure. Just take notes while you’re watching on all the things you’re not going to do in your relationships.
Oh, and there’s an official town troubadour. I mean, come on, who doesn’t love an official town troubadour?!
- “The Diane Years”.
- See what I did there?
- Yes, Virginia, SNL was funny once.
- If I ever meet James Burrows or one of the Charles brothers, I’m going to slap them. Five times. Once for every year of Sam and Diane’s off-on-off-off-on relationship that has doomed every to be couple on TV in the last thirty years to the same cycle.
- Not an actual counseling degree. Professionals on a closed course. Don’t practice, or drive, without a license.