Ask anyone about what an episode of Gilmore Girls consists of and they’ll tell you about the noise. The constant, sped-up dialogue, written and delivered unrealistically. That’s the caricature of the programme’s character, and it’s the draw, largely, for watching it.
But Gilmore Girls knows when to be silent. It tends to be best when operating in the absence of that unmistakable dialogue, the cold vacuum of the void all the more remarkable for that noise.
Silence is what separates Gilmore Girls from what it might immediately appear to be: teen romantic drama, family soap opera* … generic. Other examples of the former (I’m thinking your OC‘s, your 90210‘s) often use a similar pop-cultural, constantly-quipping voice but, apart from not actually doing the noise element nearly as well as Gilmore Girls, they don’t often know how to stop. Everything is on full, all of the time: pregnancies and break-ups and abortions get thrown at you one after the other. The premise of Gilmore Girls is founded on this kind of drama (girl has baby at 16, gets kicked out by parents), but the programme itself sits for the most part in a quiet idyll.
(In fact, the biggest changes in this mould tend to be the most understated: Lorelai ditching her own wedding early on just doesn’t feel as big and important as small-town politics.)
How it isn’t a family soap-opera is trickier to navigate, if only because I have less direct examples or experience with the genre I’m thinking of. It certainly is – like almost all the TV shows I love – about family. Examining three generations of the Gilmore family, it is one of the more straight-forward examples of this phenomenon. More Simpsons than, say, Firefly (Whedon’s stuff being, after all, always about carving your own family out of what is available).
But, it’s got a touch of that, too. A well-serviced supporting cast, often the most accessible emotional route, providing the surrogate family. As I got a little choked up watching the finale of Season 3, it was this synthesised family that broke me: the tears of the local café owner. This was the reaction to an event – graduation – that will, when it happens in my own life later on today, likely provoke little emotion from me.
But, I’m getting noisy. The point was silence.
I’ve just reached the end of Season Three. It is uncharacteristically noisy in terms of plot points. One character got kicked out of school and ran away (again), one character’s getting married, an inn burnt down, a minor character died, there’s a big family feud… This is not the stuff of quiet old Gilmore Girls.
Thing is, even when the lips don’t stop moving for a second of that forty-something minutes, the plot almost always stays restrained. Those genres I talked about earlier? You get the impression it knows them, and doesn’t want to be them, and so won’t surrender to cliché.
But, I’m okay for the breaking of their key rule. For a few reasons: it’s those dying moments before Uni, before everything has to shift. So it makes sense that everything would feel accelerated. For me, that resonates because of its timing: everyone makes discoveries at Uni – alcohol, drugs, drum & bass, promiscuous sex. I discovered Gilmore Girls. That I’m still only on Season Three says a lot about my viewing habits, probably. But it’s also fitting. I’m just finishing Uni; Rory’s just finishing school. On screen, a graduation; a couple of week later, I graduate; for weeks after, I graduate again and again, my image passed around the extended family, on screen. Everything changes.
It felt like a finale that the show could, almost, bow out on. Everything comes full circle, in the time-honoured tradition, while everything’s exactly as messy and unresolved as ever. Everything’s changing and for once on Gilmore Girls, everything’s changing. You just feel those changes more because of the contrast. It’s that use of noise and silence I talked about.
*Watch the credits sequence, look at the cover of the first season DVD, both of which seem to be dedicated to convincing you this is a warm and cheesy afternoon family movie.