Until Gilmore Girls.
I had ignored this show for a number of years, thinking it to be another soap-opera, mother/daughter show. And yes, the show has soap opera elements that revolve around a mother and a daughter. But it is so much more.
Creator Amy Sherman-Palladino created such a lovely and strange world in her small town of Star Hollow, Connecticut. The inhabitants were strange, but in a way that we could see our own strangeness in them. And while they were all a bit strange, they were not flat. Gilmore Girls gave humanity, depth, and dimension to characters who would never have had it in lesser hands.
The performances were also utterly fantastic. Even with the best writing, if you cannot find actors to make it sing, it will land with a thud. Fortunately the casting was great. Lauren Graham was amazing as Lorelai Gilmore. She is alternately funny, dramatic, sage, and immature in a way that never feels false. Alexis Bledel also does an admiral job as her daughter Rory, the bookish girl who originally acted as a foil to her wild-child mother. This show also had seasoned actors Kelly Bishop and Edward Herrmann as Lorelai's wealthy parents. But the most overlooked and important performance was Scott Patterson as Luke. There was a strange, hyper-reality that surrounds the characters of Stars Hollow. But Patterson's Luke feels grounded in a way that is different from everyone else. He adds a stable, masculine presence that presents goodness and decency as dependable and attractive.
Each week the show was sure to be a treat for all those hungry for sharp writing. It did begin to decline after a few years with the devolution of Rory's character particularly. But it still stood above most TV shows around.
The opening scene sets up everything you need to know about the show. The dialogue flies and snaps. The entire episode is horribly charming as we are introduced to the main plotline of the show with the estranged relationships and the quirky tone. From that first episode, you got the sense that you were watching something unlike anything else.
JUMP THE SHARK
"The Long Morrow"
Amy Sherman-Palladino's last episode on the series she created was like a gigantic middle finger to the show. Being fired from her own show may have embittered her, but this episode is filled with bitter goodbyes. It also has Lorelei make the most irrational and destructive decision of the entire series (which is saying a lot). But it does so in a way that not only hurts the show itself, but hurts fans of the show who were emotionally invested in the story.
"Last Week Fights, This Week Tights."
I almost stopped watching the show with this episode and it was over something that was unrelated to the main story. Lorelei is on the phone with Rory and says that she just met someone whose name begins with the letter "J." Rory's response is "Not Jesus! I'm sick of Him and Mel Gibson." In a show that had been generally respectful of religion (though it show's Rory's best friend's mom as a bit of fanatic), I was shocked at this outright insult to the faith. And it forever soured me against the character Rory. It is fitting that this episode is the beginning of a downward spiral that eventually turns her into a homewrecking adulteress. But this utterly pointless and hurtful line still stings. I hated even writing about it. The only way for me to continue being engaged in the show was to see Rory as no longer the protagonist but as the tragic villain in need of redemption. Luckily, that is kind of how the next few seasons play out. Rory comes off as entitled, selfish, and spoiled. And all of these qualities lead to hurt and heartache in her life.
I am a big fan of finales done right, and this was a finale done right. A great finale is one that gives you a proper goodbye to characters in whom who have invested several hours of your life. It gives you a cathartic sense of closure and that is what this episode does. It marks several endings and resolutions to several of the different relationships. The performances and directing wonderfully reflect this sense of goodbye. But for me, my favorite moment was between Luke and Lorelai.
Gilmore Girls is several types of shows in one. It is a family drama, a romantic comedy, a coming of age tale, and a farce of social class. But above all it was a show with some of the best dialogue ever written for the small screen.