Wednesday, May 16, 2007

How Gilmore Girls turned my mother onto TV

(If you can tear your attention away from those thrilling upfronts for just a second, perhaps you might join me and the rest of the South Dakota Dark team in mourning the passing of Gilmore Girls, which aired its finale last night. Todd has written a great article on the show for The House Next Door which you should check out, and later I'll recap the finale. For now, here's my own Gilmore Girls related tale.)

Since he started his time at university, every holiday my brother David (yes, SDD’s own) seems to come home raving on about a new show that I absolutely must watch. My brother’s taste is almost always in tune with my own, and sure enough I’ve fallen for every one of these shows, from Veronica Mars to The Wire to Friday Night Lights. One of the first DVD box-sets he brought home, though, was the first season of Gilmore Girls.

Things didn’t start well. David had purchased the box-set cheap from eBay, so naturally it arrived with a hole through the first three discs. Normally I would have preferred watching a show from the very beginning, but David insisted it didn’t matter. More than not mattering, it turned out to be something of a blessing – the beginning chunk of Gilmore Girls’ first season is a mixed bag and very much at odds with the Gilmore Girls I ultimately fell in love with. The dialogue isn’t as sharp, the tone is off and the show’s very individual identity hadn’t yet been established. Plus lets face it, Gilmore Girls isn’t really loved for its plot – catching up took me a matter of minutes.

As is always the case with a quality show, after just one episode I was hooked. There wasn’t one particular thing that appealed to me, but rather the combination of the snappy dialogue, appealing mother-daughter relationship and casual pace. The latter was what most surprised me about the show. I got into TV at a time where slow-paced programmes unconcerned with plot were a rarity (in the last few years this has only become more true). What with obsessive and, when provoked, aggressive fans now hooking onto a show, all ready to tear it to pieces if it doesn’t satisfy them, Gilmore Girls was a breath of fresh air. Clearly creator Amy Sherman-Palladino put grabbing an audience second to sticking by her vision. She also remained true to the realities of a small town like Stars Hollow - where event episodes of other shows increasingly involve the death of a major character or a shocking twist in the tale, a 'biggie' in Gilmore Girls terms usually centred around a town event like a Winter Carnival ('Just Like Gwen and Gavin') or, if the Palladinos were feeling especially dramatic, the death of a pet ('Cinammon’s Wake'). Although dramatic events became more common as the show went on, they were always few and far between.

Me and my brother churned through four seasons of Gilmore Girls at a record pace, sometimes watching two, three or even four episodes in a single day. My mother had never been much of a television person, apart from a few exceptions (The O.C., Seinfeld, and oddly 24 among them). Indeed, at one point she walked in on me and David watching Gilmore and proclaimed it 'garbage' without having ever seen it (in her defence we had shirked some responsibility at the time). When we first introduced her to Gilmore Girls she was unconvinced. Her resistance, however, only lasted so long. Soon enough she was hooked and with my brother back at university I assumed the same role he had taken when watching the show with me: enjoying almost every episode just as much the second time around, trying (often unsuccessfully) to not reveal any of each season’s two or three big plot turning points, and, of course, turning to observe my mother’s reaction at big moments or especially hilarious lines. By season three through to the end of season five, me and my mother would be watching at least one episode of Gilmore Girls a night (which was a lot, considering that before this show she would only watch television a few nights a week). At especially gripping points she could be convinced into watching two or, on one monumental occasion, three episodes in a single viewing.

From these many months of viewing, a few choice reactions of my mother’s stick in my memory. I remember her stunned silence at the end of ‘Rory’s Dance,’ the first episode to prove that Gilmore Girls could pull off a powerful moment of human drama. I remember her slight disappointment at ‘They Shoot Gilmores, Don’t They?’ due in large part to me and David having built the episode up a bit excessively. (C'mon, it’s Rory and Dean’s big break-up!) I remember her hatred of the flashbacks in ‘Dear Emily and Richard,’ a view she shared with David but not myself (I think they’re sweet!). I remember how upset she was when Jess left the show at the end of season three, how happy she’d be every time he’d return, and how bummed she’d be when he would disappear once again. I remember her affection for Jason Stiles, and her shock when Richard screwed him over in ‘Tick, Tick, Tick, Boom!’ I remember her extreme hatred of Dean in the opening chuck of season five, and her slightly less extreme hatred of Logan from the moment of his introduction.

She also detested all the cutesy town stuff with all her heart, to the point where she would grumble to herself or leave the room whenever this aspect of the show reared its head. At one point I exploded, ordering her to shut up because it was getting really irritating; she obliged, but soon I began to miss her grumblings and was relieved when they returned. Now, when I watch the show alone and Taylor or Miss Patty appear, I feel like something's missing.

The town stuff aside though, the main reason these reactions have stuck in my mind is because they are all very similar, if not identical, to my own when I was in her position. There are slight differences – I loved ‘They Shoot Gilmores…’ deeply, and where my hatred of Logan has faded over time, hers shows no signs of going anywhere. But I loved seeing how she would react to every nice moment, big or little, simply because it was as close as I was going to get to experiencing the show again for the first time.

That’s what Gilmore Girls was for me – an experience. An immensely pleasurable and satisfying experience. Many of the articles about Gilmore Girls’ end have put focus on its descent in quality over the last couple seasons, but I’ll save any bitterness over that for my review of the series finale. I don’t want to send Gilmore Girls out on a dour note. Because even if it’s not what it once was, for five seasons – ah hell, for six seasons (missteps aside, there are still some classic episodes in there!) it delivered quality television that did more than turn my mother onto television – it turned me onto television. Sure, I’d seen plenty of it before, but Gilmore Girls was the first time I actually immersed myself in a show. It's the only show I was or will ever be willing to watch twice through. To be honest I’d be happy to watch it through a third time. Which pretty much tells you everything you need to know.

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