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It sounds like a premise potentially fraught with angst and trauma, but in reality Gilmore Girls was one of the freshest, airiest, most enjoyable shows to air on the perpetually melodramatic WB network, critically praised once viewers got hooked on its unique brand of humor. Rory's growing-up adventures, including her acclimation to snooty Chilton and romance with townie dreamboat Dean (Jared Padalecki), gave the show a teen-friendly feel, but Gilmore Girls was anchored in the adult by the luminous Graham, a brilliant comedic leading lady who could turn dramatic on a dime and never break stride. The show's hallmark was its rat-a-tat, whipsmart dialogue, delivered perfectly by Graham and Bledgel, as well as a host of wacky supporting characters who would go on to become invaluable cast members. The first season allowed the show--and its lead actresses--to bloom gracefully and establish a deep, humorous rapport that lent itself perfectly to weekly travails both comedic and dramatic. --Mark Englehart
Season 2-Love was in the air at the beginning of the second season of Gilmore Girls, as both Gilmores found themselves in the midst of perfect, giddy relationships--or so they thought. Lorelai (Lauren Graham) had accepted the proposal of English teacher Max (Scott Cohen) and was excitedly planning her first wedding; Rory (Alexis Bledel) was back on happy footing with townie hunk Dean (Jared Padalecki) after a dust-up near the end of season one that prompted a mini-break for the teen twosome. However, series creator Amy Sherman-Palladino had anything but smooth sailing on the horizon for her heroines, giving Lorelai a severe case of cold feet and Rory a major distraction in the form of Jess (Milo Ventimiglia), the bad boy newly arrived in town. Soon, Rory found herself extremely attracted to Jess, while Lorelai rekindled the flame of passion that once burned long ago with Rory's father, Christopher (David Sutcliffe), who made his way back into her life despite a girlfriend in the wings.
After the minor romantic speed bumps of the first season, the introduction of actual conflict into the second season of Gilmore Girls helped give the happy-goofy atmosphere of Stars Hollow a decided tension, as Rory tangled with her emotions over Jess and began the first tiny steps away from her good-girl persona. The episode "A-Tisket, A-Tasket," centered around the annual town auction of picnic baskets, was a wonderful portrait of Rory's conflicting adolescent feelings for both Dean and Jess. However, it was Lorelai's simmering chemistry with former flame Christopher, only hinted at in the first season, that gave the show its energy as well as its heartbreak, culminating in the stellar season finale "I Can't Get Started." But lest you think Gilmore Girls was centered only on romance, the second season also gave the expansive ensemble cast many hilarious moments, ranging from the hallway politics of Rory's private school to the town antics that shaped the Gilmores' daily lives. Through it all, the appealing Bledel and the radiant Graham exuded wit, charm, and a way with snappy patter not seen since the golden days of '30s screwball comedy. --Mark Englehart
Season 3-Senior year meant some surprising changes for the Gilmore girls, as both Lorelai (Lauren Graham) and Rory (Alexis Bledel) wrestled with their pasts in order to figure out what the heck they were going to do with their futures. In the wake of finding out that her relationship with Rory's dad was not to be rekindled, Lorelai endured a variety of suitors as she attempted to keep her life on an evil keel--not easy when her former flame's girlfriend was pregnant (and clueless), her former fiancé shows up unexpectedly, and her beloved inn suffers some unforeseen damage. If it was minor drama for Lorelai, it was full-fledged soap opera for Rory, who broke up with longtime boyfriend Dean (Jared Padalecki) in the wake of her attraction to the moody bad-boy Jess (Milo Ventimiglia), only to find her new relationship fraught with difficulties. Add to that the pressure of getting into college (Harvard or Yale?) and stressful senior class politics at the snooty Chilton private school, and it's a wonder she still had time to crack wise at breakneck speed with her mom and the rest of Stars Hollow.
