A Meathead Watches Gilmore Girls (“Pilot” and “The Lorelais First Day At Chilton”)

At the very outset, I must acknowledge the following: many of the women in my life consider Gilmore Girls to be among the greatest television shows ever created. These women – including my wife and numerous lifelong friends – share a passionate dedication to the show and its characters. I have heard for years about the show’s singular achievement without ever understanding precisely what it was that everybody loved. So when the show popped up on Netflix recently, my wife encouraged me to watch and I agreed. All of the women that I care about couldn’t be wrong.

My initial reaction has been that of a meathead. “That’s all that happens?” I asked after the first few episodes. “HOW CAN THAT BE ALL THAT HAPPENS?!?!?” I am not proud of this. I ought to be better at this. So this then is my goal: to watch it all and respond with something more substantive.

“Pilot”

Gilmore girls centers around 32-year-old Lorelai Gilmore and her 16-year-old daughter, Rory. They live in Stars Hollow, Connecticut, which is a place relatively close to Hartford. Emily and Richard Gilmore are Lorelai’s parents. They’re both incredibly wealthy and Lorelai has only occasional contact them. Lorelair works at an inn with her best friend, Sookie St. James.  Rory commands the attention of a young man named Dean and she has a best friend named Lane. Both mother and daughter drink coffee by the gallon at Luke’s Diner, owned by Luke, a potential love interest for Lorelai. There are obviously other characters within the universe, but we’ll get to them in due time.

Our most immediate concern is the academically gifted Rory, who has been accepted into Chilton, a private school that is, like Hartford, a half-hour’s bus ride away, although presumably in a different direction. Chilton is an expensive proposition for Lorelai, one that she cannot afford, and so she is forced to visit her parents in pursuit of the money necessary to pay tuition. Lorelai’s mother agrees on the condition that the entire family gets together for dinner every Friday.

Rory meets Dean on her last day in her former school and hedges about her opportunity at Chilton. Lorelai insists that she go, boy or no boy, and later, Rory overhears Lorelai and Emily screaming at one another about the money being spent on Chilton, an argument that’s obviously much more the tenuous relationship between Lorelai and her mother than it is about financial matters. The episode ends with Lorelai and Rory drinking coffee at Luke’s.

And…that’s it. That’s the show. I have been repeatedly warned not to invest heavily in the first season. “It gets better later,” I’m told, and I have confidence in that. Part of watching television is understanding that shows require a certain amount of time to develop. Very few of them emerge fully realized and that’s certainly the case here. Those looking for incongruities will have no problem spotting them. As with the broader universe of the show though, we’ll get to them.

Because it isn’t difficult to see why the show went from pilot to season. There is something compelling about it, particularly the way in which its conflict plays out. Emily and Lorelai aren’t fighting about money for instance – they’re fighting about a long and tumultuous history in which neither got what they wanted. A history that matters substantively is the sort of thing that drives greatness.

“The Lorelais First Day At Chilton”

Earlier, I said we’d get to the incongruities, and although I meant that in regard to future posts, now is as good a time as any to start to explore this show’s bizarre relationship with class issues. When the Lorelais (technically, Rory’s first name is also Lorelai, thus explaining this episode’s title) go to Chilton for Rory’s first day, we’re obviously meant to understand that they’re outsiders to this world. Rory certainly is, having been raised by a single mother who fled her own luxurious life. Lorelai, although familiar with it from her own childhood, has forgone it in her adulthood and motherhood.

Or at least, that’s what we’re told to believe. The families at Chilton aren’t playing polo while simultaneously yachting while simultaneously planning adventures to Martha’s Vineyard while simultaneously thinking that these two guys are upstanding individuals, but they might as well be. Lorelai makes things worse when she somehow manages to leave all of her Chilton appropriate clothing at the drycleaners, thus forcing her to show up woefully underdressed for the occasion. Get it? They’re not of this world.

