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Witty and Whimiscal, 10.09.01 ...

Screwball comedies helped America through the grim days of the Great Depression and World War II. Anyone needing blissful entertainment these days should rent The Awful Truth, Bringing Up Baby and The Lady Eve. Or a viewer could try WB's Gilmore Girls, whose characters speak with the smart, rapid-fire bravura of screwball predecessors.

Gilmore Girls was the best new series last season, although NBC's Friends and CBS' Survivor overshadowed it on Thursdays. The series has been moved to Tuesdays, where it begins a second season with a two-hour episode at 8 tonight on WKCF-Channel 18.

If the new series this fall have been mostly letdowns, or simply misguided in light of the Sept. 11 attacks, this week restores some luster to prime time. Along with Gilmore Girls, NBC's Ed and WB's Felicity return.

Gilmore Girls is one of television's great, unsung pleasures, although Emmy nominators foolishly ignored the series.

The comedy-drama sets endearing characters and believable family conflicts against a loopy, small-town setting -- Stars Hollow, Conn. -- that Frank Capra could have imagined. Gilmore Girls is also the rare series that gives older characters substantial roles.

Lorelai Gilmore (Lauren Graham) contemplates whether to accept a marriage proposal from teacher Max (Scott Cohen).

Her brilliant daughter, Rory (Alexis Bledel), gets grief from affluent granddad Richard (Edward Herrmann) for her choice of not-so-brilliant Dean (Jared Padalecki) as a boyfriend.

Grandma Emily (the exceptional Kelly Bishop) is appalled by Richard's behavior, but she fumes over the haphazard way she learns major family news.

Surrounding them are wonderful characters: accident-prone chef Sookie (Melissa McCarthy), chatty dance teacher Miss Patty (Liz Torres) and cafe owner Luke (Scott Patterson) who goes into cynical, eloquent rants.

When Lorelai prepares to tell Luke of the proposal, a throng follows her down the street because everyone knows he has a crush on her. "The whole town should be medicated and put in a rec room with pingpong tables and hand puppets," Luke says.

Series creator Amy Sherman-Palladino writes clever dialogue and ingratiating comedy, but she also knows how to do bittersweet drama.

That Gilmore Girls is a touching comedy is also a tribute to the actors, led by the luminous Graham. The Gilmore family is one television clan worth knowing, and that can't be said too often these days.
Credit: Orlando Sentinel

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