Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life
Lauren Graham, Alexis Bledel, Kelly Bishop, Scott Patterson
US: 25 Nov 2016
Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life is only a week away; there may not be time for a rewatch of all 154 episodes in preparation. The episodes below, however, offer a good primer to reacquaint oneself with what made the series so special. This list is obviously a personal one; others will surely balk at the episodes chosen, or feel their favorites have been left out. I’ve discounted any episodes from the last two seasons of the show, as the previous five provided more than enough episodes to choose from without the pall of creator / showrunner Amy Sherman-Palladino’s imminent and then eventual exit hanging over seasons six and seven.
As may also be obvious from the choices below, I favor episodes that revolve around the complicated relationship between Lorelai (Lauren Graham) and her mother Emily (Kelly Bishop), and that cement the bond between Lorelai and her daughter Rory (Alexis Bledel). I’m also biased in favor of episodes that place the town of Stars Hollow front and center, focus on diner owner Luke (Scott Patterson) and Lorelai’s budding romance, and townie shenanigans. Regardless of your own preferences, though, the return of Gilmore Girls is both exciting and an excellent excuse to revisit episodes that remind you of the show’s singular appeal. “Where you lead, I will follow”, Gilmores, so lead on…
“The Lorelais’ First Day at Chilton” (1x02)
Although not the series pilot, “The Lorelais’ First Day at Chilton” accomplishes much of the same in introducing the main cast and premise of the series. Chilton, Rory’s prep school funded by a loan by her grandparents, looms large in the first half of Gilmore Girls, not only as the reason why Lorelai begrudgingly reconciles with her estranged parents, but the way it expands Rory’s world outside of Stars Hollow. The episode also marks the introduction of Liza Weil’s brilliant turn as Paris Geller, initially as Rory’s nemesis. It’s an excellent introduction to the series as it perfectly encapsulates Lorelai’s relationships with both Emily and Rory, the three Gilmore girls of the series, and reaffirms Stars Hollow and its inhabitants as an integral part of the series.
“Rory’s Birthday Parties” (Season 1, episode 6)
A terrific glimpse into Starts Hollow life, particularly as seen through the eyes of Richard (Edward Herrmann) and Emily, who visit to attend Rory’s 16th birthday party. “Rory’s Birthday Parties” is filled with townies galore, a budding romance between Rory and Dean Forrester (Jared Padalecki), and heartbreaking moments of realization for Emily. She’d already thrown Rory an upper crust birthday party, inviting classmates Rory barely knew and introducing her to Connecticut’s high society.
As parties go, the two couldn’t be more different, and Rory’s comfort level (or lack thereof) is obvious in both. It’s also an episode that’s worth including for the scene in which Richard gamely takes a magazine quiz (“I am an autumn”). The sweet moment he has with Rory speaks to how easily they connect in contrast to his and Emily’s difficult relationship with Lorelai, a running thread throughout the series.
“Forgiveness and Stuff” (Season 1, episode10)
“Forgiveness and Stuff” is an episode that builds on Rory’s growing relationship with her grandparents, and Lorelai’s reconnection with them when Richard has a health scare and is hospitalized. It’s also a direct continuation of the events in the previous episode, “Rory’s Dance”, one that exemplifies Lorelai and Emily’s shifting dynamic, but has them at odds again by the end.
Similarly, there’s lingering tension between Lorelai and Rory, but it’s Richard’s hospitalization that brings them all together and cements the deepening relationships among the Gilmores. Plus, there’s a truly disgusting Santa burger, made for Lorelai by Luke, in this episode.
“Concert Interruptus” (Season 1, episode 13)
One of the Gilmore Girls’ greatest gifts is its excellent use of music throughout its run. Distinctive la-la music cues by Sam Phillips, regular troubadour performances by Grant-Lee Phillips, and all-around great music choices abound. There have also been appearances by plenty of musical artists over the years. “Concert Interruptus” boasts one by The Bangles when Lorelai, Rory, Sookie (Melissa McCarthy), take Chilton classmates Paris, Madeline (Shelley Cole), and Louise (Teal Redmann) to a concert in New York City.
The band’s performance is a highlight, but there are also some lovely scenes between Rory and Paris that point to their growing friendship; Lorelai’s curiosity about Luke’s ex-girlfriend makes for some especially great banter with Sookie. It’s also an episode that again reaffirms Lorelai’s choices in raising Rory, despite her own youth; however hip and young she may appear, Lorelai’s always a mother first, a point the series would make again and again.
