The Gilmore Girls get back together this Friday for four final episodes, courtesy of Netflix. “What girls?” some of you are crying. “The Gilmore who? Why should I care?”
Oy, with the poodles already – you can read exactly why you should watch Gilmore Girls right here. It’s OK. We’ll wait. All done? Good. Now, the only question left is how on earth you work out how to get up-to-speed with Amy Sherman-Palladino’s drama before it begins again in just a few days. Luckily, we’re here to help, by distilling the entire brilliance of Gilmore Girls into the 10 best episodes for newcomers to Stars Hollow.
Ready? Here we go.
Pilot – S1, E1
As an outline of everything which will unfold over the next seven seasons, Gilmore Girls’ Pilot is pretty peerless, setting up the characters and their conflicts over the course of one episode. In it, we learn that Lorelei Gilmore, single mum of 16-year-old Rory Gilmore, works at the Independence Inn with friend and talented chef Sookie, and they dream of one day opening their own place; that Rory is a bright and focussed student with dreams of going to Harvard; and that Lorelei, in order to secure Rory a place at the exclusive Chilton school, must make a deal with her rich parents, Richard and Emily, which involves a family get together once a week, in exchange for the school enrolment money.
The episode also introduces us to Lane, Rory’s best friend, whose strict Korean mother has very specific expectations of Dean, Rory’s first boyfriend, and, of course, Luke, owner of Luke’s Diner and, even within this episode, looking pretty good to Lorelei. The fact that there’s a special village Hayride also indicates the kind of twee, whimsical community events Stars Hollow will become famous for – and already, the easy pop cultural references are out in full force, with Lorelei promising Rory she can “pull a Menendez” on her at a later date.
The Bracebridge Dinner – S2, E10
The eccentricities of Stars Hollow – and the eccentrics the town is home to – feature highly in this episode, as Lorelei and Sookie decide to go ahead with an Olde English-inspired dinner, after the clients who booked it are snowed in and unable to attend. Most of the town are invited instead, encouraged to wear period costumes and speak in authentic ‘period English’ (everything is “verily thus”). They are treated to recordists and harp players, while eating their authentic period menu. Fortunately, Rory’s schoolmate, Paris, is there to point out the period discrepancies. The episode also features romantic horse-drawn sleigh-rides around a festive, light-festooned town square, and a snowman-building competition, for which Lorelei and Rory decide on a Bjork-inspired theme.
I Can’t Get Started – S2, E22
The final episode of the second season is pretty packed with both the tying up of plot points and the laying of groundwork for the season to come. Focussing on the week-long lead-up to Sookie and Jackson’s wedding, and all the dramas that surround it, we are treated to some Machiavellian Paris, as she persuades Rory to be her VP in a bid to secure the role of Student Body President. Increasingly aware of her lack of popularity amongst her fellow students, Paris realises she needs to increase her likability factor, telling Rory “You look like little birds help you get dressed in the morning” – which is funny because it’s true.
Lorelei, meanwhile, can’t hide her delight that Christopher and Sherry’s relationship is on the rocks. (In a terrifyingly prescient exchange, she asks Rory, “Guess who’s in the process of breaking up?” “Brad and Jen?” Rory replies. “Bide your time.”) It doesn’t take long for the former teenage lovers to reconnect – although by the end of the episode, Christopher will leave some broken hearts in his wake.
Luke’s nephew, Jess, meanwhile, returns to town, and Rory makes a bold move which will have repercussions for her relationship with Dean. Sookie provides some humour with her inevitable pre-wedding meltdown, and, while we never get to see the actual wedding, there’s enough drama here without any ceremony.
They Shoot Gilmores, Don’t They? – S3, E7
The Stars Hollow 24-hour dance marathon, a take-off of the 1969 Sydney Pollack film They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?, sees many of the plot-points which have been festering just under the surface break through. Lorelei, determined to win, after being cheated out of first place by town-kook Kirk’s dirty tricks the previous year, is let down by her original partner – who used to be in Riverdance – after his wife gets wind of the plan, and she ropes Rory in instead. There’s a lot of dancing, the costumes and hair styles are impeccable, Adam Brody turns up at Lane’s fake-egg sandwich stall, and the presence of Jess results in some sexually-charged bickering. There’s also the delightfully unsurprising revelation that Paris keeps a ‘revenge notebook’.
The Big One – S3, E16
A great episode for Lisa Weil’s Paris, as she loses her virginity and has a nervous breakdown live on TV. Paris is always one of the most entertaining characters; here, her unapologetic ambition leads her to try to psyche out the competition in a speech-writing competition, and needle the hapless Brad, who has returned to Chiltern after a stint on Broadway. (“Nathan Lane is a very bitter man.”)
But in this episode, we see the other, vulnerable side to Paris, as she turns up to Rory’s house ostensibly to work on the speech, but really to confide in her about her night with Jamie, and her insecurities surrounding her first time. The episode ends the aforementioned entertaining (yet weirdly affecting) breakdown.
