The Sleepless Movie Review
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GILMORE GIRLS (Seasons 1-4)
2000-04
Created by Amy Sherman-Palladino
43 Minutes
Rated TV-PG

So it's a "chick show." But how I found it was interesting. A good friend of mine in the bay area had started watching the first season with his girlfriend while she was laid up recovering from having her wisdom teeth taken out, and when he went back to work, she finished the season without him. This raised his ire. This raised his ire because unwittingly, he had stumbled upon something that malekind apparently wasn't ever supposed to know about.

Marketing is a funny thing. Sometimes it can really nail a production, like the trailers for 300 or The Dark Knight. Sometimes it can wildly misfire and even outright lie about the film or show, and that's what happened here. Now make no mistake, Gilmore Girls would be pretty easily filed under "chick show" at first glance, but the problem is that frankly, it's damn fun to watch whether or not you've got two X chromosomes. Apparently at some point, someone decided that a show whose principal characters were female was only going to be interesting to female viewers.

I'm frustrated and off my mark. The fact of the matter is that there's something here for everyone, and if you can ignore the insipid title sequence that's woefully misrepresentative of the actual content of the show, you'll find some depth here and a lot to like. The sense of humor isn't all "girl jokes" and the show is remarkably unsentimental. The fast-talking quick-witted writing that's become a hallmark of the show is a love it or hate it thing - I've seen both camps - but it's something that must be accepted as a conceit of the show and a rule of the world it exists in. Because here's the thing about it: a show like this, about a mother and the daughter she had as a teenager out of wedlock, is a recipe for Lifetime Television. It's gonna be something that most male viewers can't relate to. That the two are also best friends is probably enough to make a couple viewers out there vomit.

The catch is that the characters are masterfully written. Each of them is given quirks, personality, depth, and dynamism, to the point where virtually the most unlikable characters in the show are usually somehow redeemable. And what strikes me in particular is how smartly Lauren Graham plays Lorelai, the mother. Lauren is keenly aware of Lorelai's age; when the show starts, Lorelai is maybe 32. I don't know how many of you know people in their thirties, but they're generally big kids. Not so much in their thirties, as they're just...twenty plus a decade or so. I'd expect formula to characterize this woman who really has a rags-to-riches story as being some brilliant, mature, and stern woman, hardened by a life of misfortune.

Yet that isn't the case at all. Lauren inhabits Lorelai as a mischievous spirit, and creates someone dynamic enough that - quick-witted writing notwithstanding - seems real. You know this person, the total goofball spaz that, ironically, has all of their shit together and keeps their ducks in a perfect row. The writing makes the case that you can still be a fairly crazy, fun individual while maintaining your responsibilities. Lauren's portrayal sells it. I loved her when I saw her in Bad Santa, and the opportunity to watch her in anything is always a treat. Hopefully with the show no longer in production, we'll be able to see more and more of her on the big screen, because she has the talent.

Her co-star, Alexis Bledel, who plays her daughter Rory, is another story. While Lauren is Lorelai from day one, Alexis takes some time to find her footing as Rory. Unfortunately, if I had to peg a weak link in the cast of this show, it's Alexis. Yet the blame can't entirely be placed upon her. The arc given to her character is, frankly, shitty. She will start sweet, and by season four will begin to grate on your nerves as she begins to inhabit the character of a woman capable of exhibiting strength but reduced to a simpering, weak-willed shrew whenever anything with a penis becomes involved. If Lorelai's romantic misadventures are enjoyable to watch because of the sense you get that she's always one step ahead, Rory's relationships are like exercises in futility. Alexis can't be completely faulted for playing a character unevenly if that character is badly written. Like Beverly Crusher on Star Trek: The Next Generation, the framework given to the character is fairly loose, but unlike Gates McFadden did with her role, Alexis is unable to take the disparate elements of her character and meld them into a cohesive whole. When a character as strong as Lorelai exists, and is as smartly played as Lauren Graham plays her, it throws the weaknesses of Rory and Alexis's portrayal of her into sharp relief.

And then there's Scott Patterson as Luke. If you saw him kicking ass as Agent Strahm in Saw IV, you'll probably crap yourself here. Luke is, in two words, fucking awesome. This is an example of another character that's less an invention of a screenwriter/producer and more an invention of the actor himself. While Luke isn't terribly removed from Agent Strahm (or more accurately, Strahm isn't terribly removed from Luke), it's the kind of character you're always going to be happy to see. We didn't bitch about John Cusack playing the same guy in all of his early movies because we liked that guy, and the same holds true here. I wish I had something smarter to say here, but the God's honest truth is that I'm slightly gay for Luke. The character is that funny, that well-developed, and that consistently entertaining.

There's a lot to love in this series but unfortunately, it does have a couple of shortcomings. Characters will do things/forget things where it would make no sense in order to move the overall arc forward. Because of this, some developments feel really forced. There are situations where they'll act almost completely out of character solely to move things along, and these are moments where it can feel disingenuous.

Another problem has to do with the cast of characters. While some of the oddballs are lovable (mad props for Sean Gunn as Kirk), characters like Taylor Doose are pretty much utterly irredeemable and serve only to piss you off when they appear. The only time I like seeing Taylor is when he's sharing the scene with Luke, and that's really just because it's fun to watch Luke yell at people. Likewise, if season one's Tristan infuriates you ceaselessly, season two and three's Jess may single-handedly ruin the show for you. Jess is clearly introduced to be "the bad boy" that Rory falls for - this is obvious from day one - but his character doesn't grow fast enough to make you even care about him, and he's a large contributor to the downward spiral of Rory's character.

The problem with these characters is that virtually everyone, no matter how mean they may appear, has something redeemable about them. Lorelai's parents, for example, are insufferable early on but both get some great scenes and stories as the series progresses. Yet Jess, Tristan, and Taylor are almost totally without value. I refuse to believe any story needs a character the audience unequivocally hates, especially one as rich with dynamic characterization as this one.

One more minor issue I take with the series can't really be helped; as a show that's predominately family friendly and made for network television, Gilmore Girls periodically buts up against content guidelines. As a result, while Lorelai is obviously a spitfire, you always get the feeling that she's being restrained a bit from who she would really be. Profane, aggressive screaming matches almost never occur in the series either, and I blame this need to keep the show at least semi-sedate for the mouthbreathing masses.

And probably the last major problem has to do with the creator, Amy Sherman-Palladino. While her writing does improve as she grows with her show, the worst and most stilted episodes in the first couple seasons can usually be traced back to her. From about season four on, you won't really notice the show shift between writers (if anything, Amy's start to be some of the better ones), but early on, her episodes are major stinkers.

Obviously I have a lot to say about the show, and that's largely because I like it so damn much and mercifully, I've been granted the college education required to properly articulate what I think does and does not work in it. Either way, I rank it with The Notebook as one of those things that may be targeted for women, but is so good and so solid on its own that it deserves attention from everyone, regardless of gender. If you can cope with some of the lulls (early season four, I'm looking at you) and you find that the show's "gimmick" - its fast talking characters - is your cup of tea, there's gonna be a lot to love here.

Highly recommended.

- Dustin Sklavos

All written content and colored rating system copyright Dustin Sklavos 2009. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.