“The Road Trip to Harvard” (Season 2, episode 4)
When Lorelai panics on the eve of her wedding to Max Medina (Scott Cohen), she takes Rory on an impromptu road trip to Harvard without telling anyone. Although “The Road Trip to Harvard” features plenty of Gilmore shenanigans—they continually make fun of their bed and breakfast décor and try to escape run-ins with other guests at all costs—they also explore Harvard. It’s certainly an opportunity for Rory to see the place she’s been dreaming of since she was too young to even consider college, but it also serves as a bittersweet reminder of all Lorelai has sacrificed, including her own education.
Gilmore Girls has always made it clear that Lorelai doesn’t regret her decision to have Rory so young, but it also doesn’t shy away from the very real costs of that decision.
“Run Away, Little Boy” (Season 2, episode 9)
“Run Away, Little Boy” keeps Lorelai and Rory separate to deal with their own issues for much of the episode. Rory’s struggle in dealing with an assignment-obsessed Paris invading Stars Hollow, along with classmate Tristan duGray’s (Chad Michael Murray) continued pursuit of her, culminates in confrontations with both Dean and Tristan, and Tristan eventually leaving school. Meanwhile, Lorelai is still coming to terms with her breakup from Max after getting a late wedding present, jumping back into dating in a misguided attempt to move on.
The entertaining re-imaginings of Romeo and Juliet at Chilton are a highlight, particularly when Paris has to step in at the last minute to replace Tristan as Romeo to Rory’s Juliet. The episode also brings to the fore how much Lorelai depends on Luke and the rest of the town as her support system, an ongoing theme in the series.
“The Bracebridge Dinner” (Season 2, episode 10)
When the Bracebridge group, who’d rented the entire Independence Inn (Lorelai’s place of employment) cancels at the last minute, Lorelai and Sookie decide not to waste all their hard work and instead open up the inn to the town. What follows is a ridiculous 19th century dinner with Sookie’s fiancé Jackson (Jackson Douglas) as squire (he’s the only one who fits the costume), complete with a last-minute drop-in from Paris, an unexpectedly giddy Richard, and a wary Emily. Reluctant guests Luke and Jess (Milo Ventimiglia) are seated, much to their chagrin, alongside townies Babette (Sally Struthers) and Morey (Ted Rooney), fellow Independence Inn employee Michel (Yanic Truesdale), town selectman Taylor (Michael Winters), Miss Patty (Liz Torres), Kirk (Sean Gunn), and Paris.
It’s the kind of free-for-all that marks Stars Hollow as the quirky town at the center of Gilmore Girls, but it also includes the bombshell that Richard’s quit his job without telling Emily, while Jess’s mom didn’t ask him home for the winter break, and Lorelai struggles with Rory’s erstwhile father Christopher’s (David Sutcliff) request for Rory to spend her break with him. That “The Bracebridge Dinner” also includes a Bjork snowwoman and Sookie’s always-funny panicked cooking speaks to the series’ wonderful balance of humor and drama.
“There’s the Rub” (Season 2, episode 16)
“There’s the Rub” offers one of the best episodes to showcase the complex relationship between Emily and Lorelai, by putting them together in a spa for the weekend, in which they unsurprisingly fight and unexpectedly bond. One of the series’ greatest strengths has been its ability to balance the constant back and forth inherent in the Lorelai and Emily relationship. No matter how frustrating it could be to see them continuously take one step forward and two steps back, the series managed to find the line in which those struggles existed without going over very often.
This episode also features the surprisingly entertaining trio of Rory, Jess, and Paris debating books and french fry condiments, all while Rory desperately tries to relax in a rare evening at home alone.
“They Shoot Gilmores, Don’t They?” (Season 3, episode 7)
This is a quintessential Gilmore Girls episode, “They Shoot Gilmores, Don’t They?” revolves around a Stars Hollow dance marathon. It’s everything that the series does so well: kooky town event plus plenty of Gilmore drama with enough hilarity and unexpected hijinks to round out the whole thing. The Dean / Rory / Jess love triangle comes to a head when Dean breaks up with Rory on the dance floor.
Meanwhile, Jackson and Sookie argue over how many kids to have, Luke comes to Lorelai’s rescue when the heel on her shoe breaks, and Kirk’s competitive streak coupled with Taylor’s control streak make for an especially lively episode.