Kerr Castle is a PhD student of Film and Television Studies. The following post is from Kerr’s ‘Comfort TV’ blog.
There’s something special about Gilmore Girls (Warner Bros. Television, 2000-2007; Netflix, 2016). It’s completely unlike any other television show. On paper, it’s a comedy-drama hybrid about a mother and daughter living in a quirky, close-knit town, called Stars Hollow, in Connecticut. Together, Lorelai and Rory (who’s name is actually Lorelai also), played by Lauren Graham and Alexis Bledel respectively, face the same daily trials we all do, balancing work and romance, imperfect friendships and (typically unrealistic) family expectations, depleting finances and the desire for self-improvement and education (oh, and they eat LOTS of junk food); all of which sounds relatively mundane and generic. But it’s not. Amy Sherman-Palladino, the show’s creator, has given us something far greater than run of the mill TV. With Gilmore Girls, she created an entire world, a lifestyle even, that viewers can escape into and draw comfort from again and again – evidenced by the overwhelmingly positive reaction of fans to news of the show’s timely return to Netflix, arriving today (25th November, 2016) with four new 90-minute episodes. In a world that, politically and economically at the very least, is full of chaos, disbelief and uncertainty, Gilmore Girls might just be the perfect remedy.
Lorelai and Rory Gilmore
Escape is a theme which comes up over and over again when talking about comfort TV, this notion that for television to be comforting or therapeutic it should whisk the viewer away to somewhere altogether more desirable and satisfying, a place where they might forget day-to-day life, however briefly, and savour a world without consequence for them. While I don’t fully subscribe to this idea – I think TV has a lot more to offer viewers when it comes to comfort and well-being than just escapism and replacing the everyday, instead existing alongside daily life, adding to and enhancing it (when used correctly, that is) – it’s easy to see why Gilmore Girls perfectly fits within the comfort TV bracket. For starters, the town of Stars Hollow itself harks back to communities of old (or, at least, as they exist in fiction). Visually the town is extremely picturesque: a vast green square in the centre sits with a traditional bandstand as its crown; the surrounding buildings, including the local church (which also doubles as a synagogue), Mrs Kim’s antiques store, Taylor Doose’s Olde Fashioned Soda Shoppe, Miss Patty’s dance studio, and, of course, Luke’s Diner, reveal the town’s gentler pace, steeped in heritage and celebrated rituals. The centrality and security of tradition and routine is also then reflected within the Stars Hollow community, where festivals and celebrations involving the town’s people are a weekly occurrence, continually banding together to honour their shared history/Stars Hollow’s past. And, rather like Cheers – the bar where everybody knows your name – in Stars Hollow, everyone knows everyone; they chat to each other everyday, they eat together at Luke’s, or Weston’s, or Al’s Pancakes, they gather at local town meetings to socialise and find out about Taylor’s latest harebrained schemes. In essence, they live happily together as one big community (for the most part), and that in itself, whether consciously or not, is extremely appealing to audiences; the viewer becomes an extension of that community.
The cast of Gilmore Girls.
Familiarity is another central component to the show’s comfort factor, and a further continuation of the show’s relaxed community feel. It’s very easy to feel at home in Stars Hollow. Whether it’s Luke’s Diner, the Dragonfly Inn, or Lorelai’s house, everything feels safe and familiar, undoubtedly because of the people who inhabit these spaces and bring them to life as much as the spaces themselves. If we look at Luke (Scott Patterson), for instance, he’s not always the most cheerful of characters – he’s set in his ways, easily riled (Lorelai’s favourite pastime) and often frustrated by what he perceives as the ‘lunacy’ of the townspeople’s antics. But Luke is also extremely dependable – he’s always there for Lorelai when she needs him, he does his best to keep his nephew Jess on the right path as he struggles with authority, school and his on again/off again romance with Rory, and his diner is a staple of daily life for most in the community. Luke’s character and values also continue with this theme of old world tradition – a man who isn’t the best at expressing himself, who has an evident sense of duty and honour (to family, to friends), likes to fix things (Lorelai normally has a list for him), and is proud of his independence/success as a local businessman. As a viewer, then, I not only understand Luke’s character – he’s that lovable grouchy guy who means well, feeds the town, and, ultimately, who we want to be with Lorelai – but, in a way, I can also rely upon him, able to anticipate his actions and (over)reactions, his kind gestures and responses, all of which is extremely reassuring and satisfying. And it’s the exact same with the show’s minor characters – Kirk is that eccentric guy with a different job every episode and a near total lack of proper social skills, Miss Patty is the town gossip, along with best friend Babette, and spends most of her time lusting after young men, Lane Kim is rock drummer turned mother, and Rory’s best friend from childhood, waiting for her band’s big break while she still tries to please her extremely religious mother. They all feel known and familiar, and are central to the show’s feel good factor, these non-challenging, quirky characters that are fun and add colour to the overarching show.
