Gilmore Girls: A Cultural History - Rachel Davidson, Laura C. Stache

Of course that headline doesn't say anything about the book, I've just never had an excuse to use that line, and this is as close as I'm going to get.

I'm a huge fan of the show Gilmore Girls, and am a bigger fan of Amy Sherman-Palladino and Daniel Palladino. So when I saw this title, I had to jump on it. A cultural history of the show? 200+ pages about the show in more than just a raving-fan mode? Sign me up! The authors are big fans of the show, it must be said, but they can be critical of it, which makes all the difference. This book is an examination of both the show's reflection of the culture around it as well as what impact it had on the culture—the medium of TV, the casual viewers, and the fans. For a show that depends so heavily on pop culture, the former is easy to demonstrate (it's more of a question of how to focus the examination and when to stop), but the latter is just as important.


In Part I of the book, the authors look at the various relationships depicted in the show—mothers and daughters; fathers/father-figures and children; romance (with mother/daughter relationships, this is obligatory for the show); and friendship. I thought they were spot-on when it came to mothers and fathers. The romantic relationships they concentrated, and the points they raised about them, were what anyone picking up the book expected (although there was a stronger anti-Logan/pro-Jess bias than one might expect)—I did like the way that Dean and Luke were paralleled, and didn't appreciate the way that Christopher and Logan were (mostly because I think they were right, and I had to lower my regard for Logan if he's Rory's Christopher-equivalent). I thought the looks at Lorelai/Sookie and Rory/Lane and what they said about female friendships was just fantastic.


In Part II the authors switch to themes addressed in the show—feminism, class, pop culture and small-town life. I'll talk more about the chapter on feminism in a moment, but I thought it was exceptional. The Pop Culture chapter was fun and insightful. I appreciated the Class/Wealth examination, but thought they could've done more with it. This is part of the book that you probably can't find much of in discussions about the show—you can't swing a LOLcat* online without finding someone talking about Luke and Lorelai or Dean and Rory, but thoughtful takes on the greater cultural themes are rarer (not impossible to find, but harder.) The book doesn't shine as brightly as it could in this Part, but it handles the subjects deftly.


* I feel like I should apologize to Babette for using this expression.


The chapter examining the show's depiction of feminism features an extended look at Episode 1.14, "That Damn Donna Reed." This is at the same time the best and worst part of the book. Let me explain: the authors examine this episode and the main storylines in detail and while reflecting about what those stories say about the feminism of Gilmore Girls and the contemporary American culture (and our contemporary culture). I was entertained and satisfied with the book, but when they hit this high point*—and didn't accomplish anything like it in following chapters—I was disappointed. If we'd gotten that kind of examination of popular culture and class as shown in particular episodes, I'd have probably rated this book higher. I may have rated it higher if that chapter didn't have the 1.14 section, too—it just made everything else seem a little more shallow.


* I'm not saying I agreed with all of the analysis, but I appreciated what they did.


Chapter 8, "Small-Town Livin'," is—like most of this book—a look at the depiction of something and a celebration of it. In this case, it's Stars Hollow as an ideal small town. We're shown many examples of the peculiarities of Stars Hollow (taken in every sense of the word)—notably some of the characters, the way the community acts as a large family, how it supports (and doesn't support) each member, and so on. Then the authors talk about how it represents something in our contemporary culture that many, many feel is missing from our communities and how we yearn for it. I don't know what it was about this chapter precisely that struck me the way it did—but I didn't expect it, and the sentiments expressed really resonated with me. Perhaps it's because the rest of the book focuses (as it should) on Lorelai, Rory, Richard, Emily, Luke, etc., and it's only here that we focus on everyone else that made this show delightful.


My main complaint is that the authors depend on the same handful of examples too often. Luke did X, or Emily said Y are each trotted out to support 5 or 6 (or a dozen) points rather than finding 5 or 6 (or a dozen) other examples to show the same kind of thing. Luke didn't just act in a certain manner one time in one episode to cite repeatedly, he does repeated things along certain lines that could be used in a variety of contexts. I don't want to get bogged down in the details on this, so I'm keeping it vague, but it often felt like I could sing along with Stache and Davidson when they started to illustrate a point with one of the frequently used points. I can understand that it's easier to keep going back to the same well so that they don't have to explain the citations as much each time, but it got a bit tired.


There's an appendix (of sorts) wrapping up this book that is worth the purchase price—"The Episodes: An Opinionated Compendium." The compendium lists every episode, with a one-paragraph synopses (some are short, some aren't) and a Best Line (except for in Season 7, which almost doesn't count for the authors as a real season—like the mythical second and third Matrix movies, the fourth Indiana Jones, or third X-Men). I don't recommend reading that straight through, you'll burn out—but it's a great way to revisit the episodes and refresh your memory. I don't know the page count on this section, but it's not inconsequential—it's 27% of my eARC. Any fan will appreciate this part, even if they're unimpressed with the main text (and I doubt many fans will be unimpressed with anything in these pages).


This is a fun read, a thought-provoking read, and a comfort-read. It's like spending a couple of hours talking with some pretty intelligent friends about a TV show you all really like. It's impossible to watch the show without thinking about it in the terms the authors choose to focus on—relationships, feminism, wealth, community, family—but most fans probably haven't focused on it to the extent this volume does. I wanted more, but not much more. Not only is this a good book and a good way to examine a beloved show, it's a great introduction to this series of books. I know I'll be picking up more of them.


Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Rowman & Littlefield via NetGalley in exchange for this post—thanks to both for this opportunity, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience.