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Family Tries, 12.20.00 ...


You lie. Not every one of you. Maybe 98 percent. People constantly tell opinion surveyors they yearn for more wholesome, family-oriented dramas with pro-social messages. WB came up with a dandy this season, Gilmore Girls, which fits the bill without slipping into smarminess. Yet only about 2 percent of America is watching. So where are the rest of you? Watching Friends, which is a very funny show, but not one that falls within the common definition of family-friendly.

The WB is hoping a special two-part Gilmore Girls episode, airing tonight where Felicity has been playing and Thursday in Gilmore Girls' normal time slot, will pull a bigger crowd into the tent. The strategy here is that in a down week dominated by reruns, original episodes of a praised show might pull in curiosity seekers. From there, it's easy to get hooked by the engaging characters and superb actors playing them.

This grand plan was foiled when election-news pre-emptions last Wednesday pushed an original episode of The West Wing back a week, making the competition for Part 1 tougher than anticipated. But Thursday will still be a bin of picked-over programming, including Friends.

Fortunately, Gilmore Girls is an easy show to join in progress. In fact, the WB has shrewdly created a weekly halftime update, for viewers finished with Friends and looking for something more rewarding than Cursed, or whatever NBC is calling its listless new 8:30 p.m. comedy. (This week, it's The Weber Show.)

The back story: Lorelai Gilmore was 16 when she became pregnant. Her well-to-do parents, Emily and Richard, wanted her to put the baby up for adoption. Lorelai had other ideas. Fine, her parents countered, keep the baby and you're on your own. Fine, she retorted. Lorelai supported herself and daughter Rory with a job as a maid at the local inn. Sixteen years later, she has worked her way up to manager.

A crisis arises when Rory, a bit of a prodigy as well as a great kid, gets accepted to a tweedy prep school. Problem is, tuition exceeds Lorelai's annual income. Like most parents, she does something for her child she would not have considered doing for herself: She swallows her pride and asks her parents for help. The aid comes with strings, as her overbearing mother insists on taking a significant place in her granddaughter's life and, by extension, Lorelai's. The awkward reconciliation process drives the show.

As for Rory, she's enjoying having grandparents. Grandpa, an easygoing guy preoccupied with his business ventures, is a pushover. An episode in which he and Rory got to know each other over 18 holes of golf -- his passion, her first experience with the game -- was neat as a hole in one. Prim, proper, class-conscious Emily is a slower thaw. But she's trying, often harder than her daughter.

Lauren Graham in the pivotal role of Lorelai is sweeter than fruitcake and impossible not to like. Alexis Bledel, as Rory, is the anti-Dawson, one of the most natural teen actresses ever to appear on the obsessed-with-beautiful-young-people WB.

Kelly Bishop is perfect at charting Emily's emotional shifts. Each week she becomes just a bit warmer and easier to understand. She doesn't mean to be aloof; it's the only way she knows. Edward Herrmann doesn't appear as often as the others as Richard, but he's in customary grand form. He's absent from Part 1 of the special but moves to the fore in Part 2, when a near tragedy leads each of the Gilmores to realize how much they mean to one other.

All it should take is one exposure to this largely undiscovered delight for the audience to embrace this show, even as the characters are coming to embrace each other.

Can Girls survive? There is no relief in sight for the Gilmore Girls when it comes to killer competition. Indeed, things are likely to take a turn for the worse in 2001. CBS has announced that Survivor II: The Australian Outback, which will premiere Jan. 28 after the Super Bowl, will play regularly on Thursday nights at 8 starting Feb. 1. The only exceptions will be the two weeks in late March, when the network has the NCAA basketball tournament on Thursday. Those weeks, Survivor will air on Wednesday night at 8.
Credit: Sun-Sentinel.com


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