Tuesday 16 July 2019

I'm a Gilmore Girl! Why is series set in sleepy smalltown American so beloved by women across the world?

As the cult TV show gets a Netflix reboot, our devoted fan examines just why it is that a quaint mother-and-daughter series set in sleepy smalltown America is so beloved by women across the world

The way they were: Gilmore girls Rory (Alexis Bledel) and Lorelai (Lauren Graham).
The way they were: Gilmore girls Rory (Alexis Bledel) and Lorelai (Lauren Graham).
A scene from the rebooted show.

Vicki Notaro

A few weeks ago, the world of social media was whipped up into a frenzy when actress Melissa McCarthy confirmed her latest role. But this time it wasn't a boundary-pushing project like the all-female Ghostbusters, but something altogether more, well, quaint. After months of speculation, McCarthy revealed on the Ellen show that she'd signed up to reprise her role as Sookie on Gilmore Girls. Cue global hysteria.

But while half the internet was in raptures, the other half were scratching their heads and wondering what this show was, and why millions of people - largely women - were so devoted to a gentle, cutesy American pie drama.

For me, it's not hard to see why Gilmore Girls has achieved cult status. Of all the fast-talking, angst-ridden, small town America-based millennium-era television dramas (of which there is a surprising abundance), Gilmore Girls is definitely my favourite. There's something about the rat-a-tat dialogue, charming setting and warm, relatable relationships on the show that felt like a comfort blanket during my own confusing teenage years.

I watched it every day after school and college. So, when I heard the series was to be rebooted on Netflix in the form of four 90-minute episodes, I was delighted, as were millions of other GG fans all over the world.

For such a seemingly insular show about a mother and daughter living in a picture perfect New England town, the programme had an incredibly wide appeal and much more lasting fandom than shows like Dawson's Creek, My So Called Life and Popular - thanks in part to the fact that its dual protagonists are from different generations.

For the uninitiated, Gilmore Girls is the story of mother and daughter duo Lorelai and Rory Gilmore, played by Lauren Graham and Alexis Bledel respectively. The series follows their lives and loves, highs and lows in the fictional town of Stars Hollow, Connecticut - the village it takes to help raise Rory. Having fallen pregnant at the age of 16, Lorelai was something of a disappointment to her wealthy parents, but when the show begins she's a single mother attending night school to fulfil her dreams of running a hotel and enjoying the kind of relationship with her angelic and gifted teen that most mothers can only dream of. However, in order to fund her daughter's education and dreams of attending an Ivy League university, Lorelai must forge an awkward bond with her society parents.

The show ran from 2000 until 2007, and although it never won any major awards or critical acclaim, it garnered a devoted fan base. Rory and Lorelai's mutual boy trouble was a massive draw for female audiences, while the comedy and distinct lack of edge brought others to the show in droves. In a time of The Sopranos, Sex and the City and reality shows like Big Brother, there was something charmingly simple and human to be found in Gilmore Girls.

I loved that Rory was a bit of a nerd, that Lorelai loved junk food, coffee and men, and that her daughter was an only child who wanted to be a journalist, just like me. The series is also littered with pop culture and literary references, which made my geeky little heart sing - I felt understood. But, it seems everyone took something different from the programme.

"I loved it because it was one the first shows that I watched that was primarily concerned with the lives of the female characters," says Louise O'Neill, author of Asking For It. "Rory and Lorelai were allowed to be imperfect, fully formed human beings who made mistakes and didn't always act in a palatable fashion. They were not just there to be the wives or girlfriends to the male stars."

"It felt fresh and modern but also had this 'warm hug' feel because it was set in a sleepy town," says writer and DJ Conor Behan. "The writing was so good."

For photographer El Keegan, it was the rarely-seen family set-up that had her hooked. "Even though I'm one of four, most of my teenage years were just me and my mum against the world. We went through hell and high water and we looked out for each other. The show was the only thing on air that I really resonated with."

