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Family Ties for Modern Times, 12.21.00 ...


If you're one of the many people who like NBC's Ed, you might want to give Gilmore Girls the once-over. Like Ed, this new dramedy from the WB network (it airs in Canada on Global) successfully rides a razor's edge -- the characters seem whimsical without ever falling into overt cuteness. For maintaining that difficult balance, Gilmore Girls has been lauded by critics as the best family-oriented program on the fall schedule.

Set in Star's Hollow, a small Connecticut town near Hartford, the show is suffused with a strong sense of place. Where it differs from Ed is in its lead characters, who are both female. Lauren Graham plays Lorelai Gilmore, a 32-year-old single mother trying to raise her 16-year-old daughter, Rory (Alexis Bledel).

Because Lorelai had Rory at such a young age, the bond between the two is more like that between sisters. They are best friends, in fact, and the hook to make each episode unpredict-able is a variation on the old switcheroo: Despite what viewers might expect, Lorelai is the carefree, immature, explosive part of the equation; Rory is the driven, serious, even-tempered one. Perhaps the show's creator, Roseanne alumnus Amy Sherman-Palladino, saw the Disney film Freaky Friday back in 1977 and was inspired.

Although irresponsible, Lorelai does hold down a job. She manages the local bed and breakfast, the Independence Inn, which brings her into constant contact with the town's oddball residents (the woman who plays the harp in the inn's lobby, for instance, has a penchant for Black Sabbath tunes). Lorelai is the kind of woman who wears a B-52s T-shirt to a parent-teacher meeting, who would rather forgo underwear than do a load of laundry.

Rory is living in a hell of her own. The starting point for the series was her transfer to Chilton, a tony prep school in Hartford (Lorelai and Rory's shared dream is for Rory to go to Harvard). Not only do her new classmates hate her, but the former A student is also now getting Ds.

"Look at the large red circles around various parts of your paper as friendly reminders that to err is human," her English teacher says as he hands back an essay. "And that here at Chilton, we try to beat that humanity right out of you."

The heart of the show is the relationship between mother and daughter. The writers include several reminders in each episode to reinforce the idea that Lorelai and Rory have swapped roles. In one show, a bored Lorelai keeps bugging her daughter as she studies for a big test until Rory finally tells her mother: "If you let me study now, I'll play with you this weekend." Later that same night, Rory sweetly pulls a blanket over Lorelai after finding her asleep on the couch.

These reminders could come across as obvious, as hammer blows to the head of the viewer, but they don't. They are done with a light touch, so the characters never seem like stereotypes.

Even better, the dialogue is filled with delightful little moments. As with Ed, the appeal of Gilmore Girls is the give and take between the leads. In the essay episode, for instance, Lorelai couldn't believe that Rory had delayed telling her she got a D.

"You should have told me."

"I couldn't."

"You couldn't tell me? You tell me everything."

"It was too humiliating."

"Oh, honey, you once told me that you loved Saved by the Bell. What could be more humiliating than that?"

But the area where Gilmore Girls most strongly resembles Ed is in the way it harkens back to a simpler time while acknowledging that times have changed. In a sense, Gilmore Girls could have been made 40 or 50 years ago because the message it sends is that family ties are the most sacred. On the other hand, it's ultramodern because there's no sense that the girls need a husband/father to make their lives complete. It represents an old-fashioned idea done up in a newfangled wrapper.
Credit: National Post Online


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