- We’re introduced to coffee-addict Lorelai Gilmore (Lauren Graham), Diner-owner Luke Danes (Scott Patterson), and Rory Gilmore (Alexis Bledel), who is Lorelai’s – insert gasp here – 16 year old daughter. (We aren’t officially informed of Lorelai’s age, however, until the thirty-one-minute mark.)
- Also, Luke, owner of the Diner/Williams Hardware has the best coffee in town
- At the Independence Inn where Lorelai works, we meet the other employees: Sookie St. James (Melissa McCarthy), Michel Gerard (Yanic Truesdale) and Drella (Alex Borstein). Sookie is a mad genius – heavy on the “mad,” though even more emphasis on sweet. She and Lorelai are besties and they have a dream to someday open their own Inn together.
- Rory’s best friend is Lane Kim (Keiko Agena), who’s parents, laser-focused on finding here a future-doctor husband, also own the town Antique Store.
- To everyone’s overwhelming delight, academia-driven Rory gets accepted to the highly prestigious prep school, Chilton. Lorelai, however, realizes that she’s unable to pay for the school tuition on her own. She racks her brain for a way to come up with the funds, but is left to ask her parents, Emily and Richard, with whom she is estranged (Kelly Bishop and the late Edward Herrmann).
- The tension is all-too palpable when they sit down and first agree to Lorelai’s well-presented terms, only to have Emily add the condition of a “weekly dinner,” to be more included in Lorelai’s life. Lorelai agrees, but only if Rory not know that money is being borrowed.
- Just as she’s cleaning out her locker to make the final transition to the new digs at Chilton, Rory runs into Dean, the new boy at Stars Hollow High. Rory seems to find him charming (I find it a bit creepy, though I see what they were going for); so much so that Rory begins to reconsider the move to Chilton altogether.
- At dinner (at Luke’s Diner), Rory throws out a number of false reasons why Chilton is a bad idea and Lorelai is less than pleased. On the walk home, Miss Patty, the town dance teacher, stops them to tell Rory that she found a job for Dean. Lorelai puts the pieces together and an argument ensues between she and Rory, which continues all the way back to their house. Lorelai attempts to work together, stay reasonable, but is forced to “play the Mom card.” Rory will go to Chilton, whether she wants to or not.
- The Girls attend their first Friday Night Dinner™ and more tension leads to a swipe at Lorelai as Richard pointedly deduces that Rory must get her intelligence and ambition from her father, Christopher. An entirely different kind of argument breaks loose between Lorelai and Emily in the kitchen. Words come tumbling from both of them, detailing their polarizing positions on how Lorelai handled her pregnancy and Rory’s birth.
- Rory overhears the whole fight and realizes that the money for Chilton is borrowed from her grandparents.
- Over a post-dinner cup of coffee, Rory changes her mind about Chilton and we see a cleaned-up Luke and get a spark of chemistry between he and Lorelai.
It has been a very long time since I have gone back to the very start of this show. Not unexpectedly to some, my favorite stretch of the series is seasons three through five, at which point the series was well-established, but still new. Many of the story arcs were still fresh and evolving, and a few new ones were introduced that meshed into the already familiar set-up. Starting back at the launching episode, however, it’s amazing to me to look back and be reminded of just how far back the story goes and, more noticeably, how much it evolves.
If there’s one thing that remains firm and consistent throughout the series, made evident by this pilot, it’s Lorelai herself. Rory was clearly less defined at this point, and would go through a lot of quick alteration to become the character as we would know her. From Lorelai’s crazy coffee addiction (addressed in the first line of dialogue) to her witty sense of humor and her unshakable love for and devotion to her daughter. The nature of their relationship is mostly there, but would really become more of what we know and love as Rory, herself, developed in turn. Generally speaking, too, Lorelai seems to think and expect the best from people (the only exception being, I think, her parents). I think it’s a combination of Lauren Graham’s acting skill and the strength of the character as creator Amy Sherman-Palladino invented her.
