I fell for Gilmore Girls for the wrong reasons.
I liked the glamour, the glitz, and the cool factor of the story of thirty-two-year-old Lorelai and sixteen-year-old Rory, the mother-daughter duo who the series revolves around. I was fascinated by the quaintness of their small town, Stars Hollow, and the opulent rich world of the Gilmore grandparents, Richard and Emily. I loved the romances Lorelai and Rory became entangled in and all the complications that ensued.
Now, a decade after I started watching—and sixteen years since the original series premiered—I realize my younger self missed some of the best parts of the series, which is returning to Netflix with new episodes on Friday.
Oh sure, the cool factor and the romances remain—just see the social media posts of fans declaring their loyalties to #teamLogan, #teamDean, or #teamJess, referring to Rory’s past boyfriends.
But what really set Gilmore Girls apart from a zillion other TV shows about love and friendship was its attention to a different kind of relationship: the ones we don’t choose.
Stars Hollow, the adorable small town the Gilmore girls live in, is full of. . . well, less than adorable people. There are some greats—dancing instructor Miss Patty, next door neighbors Morey and Babette—but there are also plenty of people whom it would be fair to call difficult. Grocer and town leader Taylor Doosey is never short of a self-righteous opinion and jack-of-all-trades Kirk Gleason is always ready to insert himself annoyingly into any situation. As well, Lorelai must contend with her sulky employee Michel and Rory must deal with classmate and eventually college roommate Paris Geller—a character who pairs the charming combination of outrageous rudeness with acute vulnerability.
And then there are Lorelai’s parents, who come back into their daughter’s and granddaughter’s lives at the beginning of the series after Lorelai asks them to pay for Rory’s education—despite the fact that the wealthy Gilmore parents and independent Lorelai see eye to eye on very little, and completely disagree on the best way to live one’s life.
Throughout the series, clashes ensue. We see Stars Hollow town meetings where Taylor tries to steamroll the town into embracing his vision, and we see the regular, often emotionally-charged Friday night dinners between the younger and elder Gilmores (as one episode was called, “Friday Night’s Alright for Fighting”).
And yet, there are also moments of growth. Paris and Rory go from enemies to frenemies to college roommates to friends. Emily Gilmore buys Rory a $12 bracelet—which she clearly regards as shockingly ugly—after Lorelai tells her (correctly) that Rory will love it. Lorelai asks Michel to join her when she starts her own inn.
Community. Family. Classmates. Colleagues.
We don’t choose these people. Yet by being forced to interact with them on a regular basis, whether in town halls or the classroom or at family dinners or in endless work meetings, they often change us, allowing us to grow in ways that the friends we choose cannot. They challenge us, jerk us out of our narrow perspectives, and force us to see another viewpoint.
And so often they enlarge us: just as Lorelai and Rory grow, so do we in similar situations. Recognizing the likeability of someone you never would have initially befriended and seeing her inherent worth, while still being keenly aware of her annoying habits and weaknesses isn’t an easy task. But it makes our world broader: one irony of Gilmore Girls is that the very smallness of Stars Hollow is actually what helps enlarge the hearts and minds of its characters, since they are compelled to jostle and talk with the few people who populate the town. (By contrast, Richard and Emily, who live in the much larger Hartford, Connecticut—the state capital—seem to pal around exclusively with their rich friends.)
Gilmore Girls is often described as a show about a mother and daughter who are also best friends. But there’s far more to Lorelai’s and Rory’s dynamic than that. Lorelai didn’t choose to get pregnant at 16. But when she did, when Rory forcibly wrested her way into Lorelai’s life and heart, Lorelai found—in motherhood—her closest friend, and a relationship that changed her for the best.
We can keep the relationships we don’t choose—and all the uncomfortable emotions they can bring with them—at arm’s length. But Gilmore Girls is an exploration of a different choice: embracing those unchosen relationships with all their unique hardships and joys.
There are plenty of teen dramas that won’t be returning to Netflix for revivals (thank goodness). The reason Gilmore Girls has returned after more than a decade is because it’s about more than romance and glitz; the show lingered with fans and acquired new ones because although it did so imperfectly and roughly at times, it succeeded in exploring a better way of being human—by loving the ones you don’t like, and, in time, even liking the ones you love.