Stuck in a hospital bed, ill, exhausted and bored, the summer of 2008 was not turning out exactly as I had planned. After an amazing six weeks living, working and travelling in Ghana, I came home to hallucinations and an inability to keep food down (among many other unmentionables); I had got malaria.
Only allowed visits for a couple of hours a day, and stuck in a ward with a mean age of at least 65, I was going stir crazy. Without the technology we have today, such as iPads and Netflix, mum had to give in and pay (£5 a day!) for me to watch the TV in hospital so I had something to take my mind off where I was.
And it was from here that my love for the Gilmores sprung. I was pretty late to the party, the show had aired its final episode 14 months previously, but it was only just being shown on free UK channels (E4). I can’t remember which episode was the first I watched (the whole of that period of my life is a bit of a blur now), but I knew as soon as it had started that this show was something special. I had been Gilmored. In the intervening years, I’ve watched the series from start to finish at least half a dozen times, I watch it when I am feeling sad, or lonely, I’ve introduced friends to it, and finally got my mum to watch (she’s under strict orders to finish in the next few days).
Now, as the four new episodes are scheduled to air in just a week’s time, I’ve taken metaphorical pen to paper in an attempt to explain why I think it is one of the greatest shows for women, young and old (and somewhere inbetween).
Young women had quite a rough deal for role models in the Naughties. Shows aimed primarily at young women centred around male protaganists – think Ryan of the O.C, Lucas of One Tree Hill, and Dawson of Dawson’s Creek – with the female cast members initially shown purely as romantic interests for the “hot” young men we eagerly followed as they overcame some kind of issue in their social and family life. Yes, these young women gradually got a backstory, their own storylines, and, in the case of Joey Potter, actually became the focus of the shows they were initially sidelined in. It seemed as if the men writing these shows only thought young women would be interested in TV shows and their characters if they were following the life of a beautiful young man.
I’m not saying it didn’t work – as a 14-year-old, when The O.C and OTH came to my screen I was hooked. But it was the female characters I identified with and they were ignored by the writers. In my teenage years there was only one strong female role model for me – Buffy. I loved her and the way the show twisted the expectations we had for gender roles (and I still do).
A pretty, petite blonde, always the target in shows and films of the genre, fights the demons and takes on our monsters. It set that genre flip from the opening sequence when Darla, the young blonde “schoolgirl”, is sneaking into the high school with a jock – immediately we assume she must be the one in danger – and then, bam, she was the one
we should have been scared of from the beginning. And then double bam, Buffy is awesome and powerful and funny and beautiful. Willow becomes one of the most powerful people on earth, from that timid, dungaree-clad, geek inside of all of us.
I could write about Buffy all day, but GG is the target in hand. But Buffy is important. She is who I grew up wanting to be, but those expectations were slightly limited – I don’t live on a Hellmouth (or at least, not one that I’m aware of). I needed someone who felt realistic. Of course other elements of Buffy ring true with young adults, the monsters she defeated represented our anxieties at that age, and the friendships she made were goals for the rest of us (who wouldn’t want their very own Willow, Xander, Giles (and Cordelia) at their side).
In these formative years, I would also watch Sex and the City, with a main cast of just women, but I would argue that the show does not empower women in the same way as Buffy and Gilmore Girls: Carrie and co are dependent on men, each episode revolved entirely around a discussion about the current relationship any/all of the women were having. I don’t know about you, but my days don’t revolve around discussing men.
Instead of many different forms of a Buffy-type character, the young women in all the other shows were just there as an object of the main, male, character’s affection, or as the antagonist to another female character’s plotline in the show (Joey v Jen, Peyton v Brooke). What kind of a message does that send to teenage girls?
I can think of half a dozen shows now that have women as the sole focus, that show their strength in all manner of ways, which discuss feminism and women’s relationships with other women and themselves more at the heart of the show than so many that I grew up with – Orange is the New Black, Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries (my current obsession), Jessica Jones, Girls…
Many women my age were fortunate to have also grown up with Rory and Lorelai Gilmore on their screens and I would have loved to have also had them with me as I made my way through the terrifying maze that was being a teenager in the Naughties.
The Gilmores became known to me as described above; I was 19, almost 20, about to enter my final year of university and craved some kind of independence.
