Top Episodes is a new feature in which we handpick the definitive best episodes of a groundbreaking, beloved, or otherwise awesome television series. This time, Gilmore Guy Matt Melis and Gilmore Girl Allison Shoemaker take a Hartford shuttle back to a little town called Stars Hollow.
Anytime a guy reveals that he’s a Gilmore Girls fan, it almost comes across as confessional. And even if he openly admits to being a Gilmore Guy, he invariably prefaces this admission by explaining that his wife, girlfriend, or some other woman in his life turned him onto the show. It’s 2016, fellas. Time to own it like you broke it at Kim’s Antiques. Even if a lady dragged you kicking and screaming to Stars Hollow, nobody made you stick around, buy those DVD box sets, or post those impressive “How Well Do You Know Your Gilmore Girls?” quiz results on your Facebook wall. Again, it’s 2016. We appreciate your business.
And what’s there to be ashamed about, anyway? The show has it all: unforgettable characters, rapid-fire dialogue, a junkie-like obsession with pop culture, Shakespearean scheming blended with farcical irreverence, and grudges so fierce that the show’s famous Friday night dinners often resemble an evening in the Thunderdome. For me, I was first drawn in by the quaintest (and most insane) small town on earth, Stars Hollow. Having grown up watching sitcoms like Green Acres and The Vicar of Dibley, I readily latched on to the idea of dropping relatively sane people into a town-shaped loony bin. And it’s within these town limits that I learned essential facts like Al’s Pancake World serves just about everything but pancakes; enough minimum-wage jobs can actually make a guy independently wealthy; and Miss Patty, several husbands ago, once danced in a cage with Tito Puente. Twirl, girls!
In a time when any property the public vaguely remembers gets rebooted or remade, Netflix’s upcoming Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life mini-series feels like anything but a cash grab. We diehards genuinely can’t wait to see what’s become of our many beloved characters nearly a decade later. Are Zack and Lane a husband-wife yacht rock duo living in Brooklyn, is Paris Geller eyeing a run at the White House down the road, and if we stop by the Dragonfly Inn, will we still find Michel turning up his nose at guests and Sookie erasing the single-digit number on the sign in the kitchen that reads “This Many Days Since an Accident”? And then there are the really big questions that have been clawing at us like Cat Kirk: How will Emily Gilmore carry on without Richard (played by the late Edward Herrmann), will Luke and Lorelai still be “all in,” and where has Rory landed and with whom (#TeamDean, #TeamJess, #TeamLogan or #TeamRoryDontNeedNoMan)? For some of us, this is like the countdown to the kickoff on Super Bowl Sunday. Friday can’t come soon enough.
The other reason fans want to revisit Stars Hollow one more time is for the closure afforded by a proper conclusion. Series creator Amy Sherman-Palladino infamously didn’t get to take part in Gilmore Girl’s final season (more on that to come), which means she didn’t get to end the show as she always had planned. In fact, Lauren Graham has explained that none of the cast or crew knew the series had ended until a couple weeks after they shot the Season 7 finale. Now we’ll finally get to see these characters finish their stories the way Sherman-Palladino had originally intended. She’s claimed that the show was always supposed to end on four specific words. What are those four words exactly? Speculate away — probably something along the lines of “I love you, <insert name>.” By Friday morning, we should all know. And hell, even if the four-word ending falls through, I’d settle for Babette yelling: “You gotta give it a little something, honey!”
Damn, it feels good to be a Gilmore Guy.
20. A Deep-Fried Korean Thanksgiving
Episode #: 09
Original Air Date: Nov. 26, 2002
When the show famed for fitting two hours of dialogue into one hour of television took a crack at Thanksgiving, they did the only sensible thing: they crammed four Thanksgiving dinners into one episode. “A Deep-Fried Korean Thanksgiving” arrives on the heels of the Dean-Rory breakup, in the throes of another Emily and Richard kerfuffle, and well before Luke and Lorelai got around to the “will” part of the will-they-or-won’t-they. Yet for all the drama, this is a mostly joyful outing. The race between dinners — skipping the rolls, of course — gives nearly every character a moment to shine, right on down to Babette and Morey. There’s still plenty of that delicious Rory-Lorelai banter, but this episode belongs to the ensemble: Lane’s first kiss! Drunk Sookie watching Jackson deep-fry everything she owns! Cat Kirk! Not even another Dean and Jess confrontation can take the shine off this apple. –Allison Shoemaker
Gilmost Line: “What is the oil for?” “For pouring on Visigoths.” “Lorelai.” “When else am I gonna get to use my Visigoth material?” –Lorelai Gilmore, in an exchange with Rory and Sookie
Gilmost Meal: Leftover rolls from Luke’s, “a little something for the walk home.”
