In honor of Gilmore Girls finding its new home on Netflix late last week, EW staffers Molly Smith and Lindsey Bahr have compiled a list of their favorite episodes—one per season. The unfamiliar should use these picks as an entry point; the obsessed can consider this a refresher to rekindle your fervor for the series.
Let’s make one thing clear: There’s no such thing as a “best” Gilmore Girls episode. This is just a little something to make you fall in love, and for many, fall in love again.
“Pilot” (Season 1, Episode 1)
We’d be remiss not to include the pilot, where the magic all began. From the very beginning, you get a real sense of the eccentric show ahead—one overflowing with cultural references, quippy dialogue, and coffee, coffee, coffee. (Did we mention coffee? See opening scene).
Episode 1 introduces the show’s quirky but believable characters. At the center are mother-daughter pair Lorelai and Rory, with Luke, Sookie, Michel, Lane, Mrs. Kim, Dean, Ms. Patti, Richard, and Emily, among others, along for the ride. Let’s not forget the whimsical town of Stars Hollow, which, with its charming bakeries, book stores, antique shops, and eateries (most notably Luke’s), is a character in its own right.
The pilot shows Rory getting into the elite college-prep school Chilton, kickstarting her Ivy League dreams, as well as the beginning of Friday night dinners with Lorelai, Rory, Emily, and Richard. Together, these plot points create a rich foundation for the rest of the season and series at large, and they illustrate the complex relationships of the show. Most important is the relationship between Lorelai and Rory, who act more like best friends than parent and child—as the crux of the series, they’re entirely convincing.
Best Line: Emily: “It’s not every day I get to see my girls on a day the banks are open.”
“I Can’t Get Started” (Season 2, Episode 22)
Season two’s finale stands out for its mixture of comedy and melodrama. On the lighter side, Jackson is upset about his family’s request for him to wear a kilt at his wedding—and can’t understand why Sookie, who won’t let him wear shorts in public, is okay with it. (“Shorts cut you funny!” she exclaims, showing early signs of comic genius from Melissa McCarthy.) Now is probably a good time to mention that Jackson and Sookie is one of our favorite couples on the show, if not our absolute favorite.
On the darker side: Christopher and Lorelai finally reconnect, but their reunion is short-lived due to news he receives from his ex-girlfriend Sherry. Rory, meanwhile, continues her flirtation with Jess, though she’s still dating Dean. The juicy, “I can’t believe that just happened” ending was enough to get us through a long, Gilmore Girls-free summer, and had us anxiously anticipating season three.
Best Line: Lorelai: “If you put ‘oy’ and ‘poodle’ together in the same sentence, you’d have a great new catchphrase. Like, ‘Oy with the poodles already!'”
“They Shoot Gilmores, Don’t They?” (Season 3, Episode 7)
Another day, another kooky Stars Hollow fundraiser. The episode—a reference to 1969’s They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?—follows Lorelai and Rory in their attempt to take down reigning dance marathon champ Kirk, who in the past has taken victory laps set to the Rocky theme. Which kills Lorelai.
Beyond Kirk, the quirks and characters that make Stars Hollow what it is are all present and heightened. Lorelai and Rory make fluid coffee jokes—the marathon starts at 6 a.m. and lasts 24 hours. Mrs. Kim shows her disapproval of the event, with Lane along for the ride—they hand out pamphlets subtly named “An Illustrated Look at the Effect of Dancing on Your Chances of Spending All of Eternity in Hell.” Taylor becomes quite literally drunk with power—he gets very protective over his megaphone. What’s more, there’s a glimmer of flirtation between Luke and Lorelai, and this episode kickstarts our favorite Rory relationship.
Best Line: Sookie: “Last night, I made coq au vin for dinner. So of course the subject of children came up.”
“The Lorelais’ First Day at Yale” (Season 4, Episode 2)
Rory’s foray into college poses an interesting question: What happens when you separate the inseparable Gilmore girls? Leaving the nest isn’t easy for Rory, who immediately pages (2000s alert!) Lorelai to come back after dropping her off. Lorelai returns, prompting a night of take-out debauchery with new roommates and floormates—because you have to test out all the local places, obviously.
The episode also has its funny moments. Rory, for example, discovers Paris to be one of said roommates. Paris’s life coach (yes, life coach) Terence orchestrated their reunion because he didn’t think their life journey was over. But “First Day” also leaves a sense of uncertainty and ambiguity—things inevitably are going to change. For a show in its fourth season, the possibilities are exciting. Still, for those afraid of change, Stars Hollow is within driving distance.
Best Line: Lorelai: “You cannot host your much-anticipated Barry White night without a disco ball.”
“Wedding Bell Blues” (Season 5, Episode 13)
In some ways, season 5 is peak late-era Gilmore Girls, with Rory finally stepping out of her angelic perfectionism and Lorelai negotiating the rocky terrain of a new relationship with Luke. Amy Sherman-Palladino stepped in to write and direct the show’s 100th episode, and besides being the obvious best in the season, the hour’s also one of the greatest of the entire series.
There’s nothing like a contained party to really inspire everything to boil over, even if the consequences are pretty dire for everyone involved. The episode’s pacing is off the charts, and every detail is pitch perfect, from Emily’s tipsy confession that she does find Lorelai endlessly amusing to Rory finally making a move on Yale’s resident playboy.
Best Line: Emily: “Lorelai, when a woman gives birth to a crack baby, you do not buy her a puppy.”
“Partings” (Season 6, Episode 22)
It feels like a bit of a copout to choose a season finale—especially when it was Amy Sherman-Palladino’s last for the show, making it an even more bittersweet sendoff . There are some classic and wildly different episodes in season 6, including the elegant DAR party showdown “We’ve Got Magic to Do” and the brilliantly paced bottle episode “Friday Night’s Alright For Fighting.” But nothing really compares to “Partings,” even if Lorelai and Rory both end up in tears (though, mercifully not about each other).
The main story arcs, of Logan leaving and Luke, well, stalling, pack an emotional punch for sure—but the full embrace of the troubadour thread makes “Partings” one for the ages. Yo La Tengo! Sonic Youth! Mary Lynn Rajskub?! Life goes on, quite musically, in Stars Hollow amidst the temporary dramas of the Gilmore heroines. Amy Sherman-Palladino has always said that she tries to make the big small and the small big. Here, she betrays her central premise ever so slightly, but the melodrama was earned after six seasons of restraint.
Best Line: Lorelai: “Thank God, finally a hot meal for the lacrosse team.”
“Bon Voyage” (Season 7, Episode 22)
There’s no way to sugarcoat it: Without Amy Sherman-Palladino at the wheel, Season 7 was rough. The show’s whimsy turned into self-caricature, the pop culture references became grating, and everything that had been so charming became awkward and sour. Harsh, yes, but it just puts the achievements of the prior seasons in perspective.
But then, as Rory and Lorelai’s Rollercoasters of America tour gets thrown into jeopardy when Rory gets a job that starts in three days, it starts to sink in that this is actually the end. Lorelai’s panic—there’s just not enough time!—becomes our panic. “It’s not how I imagined it,” Babette says at one point. It’s not how anyone imagined it, but somehow that makes the goodbye perfect in its own oddball sort of way. Make the big things small, right? Even the farewells. Way to stick the landing, Gilmores.
Best Line: Lorelai: “You think Tom Brokaw’s mother sent him off to his first campaign with no fanny pack?”