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Gilmore Girls: The Complete First Season

The first show to be produced under the watchful eye of the Family Friendly Programming Forum, the WB's Gilmore Girls hit the airwaves in the fall of 2000. The Forum, a coalition of 45 major national advertisers like FedEx, Proctor & Gamble, and General Motors, sought to work with the big networks to develop prime-time programming that was "relevant, interesting and appropriate to a broad family audience, and that the whole family can watch together." Yet, given that pedigree, Gilmore Girls turned out to be neither sappy nor preachy, and it focused on an unlikely pair of main characters — a never-married woman who got pregnant at age 16, and her teenage daughter. Creator Amy Sherman-Palladino — previously a writer for "Veronica's Closet," her company is called "Dorothy Parker Drank Here Productions" — brought a sassy, acerbic wit to what could have been yet another soggy, "7th Heaven" style comedy-drama, placing her characters in believable situations and then giving them snappy, sophisticated lines to deliver. Lauren Graham stars as Lorelei Gilmore, a 32-year-old single mother raising her daughter, Rory (Alexis Bleidel) in too-good-to-be-true Stars Hollow, Conn. In the extraordinary pilot episode, we meet a diverse cast of characters that we'll get to know intimately throughout the season — Lorelai's co-workers at the Independence Inn, where she's manager, and the assorted Stars Hollow locals — as the plot elegantly lays out the show's rather intricate premise. More best friends than a traditional mother-daughter team, Rory's the smart, level-headed one and Lorelai's a wacky former wild child with an oddball sense of humor. They have a wonderful relationship — endlessly communicative and understanding, Lorelei still plays the mom card when necessary and, despite her brains, Rory's very much a shy 16-year-old. When Rory's accepted to the exclusive Chilton Academy, Lorelai's thrilled — this is her daughter's chance to get on the fast track to Harvard — but she doesn't have the money to pay the first year's tuition in advance. So she sucks up her pride and goes to her wealthy parents, Emily and Richard (Kelly Bishop and Edward Herrmann) for the money. Emily, still miffed that her pregnant daughter left home at 16 and has been semi-estranged from them ever since, uses the situation to negotiate a family dinner with the girls every Friday.

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Thus the stage is set for the events of Season One — Rory learns to deal with her snotty, rich classmates at Chilton, including the competitive Paris (Liza Weil) and smarmy Tristan (Chad Michael Murray), and Lorelai has to rethink her entire relationship with her parents now that they're back in her life. Meanwhile, Rory gets her first boyfriend, Dean (Jared Padalecki), and Lorelai finds herself falling for one of Rory's teachers, Max (Scott Cohen). Secondary complications throughout the season involve Rory's long-time best friend, Lane (Keiko Agena), whose Korean mother disapproves of Lorelai's single-mother status (and pretty much everything else about American culture); Luke (Scott Peterson), the curmudgeonly owner of Stars Hollow's downtown diner who nurses a secret crush on Lorelai; and flighty, accident-prone chef Sookie (Melissa McCarthy) and sardonic concierge Michel (Yanic Truesdale), co-workers of Lorelai's. Throughout the storylines of the first 22 episodes, the interplay between the characters is complex but never confusing, creating a genuine sense of community — when Lorelai misses her first date with Max, for example, because she must attend a wake for her neighbor's cat, it's utterly believable. As is the terrified fit that Lorelai throws when she hears that Rory's having second thoughts about attending Chilton because she met a boy: "Who is he?" she demands. "Dark hair, romantic eyes, looks a little dangerous? … Does he have a motorcycle? If you're gonna throw your life away, he better have a motorcycle!" With Lorelai experiencing her first significant romance in a long time and Rory experiencing her first ever, it's only natural that complications ensue — yet the season ends virtually cliffhanger-free, with the Gilmore Girls patching up after a fight with a charming, no-saccharine, mother/daughter talk about love and commitment. The first season of Gilmore Girls is more than worth revisiting if you're a fan — the show's charm holds up far better than most TV programs, plus there's a lovely sense of rediscovery and a few surprises (recurring character Kirk [Sean Gunn] shows up for the first time in the second episode but introduces himself as "Mick"). If you've never seen the show, here's your chance to give it a whirl. But be warned that the world of Gilmore Girls is addictive — inviting and comforting, full of smart, funny people about whom you'll find you actually care. This show gives "family friendly" a good name, for a change.

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Warner Home Video offers all 21 episodes of Gilmore Girls: The Complete First Season in crystal-clear, gorgeous full-screen (1.33:1) as originally presented on television. This show is beautifully photographed — the pilot episode shows special care in the cinematography — with a warm, autumnal color palette that's well presented here. The Dolby Digital 2.0 audio (with optional subtitles in English, French or Spanish) is a fine mix, although the enhanced audio makes it far more obvious when the dialogue in some outdoor scenes has been overdubbed — the sudden flatness of the sound in these scenes can be occasionally distracting. The packaging, a tome-like, multi-disc case with the six discs set into "pages" that flip like a book, is attractive but slightly awkward and may not wear well with time and repeated handling. One disc is devoted to some less-than-impressive extras — a cute 22-min., promotional "making-of" featurette, "Welcome to the Gilmore Girls," full of sound-bites from the cast and creators; a "pop-up video" style factoid feature which accompanies a 45-min. portion of the show concerning Rory's first dance; "Gilmore-isms" (2:15), offering quick snippets of clever dialogue; and three deleted scenes.
—Dawn Taylor

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