I wholeheartedly reject almost all aspects of the Alpha Male identity. I have absolutely no interest in pumping iron and only minimal interest in sports. I will openly defend Titanic as the most unfairly-maligned film of the 1990s. And yet, none of these has done as much damage to my masculine cred as trying to explain to others why Gilmore Girls was one of my favourite shows on television.
I’m not sure who’s to blame for this. Is it society’s obsession with gendering, determining the suitability for a particular show based on whether it features men or women in the starring roles? Or is it the WB’s (now the CW) marketing department, who saw teenage girls as the show’s target audience and promoted it as such? Or is it merely that any show with the word “girls” in the title is inherently off-limits for straight men unless it’s followed by “gone wild”?
The irony is that while Gilmore Girls was a show about a mother and daughter, it was never a show about GIRLS. The show could easily have used gender as a crutch, serving up easy and stereotypical storylines about boys and shopping. But this was rarely the case. Creator Amy Sherman Pallandino and her husband Daniel had much bigger and more interesting things in store.
For one, Gilmore Girls was a show about community. Stars Hollow, home of Lorelai and Rory Gilmore, was a place where everyone knew your name, where town hall meetings were a mandatory social event, and where the phrase “it takes a community to raise a child” wasn’t just empty sloganeering. Sherman-Pallandino gave us idealized small-town Americana, a type of place that likely never actually existed but that we all feel nostalgic for nonetheless. Filled with a wonderful assortment of eclectic, eccentric townies, it was a stark contrast to the gated communities and concrete jungles where we find ourselves living today. Realistic? Hardly, but that never kept it from feeling like home.
But what distinguished Gilmore Girls from almost every other show on television was the frank and honest way that it discussed wealth and social class. Lorelai gave birth to Rory when she was only a teenager, but she ran away from the life laid out for her – wealth, privilege and marriage to Rory’s father – to raise her daughter on her own terms. The show’s pilot had Lorelai reconnecting with her parents after years of estrangement when she needed money for Rory to attend the spectacular private school she had gotten admitted to. The rest of the series was not only about Lorelai reconnecting with the parents she had cut out of her life, but trying to negotiate Rory’s entry into the world of privilege that she had fought so hard to keep her daughter out of.
These themes were held together with some of the most whip-smart dialogue on television, a spectacular cast of character actors who made the most of their supporting roles, and, most importantly of all, Lauren Graham and Alexis Bledel at the centre of it all. Some criticized Lorelai and Rory’s relationship as too unrealistic, but the actresses’ intelligent and honest performances made it seem completely plausible. Sure, there were times when viewers like me wanted to reach through the television screen and strangle Lorelai or Rory for their immaturity or selfishness, but that only goes to show that Sherman-Pallandino never let her characters become saints. They were as flawed and human as the rest of us, making them equally inviting to viewers of all genders.
Tonight, Gilmore Girls airs its final episode. A contract dispute led to the departure of the Pallandinos at the end of last season, and creatively the show is ending closer to whimper on the “bang-whimper” scale. The network tried to negotiate a 13-episode ninth season but neither Graham nor Bledel was willing to commit and the whole thing fell apart at the last minute. The season finale was made to double as a series finale if the show wasn’t coming back, so hopefully there will still be a good sense of finality from tonight’s proceedings.
Still, even if this is the right time for Gilmore Girls to go, I haven’t quite come to terms with the fact this evening I’ll be making my final visit to Stars Hollow. Where am I going to go to find the rapid-fire pop culture references, quirky townies and Friday night dinners that used to make my Tuesday evenings? What will I do without Kirk or Paris or Mrs. Kim or Taylor or Sebastian Bach in my life? What will fill the void left by the departure of the smartest, most sincere family drama left on television?
Goodbye, Gilmore Girls. May your legacy be as respected as the rewarding television you gave us. Happy trails.