Except that back home in Stars Hollow, the Gilmores live in what appears to be a 4000 square foot house. The entire village looks like the sort of place where a quaint home goes for $750,000. Yes, Lorelai’s parents are even more absurdly wealthy, and yes, Lorelai needs money to pay Rory’s tuition bill, but in absolutely no other way is there any indicator of financial hardship. And in fact, everybody in Stars Hollow is apparently swimming in money.

Needless to say, Rory’s first day goes…poorly. Even if her mother hadn’t shown up dressed like Daisy Duke in a trenchcoat, she discovers that she is starting several weeks behind the other students by virtue of Chilton’s odd decision to admit students three weeks after the school year begins. She runs headlong into an absurdly aggressive student named Paris who is threatened by Rory for no particular reason. She also meets Tristan, who is James Spader from Pretty In Pink. Tristan calls Rory “Mary” immediately, and only later does Lorelai explain that “Mary” is a reference to the Virgin Mary, an example of the ultimate goody-goody.

At the end of the day, everybody has had a miserable day.

Where We’re Going

 

I’m going to watch the whole show, write these recaps, and, god-willing, survive my wife’s palpable disgust with the way in which I watch television. Things that I make a big deal about – like the odd way in which the show wants to have it both ways on wealth – aren’t enough to take her out of the action, so when I insist upon asking questions about it, she slowly sharpens a kitchen knife while staring at me with unblinking eyes. But it is nice having a show that we can share. And it is nice having a project that I can commit to, especially for what will potentially be 70+ posts on the subject. I’ll title them all in the same way for those that are disinterested.

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96 thoughts on “A Meathead Watches Gilmore Girls (“Pilot” and “The Lorelais First Day At Chilton”)

  1. To be fair in TV or movies poor people usually have at 2000 sq ft home/new cars and the middle class always at at 3000 sq ft. Struggling college students typically have 1500 sq ft downtown studio lofts.

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    • On Friends, they at least tried to explain it by having it be the grandmother’s old rent-controlled apartment which they tried to keep in the family and many families do try and keep this going.

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      • Or representative of anything in real life. I used to get into it with my daughter about that show all the time. (I’m hypersensitive to the propaganda-potential that just oozes out the TV.) “People don’t actually live like that”, I’d say. “You know that, don’t you?”

        Long silence and eye roll thrown at the old guy.

        “It’s important to me you understand they don’t, OK?”, I’d follow up with while walking away.

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      • Scarlet, I’m not asking you to forgive me. I’ll never understand or forgive myself. And if a bullet gets me, so help me, I’ll laugh at myself for being an idiot. There’s one thing I do know… and that is that I love you, Scarlett. In spite of you and me and the whole silly world going to pieces around us, I love you. Because we’re alike. Bad lots, both of us. Selfish and shrewd. But able to look things in the eyes as we call them by their right names.

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    • Roseanne (and to a lesser extent, Malcolm in the Middle) is the only TV show that actually felt close to reflecting the type of childhood and adolescence I had. I’m sure there were families that had a life like Modern Family or for a closer to my timer period example, Home Improvement, but it sure wasn’t me.

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      • Soap was a show I could identify with. All in the Family, too. Even The Jefferson’s. Those shows were all about cranky, fucked up people struggling against The System, or The Man, or whatever, doin the best they could. That made sense to me. But all these shows about privileged people struggling with the types of problems only privileged people experience seemed like not only bullshit to me, but propagandist bullshit at that. It was evidence of the complete capture of sitcoms by advertisers, in my opinion.

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    • It’s always sunny in philadelphia has some killer set design to make Frank’s apartment look like… a real bachelor pad. Not the “It style” I am an architect and live on the penthouse just because… (or even Torchwood…)

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  2. You’re a braver man than I, Sam Wilkinson. This is a show that on paper I seemingly should like (at least, I often like other media that tries to resurrect old ‘screwball comedy’ – style dialogue, fast-paced/smart with lots of pop-culture references) and came highly-recommended from multiple people, but it grated on me fast (I watched a small chunk of S1 and gave up).