The intensity with which the show begins, while less comfortable and more dramatic, is raw and real. It’s easy to believe, especially in hindsight, that what we see here is the culmination of years of silence. Old, pent-up feelings have stewed and grown wild, but are given a kick and break through the very carefully constructed walls that these characters have built between one another. Lorelai, as it would seem she has always done, is the one to first break that silence. She refuses to sit quietly or let things lie for too long—hence why she fled her parents’ house at sixteen.
And speaking of Lorelai’s parents, Emily and Richard display some of their absolute worst here. They are hard characters to like anyway, but this is a rough place to start. Emily is manipulative, condescending and righteous while Richard is cold, disinterested and dismissive. A great visual demonstration of all this can be found in the multiple photos of Lorelai and Rory on their mantle, versus the giant, singular, painting at the Gilmore house; one perspective, looming and stern and overwhelming compared to many; warm, smiling and varied. Lorelai’s status as outcast in her own family is also exemplified in the blocking at the very start of the first Friday Night Dinner; Lorelai doesn’t sit right away. She is not comfortable, and literally stands apart. Even Rory sits with ease and looks as though she belongs. It brings to mind something Lorelai says in season three:
“Sometimes I literally sit around and try to figure out why…we can’t communicate and why we can’t seem to break through whatever crap it is that stands between us, and then…suddenly it’s like, ‘Oh yeah. That’s why’.”
It’s a benchmark for the nature of the relationships between the three of them; in some ways, it drives the show more so than the the relationship between Lorelai and Rory. But not quite. The title, “Gilmore Girls,” really does refer to the three women, not just two—either two. The first real emotional thing Emily says is about Lorelai taking Rory and leaving. These are old words, never before spoken and a long time coming. And both of their perspectives become very clear, and you can see where each of them are coming from. What’s troubling is watching how Emily cannot acknowledge why Lorelai did what she did and that there’s any room in the situation for her to have been in the wrong, whereas we see Lorelai attempt to be reasonable throughout the episode up to this point, but she will not buckle anymore. But Emily taunts Lorelai with the situation and holds it over her head, leaving Lorelai upset and things unresolved.
The pilot makes a clear distinction between Emily and Lorelai’s dynamic and Lorelai and Rory’s. I like that in this episode you do see Lorelai and Rory fight and you can see Lorelai struggle with “pulling the Mom card,” and why it’s such a difficult step to take because of what it reminds her of; all the things she tries very hard not to be. Regularly in this series, Loreali’s maturity astounds me and I applaud it every time. That’s not to say that she’s perfect; far from it. She is still a young woman and she is still human, who makes mistakes and walks—sometimes even sprints—into messes before she can stop herself, and doesn’t always know how to pick up the pieces, all of which is demonstrated here in the pilot. It’s my belief that Rory sees this, has many of these realizations for herself and that that’s the reason she chooses to go to Chilton after all. And, really, because that’s who Rory is. She loves school (as will be proven in the episodes to come) and, as decisions go, it is far more authentic than her “I want to stay at Stars Hollow because of the cute guy.” That said, as creepy as Dean’s “I’ve been watching you” speech is, I can see what they were trying to do with it. He didn’t think her fixation and passion for reading (which Rory translated to her studies and acadamia) as weird or stupid or a waste of time. He thought it was awesome, so much so that he wanted to meet her. From a personal perspective, I can easily say that if this same thing had happened to me at sixteen (substitute reading for writing) and someone—let alone a beautiful boy—had said the same thing to me, I’d have been just as confused and flattered as Rory. So while the execution is a little wobbly, it doesn’t bother me as much as it might have because the intention makes sense and, like with the confrontational scenes, the execution and writing becomes smoother as the series progresses. I think this scene is actually somewhat framed (at least somewhat) by the scene earlier in Rory’s class at Stars Hollow High. When Rory fills Lane on the other girls sharing nail polish and rolling their eyes over Rory choosing to do the assignment over something frivolous. They aren’t calling those girls stupid, but simply laughing at the difference between them and that they can’t relate to one another. But it does create a slight bookend to Dean’s very different reaction to Rory’s focus.
