For years, parents on teen television shows were predominantly used to service the teenage stories. They would show up from time to time, offer a bit of advice or a bit of disciplinary action, and continue their adult lives mostly off-screen. But in the early 2000s, that started to change. The O.C. put Sandy (Peter Gallagher) and Kirsten Cohen (Kelly Rowan) — not to mention the Coopers — front and center, giving them their own stories that audiences watched alongside whatever Seth (Adam Brody) and Ryan (Ben McKenzie) were up to. But there was one show that did the whole "teenage parent" thing a little differently: Gilmore Girls.

The appeal of Rory (Alexis Bledel) and Lorelai Gilmore (Lauren Graham) wasn't just that Lorelai's love life was as important to the series as Rory's or that their witty banter was incredibly fun to watch. Both of those things are true — and part of why we consider it one of the top 10 teen shows of all time — but the heart of what made Rory and Lorelai different from what had come before was that they were friends before they were family. It was actually rare to see Lorelai, as she put it, play the "mom card."

Lauren Graham and Alexis Bledel in 'Gilmore Girls.'
| Credit: Everett Collection

Not only did their age difference — Lorelai had Rory at 16 — make it so that they weren't too far apart in terms of what they were going through in life, but Rory's personality also made it so that, often, she felt like the more adult, organized one of the pair. But ultimately, it was Lorelai's choice to raise her kid that way, the total opposite of how she'd experienced childhood. As Lorelai once told Emily (Kelly Bishop), "Rory and I are best friends, mom. We're best friends first and mother and daughter second. And you and I are mother and daughter always."

When Lorelai had Rory, she was determined to make her childhood fun, and what better way to do that than to have your mom be your best friend? Suddenly, the person you're kind of stuck hanging with is the person you want to hang with. How many parents can say their kid willingly brought their boyfriend over for movie night? And for viewers, that gave us a new dynamic: Watching Rory, Lorelai, and Dean (Jared Padalecki) together added something different to the show. Because the bottom line is that Rory and Lorelai's relationship opened up a world of possibilities for the series. After all, there aren't many shows that have built an entire episode around a mother-daughter double date.

It was that dynamic of watching two best friends who had the closeness that only a mother and daughter can, that made Gilmore Girls unlike anything else on television at the time. Not only was Lorelai, the parent, fully incorporated into the story, but she didn't feel like a parent at all. Because she was Rory's best friend ... who just so happened to be her mom.

Read more from I Want My Teen TV, EW's summerlong celebration of teen shows past and present.

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