    Like Friends, this one is nails on a chalkboard to me (and like Friends, I get the impression that people that dig it, really like hanging out in that world with those people, but the appeal just escapes me; the dialogue registers as aggressively-artificial* to me).

    *Something like Pushing Daisies is obviously aggressively-artificial (and, god help me, even more whimsically-twee than a show set in something called “Stars’ Hollow”), but it has the advantage of not even attempting to be in the “real” world, so I find more can be forgiven.

    Or take Brick‘s throwback dialect – again, out-of-the-ordinary events show that this is not a ‘normal’ world, so the rat-a-tat slang being employed by our high-school gumshoe can work, because our natural disbelief that “people don’t really talk like that”, has already been suspended for bigger concerns.

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    • And the dialogue in film noir and screwball comedies wasn’t stylized? The joy of old Hollywood is the absolute sense of style that those films had both visually and script wise. No one speaks like characters in the Philadelphia Story but you kind of wish they did.

      I think the creator of GG is her stylized dialogue. It is supposed to be like reality, only better. Same with the West Wing’s appeal. Screwball Comedy is a sub-genre of fantasy in its own way. It is the world as we wish it was and full of wit and charm.

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      • Saul, like I said in my comment in which I explicitly compared it to those sorts of things, on paper GG *should* work for me, since I generally *do* like those sorts of things, as well as revivals of/homages to same. Wordy, witty, quippy, pop-culture-savvy TV is kinda my jam.

        Just in favorite TV alone, BtVS and Veronica Mars (hell, Moonlighting for that matter) often played around with similar styles of dialogue as well, and I am on record as a fan of Sports Night (never saw West Wing).

        Just trying to put my finger on why the style DOESN’T work for me in GG; those other series or movies I named, with the exception of Sports Night, don’t take place in ‘reality’ – I mean, the detective ones technically do, but detective shows are by their nature concerned with abnormal events, mysteries – that is, the ‘weird’ or unknowable impinges upon their reality and the world only becomes normal again when the case is sol-ved and the unknown becomes known.

        It’s also possible that it works for me in old films because what was ‘reality’ then, isn’t now – the cars, the mores/customs, the fashions; maybe even the fact that the film may be in B&W help create a ‘distancing’ effect that assists me in suspension of disbelief. Then the fact that they also speak differently is perhaps more expected, given that most everything else is different from today also. Why, they are smoking like chimneys!

        It’s just some guessing, and taste is obviously highly subjective. Maybe GG would have been more gripping with the addition of vampires or murder (really, few things aren’t).

        Or, maybe the writing or directing/editing or actors in GG couldn’t quite carry it off (or maybe the show was never given enough money to at least give it a little more visual pizazz – as a show presumably aimed at a primarily female demographic on the WB/CW, it wouldn’t shock me to find that the network was a bit stingy with the purse strings; and Howard Hawks is dead).

        Don’t know. Just wasn’t for me.

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    • Stars’ Hollow seems like something a developer would select as a name for a mid-20th century or after suburban development. Anything earlier, its completely unrealistic. It should have either an English sounding name or a Native American name.

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  3. The reason that I enjoyed Gilmore Girls when I caught it way back when was the fast, snappy dialogue and the densely-packed pop culture references. I’ll be interested to see if these hold up as still entertaining.

    That and I find Lauren Graham to be amazingly attractive.

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  4. A friend just recommended GG as something to binge-watch now that I’m done with Burn Notice. I gather there will be somewhat fewer explosions.

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    • Just wait until season 3, when on a trip to Miami the girls need help with an international arms dealer whose bad side they’ve managed to get on, but a friend of a friend knows an ex-spy and his ex-Seal and ex-IRA friends who can save them them using an overly-elaborate ruse that nearly gets them all killed but ultimately results in the arms dealer being arrested.

