It’s hard to deny that Gilmore Girls had a lot of things going for it. The small-town charm, the quirky band of characters, the family drama, the constant pop culture references, and the undeniable chemistry between cast members all created a televised force of nature. The show follows a young, single mother, Lorelai Gilmore (Lauren Graham), and her teenage daughter, Rory (Alexis Bledel), as they navigate family, single motherhood, academics, work, and many romantic prospects. The show was popular when it aired, but, beside a lone Emmy nomination for Outstanding Makeup, it never received the buzz on the level of today’s hit shows. Instead, Gilmore Girls‘ popularity soared to new levels when a new generation, myself included, discovered it through Netflix. And fifteen years ago today Gilmore Girls aired its finale. While the final season invited mixed feelings, it is in retrospect that we discover why its story spoke to so many people.
I was thirteen years old when I first discovered Gilmore Girls. My parents were trying to find a show we could watch together, and they decided that this was a perfect choice. They had watched the show when it originally aired, and, though it was considered a teen show, they both loved it and had a feeling I would too. In the first season, Rory is a sixteen-year-old high school sophomore. I was in middle school at the time, so the idea of being both sixteen and in high school was so impressive I couldn’t help but look up to Rory. I’d always been a big reader and my parents’ insistence on making me watch classic comedies starting in toddlerhood meant that I felt I was the real-world version of Rory.
I spent most of my free time on the couch with my parents binging Gilmore Girls. We cried and laughed at the show and bonded over our shared love for the world of Stars Hollow. Before this, my exposure to television consisted only of Disney, Nickelodeon, and old sitcoms. It wasn’t until starting Gilmore Girls that I realized the visceral emotion and connection a show could elicit.
I’m now 20 years old – the same age Rory was in the show’s final seasons – and in college. Looking back at Gilmore Girls allowed me to appreciate the gift of meeting Rory and Lorelai when I did. Being thirteen, navigating middle school, and grappling with new, hormone-filled emotions were utterly terrifying to me. And thirteen is an age when you come into yourself. Watching Gilmore Girls was and is my escape. While my problems today aren’t about middle school girls and anxiety over Bat Mitzvah parties, the need to escape never disappears, which is how Gilmore Girls became the ultimate comfort show. The picturesque setting of Stars Hollow and its residents’ minute problems made the hour I spent in their universe unbeatable.
Throughout the entire run of Gilmore Girls, Rory and Lorelai were never portrayed as perfect women. Even though the series did not revel in high stakes, it nevertheless allowed Rory and Lorelai to make huge mistakes that weren’t always well-received by their audience. Revisiting the show means recognizing that their character faults are deliberate and realistic to our lived experiences instead of a superficial narrative crutch. The first time I watched Gilmore Girls, I didn’t recognize all their flaws. Now, I realize that while I was right to look up to these characters, they also made mistakes that resonate with me – especially as I’m closer to Rory’s age during the final seasons and have the experience to understand Lorelai’s perspective.
Rory was raised in a sheltered environment, where she was heralded as a perfect child. During Gilmore Girls‘ early seasons, she almost never got in trouble, scored terrific grades, and had an unbelievably good relationship with her mother. While Rory does have the occasional relationship drama (a topic that deserves its own article), the majority of the show’s conflict comes from Lorelai’s clashes with her parents, Emily (Kelly Bishop) and Richard (Edward Herrmann). Their strained relationship is a direct foil to what Lorelai and Rory share. The relatability of its familial drama is what made Gilmore Girls stand out.
Amy Sherman-Palladino and her husband, Daniel Palladino, were the driving force behind the first six seasons of Gilmore Girls, and their unique writing style made the show special. It feels special to watch a show where the jokes aren’t just directed to us as viewers. Instead, we had the added privilege of witnessing characters be witty to each other, and we owe this legacy to the writing duo. Their iconic fast-paced dialogue was jam-packed with pop culture references and an endless stream of witty sarcasm. This style began with Gilmore Girls, but has only grown stronger in the fifteen years since the show ended. It’s nearly impossible to create a show with quick dialogue and a steady stream of references without getting compared to Gilmore Girls. Many people have tried to recreate the show’s magic, and while anyone can attempt to write something like it, no one can really put together an ensemble cast that fits as well as the original.
The final season of any show is always important. In the best-case scenario, the showrunners know their show is coming to an end and get to go out on their own terms, and the worst-case scenario is probably what happened with Gilmore Girls. When they were unable to renegotiate the terms of their contract with the network, the Palladinos left the show after the sixth season. The show’s seventh season is widely considered the weakest, owing to the inconsistency of the writing. However, Gilmore Girls had its issues with public reception before this. Rory, the perfect child, had her own out-of-character moments, like sleeping with her married ex-boyfriend and stealing a boat.
As much as people had issues with these plot lines, the Gilmore Girls final season did a decent amount of restorative work to go out on a high note. The finale, which aired May 15th, 2007, found the characters back where we all wanted them. Rory found potential success in her career; Lorelai and Luke finally got back together; and, most importantly, Lorelai found a semblance of peace in her relationship with her parents.
The impact of Gilmore Girls can be measured in many ways. You might consider the booming careers of the cast after the show ended, the endless attempts at recreating its magic, or the fact that almost a decade after the show ended, Netflix greenlit a revival. But the most significant example for Gilmore Girls’ lasting impact is the emotional connection that viewers like myself form with it. When I think back to my thirteen-year-old self watching this show for the first time and comparing that with how I feel about Gilmore Girls now, it’s obvious why this show affected so many people. I grew up with the Gilmores. I went from relating to Rory’s naïveté and not understanding Lorelai to seeing that these women were fallible and simply just trying their best –as we all are. Rory and Lorelai’s fight didn’t make sense to me as a kid: why didn’t they just make up? Why didn’t the show realize how sad it was to watch them fight? Now, not only do I understand their conflicts, I also respect Gilmore Girls for embracing the frustratingly stupid decisions we sometimes make. The show refuses to let these women off the hook for their actions, and the contradictions between their life and actions are realistic. Rory and Lorelai’s mistakes and rebellions stay the same no matter how many times we press play, but we will always grow and change, a fact that will keep this show from ever growing old.