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Gilmore Girls, w/o the Suds, Please, 11.11.02 ...

It’s a TV truism: Low-rated shows don’t gain viewers as they go on.

If you start slow, you’re gonna finish slower.

This year, “Gilmore Girls” has joined “Seinfeld” and “Party of Five” on the rapidly growing list of exceptions.

“Gilmore Girls,” was easy to overlook when it began in 2000, and most viewers did. A quietly intelligent, witty drama built around the bond between a thirtysomething single mother and her teenage daughter living in the small town of Stars Hollow, Conn., it won over critics but few others.

The show was filled with small charms, from a terrific ensemble cast to dialogue packed with more clever one-liners in an episode than are in an entire season of most sitcoms (or in the last four years of “Becker”).

But the heart of the show was the richly textured, wonderfully acted mother-daughter relationship. Lauren Graham and Alexis Bledel, as Lorelai and Rory, developed a perfect rhythm. Radically different, yet close enough to know what the other is thinking, they made the most natural, believable mother-daughter team on TV. Lorelai’s determination that Rory not make the same mistakes she made—namely, winding up a teenage single mom—gave the show a strong emotional pull.

And whenever viewers managed to stumble across it, they apparently liked what they saw. Slowly, it built from a critics’ darling with a miniscule viewership to one of the WB’s most successful shows.

These days, in its third season, it regularly slays its competition, UPN’s “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” in the ratings.

But along the way, it sold off a tiny portion of its soul.

Last year “Gilmore Girls” raided the dumpster of “Dawson’s Creek” scripts and introduced a love triangle. For what seems like an eternity now, Rory’s been dithering between Dean (Jared Padalecki), her wholesome , sweet, doting boyfriend, and Jess (Milo Ventimiglia), the bad-boy new kid in town.

This has been painful to watch.

Dean’s simply dull. (Though the actor’s alarming weight loss from last season to this one, unacknowledged on the show, briefly gave me hope that Dean had a hidden heroin problem. Or at least a tapeworm.).

And Jess isn’t nearly bad enough to be interesting. If the writers made Rory, a nearly flawless human being, fall for someone with genuine problems, we might care.

But we know Jess is bad because he scowls. He doesn’t do well in school. He oozes apathy. In other words, he’s just as boring as Dean.

There’s very little discernable chemistry between any of them.

Tonight’s episode, at 8 p.m., features a 24-hour dance marathon, of the type that only seem to be held on television. The soap-opera plot progresses in a way I won’t divulge, except to say that it’s done in even clumsier fashion than usual.

In fact, a brief exchange between Lorelai and Luke, the town’s hunky diner owner, contains more sexual tension and genuine emotion than a year’s worth of overwrought Dean-Rory-Jess-dom.

Tonight’s episode brings out some of the show’s other annoying tendencies. The small-town residents, meant to be charmingly quirky, are best appreciated in extremely small doses. We get an awful lot of them tonight.

But the show’s writing is as sharp and clever as ever. (Lorelai: “My shoe broke—I need you to fix it.” Luke: Do I look like a cobbler to you?” Lorelai: “If I say yes, will you fix my shoe?”)

And for the most part, when it avoids the teen love twist, “Gilmore Girls” is still far more intelligent than the vast majority of slop filling the airwaves.

Lorelai’s profoundly strained relationship with her own snooty parents (Kelly Bishop and Edward Herrmann, both wonderful), once frustratingly one-dimensional, has developed a complexity of its own.

And Rory’s inevitable graduation and departure for college (she’s hoping for Harvard, of course) has given her time with her mother a newly wistful quality.

The show may have a tough time dealing with that shift next year, but there’s a consolation: Dean and Jess can be left behind.
Credit: Media Life Magazine

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