Whenever I have a really shitty day, I like to escape into the whimsical world of Stars Hollow. A couple of years ago I would have publicly denied it. It was my secret little vice. It’s not like it’s one of the cool shows; it has the aesthetics of a show born on the Hallmark Channel. The Stars Hollow hood isn’t big on the crack cooking, they’re not haunted by zombies and the town is not steeped in mystery or set on an island inhabited by black smoke and polar bears. People don’t tend to be as fascinated by long rants about how, in terms of dialogue, the writing on Gilmore Girls is genius. It’s true, right? There are the shows we’ll talk to all our friends about – our theories about The Leftovers, our analysis of characters in Transparent – and then there are the shows we keep to ourselves; the ones that usually barely merit a scoff from purist mates or the in-crowd (you know, the I-don’t-do-sitcoms-type) whenever they come up in conversation. Guilty little pleasures you reserve for a rainy day spent in bed. On your own. When I first started watching the Gilmore Girls, I thought it was going to be one of those; you know, the One Tree Hill or Dawson’s Creek type. That was partially Rory’s fault. I have an aversion to sulky faced teenagers and, yes, I do realize the pout is meant to be angelic, but it just doesn’t work for me, sorry. Then there’s the town, this Perfectville, where nothing really bad ever happens and all the goofy people know each other by name and blergh. Vomit. Right!? Well, no. You’re so, so wrong.
Most feel-good shows are designed to not make you think. Some even let you know when to laugh; you can just sit back on autopilot. Not the case with Gilmore Girls. I’d even go as far as to say you’re going to have to watch every single episode a couple of times until you get all the jokes and many, manycultural references that spill out from either of them, with or without the added effect of a caffeine buzz. But what really sets GG apart from any other show we turn to for relaxation and a giggle is that it is enveloped in a nostalgic hue; one that, strangely, does not weigh you down but, in fact, lifts you up. It’s every time you came home for a hug after a painful break-up; every time you had an awesome day and couldn’t wait to share it with your mom, your dad, your sister or your grandpa; every time you laugh at something only blood would understand. It’s every time you leave the table in a huff, angry about your family’s lack of understanding, and every time you come to realize that your parents, they’re just human. It’s the good, the bad and the ugly but without the acid reflux. Where series like Transparent and Six Feet Under bring up questions and answers that have you doubting your maturity and sensitivity towards your family’s individual personalities, their angst and their love, Gilmore Girls is the quiet confirmation. There's nothing left to be said; all there is left to do is to accept that we are who we are and that’s okay. We can’t choose our families but we can make it work somehow and hey, you’ll even learn a thing or two in the process. Zen and the art of dealing with your family.
Fair enough; when it comes to Rory and Lorelai, the overall, smooth sailings of their relationship can feel a tad sickening; that’s because we’re confusing envy with nausea. The only reason most people think such an easy, trusting relationship between a mother and her teenaged daughter seems unnatural is because it’s not exactly common. Lorelai didn’t experience this close bond growing up, which is exactly why she was determined to establish the warm, fuzzy relationship she never had with her own mother, with Rory. But, ultimately, the downs she does experience with Rory and her parents can be felt to the very core. And sure, there are always going to be hard feelings surrounding past matters that are done, but never, ever dusted: You got pregnant at sixteen! We paid for your education! You dropped out of school! You’re going to die a spinster! An exhaustive cycle spiralling on endlessly, but it is, essentially, what constitutes Emily and Lorelai’s very relationship. Sometimes, the only way an estranged parent knows how to lure their children back into a united future is by skilfully using the guilt of the past to their advantage. It’s the almighty master move, the inexorable, maternal guilt trip. Mrs. Emily Gilmore is Queen of the guilt trip. And she will make you miss your mother.
There’s this feeling many of us get driving back home after a weekend spent with the entire family for the Christmas hoopla. Symptoms include tightness in the chest and anger mixed with paralyzing weakness. All that is followed by the bitter sweet realization that being part of a family is a masochist existence: as much as they frustrate, embarrass and/or ignore you, you keep going back for more. Because amidst all those snarky remarks, those tactless dabs (“I gave away my wedding dress, it’s not like you’ll be needing it”) and inconsiderate observations (“You’ve put on weight”), there is a whole lot of love. It may not always be blatantly obvious, but trust me, it’s there. Parents have a tendency to constantly go back to their children’s top five monumental failures of the past – and that in itself is the very proof of their unconditional love for you. A twisted one, I grant you that, but pure nonetheless. They’re not really scolding their kids; they’re scolding themselves, and for what reason other than that inexplicable, parental devotion that has the power to turn the greatest of people into a liability?
If you truly think about it, some of the best family moments are indeed the ones that involve food and fighting. There’s a reason so many movies and episodes are dedicated to disastrous Thanksgiving dinners and heated, or depressingly sombre Christmas lunches. The dinner table is the ultimate battle ground – bloody or daggered – for every family: eating utensils are repurposed as pointing-devices, freely flowing alcohol loosens stiff tongues, the stench of Brussel sprouts spurs on the aggressions and the homely scent of apple pie finally brings back the harmony – until everyone sobers up again after coffee. Appetizers may be served chilled and sloppy, the main course and its heavy servings contrite, but, the dessert – the dessert makes it all worth it. After the bones of every skeleton in the family closet have been nibbled clean, after hungry molars have crushed every ounce of self-pride, once the ice in whiskey tumblers has thawed through spiteful hearts, that’s when the air lifts with the warmth of home-made apple pie with crusts as soft and crunchy as you’re mother’s heart. There’s just no other way around it – you have to lift all the accumulated resentment before you can finally be reduced to decent humans again, with no pressures of pedestals or roles of black sheep to fill. Friday Night’s Alright for Fighting, the thirteenth episode of GG’s season six, perfectly illustrates the dreaded and simultaneously gratifying family dinner dynamics.
The Gilmore Girls and the town of Star’s Hollow is to many what the security blanket is to The Peanuts’ Linus. I picture a college girl, settling in on her first night on campus, turning to The Lorelai’s First Day of Yale when she finds herself missing her mum after weeks of pushing her away. I imagine a young, overwhelmed mother pining for childhood remedies and niceties whilst blubbing over Rory’s Dance. And I know that everyone can find comfort in Friday Night’s Alright for Fighting because, like a comically soothing lullaby, it reminds us that, no matter how dysfunctional your family may be, as long as you’re still fighting it really is going to be alright.
Commissioned by Paste Magazine