EY account co-ordinator Hazel Horgan loved that the show bridged a generation gap. "There's seven years between me and my sister and, when we were younger, this gap was a lot more obvious and we'd plenty of sisterly arguments. Our common ground was always a Gilmore Girls catch-up - there was nothing like a good dose of Rory and Lorelai's dramas to restore the peace."

We might love the Gilmore Girls, but do our Stateside friends find it all a bit too twee? "I like the show because it's funny and smart and full of big emotions and fast dialogue," says Margaret Lyons, TV critic with New York Magazine. "It's also pretty patient; things that change do so very slowly. Overwhelmingly, the characters are doing the best they can, and there's little true villainy within the Stars Hollow universe.

"I don't know why it's a phenomenon; as someone who loved the show when it aired, it certainly didn't always feel like one."

When the original series ended, Yale graduate and wannabe journalist Rory had accepted a job reporting on then-hopeful presidential candidate Barack Obama's campaign, while Lorelai was loved up with local diner owner Luke - finally answering the show's 'will they, won't they?' plot line. And it looks like the pair are thankfully still together in the first-look images of the new series - I'm not sure viewers could have coped with a reboot love split.

Fan-favourite characters are also set to return, some far more famous now than when we last saw them - the aforementioned Melissa McCarthy, who plays Lorelai's best pal Sookie, was Oscar nominated for her role in Bridesmaids. She said her return to Stars Hollow was "so sad, I got so sentimental… it felt like the greatest idea in the world."

Matt Czuchry who played Rory's most intense love interest Logan, has gone on to star in The Good Wife. He too is back for the reboot, and GG conspiracy theorists online forecast that his character is about to get married. However, he's not the only former flame of Rory's to return; Milo Ventimiglia (Heroes) and Jared Padalecki (Supernatural) will feature as Jesse and Dean respectively, and both are thrilled to be back, with Milo saying: "For me, it was always one of those jobs where people would ask me the question, 'If the opportunity came up...' or 'If they did a movie…' or this or that - and my answer was always: 'Yes.'"

Fans have also posted pictures online of the cast filming funeral scenes, presumed to be the burial of Rory's grandfather Richard as the actor who played him, Edward Hermann, sadly died in 2014.

Even though it preceded social media, Gilmore Girls has been internet gold for the past few years. Thanks to its snappy one-liners, it's spawned thousands of memes that have introduced the Buzzfeed generation to its coffee-swilling, cheeseburger-loving, critically-thinking characters.

And the action also leaps off the screen. There's one website that challenges you to read every book Rory Gilmore reads on the show - all 339 of them. There's even a cookbook called Eat Like A Gilmore, thankfully "inspired by the chefs of Stars Hollow" and not Lorelai's eating habits.

Recently added to Netflix in the US, Irish fans are hoping that the streaming giant will make all 153 existing Gilmore Girls episodes available on these shores before the reboot. The new mini-features are expected to land before the year is out, and early images released from the set show that nothing much has changed in Stars Hollow. Which is exactly why Gilmore Girls fans like me love it.

Meet the Stars Hollow gang

Lorelai Gilmore

Teen mother-turned-hotel manager, mum to Rory, now in a relationship with diner boss Luke and getting on better with her mother Emily.

Rory Gilmore

Daughter of Lorelai, attracts boy trouble like a magnet. Conscientious, intelligent and loyal to her friends, she's always been torn between Lorelai and Emily.

Emily Gilmore

Not a "girl", but the Gilmore matriarch. Wealthy, stuffy and stuck up, but quick as lightning with the one-liners. She adores her family, even if she's not sure how to show it.

Luke Danes

Grumpy local diner owner, Lorelai's eventual love interest. He might grumble, but you're always rooting for him.

Sookie St James

Lorelai's long-suffering best friend who's a fantastic listener and an even better cook.

Lane Kim

Rory's BFF, always there for her pal and always struggling against her strict, traditional parents.

Dean, Jesse and Logan

Rory's three big loves - her first boyfriend, the bad boy rogue and the college guy everyone thought she might end up with.

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