“You lost me at carrots, which was the first draft of ‘You had me at hello’”

Friday, June 6, 2008 by

As the Big Brother season once again holds us in its grip (is this the worst crop of contestants we’ve ever had?) I thought I’d note two things.

Firstly, that unlike the previous few years, E4′s schedules haven’t been cleared to make way for live coverage from the house, with only an hour’s worth of shouting peaking through in the middle of a weekday afternoon, then through the night footage of them either sleeping, trying to sleep, being drunk, or doing some more shouting. Secondly, the channel has suddenly seen fit to begin broadcasting one of my favourite series of this past decade, the Emmy Award-winning Gilmore Girls , with the same daily episode appearing at 8:50am and 11:30am.

Gilmore Girls began in the US late in 2000 and quickly became one of the highest rated shows on network television. The premise sounds twee and horrible. It’s about the relationship between a single mother and her daughter – the daughter having reached the age the mother was when she gave birth. They live in a small town. The daughter, Rory who’s smarter than everybody, is going through the usual teen angst about not being the most popular girl in school and fancying some boy. Her mom, Lorelai, is the manager of a hotel and has her own issues dealing with her own – up until recently – estranged mother.

I was hooked after the second minute of the first episode.

A woman, who we later discover is Lorelai, walks across the street. On the soundtrack is There She Goes by The Las. Which is a bit of a cliche, but keep watching. The woman walks into a coffee shop and approaches the counter. The owner won’t serve her coffee. He’s cutting her off. She pleads with him and eventually he relents. Somewhere in there I realise that it’s being played as though she’s a junkie and he’s her dealer. Then I remember that one of the few things most TV producers (and Sixpence None The Richer when they covered the song) also miss is the fact that There She Goes is reputed to be about heroin. “The racing through my veins” lyric being a dead giveaway. At which moment I realise this show is intertextual. It selected the music and then played a scene based on the audience being able to understand a really, really zetgeisty pop culture reference. Wow.

Then the real dialogue begins to flow between the woman and her daughter and it’s funny. Not in a forced, sitcom, stream of punchlines way, but like a 1940s screwball comedy, reams of smart dialogue. Apparently each script for a 40 minute episode ran to eighty and it shows. I’ll say it again. It’s really, really funny. At one point, the dynamic between mother and daughter is compared to the Iran-Contra affair. This is one of those occasions when the premise of a show and its potential plotlines are transcended by the script, the performances, the direction, the editing and the production. It doesn’t treat the audience like idiots, yet manages to be accessible. Just look at this mile long memorable quotes page at the imdb.

It feels authentic. It has realism. People pay for taxis. They have snappy arguments that don’t mean anything in the long term. People have to catch a bus to get places. But there’s a weird undercurrent of darkness too. Something that isn’t being said. It’s Capraesque that way. Everything seems sweetness and light but … It’s set in a Bedford Fallsian town and you really get the sense of a community trying to be a what a community should be like. One of the (very) few problems I always had with Dawson’s Creek was that you never felt that there was anyone living in the place outside the main cast. Stars Hollow is teeming with people, people saying hello to each other even if (and this is important) they’re not a massively important element of the plot of the week.

The show eventually ran for seven seasons, the first six of which were largely written by creator Amy Sherman-Palladino (before an unresolved contract negotiation led to her and her husband leaving the series), aided by the likes of Jane Espenson, a Buffy alumnus who would go on to write Battlestar Galactica. It has wobbles here and there, apparently in the later seasons which I haven’t had a chance too see yet. But the first three seasons are as good (in their own way) as any of the imported series which have tended to be lauded over here and if this had been broadcast in a prime time slot I’m sure it would have been mentioned and remembered along with the likes of ER or Desperate Housewives (even though its certainly more entertaining than that). Instead it’ll hopefully build a loyal following in these early slots, even if it deserved much better treatment.


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