Only in Stars Hollow: Kirk’s cat, Cat Kirk, attempts to garrote his owner with a cute ball of yarn, even without opposable thumbs. “He’s beyond them!”
Lane’s Mix: “The Man Who Sold the World” by David Bowie
19. The Big One
Episode #: 16
Original Air Date: Feb. 25, 2003
When it comes to the non-Gilmore girls of Gilmore Girls, only three ever gave Emily, Lorelai, and Rory a run for their money: Lane, Paris, and Sookie. The latter two take center stage in “The Big One”, each hitting a major life milestone that sends ripples they don’t expect. In Sookie’s case, her first pregnancy means joy for her and an episode-long anxiety attack for Jackson, who doesn’t stop to kiss his wife before busting out the calculator, calling a contractor, and throwing out all of Sookie’s potentially baby-killing cooking utensils. Still, Sookie’s trials don’t hold a candle to Paris’. This is Liza Weil’s finest hour on the series, as the character the Palladinos created for her melts down in funny but heartbreaking fashion. Her speech at the Chilton bicentennial may be the single most cringeworthy moment on a series full of them, and when Rory comforts her afterward, whose heart doesn’t break for this lonely, brilliant, wonderful nightmare of a girl? –Allison Shoemaker
Gilmost Line: “I mean, can anyone here believe that I’m not going to Harvard? I can’t. I’m not going to Harvard. I am not going to Harvard. I had sex, but I’m not going to Harvard! And I have to tell you that if you asked me which of those two events I thought would be the least likely to happen, it would not be the not going to Harvard. I’m being punished. I had sex, so now I don’t get to go to Harvard. She’s never had sex. She’ll probably go to Harvard. She’s a shoe-in. Pack your chastity belt, Gilmore — you’re going to Harvard!” –Paris Geller
Gilmost Meal: A Kit-Kat bar, in lieu of pregnant Sookie’s sewery dishes.
Only in Stars Hollow: The mail carrier (Kirk, of course) decides organizing the mail beforehand is beneath him, leading to a tussle on the floor of Doose’s market.
18. Written in the Stars
Episode #: 03
Original Air Date: Oct. 5, 2004
There’s no shortage of romantic gestures in this series, from Dean building Rory a car (his finest hour) to a thousand yellow daisies (still to come on this list). Still, with one exception, this might be the most swoon-inducing moment of them all. Gilmore Girls belongs to Lorelai and Rory, but the central romance really kicks off right here. The horoscope Luke kept for eight years makes for a pretty good indicator of what this means to him. Lorelai’s stunned silence, a rare occurrence, similarly spoke volumes. The greatest indicator of what this relationship meant to the show, however, comes in the form of that jaw-dropping town meeting. Taylor was at his most absurd, but he was also speaking for fans: please, please don’t screw this up.
Oh, and Rory meets Logan. –Allison Shoemaker
Gilmost Line: “She asked me my birthday. I wouldn’t tell her, she wouldn’t stop talking, finally I gave in. I told her my birthday. She went and got the newspaper, opened it up to the horoscopes page, wrote something down, tore it out, handed it to me. So I was looking at this piece of paper in my hand, and under Scorpio, she had written, ‘You will meet an annoying woman. Give her coffee, and she’ll go away.’ So I gave her coffee.” –Luke Danes
Gilmost Meal: The coffee Lorelai attempts to obtain sans pants.
Only in Stars Hollow: Town selectman Taylor Doose presents charts tracing the economic impact of a breakup on the town.
Lane’s Mix: “Lily-A-Passion” by Grant Lee Phillips (aka The Town Troubadour)
17. I Get a Sidekick Out of You
Episode #: 19
Original Air Date: Apr. 18, 2006
Amy Sherman-Palladino filled the world of Gilmore Girls with strong, opinionated women — ladies who won’t budge or back down when they know they are in the right. Of course, we all know that Lorelai turned down a comfortable future in order to carve out her own quirky life in Stars Hollow, complete with monkey lamp. But she’s far from the only “bold broad” on the show who insists on having it her way. Emily Gilmore, Paris Geller, and Mrs. Kim are all unstoppable forces of nature who rule their respective spheres with dictatorial conviction. And that’s what makes an episode like “I Get a Sidekick Out of You”, or any of the episodes in which Richard’s mother (the original Lorelai) drops in on Emily, so wickedly delightful. Sure, it’s fun to see Lane and Zack tie the knot, but the real joy stems from seeing Mrs. Kim forced to assume the role of obedient daughter, bending over backwards (two weddings!) and forwards (the ritual of 108 bows!) to please an unreasonable, fastidious parent. But it’s not just a case of the wedding tables turning on a tyrant; throughout the series, Sherman-Palladino reveals the layers beneath all these characters, showing us that there’s more to anyone than what we see on the surface. In this case, we learn that devout Mrs. Kim, in her own hymn-singing, Tofurky-cooking way, actually passed the rebel gene down to her punk rock-worshiping drummer daughter. Now, if only we can find out what happened to Mr. Kim. Uh, oh. Gotta run. Why? 58 seats, 62 Koreans. Go! –Matt Melis
Gilmost Line: “Lorelai Gilmore: disappointing mothers since 1968.” –Lorelai Gilmore
Gilmost Meal: Naughty-shaped bachelorette party cookies that expanded to obscene sizes when baked.