The center of the third season of Gilmore Girls was the Rory-Dean-Jess triangle, which played out with surprising sensitivity and not a bit of sadness; it all came to a head in the episode "They Shoot Gilmores, Don't They?" in which Rory and Lorelai's quest to win a dance marathon ends in tears and break-ups. The year's teen drama did have a tendency to put the adults on the back burner, but the luminous Graham made the most of her character's dilemmas, whether gauging her growing attraction to diner owner Luke (Scott Patterson) or wrestling with her parents' continuous meddling. While it is hard to pinpoint a specific compelling story arc for this season, that doesn't mean it wasn't filled with the charm, smarts, and rapid-fire dialogue that made Gilmore Girls one of the brightest shows on television. Stellar supporting turns from Liza Weil as Paris, Rory's friend and nemesis by turns, and a pre-O.C. Adam Brody, as a band member who falls for Rory's best friend Lane (Keiko Agena), also punctuated the drama of the season with great comedy. --Mark EnglehartSeason 4-The sum of its parts was definitely greater than the season whole as Gilmore Girls kicked off its fourth year by separating its high-powered mother-daughter duo. After years of toil at snooty private school Chilton, Rory (Alexis Bledel) was finally off to the greener pastures of college as she began her first year at Yale. The not-so-long distance put a crimp in her relationship with her mother, Lorelai (Lauren Graham), as the two were forced to continue their chatty conversations via phone--not exactly the same as trading barbs face-to-face. While Rory adjusted to college life with cranky roommate Paris (Liza Weil) in tow, Lorelai found herself without a daughter, but gained a boyfriend in the form of Jason "Digger" Stiles (Chris Eigeman), a childhood friend and now her father's business partner. But the lure of Stars Hollow, the Gilmores' cherished country town, would prove too hard to resist, as Lorelai finally made plans to open her own inn, and the two ladies found themselves attracted to town residents--for Lorelai, an intensifying of her friendship with diner owner Luke (Scott Patterson), and for Rory, a return to old boyfriend Dean (Jared Padalecki), which put a decided tension into a show that sorely needed it. Nevermind that both men were married to other women!
The first half of the fourth season definitely foundered, as the show's usually topnotch creative team struggled to find a way to keep the Gilmore chemistry afloat despite separating their main characters. There wasn't much drama to be found for Rory in starting college, and though it got off to a great start, Lorelai's relationship with Jason never fully gelled. However, once the show got its girls into the arms of their Stars Hollow men, it turned around almost immediately, surging towards a creative revival that put its ratings higher than they'd ever been before. Along the way to its surprising and complex season finale, there were great episodes to be had: "Girls in Bikinis, Boys Doin' the Twist," which found Rory and Paris on spring break; "The Reigning Lorelai," centering on an unexpected funeral; "The Festival of Living Art," which had Stars Hollow resident re-creating classic works; and "Luke Can See Her Face," which finally brought the Luke-Lorelai romance to the forefront. The season may have started out rough, but this fourth year ended with a bang, and the promise of more fireworks to come. --Mark EnglehartSeason 5-Perennially one of the WB's highest-rated series, Gilmore Girls hit its creative high point to date with its stellar fifth season, which started out with young Rory (Alexis Bledel) feeling the fallout of doing something terribly non-Rory-like: sleeping with Dean (Jared Padalecki), her married ex-boyfriend. Rory's indulgence in adultery put, for the first time, a serious, sharp wedge in her relationship with her mother, Lorelai (Lauren Graham), who was both shocked by her daughter's behavior and worried Rory would repeat the mistakes Lorelai made at her age. But while Rory jetted off to Europe with her grandmother (Kelly Bishop) for the summer, Lorelai finally got her relationship with diner owner Luke (Scott Patterson) into a serious groove, starting with an official (and incredibly sweet) first date and others that involved, if you can believe it, a Swedish Pippi Longstocking movie. And as Lorelai navigated romantic terrain in Stars Hollow (terrain that of course did not run smooth), Rory found life more complex in her second year at Yale, as her relationship with Dean became increasingly strained. Not only that, she found her attention turned towards preppy Logan (Matt Czurchy), a spoiled rich kid who represented everything Rory couldn't stand--and was of course immediately attracted to. Little did Rory know that Logan's entrance into her life, and her interaction with his family, would be the catalyst for one of the most momentous decisions she would ever make.
