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Unlucky Girls, 12.20.00 ...

After Al Gore, the biggest loser last Wednesday may have been the WB's "Gilmore Girls."

One of the few truly bright lights in a dismal season, the family dramedy has been struggling in the ratings (it finished 98th last week) thanks to a killer timeslot opposite NBC's similarly young-skewing "Friends." The WB's done what it can to get people to change the channel, even running a story-so-far recap midway through each episode in the hopes of luring "Weber Show" viewers from NBC, but it hasn't been enough.

Tonight, though, was going to be part of a big week for "Gilmore Girls," with new episodes scheduled on back-to-back nights (tonight at 9 and tomorrow at 8) opposite a lot of Big Four repeats.

But when Gore chose to concede in primetime, the networks (NBC in particular) started preempting like mad, and a number of original episodes from last week got pushed back to tonight. So instead of going against, say, a "West Wing" repeat, "Gilmore Girls" now has to compete with the real thing.

It would be a shame if this stunt didn't get better sampling, because "Gilmore Girls" has more than fulfilled the promise it showed at the beginning of the season. It and NBC's "Ed" have given a good name again to small-town eccentricity, comedies disguised in hour-long drama drag and gentle, smart humor that doesn't try too hard.

As single mom Lorelai Gilmore, who fled her rich family when she got pregnant at 16, Lauren Graham is delivering an assured, magnetic star turn that's washed away any bitter aftertaste left from all her previous short-lived series ("Townies," "Conrad Bloom," "M.Y.O.B."). She's got a twinkle in her eye that perfectly matches the series' Norman Rockwell-esque setting.

The other two Gilmore girls are matching Graham note for perfect note. In 16-year-old Rory, actress Alexis Bledel and the writers have created the most authentic TV kid in years: a polite, shy, pretty girl who actually likes school and isn't just a walking Masters & Johnson sex ed seminar. It's a wonder she's even allowed on the WB, home to a gaggle of overarticulate, oversexed teens.

And Kelly Bishop has been simply divine as cool Gilmore matriarch Emily, who loves her daughter and granddaughter but thinks the best way to show them love is by controlling their every action. The blueblood with ice running through her veins is a stock figure by now, but you'd never know that by watching Bishop.

Most of tonight's episode features some rare calm among the three, as Emily tends to a bedridden Lorelai while Rory reluctantly brings her working-class boyfriend to a formal at her elite prep school. But a storm is definitely coming, and not just in the snow that falls throughout tomorrow's episode. (That hour also features strong work by Edward Hermann as Lorelai's stuffy but well-meaning father and Scott Patterson as Luke, the gruff cafe owner who nurses a crush on Lorelai.)

The WB already picked up "Gilmore Girls" for the full season, and the bar for success is much lower there than it would be on an established network like NBC. With any luck, this honest, heartwarming, funny gem will wind up lasting at least until the next Gore-Bush election.
Credit: New Jersey Online

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