And there they were, this mother and daughter, best friends, funny, witty, intelligent, making me laugh and cry and wishing to be part of a community like Stars Hollow.
And Rory, whom I of course identified with the most at that age, wasn’t solely chasing boys as so many other characters often are; she was reading, book after book after book, studying hard, like we all should have been doing, and EATING. How many other young women on TV are ever shown to actually enjoy their food, on a regular basis.
Every episode has the pair of them enjoying something, doughnuts, burgers, pizza, chips, and not feeling guilty about it. Yea, ok, if we actually all ate like they do, we would be huge, but that’s not the point. Women rarely eat on TV, or at least at that time they didn’t, and if they do, there’s normally some guilt associated with it, or they are doing it because their “heart is broken” and can only find comfort in an ice cream tub.
There is very little in Gilmore Girls that is overly dramatic, no one descends into an abusive relationship with drugs, gets caught up in the “wrong crowd”, dies, etc etc, like so many other shows aimed at young people. The stories are pretty realistic to the situations most of us have found ourselves in – struggling with friendships, difficulties in school, applying for university, life after education, going to uni and missing your family, falling out with your parents, falling in and out of love, growing up and becoming independent.
Both Rory and Lorelai naturally have romantic interests – TEAM JESS AND LUKE – but the show is not defined by who they are pursuing or who is pursuing them. Every episode is about their mother/daughter relationship, with any romantic relationship tied in, but almost always as a secondary thought.
When Dean (SPOILER) breaks up with Rory at the 24-hour Dance Marathon, after Jess comes to talk to her and their relationship is *finally* about to start properly, the episode doesn’t end with Jess comforting Rory, or them “getting together”, as so many other shows would, it ends with a daughter needing to be with her mother as the light goes out on her first love.
And it’s not just the Gilmore girls. The supporting cast of female characters are all strong and funny and savvy and witty and independent. The town’s mechanic, Gypsy, is a woman, Sookie is an amazing chef, Paris is, well Paris, but I love her for it and she doesn’t take any male bullshit, Mrs Kim runs the antique store, Sophie (Carole King, yay!) owns the music shop and even April’s mum, Anna, runs her own business. Even Emily becomes more independent and moves away from her traditional views of gender roles.
Then it comes to the male characters. I think the cast is fairly evenly split between men and women, but it takes a few episodes before any of the male characters are given more than a few lines, or even any kind of story in the show. And that is refreshing. The men are important, and there are some amazing male characters – Kirk being one of the best – but the show could survive with or without them. That’s almost unheard of.
In that summer when I was first introduced to the Lorelais, I remember my mum asking me in the car why I liked it so much and without thinking I just said “because it reminds me of us”.
Mum wasn’t a teenage or single parent, I’m not an only child, mum had an excellent relationship with her mother, I’m not anywhere near as intelligent or beautiful as Rory, or as good a daughter as she is (most of the time), but I can’t think of any other show which depicts family relationships in such a way.
They aren’t perfect, they fight, but the show exists purely as a depiction of love – the love we have for our parents and they for us, however that manifests. You might have an Emily (and my mum certainly has a few Emily traits!), but whatever Emily does, she is doing it out of love, however misguided it can feel at times. The majority of the “celebrations” that are enjoyed throughout the seven seasons are not about romantic relationships, it is about friendship, with our family and friends, and academic achievements, independence, business success and above all else, family.
It might not win critical acclaim in the way other series have and will, it doesn’t particularly break down any genres, or be edgy or gritty or filled with drama and tension, but it is the only show of its time and genre that builds women up to be something more than romantic interests and all women – whatever their age – need to be reminded that they are more than just the love interest, they are loved by so many other people, their parents and friends being the main.
We all love love, but ultimately it’s the love between mothers and daughters that we watch it for. We may not all be parents but we are all someone’s child and a lot of us are fortunate enough to have a relationship with our parents that is cherished. Women support other women throughout this show. And that is something that we all need in a world that feels like it is taking a turn against us.
As the four new episodes make their way to our screens in the next week, I hope that a new generation are able to become friends with the Gilmore girls and discover what it is like to be part of a little community called Stars Hollow.
Featured image – Warner Bros