Only in Stars Hollow: Kirk starts a male bartender service called Yummy Bartenders to bring “truly yummy bartenders to the lonely women of Stars Hollow … we’re talking mouthwatering, tasty morsels of manhood.”
Lane’s Mix: “Heart of Glass” by Blondie
16. Women of Questionable Morals
Episode #: 11
Original Air Date: Jan. 25, 2005
While there might be a heated debate over #TeamJess, #TeamDean, or #TeamLogan, I think it’s safe to say that any actual or honorary resident of Stars Hollow (save for maybe Taylor Doose, who fears that a Luke/Lorelai breakup would cast the local economy into a Great Depression-like spiral) proudly flies the #TeamLuke colors. This episode shows why. Lorelai has always had a magical relationship with snow, which seems to always bring good tidings into her life. However, when this year’s first snowfall proves to be a cold, frozen kick in the ass, Luke steps in to reconcile the two. When she comes home from one of the lousiest days ever — complete with being offered the part of Town Whore in a Revolutionary War reenactment — she finds Luke waiting with an ice rink set up in her front yard. Who but Luke Danes, grumpy crank that he is, would go out of his way like that to cheer her up? It’s not a landmark episode in any way, despite seeing Kirk in colonial drag, but it’s such a sweet gesture that tells us all we need to know about who really deserves to be with Lorelai. Hint, it ain’t Digger Stiles. –Matt Melis
Gilmost Line: “If I run into any moderately weighted whores in my travels, I’ll let you know.” –Luke Danes
Gilmost Meal: Rum, milk, cookies, and hangover pancakes.
Only in Stars Hollow: The town Revolutionary War reenactment committee sets out to reenact the time a colonial prostitute from Stars Hollow changed the outcome of the American Revolution, resulting in understudy Kirk seducing a British general (Taylor) and leading him by hand to his warm boudoir. Glad the local media turned out in droves.
15. Forgiveness and Stuff
Episode #: 10
Original Air Date: Dec. 21, 2001
Hospitals ask us to check our emotional baggage at the door, and the Gilmore luggage has more miles on it than most. By the time Richard ends up in the ER after collapsing at Christmas dinner — one Lorelai was uninvited to — in the 10th episode of the series, we already know the root causes of the tension between Lorelai and her parents. However, here we see the gravity of the situation poke holes in the armor each character wears to conceal the emotional wounds caused by so many years of compounded pain and disappointment. Fear scrapes away at Emily’s acerbic, dutiful, stubborn veneer to reveal a wife, like any other, terrified of losing her husband. In Lorelai, we see an independent woman, one who has always been at odds with her father, become daddy’s little girl again, frightened, aware of how she disappointed him, and unable to tell him she loves him. Once she finally works up the nerve to go into his hospital room, they share a tearful look at each other, neither one able to muster any words before being interrupted by Richard’s doctor. It’s a moment that reveals both what’s in the hearts of father and daughter and how very far they still have left to go to put their painful past behind them. –Matt Melis
Gilmost Line: “Richard Gilmore, there may be many things happening in this hospital tonight, but your dying is not one of them. No, I did not sign on to your dying, and it is not going to happen, not tonight, not for a very long time. In fact, I demand to go first. Do I make myself clear?” “Yes, Emily. You may go first.” –Emily and Richard Gilmore
Gilmost Meal: Apple tarts, salad and Ranch dressing in a bag, and vending machine chicken soup and Pez — a veritable Gilmore cornucopia of plenty
Only in Stars Hollow: The Christmas nativity pageant has a before-Mary (a local pregnant woman) and an after-Mary. Miss Patty worries that the before-Mary will become an after-Mary before the opening curtain.
