Watch This: Gilmore Girls

I lost a couple weeks in the real world recently, and I’d like to blame it on this bitch of a cold I’ve been fighting – it knocked me out from work for half a week, and two weeks after the first sneeze my ears are still blocked and I can’t kick this cough*.

But if I’m being honest, what’s kept me homebound most nights and up later than I normally am wasn’t the aches and chills. No, I was in the throes of a Netflix binge, one that saw me experience every stage in its fullest glory – discovery, commitment, detachment, denial and satisfaction. You see, I was binging on Gilmore Girls.

You read that title and either squealed with glee that I’m now a member of the Club – that I rode the Lorelai and Rory emotional roller coaster and lived to gush about it – or you rolled your eyes because you’ve never seen it and don’t understand what all the fuss is about. Either way, this isn’t the first time you’ve heard of the wildly popular show, which originally aired from 2000 to 2007.

Now on the other side of seven seasons about a young single mother, her teenage daughter, wealthy parents and the residents of small town Stars Hollow, I can see what all the fuss was about. What was my Gilmore Girls experience like? I’m so glad you asked. (quick note: mild spoilers ahead)

When it was announced that all seasons of Gilmore Girls were coming to Netflix, my interest was certainly piqued. I somehow missed the show entirely its first time around – it launched as I started college, and the only show I really kept up with every week was Friends (which remains a personal favorite. Seinfeld who?). Plus, Rory was just starting high school at the beginning of the show, so I imagine my very mature college freshman self heard about it and figured it wasn’t for me.

Nonetheless, I’d just finished Boardwalk Empire (incredible and underrated) and was looking for a new series to check out (such is the state of TV 14 years after GG premiered – on demand and online), so I flipped on Gilmore Girls and settled in for an episode.

Watching a new show is like starting a new relationship. You’re just getting to know this new something in your life, sorting out just how much time you want to spend with it, if it’s something that you’ll enjoy having around.

I knew within the first few episodes Gilmore Girls and I would get along just fine. Rife from the start with rapid-fire witty dialogue, exceptionally drawn characters (you know you’re in good hands when the town itself is as much a character as any of its residents) and the perfect blend of single and multi-episode story arcs, it felt right away like some early Aaron Sorkin, if Aaron Sorkin’s milieu was young women with a penchant for nights in with delivery and video rentals instead of, you know, politics.

Now happily introduced to Lorelai, Rory, Luke, Sookie, Taylor, Dean, Emily, Richard and everyone else in this little bubble of fictional Stars Hollow, I didn’t hesitate in going all in on a full-show run. What started as an episode or two every few days snowballed into a season and a half straight while I was home sick in bed. Yes, Netflix, I am still watching – please stop asking every four episodes and just keep that charming mother/daughter repartee coming.

Sorry, not sorry.

The winning formula Gilmore Girls executes so well is so simple it’s easily missed if you aren’t looking for it: definition. Show creator Amy Sherman-Palladino succeeded from episode one in defining her characters and staying true to them in every episode after that. Not once does curmudgeonly Luke, stifling Emily, doltish Kirk or darling Sookie act in a way you wouldn’t expect them to, and in keeping to their identities, the characters flourish individually and as an ensemble. All the writers have to do is put these defined characters in a room together and watch what unfolds – the drama is built in.

By season five – and as the lethargy and congestion of my cold dragged on – my Gilmore Girls viewing reached a whole new level of binge. I was well beyond a casual commitment to watch the full series. I was detaching from everything other show, podcast and website I usually kept tabs on day to day, and I didn’t even miss them. I put off grocery shopping after work. I went right to Netflix instead of checking out what else might be on that night. I skipped movies in favor of the show, and I’d have to force myself to stop at episode’s end (damn you, Netflix auto-start!), convince myself sleep was the right choice to make even if I was dying to know what happens next. And then I’d sneak in an episode while I got ready for work in the morning.

Can you blame me? This show is what happens when richly-drawn characters meet pop-culture zeitgeist meet rom-com story lines with room to breathe beyond a 90-minute indie film. I found myself tearing up at Rory’s high school graduation, cheering when Luke runs back to Lorelai after a silly (and painful!) break-up.

The one time Netflix doesn’t auto-start the next episode is when you’re shifting to a new season, and as the credits rolled on the last episode of season six, I did take a moment before hitting play on the next season. Because season seven, I knew, is also the final season. The last go-round. Rory as a senior at Yale. Lorelai and Luke broken up for real.

The reality of having to say goodbye to these characters and their lives, their stories – it filled me with dread, and I wish I were exaggerating even a little. Much as I wanted to know that everything turned out OK for everyone in Stars Hollow, I didn’t want to rush through this final batch of episodes towards a world where I’d no longer have new adventures to discover with my Gilmore girls. I didn’t want to face a world where Lorelai and Rory’s best days were behind us, where all their highs and lows had been had, where there were no more hair-brained town festivals or events for Taylor to mismanage, no more fundraisers and cotillions for Emily to micromanage.

But dammit, I had to see it through.

The night last week when I watched the last episode of this series I’d come to love ended up being a later night than I’d planned. I got home from work and, as I had been doing most nights, settled myself in for a few more episodes of the show. I watched one, then a second as I ate dinner, did the dishes, putzed around my apartment. I let the third episode start knowing full well I was getting closer and closer to the end – Logan’s proposing, Luke and Lorelai are speaking again. It’s clear things are coming together, and as that episode ended around midnight I thought about stopping the next one to get some sleep.

But instead, I went for it.

Perhaps the best decision of this whole binge journey, because it turned out that next episode was the series finale. And as finales go, it’s a doozie. Gilmore Girls, in all its well-crafted writing and amusing situational comedy, is a predictable show, something quite charming indeed in today’s TV landscape of heavy, overwrought dramas like Game of Thrones and Breaking Bad and Mad Men. And it’s that uncomplicated yet always authentic predictability – the idea that everything would be OK in the end, not just for Rory and Lorelai but everyone I’d come to love on the show – that left me in a state of complete bliss as the last episode came to an end.

gilmore-girls-posterHow many series can you think of that didn’t have a single off episode in seven full seasons? That didn’t phone it in from time to time, that let a character slide, let a gag drop, let the audience down at least once? If you’ve seen the show, you know Gilmore Girls achieved that rare feat. It manages to balance a lightness that kept anything of real consequence from ever befalling our heroines – this is not a show where your favorite character is at risk of being offed, for example – with an emotional connection that has audiences investing in their fates as they might any friend or loved one.

Some might say this kind of attachment to a show, temporarily turning one’s life over to a set of fictional characters and situations, is more than a little excessive. They’re probably right. And it certainly goes against my own “What did you come here to do?” mantra, as Netflix binge watching is certainly not it.

And yet. In some strange way, much as I connected with the characters on a personal level, the aspiring storyteller in me found it to be a unique form of research, too. Isn’t it true that any story – whether it’s told over 153 episodes, one 90-minute jaunt or spooled out across 200 pages in paperback – any story that can elicit such a connection, such an emotional response from an audience is doing something right?

*In case you’re worried, I saw the doctor today and I’ll live.


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