The same can be said of Sookie (who’s clumsiness dissipates after the first season), though I find that I love her through every single season, and I still enjoy every single season with her in it. Like with Lorelai, this is owed very much (if not more) to Melissa McCarthy. Her natural charisma and talent makes Sookie, as scatterbrained and wacky as she is in these early episodes, still completely adorable and lovable from the get-go. Yes, she is crazy, but she’s also sweet and undoubtedly talented and that she and Lorelai are BESTIES.
From a technical standpoint, the shots are medium to wide shots most of the time. Close ups are more rare. But there is lots of movement in Stars Hollow and at the Independence Inn; first noticeable tracking shots are Lane and Rory walking to school and Sookie moving about the kitchen, the latter being a truly impressive feat, given how tiny that space is; reflective, of course, of the characters and their personalities.
I also feel inclined to say that while Michel is not a particularly cuddly person, he is a walking definition of the phrase, “keeping it real.” His interaction with Drella is especially quirky and I really enjoy it here because—spoiler alert—Drella does not last the series past the first season. Which is a significant loss, as far as I’m concerned (don’t worry, though; nothing happens to her character, she simply disappears, probably fired for snapping at one too many customers, or playing too many harp-renditions of classic rock songs).
These few, though, are but the tip of the full spectrum of colorful, delightful characters and storylines to come. Even Luke, apart from the one movement at the end, is just another quirky character in the town. He doesn’t stand out much in the episode otherwise, but becomes much more and the town of Stars Hollow will be revealed as a truly magical place.
By the end of the episode, Lorelai and Rory have resolved their lingering fight, largely because Rory has stopped acting petulant and bratty, and I think it’s owed to the fact that Lorelai has already put in the effort before the Friday Night Dinner and Rory has realized the full scope of what’s going on; a beautiful realization, I think, on Alexis Bledel’s part. While I like seeing them express conflict, especially this early in the series, the resolution feels organic and honest and it really does set the bar for the rest of the season and the story at large, which is absolutely fantastic.
POP CULTURE REFERENCE COUNT: 13
- “You’re a regular Jack Kérouac.”
- “Look, Officer Krupke…”
- “RuPaul doesn’t need this much makeup.”
- “There’s no way Mark Twain could compete with that.”
- “I’m going to be in a Britney Spears video?”
- “Where’s your pate?” / “At Zsa Zsa Gabor‘s house.”
- “Rosemary’s Baby.”
- “My first Melville.”
- “You’re gonna have turn into freakin’ Flo-Jo to get away from me!”
- “You’re not going to give me the Mommie Dearest treatment forever, are you?”
- “Do we just stand here reenacting The Little Match Girl?”
- “On the way home, you can pull a Menendez.”
- “Is he dreamy?” / “Ugh, that’s so Nick at Nite.”
- The main street shown in the opening shot is after this episode; as this was the first piece of the empire to come, the show had not yet settled into the nest of the Warner Brothers backlot. As such, this location does not inherently feel like Stars Hollow to me, even if it does feel more realistic as a small town road and diner.
- The teacher at Stars Hollow High makes this singular appearance, but the actress is Jill Brennan, who will be back in season four in the role of [Crazy] Carrie Duncan.
- Lorelai establishes that she’s taking a business class in Hartford.
- Miss Patty tells Rory that they need a stock boy at the supermarket; this actually plays out through this season and many others.
- “Dark hair, romantic eyes, looks a little dangerous?” This is a fairly accurate description not of Dean, but of another one of Rory’s future “male friends.”
- Sookie kills the Viking stove (which is hard to do); but it seems like a deliberate (though probably completely accidental) foreshadowing of an incident which happens in the season three episode “A Tale of Poes and Fire.”
- “Do I look shorter? Cause I feel shorter.” Lorelai references feeling small in other, future instances of confronting her father.
- Along with coffee at the end of the episode, Rory orders chili fries, to which Luke remarks, “quite a refined palette you’ve got there.” This is the first of the ongoing gag that Rory and Lorelai have absolutely terrible diets, but somehow never gain so much as an ounce from all the terrible food they eat.
- The episode concludes with the song, “Our Little Corner of the World,” which will play again at the conclusion of the season finale.