Becoming a Gilmore Girl
On binge-watching and vicarious living
The only compliment my roommate ever paid me was, unsurprisingly, a backhanded one.
It was a day like any other: I had cast the curtains wide open to let in the sun as I snuggled with my laptop in bed, watching Gilmore Girls to help me forget the fact that my roommate was silently lingering around the room, not laughing at my jokes and not looking me in the eye.
But alas, she spoke: “Were you just reciting the lines?”
Was I? It seemed possible — by this point, I had seen Gilmore Girls all the way through upwards of fifteen times and watched it more as familiar background noise than as a show with a purpose or plot. “Oh yeah, I was,” I replied.
“Oh, that’s pretty impressive.”
I laughed. “I guess so? It probably just means I’ve wasted a lot of time watching this show over and over.”
“Yeah,” she said. “But I only know people who can recite the lines to, like, movies. It’s harder with a TV show because there’s hundreds of episodes.”
I watched Gilmore Girls at least two full times while we lived together. I moved out and I don’t think we hugged goodbye.
My current roommates have never seen Gilmore Girls, but they sing along to the theme song whenever I start a new episode multiple times a day.
I got my own TV when I was ten years old. My family had just moved into a new house, the house that was supposed to be our “forever family house” until the housing market collapsed into itself. My parents decided that a big house meant our living room needed a proportionally big TV, so my dad sprung for a 45-inch flat screen — perfect for watching flat sports — while I got the old family TV, the big boxy black one that used to fit perfectly into those faux-Beachwood glorified cubby holes that passed as entertainment units in the 90s.
Every night that summer, I slept on the floor underneath my loft bed with a steady rotation of DVDs to lull me to sleep every night — Mean Girls, Cheaper by the Dozen, Ice Princess, and Sleepover. (I didn’t watch cable after 9 p.m. because of horror movie trailers.) When I woke up every morning at 11 am, most of the channels I frequented were still showing their pre-programming. So I reluctantly flipped to channel 52 —ABC Family.
ABC Family is the opposite of the untamable, ferocious beast. It is the tamest beast. It is the television network equivalent of butterscotch candy. It is the only channel that exists at your grandparents’ house, and where Harry Potter exists in every long holiday weekend stretch of purgatory. If the Disney Corporation is the Wizard of Oz, ABC Family is the entire state of Kansas — they missed all the excitement of Dorothy getting swept up by the tornado. Everything stayed exactly the same, and that was A-Okay.
At the time, ABC Family had no late-night programming. After 10 p.m., they showed infomercials for in-home portable rotisseries and electric carving knives. At 10 a.m., they played The 700 Club.
The 700 Club is a Christian TV program that ends each episode with a scripture verse of the day. I was never awake early enough to see the beginning of The 700 Club, but I’d imagine each episode opens with a benediction over breakfast.
Something about The 700 Club made me extremely uncomfortable. Despite having attended Catholic school from kindergarten through high school, I was afraid that watching The 700 Club would convert me into a television-controlled, channel-fearing Christian, thus irreversibly changing my life and flattening the pleats in my plaid skirt.
Well, I was kind of right. But it wasn’t The 700 Club that changed my life. At 11 a.m. one summer morning in 2005, I became a devotee of the church of Gilmore Girls.
Like a good Catholic with her weekly Mass, I only alter my Gilmore Girls watching habits on holidays and in times of intense need.
For the most part, my ritual re-watching has followed the canonical calendar: start with season one, episode one, and end 153 episodes later.
The watch queue changes for birthdays and holidays, when I traditionally marathon the handful of themed episodes before blowing out the candles, trick-or-treating, carving the turkey, or, hell, going to Christmas Mass.
Then there are the on-call episodes. The emergency prayers. The ones that propose solutions to an existential crisis — steal a boat, dye your hair (twice), or break up a marriage because “he was my boyfriend first.”
And despite all of this, I always reserve the right to skip episodes of the train wreck that is season 7. Because some things are sacred.
By 2007, I had acquired the DVD box set for every season of Gilmore Girls.
That same year, the ABC Family rerun cycle had finally caught up to the live airings of the show on the WB. It was the final season and the first time I was watching the show in real time with Everybody Else.
Every episode ran with commercials for shampoo and ladies’ razors. It was billed as a girly family drama, part of the WB’s starting lineup. The show even had a partnership with the T-Mobile Sidekick, which led to the bizarre and unnecessary sexting storyline of 2006.
