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'Gilmore Girls' redefined parent-child relationships on TV

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Gilmore Girls has finally made its way to Netflix, and while the entire series has only been available for a little over a week, most fans are probably well into their rewatches by now. (Even the Hulk is on season six already.)

As this is the first time the show has been available outside of DVD releases—and ABC Family reruns–there’s been a revival of many of its biggest talking points. Who should Rory have really ended up with? Who’s the best Stars Hollow resident? What episodes need to be watched or skipped while marathoning the show for the 12th time?

There’s not quite as much discussion, however, of the show’s most important dynamic: Lorelai and Rory Gilmore’s relationship. Maybe that’s because Lorelai and Rory’s connection is a given—their ups and downs and pop culture references are the bedrock of nearly every episode. But we should be talking about that unique relationship, because it’s one that makes a parent and child more than family: Gilmore Girls makes them best friends too.

TV shows often keep the lives of parents and their children separate—or, at the very least, they don’t tend to make parents and kids so intrinsically reliant on each other. Other shows have attempted to do what Gilmore does; The OC, for example, occasionally tried to remind us that Seth and Kirsten Cohen would hang out. Still, few portray a parent and child as actual friends who share interests, enjoy hanging out with each other, and can go to each other for help. Normally, this kind of relationship is a one-way street on television.

Lorelai and Rory break that mold. For them spending a night watching Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory isn’t forced bonding time—it’s time together they actively seek out. Lorelai’s taste in music, books, and movies influences what Rory listens to and watches, and rather than rejecting what her mother likes, Rory embraces it. (Their closeness in age certainly helps; at the show’s start, Lorelai is barely in her 30s, while Rory is in her mid-teens.)

But being friends is more than just sharing similar interests—it’s also about supporting each other during life’s best and worst moments. Lorelai goes to her parents for money to pay for Rory’s attendance at Chilton Preparatory School, forcing her into a situation she dreads. Rory returns the favor years later, borrowing money from Emily and Richard Gilmore so that Lorelai can pursue her dream of opening the Dragonfly Inn.

Parents on TV are usually encouraging at best and, at worst, a roadblock to them getting what they want. Lorelai, though, almost always tries to do whatever will benefit Rory the most. That instinct is driven by a mother’s love, but also the loyalty of a friend—and Rory reciprocates both.

My own relationship with Gilmore Girls actually began with Netflix, back when streaming was a strange novelty and DVDs were the company’s premier offering. My mother received a gift basket from her office when she had to take a leave of absence; her coworkers included a yearlong subscription to Netflix. She had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer, which required her to stay home during her chemotherapy.

Fast forward a few months, and we’re watching the season three finale of Gilmore Girls, “Those Are Strings, Pinocchio,” in which Rory graduates from high school. I was 16. My mom and dad sat on the couch watching with me, and I could hear their repressed sniffling as Rory gave her valedictorian speech.

“Those Are Strings, Pinocchio” is the last episode of Gilmore Girls I can remember watching with my mother before she passed away during my junior year of high school.

Watching the show, I saw, for the first time, a reflection of my own relationship with my mother. Just like Lorelai did to Rory, she treated me as her peer, not as her son. She introduced me to just about everything I loved then and continue to enjoy—the classic rock that’s the soundtrack to my life, my obsession with TV and film, a passion for video games, an appreciation for writing and reading.

We never discussed Gilmore Girls at length. By the time we were watching, my mother’s energy could vary greatly; thanks to her treatment, she could be perfectly normal on a Monday but unable to get out of bed on a Tuesday. But Gilmore Girls was the first show (out of the dozens we watched together) that I felt had finally managed to correctly portray this sort of parent/child relationship.

My mother would, of course, play the mom card on occasion, much like Lorelai. But it wasn’t to show off her parental power—it was to make sure I didn’t make the same mistakes that she had, so that I could have the life she couldn’t have. Which is also all Lorelai wants for Rory. As she says in the show’s pilot, Rory “can … do all the things that I never got to do, and then I can resent her for it, and we can finally have a normal mother-daughter relationship.”

They’d never have that normal relationship, because they had something better.

“Those Are Strings, Pinocchio” is an incredible summation of Lorelai and Rory’s bond. All the sacrifices Lorelai made, all the moments she spent as both a mother and friend have paid off. She gets to see her daughter—and her best friend—graduate, to do what she couldn’t at Rory’s age. Rory can only accomplish so much, however, because of what Lorelai has done for her, which has allowed her to become the person she describes in her speech. Rory made friends at Chilton, sure, but her best friend—her number one fan—is sitting in the audience, trying not to cry as Luke, Sookie and Jackson start bawling their eyes out.

My mom never saw me graduate, attend and finish college, or start my life as an adult. But I was able to do all of those things because of the person she helped to make me. Because of the unwavering support she demonstrated not just as a great mother, but also as an incredible friend. It’s rare to see a TV show put parents and children on an equal level, but Gilmore Girls did—and it showed the inherent power in such a connection.

I eventually finished watching Gilmore Girls. Disc by disc, Netflix sent me one of the last shared experiences I had with my mother. I sped through the remaining seasons and rewatched episodes on ABC Family out of order; now it’s a go-to reminder of the bond I shared with my mother, and how she gave me the life she felt I deserved. I never got to see things from her perspective—but Gilmore Girls, in large and small ways, created that window for me, and I’m grateful to the show for that.

Eventually, I found more fans to discuss the show with. But those discussions always inevitably boiled down to the same few topics—how funny Luke’s temper was, why Rory should have chosen Jess over Dean, how disappointing the final season was. And while I love discussing those aspects of Gilmore Girls, I’m mainly excited to rewatch the show to see what made my mom and me (as well as a good portion of the audience) fall in love with it in the first place: Lorelai and Rory Gilmore, best friends first, parent and child second.

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