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The New Golden Girls, 05.10.01 ...

If I were forced to choose a favorite out of all the series new to prime time this season -- and I've liked a lot of them -- it would be WB's "Gilmore Girls."

From its premiere last October through its season finale tonight, "Gilmore Girls" has achieved something rare for any show, rarer still for a show in its first year: Under the hands-on supervision of creator/executive producer Amy Sherman-Palladino, it has created a consistent and alluring alternate reality inhabited by distinctive characters of almost irresistible appeal.

At the center of this surprisingly funny show, naturally, are the Gilmore girls: 36-year-old Lorelai, the single mom, and Rory, the daughter half her age.

Lorelai, played by the wonderfully expressive Lauren Graham, manages the historic Independence Inn in dreamy Stars Hollow, Conn. Rory -- in an astonishingly textured portrayal by rookie actor Alexis Bledel -- attends snooty, exclusive Chilton Prep in nearby Hartford.

Quirky supporting characters are a well-worn and often annoying tradition in series television, but the emotional connections among these characters feel so genuine that their eccentricities never seem forced.

They include Scott Patterson as Luke Danes, the sometimes sulky owner of the diner where Lorelai indulges her caffeine addiction; Melissa McCarthy as Sookie St. James, the inn's superb but dangerously clumsy chef; Yanic Truesdale as the ever-irritable concierge, Michel Gerard; and Keiko Agena as Rory's closest friend, Lane Kim.

Tonight's season closer -- directed by Sherman-Palladino and written by her husband, Daniel Palladino -- finds both Lorelai and Rory in separate love-related dithers:

Rory worries that she acted too hastily in rejecting the affections of Dean (Jared Padalecki), a sweet boy who works at the local grocery. And Lorelai is unsettled by the seriousness of her romance with Max, a teacher played by the fantastically versatile Scott Cohen.

Romances aside, the unshakable bond between this mother and daughter -- an emotional and practical partnership founded on love, built on mutual respect and admiration, sustained with wit and intelligence -- remains the essence of "Gilmore Girls."

Maybe the most winning aspect of the show is the way Lorelai and Rory trade off roles, depending on circumstances. When one is in crisis, the other is sensible and supportive -- and vice versa. Both are equally capable of behaving mature and grownup or silly and girlish.

"Gilmore Girls" has survived first-year scheduling that pitted it against NBC's "Friends" and, more recently, CBS' second "Survivor" spectacle.

That's no mean feat.
Credit: New York Daily News

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