As befits a TV auteur whose production company is called ”Dorothy Parker Drank Here,” Amy Sherman-Palladino, creator of The WB’s Gilmore Girls, has always been drunk on words, fast with the wisecracks. But where writer-wit Parker was an acerbic melancholic with a gift for light verse, Sherman-Palladino (who pens many of ”Gilmore”’s dialogue-crammed scripts) is a sunny feminist with a gift for pop-culture name checking and insight into mother-daughter relationships that can leave you both light-headed and enlightened. (Unlike Parker, Sherman-Palladino insists that men do make passes at girls who wear glasses.)
Currently, the saga of single mom Lorelai Gilmore (Lauren Graham, a Cheshire-cat grin atop nifty leather boots) and single child Rory (Alexis Bledel, who’s both low-key and loquacious) has reached an especially satisfying peak of cleverness, charm, and shout-outs – including some to Joan Didion, Ruth Reichl, and C-SPAN. Since its 2000 premiere, ”Gilmore Girls” has proven more attuned to female attitudes and discontents than the best-selling so-called ”chick-lit” books that accrue greater cultural status just because they’re…well, books. And Sherman-Palladino writes in such a distinctive ”voice” that denying her the same kind of artistic credit that, say, Aaron Sorkin or David Chase take as their due only hints at the unspoken sexism in the television industry and the press.
If you haven’t been watching the network that insists on also giving us ”Dawson’s Creek,” now’s a good time to catch up with these ”Gilmore” gals. Watch the current reruns, and then get ready for an everything-changes corker of a fresh episode on April 15. Not the least of Sherman-Palladino’s achievements is that she takes adolescent-angst themes and turns them into good comedy-drama instead of finger-wagging life lessons. On this show, it really is the little things that count: Lorelai and Rory are voracious readers (not of junk books but of real literature) and eaters (from burgers to take-out Chinese, the Gilmores have binged and purged the possibility of any bulimic ”very special” episodes). The girls’ hometown of Stars Hollow is a smallville of eccentrics, but they’re not the lovable oddballs of ”Northern Exposure”; instead, there are realistically annoying cranks such as fussy businessman Taylor (Michael Winters) and one of the series’ important costars, diner owner Luke (Scott Patterson), whose backward baseball cap and sour attitude are grating. (I like that I don’t like Luke, no matter that this season he’s finally doffed that hat a few times to date a foxy big-city lawyer.)
No other show would turn that senior-year high school nightmare – waiting for college acceptance letters – into a story arc. Yet ”Gilmore” has made Rory’s long-standing Harvard lust juicy with anxiety and ambivalence. After all, her adored grandfather – the impeccable Edward Herrmann – wants her to go to his alma mater, Yale, and her new boyfriend, the Jack Kerouac-reading hood Jess (Milo Ventimiglia), finds the whole college-ambition thing uncool. This season, Rory’s imperious, crabby, and even more education-obsessed classmate, Paris (Liza Weil), has become less cartoonish. The Feb. 25 episode in which Paris was rejected by Harvard was as tense as any episode of Fox’s spy thriller ”24.”
Paris is just one example of the way this season’s ”Gilmore Girls” has done what all good series must do to flourish: It has deepened its supporting players. Thus, for example, Kelly Bishop, too often merely a nag as Rory’s grandmother (an upper-crusty grande dame, she’s also – to pick up the Dorothy Parker-era theme again – a clueless Margaret Dumont to Lorelai’s wisecracking Groucho), was given a wonderfully poignant episode in which she was subjected to her own brand of snobbery by her mother-in-law (”Happy Days”’ Marion Ross).
It’s been announced that Ventimiglia is being set up to star in a Sherman-Palladino-created ”Gilmore” spin-off, in which Jess is reunited with his long-absent father. Fans can’t help but wonder: Can Sherman-Palladino write men’s voices as well as she does women’s? (Oops, see what I mean about sexism? We’d never ask that of Sorkin.) And Jared Padalecki, who plays Rory’s ex-beau, is attached to a young-MacGyver project that may leave the ”Gilmore” girl cruising coffee shops for a new guy. Combine that with Rory’s entry into college and Lorelai’s latest venture to open an inn with her pal, chef Sookie (Melissa McCarthy), who’s just become pregnant, and – gee whiz – you wonder whether ”Gilmore Girls” can thrive amid so much change. Sherman-Palladino may feel some pressure, but the rest of us feel pleasure: Stars Hollow is a tiny town, but how nice, and increasingly rare, it is to be part of a fictional world so vivid and intense.