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  5. I know that teenage pregnancy does occassionally happen but it seems very implausible that a sixteen-year old white would woman from a wealthy family would take a pregnancy to term absent some very special circumstances. As in my willing suspicion of disbelief can’t be suspended levels of implausibility. Even before Roe v. Wade, situations like this usually ended in a trip abroad for an abortion or at least giving up for adoptions. Based on the shows chronology, Rory Gilmore would have been born in the 1980s, long after Roe v. Wade legalized abortion. The Gilmores do not seem to be religious inclined Evangelicals or Roman Catholics so their should be no moral grounds to oppose abortion. Teenage pregnancies at the Gilmore’s socio-economic level and geographic location are rare in the first place even during the 1980s. The kids knew of and had access to contraception.

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    • Lee,

      Characters are born. Although I’m big on stories making some sort of sense – and I already have objections (I’m 14 episodes deep right now) – insisting that a character’s existence strains beliefs seems a tad unfair to me. Within this world, there is a character (Lorelai) who got pregnant and had a baby. That decision underpins the entirety of the show. If that decision doesn’t happen, there is no show.

      This would be like questioning why Lorelai is herself an only child. If the answer – “Because she is…” – isn’t acceptable to you, at least you get to dip out on the rest of the show long before giving it a shot. So that’s a time-saver.

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      • I didn’t stick with the show long enough to see it explicitly addressed, but isn’t Lorelai supposed to be a bit of a rebel/dreamer/nonconformist in general?

        If so, then even taking Lee’s understanding of her cultural milieu as given, wouldn’t her choosing to have the baby, rather than abort and continue on with her destined easy upper-crust life, be exactly the sort of thing that a character that is ‘determined not to slot in to where she is expected to go’ would do?

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    • Hate to break it to you old bean, but not everyone’s response to finding out they are pregnant is to push the red button.
      For example, see my first wife.

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    • I know that teenage pregnancy does occassionally happen but it seems very implausible that a sixteen-year old white would woman from a wealthy family would take a pregnancy to term absent some very special circumstances.

      What the…?

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    • Yes, there is access to and use of contraception especially for the affluent. Yes, there is access to and discreet availability of abortions for the affluent. But some people think abortion is just plain wrong morally, even if not motivated by religion, and some of them live up to their principles in practice.

      IIRC, Lorelai’s parents are kind of milquetoast Episcopalian types, and may not have had so much of a religious objection to abortion as the sense that this is just Something That Isn’t Done. And Lorelai was the Girl Who Insists On Doing It Her Way so having a kid as a teenager is a credible sort of thing to assert herself by doing with the bonus that it would really, really piss off mom (while sort of knowing in the background that she would only be allowed to fall so far down the socioeconomic ladder).

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      • Even if your from a very rich family, having a kid at a young age does come with considerable social costs even if the economic costs are civil. Lorelai most likely had to miss the junior prom, prom, and university.

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      • I’ve never watched the show, so I cannot comment about how they handle it; but from the perspective of a woman, I don’t find the premise odd. A lot of us have pregnancy scares; of those who do, some end up pregnant and face the choice of what to do. In making those decisions, not having an abortion (even if we don’t feel religiously constrained) gets some serious consideration.

        Since so many of us face that, a character who opts to keep the child agains all obvious odds would hold, at least for woman, some powerful interest. Parents of teenage daughters also have to deal with their teenage daughter’s unwanted/unplanned pregnancies (and probably mostly mothers,) so I’d imagine such a premise would be something that would attract their attention, as well.

        There are studied trends of the portrayal of abortions (or even think about having abortions) in TV/movie land. From this study: http://www.contraceptionjournal.org/article/S0010-7824%2814%2900006-7/abstract

        Abortion-related plotlines occur more frequently than popular discourse assumes. Year-to-year variation in frequency suggests an interactive relationship between media representations, cultural attitudes and policies around abortion regulation, consistent with cultural theory of the relationship between media products and social beliefs. Patterns of outcomes and rates of mortality are not representative of real experience and may contribute to social myths around abortion. The narrative linking of pregnancy termination with mortality is of particular note, supporting the social myth associating abortion with death.