The Festival of Living Art – S4, E7
Gilmore Girls received its only Emmy for this episode – for Best Make-Up. They department did do an amazing job, fashioning Kirk in the likeness of Christ at Da Vinci’s The Last Supper, Rory as Parmigianino’s Antea, and Lorelei as the girl in Renoir’s Dance at Bougival, after flooding in Woodbury means that Stars Hollow becomes the venue for the Festival of Living Art. Kirk’s immersion in the character of Christ leads to some epic beef with the character unfortunate enough to play Judas in their vignette, leading to some apt stage direction from Miss Patty: “And Apostles – Keep Christ and Judas apart.”
The episode also features Nick Offerman in his usual scene-stealing form as Jackson’s brother, Beau; ‘Bruce’, Sookie’s terrifying midwife; and our first introduction to Gil, played by Sebastian Bach of Skid Row, who is subjected to some rather disturbing ageism amongst the members of Lane’s band, Hep Alien.
Raincoats and Recipes – S4, E22
The final episode of Season 4 ties together much of what has gone before and foreshadows the storms in the distant skyline. As Lorelei opens the Dragonfly Inn for a test run for friends and family, it forces Richard and Emily to admit to their separation, while Rory, having been asked to run away with Jess in the previous episode, suddenly finds herself realising what she had with the now-married Dean. Lorelei, meanwhile, is unsure of where she stands with Luke – although all will be resolved on that front with the arrival of her ex-boyfriend, who forces Luke’s hand.
By the end, Lorelei presses Rory to realise the depths of her own selfishness, while the humour in the episode is once more provided by Kirk, whose fear that his girlfriend, Lulu, will find out about his ‘night terrors’ leads him to rely on Luke babysitting him. It’s a relief from what Lorelei calls “Blake Edwards night at the Dragonfly Inn”.
You Jump, I Jump, Jack – S5, E7
This is the episode in which Rory begins to get seduced by the kind of lifestyle offered to her by the rich, extremely privileged Logan Huntzberger, and Lorelei’s parents deem Luke not good enough to be part of the Gilmore family.
While investigating the mysterious Life and Death Brigade for the Yale newspaper, Rory gets the scoop of her life, when Logan invites her along to see what they get up to first-hand. It’s horrific by any standards – full of unbearable people doing unbearably stupid things – and to this day, it’s unclear whether we’re meant to find these people charming (they’re not).
By the end of the weekend, Logan has convinced Rory that she’s too much of an observer in life and not enough of a participant, and she begins to reassess her priorities. Dean’s pathetic voicemail at the start of the episode – in which he tries to fit in time for Rory between his three menial jobs, by suggesting they meet at some roadside diner halfway between Stars Hollow and Yale – serves to stand in stark contrast to the type of life Logan could offer her. Meanwhile, Luke is patronised by Emily over dinner for his “rustic” diner and his love of beer, before being taken out to play golf with Richard, who tries to get him to think about franchising and investing in rare coins. In slightly happier news, Lane and Zack have their first date.
I Get a Sidekick out of you – S6, E19
This is the happy ending we all wanted for Lane, before it all goes a bit pear-shaped in the final season. Focussing on her marriage to Zack, we are treated to two ceremonies – the first, a Buddhist one, to satisfy her visiting grandmother, the second, a Seventh Day Adventist one, for her mother. The revelation that hiding things from each new generation – under floorboards, or by ‘double-dressing’ – is a time-honoured tradition for each new generation of Kims is a sweet reveal, as is Mrs Kim’s facts-of-life speech. (“Lane, I have something very upsetting to talk to you about. It concerns the wedding night.”)
With familial duties done, Lane herself gets a pretty great party in the village square, so great even Lorelei’s “I’m never getting married” speech, powered by eight tequila shots, can’t ruin it.
Bon Voyage – S7, E22
OK, so strictly speaking, this has no place in the top 10 Gilmore Girls’ episodes. By season seven, and with the departure of creator Amy Sherman-Palladino, the quality of the material had dropped quite substantially. Lane is having a miserable time, everyone is bored to tears by the whole Lorelei-and-Luke saga, and Rory is coming across as increasingly entitled. At least Richard and Emily are happily together, and mellower than ever before.
Christiane Amapour appears here, as a guest at the Inn, pushing one of her cards into Rory’s hands with the offer of career advice. Not that Rory needs it – pretty soon, she’s offered a dream job, covering Barak Obama’s campaign trail for an online magazine – although this means, of course, that she must bid adieu to friends and family in Stars Hollow. Yes, our little girl’s all grown up, off to take the world by storm, and the whole town braves an actual storm to come out and tell both her and Lorelei what remarkable people they both are (it’s kind of nauseating). In a nice bit of symmetry, though, it ends as it all began – drinking coffee in Luke’s Diner – where doubtless it will start again when we return to Stars Hollow for A Year in the Life…
Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life is now exclusively on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription. Seasons 1 to 7 are also available.