There are few things I liked at age 12 that I still like now. Flared jeans, layerable tank tops, the musical stylings of Colbie Callait — I’ve grown out of all of these, literally, in the case of the former. But one of my adolescent favorites that still endures nine years later is Gilmore Girls: And lucky for me, all seven seasons will stream on Netflix starting Oct. 1.
Premiering in 2000, the show teeters on the brink of an era wherein much of television could still be described as wholesome sitcom. While Gilmore Girls might easily be characterized as such, often running on ABC Family alongside Full House, Boy Meets World and the like, it stands out in ways these other childhood classics don’t: It centers on the lives of women.
The plot zeros in on Lorelai and Rory Gilmore, the inseparable mother-daughter pair of the show’s title. Since Lorelai became pregnant with Rory as a teenager, the two are only 16 years apart. Though this closeness in age lends itself to their intense bond, the equality of their relationship sustains it. At times, Lorelai does pull “the mom card” as she calls it, but these moments are always illuminating ones for the characters, as both Rory’s teenageness and Lorelai’s cool-mom status become more believable.
Other times though, the tables are turned and Rory is the one taking care of her mom or being candid about her mistakes. As her best friend, Rory can tell Lorelai when she’s overreacting or when she’s wrong, and Rory is there to take care of her when she’s down.
While “Gilmore Girls” definitely leans toward romanticizing single motherhood, Lorelai and Rory are unarguably human, and their intense loyalty to each other is what makes it so.
Though it is this immeasurable love between the mother-daughter duo that drives the show, Lorelai and Rory thrive because of the support system they find in their friends and neighbors of Stars Hollow. No minor character merely exists in their microscopic town—they all have their own stories and well thought-out motivations that make it impossible for them to fade into the periphery. Consequently, many of these figures are women, making female solidarity and kinship common threads throughout the series.
Rory and Lorelai’s family too is traced through mothers. Rory is named after her mother, who is named after her grandmother, establishing a lineage of powerful, independent women. While Lorelai’s relationship with her own mother Emily stands in stark contrast to that of hers and Rory’s, it serves as a reminder of the possible permutations for mother-daughter bonds. Though Emily is often harsh and critical of Lorelai and her lifestyle, leading to a number of altercations and falling-outs over the course of the series, we ultimately understand that Emily loves her daughter no less than Lorelai loves Rory.
While it is these relationsuos that propel the show, over its seven seasons, both Rory and Lorelai are afforded a number of romantic interests. However, at no point does it feel as though “Gilmore Girls” is about boyfriends, finding love or finding ‘the one.’ Though the facets of its feminism are complicated, “Gilmore Girls'” female-centricity is undeniable: The series begins as a story about mother and daughter and it ends on the same note.
These sentimental chords are balanced by Lorelai and Rory’s sharp wit—they are bottomless wells of pop culture references, literary allusions and historical citations that serve as the basis for the show’s humor. Naturally, it was difficult for my uncultured 12-year-old self to keep up with the spitfire dialogue that made the show’s scripts up to 40 pages longer than the average television script, though this never made the show inaccessible or any less enjoyable for me.
It took me until I read “A Tale of Two Cities” in ninth grade to understand why Chris, Rory’s father, calls Lorelai Madame Defarge while she’s preparing for the Stars Hallow Knit-a-thon in the seventh season. In season four, Rory’s grandmother Emily forces her to sit in their basement and watch ballroom dancing competitions with her for hours against her will. Rory calls Lorelai and tells her, “She won’t let me leave ever. This is Iran in ’79 and you are Jimmy Carter. Now what do we do?” This reference went over my head until American history class.
Every time I watch Gilmore Girls I understand one more of these allusions because I’ve read another book, taken another class, seen another movie or watched another television show. Gilmore Girls evolves with its viewers and never loses its freshness despite the fact that we see Rory and Lorelai using beepers and dial-up Internet in season one.
But beyond tracing the Gilmore Girls from pagers to smart phones, growing up alongside Rory Gilmore—something I consider still in the works—is one of the most poignant parts of the series. In the show’s beginning, Rory is an overachieving student and an avid reader with a by-the-rules Type A personality. Though at the show’s conclusion all of these traits still hold true, over the course of the seven seasons, Rory’s character undergoes countless developments that complicate and nuance our understanding of her.
While Rory’s quiet, she’s also candid, a quality that’s Lorelai through-and-through. Rory loves school, but she drops out of Yale for a semester because her confidence is shaken. Rory always makes a pro-con list, but she doesn’t think it through when she sleeps with her married ex-boyfriend Dean. Rory never breaks the rules, but she steals a yacht with her boyfriend Logan in season five. But this is not to say her characterization is contradictory, or her actions incongruous with her character. Seeing Rory make mistakes and move in and out of her comfort zone is what makes her supremely real.
And the same can be said for Lorelai: The show’s premise depends on her ability to be Rory’s best friend as well as her mother, and it is through navigating those boundaries that we see her human qualities—her fallibility, her quirks and her refusal to fail at anything. Many of these peripheral characters also happen to be female, and truly it is the women of this show who speak the loudest.
Discovering Gilmore Girls then, is to discover the possibilities for relationships, for humor and for a fictional story to become a fully realized world. While we don’t all have Lorelais for mothers, and we can’t relate to Rory getting accepted to every Ivy League college, the depiction of the characters’ everyday lives gives way to a realistic drama within which viewers of all ages can imagine themselves.