        So I’d presume the show offers a chance for mothers and daughters (and hopefully fathers and sons, too) to discuss unplanned pregnancy, contraception, and sexual activity.

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      • We’re supposed to find a character like this likable? She’s willing to take great risks but only because she has significant socio-economic safety net?

        No, you’re just supposed to watch the show and see what you think of it, and not decide ahead of time whether you think she’s likable as a person from that one fact out of her distant past. Like, you know, you might consider doing with someone like her you met in real life?

        How she actually is as a “person” (as a character) is likely what’s going to dictate if you find her likable, and I’m fairly sure given the casting here, you would find this character likable, even if you went in committed to not doing so because of a decision she happened to make fifteen years ago. (Though there were times during the season or so in syndication I got hooked on for a couple of weeks I didn’t in fact find her sooo likable…)

        Yeesh.

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    • Eh, I had a friend from college who was upper middle class and from the Bay Area that had a child in high school in the mid-90s. He and the mother (who was similarly economically privileged) did not get married and went to school in two different states on the East Coast.

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  6. Movies and telelvision have always had a weird relationship with poverty. During the Great Depression, most people preferred fantansies about ultra-rich people than topical films that dealt with the suffering of ordinary Americans with a few exceptions. People like glamour and beauty and rich people provided plenty of that. Poor people struggle and it shows on their bodies and surroundings.

    Gilmore Girls is also aimed at women and the idea of being a girl from the wrong side of the tracts swept up into a world of wealth and leisure complete with handsome studs fighting for affection does seem to be a very powerful fantasy for many women. Its the female equivalent of the average, everday guy that has a bunch of gorgeous women falling for him rather than the handsome, rich man or the star athlete or celebrity.

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  7. I’m so delighted to that you’ll be writing about Gilmore Girls! Your writing and the ladies of Stars Hollow are two things I love very much! – Also – looks like I’ll be having just as much fun reading the comments to your posts (NO ONE WOULD EVER ABORT RORY).

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  8. I haven’t read the comments or the OP yet, because I’ve been thinking about watching the series myself from netflix and I don’t want to spoil it. However, I’ll keep your posts in mind and go back to them.

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  9. I really enjoyed this series and I’m looking forward to your posts on it. Hasn’t been long enough for me to want to rewatch the whole thing, but I do remember things pretty well.

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  10. Re: Abortion

    I think is largely correct about the social class Lorelai Gillmore comes from and the implausibility of her not getting an abortion. I remember when Knocked Up was released, many female critics complained “Of course Katherine Hiegel’s character would get an abortion considering her circumstances and ambitions.” They also complained about the mealy-mouthed way the film could not even mention the word abortion. Though that destroys the plot.

    Overall Lee and Greginak are right about how poverty is usually portrayed in film overall. The poverty that film and TV characters is usually fairly contrived and of a more “genteel” nature than actual poverty or actually being lower-middle class. There are exceptions like Roseanne, The Wire, and Girls but many of those lack mainstream appeal.

    I don’t mind style though, style is okay. I just want style to admit it is style.

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    • Katherine Heigel’s decision not to get an abortion in Knocked Up makes narrative sense when you realize that Seth Rogan’s character is the main character. The movie is about him growing up and taking responsibility for his actions, meaning building a relationship with Heigel’s character and raising their kid together. The entire growing up plot doesn’t really work if Heigel’s character has an abortion because it gives Rogan’s character an easy way out of the situation. The problem is that even with this in mind, the decision of Katherine Heigel’s character not to get an abortion makes no sense as many female critics pointed out. Knocked Up never came with a really convincing reason why her character never got an abortion besides the fact that it doesn’t fit the narrative of the movie.

      Besides that recent romantic comedy, whose name I forgot, the most realistic depiction of abortion in a light work of fiction is still that joke from the beginning of Airplane. Make of that what you will.