With this season of Gilmore Girls, creative forces Amy Sherman-Palladino and Daniel Palladino finally found a way to make the Stars Hollow-Yale dichotomy work perfectly, as each location still stood alone but had decided repercussions on the other. Gone were freshman-year anxieties for Rory and in their place were more adult romantic concerns as well as a class consciousness that, for the first serious time, found Rory on the side of the haves and not the have-nots. While the Rory-Dean drama played itself out nicely and succinctly, it was the devilish Logan who lit a fire underneath this Gilmore girl; the episode "You Jump, I Jump, Jack" was a lovely twist on the '30s romantic comedies that found rich folk at play with words and deeds. Bledel started to fully blossom as Rory grew from ingénue to leading lady, and she was matched peerlessly by Graham, whose passion, anger, stubbornness, and ravishing beauty all came to a head in "Wedding Bell Blues," which featured her two greatest nemeses: her mother and Rory's dad, Christopher (David Sutcliffe). The show's trademark eccentricities were all in place--including a Pulp Fiction party and an elementary school production of Fiddler on the Roof, among other things--but it mined the best drama of its run with the season's last four episodes, which found Rory's confidence shaken to the core. To give any of the proceedings away would spoil the drama, but suffice it to say you will be glued to the TV for this season's final four hours; it's Gilmore Girls at its phenomenal best. --Mark Englehart
Season 6-The rapid-paced banter between the mother-daughter team of Lorelai (Lauren Graham) and Rory Gilmore (Alexis Bledel) is the calling card for Gilmore Girls. The show's sixth year--which aired during the 2005-2006 TV season--remains witty, charming, and touching. The previous season left Yale undergrad Rory in trouble with the law after a night of very un-Gilmore-like behavior with her rich, handsome boyfriend Logan (Matt Czuchry). This season opens with Rory potentially facing jail time, undecided about returning to college, and--most disturbingly of all--fighting with her mother. This isn't a fight over who gets to eat the last egg roll, but rather a battle of wills. It will take a few episodes before the two are talking to each other again and the viewer can breathe a sigh of relief that all is well in Stars Hollow. In the meantime, Rory moves into her busybody grandparents' pool house. One evening, they invite their minister over to dinner. His job? To encourage Rory to remain chaste. Not one to be told how to live her life, Rory is nonplussed. After telling him he's a little too late to offer that advice, she asks, "Have you seen The 40 Year Old Virgin"?
After many years of playing verbal footsy, Lorelai and Luke (Scott Patterson) finally get serious and engaged. But just when things are going smoothly, Luke learns of a daughter he never knew he had. The introduction of the little girl doesn't do much for the plot--other than to slow it down and cause more fights between Luke and Lorelai. When Luke warns Lorelai, "I don't like ultimatums," she snaps back, "I don't like Mondays, but unfortunately they come around eventually." This 5-disc 22-episode set includes an eclectic and impressive range of guest stars (Skid Row's Sebastian Bach, Paul Anka, Sonic Youth, and Madeline Albright, who appears in a dream sequence as Rory's mom). But it's cast regular Kelly Bishop as Lorelai's mother Emily who is one of the show's true gems. Prim, proper, and judgmental, she's also fiercely protective of her brood. When she learns that Logan's mother said unfavorable things about Rory, Emily confronts the woman and puts her in her place. Politely, of course. By the end of the season, one of the main characters will get married, another will have an affair, and a third will have a dalliance with an ex-boyfriend. But the relationship between Lorelai and Rory remains strong. And that's what keeps viewers watching. --Jae-Ha Kim
Season 7-All good things must end, but not all good things end well. Gilmore Girls is one of the most original and entertaining television programs ever to grace the CW. Lorelai and Rory Gilmore (Lauren Graham and Alexis Bledel) star as the quick-witted and heavily caffeinated mother-daughter duo at the heart of this quirky drama. Normally smarter than the average show, the seventh season represents a slump in an otherwise brilliant run. The seventh season is the first without series creator Amy Sherman-Palladino, and her absence is evident. Smart characters make dumb decisions and dumb characters spend too much time on screen. The normally fluid plot slumbers along as Rory's father Christopher returns as Lorelai's love interest, Rory gets even more serious with Logan, while Luke and Lorelai try to repair their damaged relationship. But it's not all bleak. Highpoints of the season include the birth of Lane's twins, plus the long-awaited cameo by Christiane Amanpour, which sends Rory into a tizzy: "I can't meet Christiane Amanpour in my pajamas!" The counterbalance of the quirky Stars Hollowians, which is half the fun of Gilmore Girls in previous seasons, is gone or, worse, awkwardly shoehorned in. Still, for fans of the series the final season is a must-own, if only to find out what happens to the characters they loved and laughed with for so many years. --Megan Chaffee