With so many new series popping up on streaming services and DVD, it gets harder and harder to keep up with recent shows, much less the all-time classics. With TV Club 10, we point you toward the 10 episodes that best represent a TV series, classic or modern. They might not be the 10 best episodes, but they’re the 10 episodes that’ll help you understand what the show’s all about.
It’s the perfect time for this particular TV Club 10, and not just because Gilmore Girls debuted 20 years ago, on October 5, 2000. The series, set in an unconventional small town in New England, has one of the most autumnal aesthetics in TV history; it’s difficult to picture Lorelai and Rory Gilmore not encased in scarves and fluffy sweaters amid brilliant foliage. Inspired by a chatty inn manager at a Colonial getaway years before, series creator and former Roseanne writer Amy Sherman-Palladino (helped by her husband, Daniel Palladino) crafted the tale of the witty, talkative Lorelai (Lauren Graham), who has a child, Rory (Alexis Bledel), when she’s still in high school, derailing the loftier plans set up by her blue-blood parents (Kelly Bishop as Emily and Edward Herrmann as Richard). She leaves her home in Hartford to raise Rory in the hamlet of Stars Hollow, Connecticut, where she finds a community of like-minded oddballs and makes a family of her own. But as the series begins, Lorelai is forced to reunite with her estranged parents when Rory gets accepted to an expensive prep school; her parents front the tuition at the cost of a weekly Friday night family dinner.
Season one set Lorelai and Rory at the center of the Stars Hollow community, introducing an unforgettable tapestry of engaging characters, like Lorelai’s best friend, clumsy chef Sookie (Melissa McCarthy); Rory’s own BFF, Lane (Keiko Agena); diner owner and love interest Luke (Scott Patterson); the frequently annoying town administrator, Taylor (Michael Winters); Lorelai’s surly assistant, Michel (Yanic Truesdale); former performer and dance studio owner Miss Patty (Liz Torres); and the girls’ next-door neighbor, Babette (sitcom legend Sally Struthers doing some sort of Ruth Gordon impression). Season two introduced into the equation Luke’s bad boy nephew Jess (Milo Ventimiglia), creating a seemingly endless love triangle between him, Rory, and her boyfriend, Dean (Jared Padalecki), while Lorelai weighed a prospective return to Rory’s dad, Christopher (David Sutcliffe).
The series peaked in season three, with an unforgettable dance marathon, the culmination of Rory’s love triangle, and a new business venture for Lorelai. But the first few seasons mainly highlighted the series’ intergenerational charm, the Palladinos’ fast-and-furious pop culture references inherent to Lorelai’s near-constant snappy patter as she and Rory juggled love interests alongside Stars Hollow events like a neighbor’s pet’s funeral or an ice sculpture contest. Lorelai gave adults someone to watch in the youth-filled WB lineup, and Gilmore Girls became fledgling network The CW’s third-most-watched series.
Things got a little rougher in the latter half of Gilmore Girls’ run. In season four, Rory went off to Yale, and the series struggled to keep the girls in each others’ orbits now that they were no longer living together. But it did end with Luke and Lorelai’s will-they/won’t-they finally tumbling onto the “they will” side (though Rory wound up busting up Dean’s marriage). Season five saw the advent of five words that still make some GG fans tremble: The Life And Death Brigade, Rory’s new boyfriend Logan Huntzberger (Matt Czuchry)’s privileged pack of rich kids, an alliance that leads to (but not directly causes) Rory to drop out of Yale. That unfortunate plot twist resulted in the girls being estranged for the first eight episodes of season six.
Meanwhile, the Palladinos themselves were in the process of becoming estranged from the show. In 2006, the WB merged with UPN to create The CW, and Gilmore Girls was one of the seven series selected to help kick it off. But the original creators left the show at the end of season six after a breakdown of contract negotiations, leaving hell fires like Luke’s newly discovered daughter, April (Vanessa Marano), in their wake. Season seven was almost an improvement, with a new showrunner, series writer David S. Rosenthal, who at least still seemed invested in the series. But the damage had been done, and Gilmore Girls limped along to its finale on May 15, 2007.
Considering the unceremonious way the Palladinos left their breakthrough series, their Gilmore Girls revitalization for Netflix in 2015 wasn’t much of a surprise; the four episodes that made up A Year In The Life mostly pleased longtime fans. After Amy Sherman-Palladino and Lamar Damon’s similarly charming small-town-set Bunheads, the Palladinos finally landed all those Emmys they’d been chasing—for their Amazon series The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Alexis Bledel moved on to prestige series like Mad Men and The Handmaid’s Tale, while Lauren Graham wrote and published three books when she wasn’t appearing in the long-running NBC drama Parenthood. But since Gilmore Girls’ cancellation, the show has become a cult classic (helped by syndication runs at ABC Family, Soap Opera Network, and elsewhere), with an annual Gilmore Girls Fan Fest in Connecticut, pop-up Luke’s Diners, a