I had broken the ABC Family seal, only to realize that Everyone Else was watching my show. 11 a.m. was not the Gilmore golden hour — it was simply the time slot after The 700 Club that needed to be filled by family-friendly television. (They even bleeped out when Lorelai says the phrase “dime bag” in season 3.)
After the series finale aired, I started to watch the show over from the beginning, each DVD whirring inside my laptop or the six-disc changer connected to the family flat screen. I left a trail of DVDs around my house, like the witch from Hansel and Gretel if she was trying to kidnap a legion of Chad Michael Murray fans.
When I left for college, I brought with me the final MacBook model with a DVD drive and the box set of season 4 — Rory’s first year of college.
By the time I met my roommate for the first time, Gilmore Girls had been added to Netflix.
The plot of Gilmore Girls hardly matters.
In fact, Hollywood legend has it that the show’s creator, Amy Sherman-Palladino, didn’t even have a fully fleshed-out pitch or pilot script when she brought the idea of Gilmore Girls to the WB. In a behind-the-scenes bonus feature from the season 1 DVD box set, Amy admits that she had gone to the network to pitch a handful of shows that she had carefully drafted and planned. But after reading the room of hard-pressed TV executives, she realized that none of her ideas were clicking, so before leaving the pitch meeting, she haphazardly pitched out the idea for a show about a mother and a daughter who were more “best friends” than “mother-daughter.” The WB was riveted, and so was I.
Some say Gilmore Girls is a family drama. Others say Gilmore Girls is a long-winded dry comedy. Critics complain that while the show is “quaint” and “charming,” nothing really happens, and that’s kind of true. Over the course of the show’s seven seasons, Lorelai and her parents have the same fight every Friday night, and Rory circulates between the same three potential and highly contentious love interests.
I don’t know when I stopped caring about the plot of Gilmore Girls, and it’s quite possible that I never cared. I started watching the show at a time when I was desperately searching for heroes and allies. I was being bullied at school and I liked reading almost as much as I liked wearing sweatpants in public, and my veering-towards-indie taste in music didn’t make me the most popular kid at the karaoke party. But seeing Lorelai dance around in her pajamas to The Cure, or feeling kinship when Rory pulled out a copy of The New Yorker on her first date made me not only feel like I could see myself in these characters, but gave me an aesthetic to aspire towards, like a vision board made up of fast-talking voices.
I’ve tried multiple times to pinpoint the exact moment when Gilmore Girls bled into my everyday existence, but I keep flopping back and forth, stuck on the chicken-or-the-egg question. Did Gilmore Girls turn me into a pop culture- and coffee-obsessed sarcastic narcissist? Or did I watch Gilmore Girls because I already was a Gilmore girl?
To me, the plot of Gilmore Girls hardly matters, because it blends so smoothly into my own existence. I can’t separate the show’s music and dialogue from my own daily background noise. Gilmore Girls is my background noise, the soundtrack that guides me through moments and mishaps and reminds me that there is a place to return to when I’m feeling — as Carole King says — “lonely and so cold.”
The day Netflix confirmed plans for a Gilmore Girls revival, my phone was flooded with texts from people dying to hear my opinion about it.
I ignored them all.
As I am writing this, I am one month away from taking my GRE. I have had leftovers and bread for every meal in the past four days, and there are drunk people singing along to Chance the Rapper outside my apartment. Every day, there is a new article on my timeline revealing news from the set of the Gilmore Girls revival. I ignore them all. The only thing I know is that they’re releasing the entire season the day after my twenty-first birthday, which is perfect because I can legally buy a lot of alcohol, lock myself in a dark room, and watch the last ten years of my life unravel over the course of four ninety-minute episodes.
On the computer screen in front of me, Rory is taking her last set of finals at Yale and is facing the possibility of leaving college with a journalism degree and no job prospects. “Print journalism is a dying animal,” she says. I say that, too. I also scream it. A lot.
Rory is about to graduate. I have seen these scenes more than two dozen times, and I know when it ends, everything will be okay.
Tonight, I don’t finish the episode.
I don’t know what will happen in the revival. I don’t know what will happen after I walk the stage at graduation. I don’t even know what’s going to happen once I finish writing this.
But I know what will happen when I log back onto Netflix later tonight. Rory will walk the stage, and she’ll get the job offer of a lifetime. She’ll sit with Lorelai in Luke’s Diner, and they’ll banter back and forth over a cup of coffee.
Then the show will end. And I will start again.