Lorelai and Luke in Luke’s Diner.
Finally, there’s the relationship between Lorelai and Rory. Not only are they mother and daughter, they’re also best friends, an inseparable duo obsessed with junk food, pop culture, and their own entirely unique rituals and routines (they always order way too much takeout food and live off of the leftovers for the rest of the week, they have to watch certain movies together and speak over the original dialogue with their own take on the story, and of course there’s Lorelai’s ability to sense when snow is coming!). Their total love and adoration for one another is infectious, and as they speak to each other at over a million miles per hour, leaving the rest of the world in their dust, veering off to random tangents and getting excited over the most obscure, nonsensical details, you can’t help but smile and admire the strong relationship they have. Across the series, we learn of Lorelai’s difficult relationship with her wealthy parents, Richard (Edward Herrmann) and Emily Gilmore (Kelly Bishop). When she was 16, Lorelai ran away from home with newborn Rory, eventually finding shelter at the Independence Inn in Stars Hollow, where she worked and raised Rory by herself. Richard and Emily were not a part of Lorelai and Rory’s lives for an extremely long time (and, it should be said, that was not by their own choice; Lorelai chose to shut them and their blue-blooded world out), and only returned to the fold when Lorelai needed help funding Rory’s education in the show’s first series. One of the conditions of the loan that Lorelai procures from them is that her and Rory must attend regular Friday night dinners, and so the Gilmores, through bargaining and necessity, become a family again. As interesting and, in their own way, lovable as Richard and Emily are, what’s really important here is that the bulk of Rory’s life has only been about her and Lorelai, and, to a lesser extent, Stars Hollow. They are a part of one another. When one of them has exciting news, is in a crisis, or just needs some TLC, they immediately turn to the other. And on the rare occasions when they fight or have fallen out, it’s devastating to watch because the viewer knows how much it’s hurting each of them, they need one another. Thankfully, these fights are rare, and instead the viewer gets to witness this heartwarming, instinctive friendship that puts you at ease and just makes everything feel better.
Above: Rory and her grandfather; Below: Richard and Emily
I could write endlessly about this show, and, if I’m honest, that still surprises me. This is not really my kind of TV. I tend to prefer sitcoms, cult TV classics, the latest dramas and franchise series like The Walking Dead or Daredevil. But when my fiancee encouraged me to sit and watch Gilmore Girls from start to finish, in preparation for its Netflix revival, I was hooked from the start. It’s a very light and gentle TV show, which isn’t to say it doesn’t have drama – a LOT happens in it, and it can be incredibly tense and upsetting in places – but it’s a show that doesn’t thrive on chaos and extreme emotion; it’s just very relaxing, reassuring and easy to watch. I mentioned before that Gilmore Girls is like a whole lifestyle of its own – and viewers can definitely emulate Lorelai and Rory’s coffee obsession, movie binges, junk food dependence, and so on – and over the last few months the series has become an integral part of my own day-to-day life. My fiancee and I have been watching episode after episode every single night, and it’s not because there’s nothing better on or because we’ve fallen into a set routine, but instead because we’re really enjoying watching the show together, we love the characters and their narratives, and the whole storyworld; it’s just the perfect TV show for us, and we still get stupidly excited about watching it. As I’m writing this, I’ve got a massive grin on my face because it really is just the perfect feel-good, comfort TV.