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      • Well, I disagree. Why Heigel’s character didn’t have the abortion was the constant question both my wife and asked ourselves thru that whole movie. It just doesn’t make any sense – to me, anyway – given the rest of the story and character development.

        That was a weird movie, actually. I felt all soily when I left the theater.

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      • , I don’t think we are in disagreement. Knock Up’s essential problem, and its a very big one, is that it really doesn’t make any sense for Heigel’s character not to have an abortion. The movie never establish a valid reason for this. However, if Heigel’s character had an abortion than Rogan’s character would have no reason to grow up. He would just be a man that got a woman pregnant but an abortion get rid of that issue.

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      • If the moral of the story is that women need to primarily think about The Men when making these types of important decisions the question of why I felt so slimed by watching it has an answer.

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      • The primary reason she doesn’t have an abortion is because there isn’t a movie otherwise. The pregnancy is the mechanism by which the rest of the story gets told. Is this seriously being discussed?

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      • The pregnancy is the mechanism by which the rest of the story gets told.

        “If she didn’t get pregnant, we wouldn’t have a wonderful story about a … ummm … boy becoming a man!”

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      • I’ve never seen either GG or Knocked Up, but I’m amazed that folks are assuming that literally everyone in those situations gets an abortion. It’s more than fair to criticize a show for not handling the discussion well, but to say “it makes no sense” for such a woman to not have an abortion denies the individuality of women and assumes they all act identically in similar circumstances.

        That’s idiotic.

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      • I have similar feelings about Titanic. I mean, come on! Just about every ocean liner that leaves England headed for America makes it there without sinking. Why would they go and make a movie about the one that didn’t?

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    • Teen pregnancy and birth rates are significantly correlated with family income and education level. Births among the children of wealthy families are not so rare that anyone who was paying attention to the world, or at least is not so blinded by prejudice, would have a difficult time suspending disbelief because of one.

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      • Nevermind the fact that Lorelai is clearly already at odds with her parents and unlikely to follow their presumed direction, so much so that per what we know of the story so far, she left home after the pregnancy and raised Rory almost entirely on her own. It is perhaps more reasonable to believe that an abortion might have been counseled but that she chose her own path, rather than it is simply beyond belief that such a thing could have possibly been chosen.

        In other news, some commenters are weird. This perhaps shouldn’t be considered breaking.

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      • Sam, that’s what I thought. I have watched a few episodes, though not in order, and only when they were first on, and my impression was that the proximate cause of the tension with her parents was the pregnancy, with ultimate cause being that she’s a stubborn rebel and has been for a long time.

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  11. This was appointment viewing for my wife and I when it was on. She liked the girlie plots and I loved the music used in the show. Never before in the history of TV, or since, has there been a character who has been a fan of XTC, and that fact alone made me a life long fan.

    Thinking back on it, 14 years after its premier, it occurred to me that Stars Hollow is the manic pixie dream girl of fictional towns.

    Can’t wait to relive this show with you, Sam.

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  12. Shows about privileged people whose problems center around self-imposed emotional drama do not appeal to me. Of course given other options for entertainment, this show has never even made it into my under consideration to watch list. After reading the comments here I am pretty convinced that my choice to pass on this show will hold. On the other hand, OT threads seem to cover any desire for unnecessary drama and banter I have ;)

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  13. Glad you’re doing this and looking forward to the posts. I made it through about 3/4 of season one (I’d have to look up exactly which episode) before calling it quits for a while. I get the appeal and found some of the situations intriguing, but also found a lot of it contrived and forced. The highly touted supposed “snappy” dialogue, which is probably what I was most looking forward to experiencing going in, didn’t strike me as all that snappy, at least not compared to, say, BtVS.

    Anyway, maybe this will spur me to go back to it at some point. I’m still on the fence about continuing with Friday Night Lights, but I did manage to get all the way through season one of that.

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