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Meet The Gilmore Girls, 10.09.01 ...

Last year I was sitting in a ballroom at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Pasadena, Calif., listening to Amy Sherman-Palladino talk passionately about the secret of creating a great TV show.

"If you want a show to stay on 5,000 years, pick a family show," she said. "Those are where the greatest stories come from. If you really want to get something good and interesting and deep and screwed up and fun and heartwarming and evil all in the same thing, you can go to a family."

Sherman-Palladino was hyping Gilmore Girls, the WB's new family series about a free-spirited, 32-year-old single mom (Lauren Graham) and her puppy-dog-cute 16-year-old daughter (Alexis Bledel), who act more like sisters than mother and child.

Though Sherman-Palladino's logic made sense, that wasn't enough to make Gilmore Girls an appointment TV show for me. I left the ballroom thinking, "Well, both Lauren and Alexis are mighty nice, but the series sounds like a sappy chick show."

Then I watched Gilmore Girls.

And I watched it again. And again. And again.

And you should be watching, too, when its second-season premiere airs this week (today, 8 p.m., WBZL-Channel 39, WTCN-WB-15; Friday, 10 p.m., WTVX-Channel 34).

Can you fall in love with a TV show? Sure you can.

Almost immediately, I learned Gilmore Girls was witty and insightful. Relentlessly smart and achingly poignant. Thoroughly endearing without being schmaltzy. The chemistry between Graham (Lorelai) and Bledel (Rory) was stunningly realistic. You actually believed they were mother and daughter. And I hadn't heard funnier banter and more sardonic one-liners since Moonlighting.

You don't have to be a woman to enjoy Gilmore Girls. The series is not just about a giddy mother-daughter pair who share lip gloss, drink coffee together and listen to Macy Gray CDs. Yes, it was funny watching Lorelai take Rory to her fancy prep school in cowboy boots and trampy shorts because she forgot to wash her clothes. But Gilmore Girls is deeper than that.

As Sherman-Palladino promised, her show tackles very real -- and very prickly -- family problems. Gilmore Girls works best during those tense weekly dinners Lorelai and Rory have with Lorelai's stuffy, old-money parents, played with pitch-perfect precision by Kelly Bishop and Edward Herrmann.

Wild-child Lorelai has had a strained relationship with her parents ever since she became pregnant, dropped out of school and decided to raise her baby alone. Complicating matters is how both Emily (Bishop) and Richard (Herrmann) treat Rory, a whip-smart prep schooler, like the daughter they never had.

One of the show's most memorable episodes was when a beaming Richard played golf with Rory and introduced her to all his country-club-member friends. Though Rory enjoyed getting to know her grandfather better, the outing was also painful because she knew her mom had never spent that kind of quality time with her father.

It's those quiet moments that make Gilmore Girls one of TV's best shows. The characters aren't cardboard cutouts. They're fleshed-out, three dimensional human beings we care about. Tonight, you'll care, for example, as Lorelai agonizes over whether to accept Max's (Scott Cohen) marriage proposal. You'll also feel for Rory as Richard unfairly grills her boyfriend about his college and career plans at one of the infamous dinners.

You can thank Sherman-Palladino for breathing life into those characters and making them real.

"I've always wanted to put a character like Rory on television," says Sherman-Palladino, a former Roseanne staff writer and Veronica's Closet executive producer. "I've always felt like teen girls have not really been represented that well in the past. Teen girls seem to fall into either the tomboy category or they're like, `Omigod, how does my makeup look?' "

In Rory, Sherman-Palladino certainly created a grounded character who isn't obsessed with boys or fashion. She's actually a mature teen -- a rare treat on television.

Sherman-Palladino admits she was worried she'd never find the perfect actress for the part. "We went through every kid in town who had ever done a Twinkies commercial," she says. "Then we saw Alexis, a kid who was going to NYU and putting herself through college by doing some modeling on the side. She came in and had the flu and had no desire to talk to us. She was annoyed by the entire situation. She couldn't have cared less if she got the job or not. She had to be somewhere at 4. We were like, `What's it like to go to NYU?' And she's like, `Ugh, chitchat, I guess I can do that.' We were, like, `Oh, she hates us! I love that!' There was just something that was so natural about her as a person who was so unaffected by Hollywood."

Most writers say it's best to write what you know. I guess that's why I thought Sherman-Palladino was writing Gilmore Girls from her own personal experiences.

Not true.

She didn't grow up rich. She doesn't have kids. She lived in a California neighborhood where nobody knew one another.

"I don't know from Connecticut, I don't know from money, I don't know from society and I don't know from prep school," Sherman-Palladino says. "This show works because family problems are family problems whether you live in a big house or a small house."

The problem Sherman-Palladino faces is getting more people to watch Gilmore Girls. The series averages a puny 3.6 million viewers each week and ranks 126 out of 184 shows. Going up against Friends last year certainly didn't help. The competition, however, won't get any easier. This year Gilmore Girls goes toe-to-toe with UPN's Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Buffy is the show Gilmore Girls replaced in the much-coveted 8 p.m. Tuesday time slot. The coincidence isn't lost on Sherman-Palladino.

"There's huge pressure on us," she says. "The WB doesn't want to have let Buffy go and then lose to it."

You can't lose by watching Gilmore Girls. The show isn't edgy. Or trendy. There are no quirky camera movements or stylized fantasy scenes. It's not teeming with comely babes and square-jawed hunks. There are no grisly murders to solve. The stories are simple, yet complex.

It's not just a chick show. It's a show for everyone.

Watch it and find out for yourself.
Credit: Palm Beach Post

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