Lane’s Mix: “Christmas Wrapping” by The Waitresses
14. We’ve Got Magic To Do
Episode #: 05
Original Air Date: Oct. 11, 2005
While it certainly has it moments (“Why did you drop out of Yale?!”), the arc that tracks the estrangement of Rory and Lorelai doesn’t exactly represent the best that Gilmore Girls has to offer. Still, even the weakest stretches of this series have high-water marks, and “We’ve Got Magic to Do” is such an episode. There’s no shortage of Stars Hollow whimsy, thanks to Miss Patty’s recital, but the real story here is Richard and Emily learning the truth about the way the Huntzbergers treated Rory. It’s not all satisfying, as both grandparents have to reckon with the ways in which they’ve failed their granddaughter, but there’s no finer Emily Gilmore moment than her dressing-down of the woman who decided Rory wasn’t good enough. Add in Rory’s triumph and Paris’ stint as a member of the proletariat, and you’ve got episodic gold. –Allison Shoemaker
Gilmost Line: “Now, let’s talk about your money. You were a two-bit gold digger fresh off the bus from Hicksville when you met Mitchum at whatever bar you happened to stumble into. And what made Mitchum decide to choose you to marry amongst the pack of women he was bedding at the time, I’ll never know. But hats off to you for bagging him. He’s still a playboy, you know? Well, of course you know. That would explain why your weight goes up and down 30 pounds every other month. But that’s your cross to bear. But these are ugly realities. No one needs to talk about them. Those kids are staying together for as long as they like. You won’t stop them. Now, enjoy the event.” –Emily Gilmore
Gilmost Meal: The D.A.R. dinner, sans salmon puffs.
Only in Stars Hollow: Kirk’s The Journey of Man get an encore performance 20 years later.
Lane’s Mix: “Koyaanisqatsi” by Philip Glass
13. Nick and Nora/Sid and Nancy
Episode #: 05
Original Air Date: Oct. 30, 2001
Amy Sherman-Palladino has weighed in on the men in Rory’s life, saying that she believes each of them brought something that Rory needed at a particular point in her development. Well, let’s consider Jess Mariano her obligatory bad boy, then. When Jess’ mother and Luke’s sister, Liz, turns to her brother for help with her wayward James Dean-meets-Chachi son, Jess, a city kid, gets shipped off against his will to the quaintest town on earth, Stars Hollow. He’s everything the town is not and, more importantly, everything the gentle, dependable (and let’s face it, whiny and insecure) boyfriend Dean is not. And his hoodlum gaze quickly settles on shy, nose-in-a-book Rory Gilmore. Though only around for about a quarter of the series, Jess quickly became one of the show’s most compelling characters, his evolution from fuck-the-world troubled teen to fuck-the-world making-his-own-way adult a process that shook up Stars Hollow and brought out a different side of Rory. Just how volatile could Jess be? This episode starts with Uncle Luke buying Frosted Flakes and blowing up an air mattress and ends with him shoving Jess into a pond out of sheer frustration. God, did he look yummy soaking wet, though. Wait, what? –Matt Melis
Gilmost Line: “He’s adjusting. He just got here. He probably just went out and realized that there are 12 stores in this town devoted entirely to peddling porcelain unicorns. I’ve lived in this town my entire life, and I still can’t believe it.” –Luke Danes
Gilmost Meal: Frosted Flakes and cigarettes or pot roast, grilled cheese, chicken wings, mashed potatoes, and four different types of salad. Either’ll kill you.
Only in Stars Hollow: The public high school says the Pledge of Allegiance in six different languages, two of which Jess has never heard of before.
Lane’s Mix: “This Is Hell” by Elvis Costello
12. Last Week Fights, This Week Tights
Episode #: 21
Original Air Date: May 11, 2004
There’s more to this episode than the revelation that “Luke can waltz.” In one hour, writer Daniel Palladino manages to pack in a number of significant beginnings and endings, from Lorelai helping to bridge the separation between Lane and Mrs. Kim to the marriage of Liz and T.J. While Lorelai’s slow-burning realization of Luke’s intentions looms large, the most affecting of these turning-point storylines belongs to Jess (and Milo Ventimiglia). After some time away, some tough love from Luke, and a brief stint with a self-help book, Jess attempts to do right by the people he loves. With his mother and (especially) with Luke, it’s lovely, honest, and effective. Not so with Rory, who he asks to leave her life behind and run away with him. Yes, Luke can waltz, but Jess has put in the work, too — and it doesn’t work out as planned. –Allison Shoemaker
Gilmost Line: “It involves the “J” word. “Oh, not more about Jesus. I’m sick of him and Mel Gibson.” –Lorelai and Rory Gilmore
Gilmost Meal: Turkey legs, clearly.
Only in Stars Hollow: The minister for the wedding is the guy who once set up an illegal farmer’s market outside Doose’s market, was also a troubadour, and uses those troubadour skills to sing a song about how love is the greatest toy around.
Lane’s Mix: “In a Big Country” by Big Country
11. Love, Daisies and Troubadours
Episode #: 21
Original Air Date: May 10, 2001
Gilmore Girls begins with the two Lorelais embarking on new and equally awkward phases in their romantic lives. While Rory is just beginning to work up the nerve to talk to boys about things like “really round cakes” and impenetrable Russian novelists, Lorelai seems to be seriously dipping her toe back into the dating pool for the first time since Christopher, Rory’s father. As Dean Forester, Sherman-Palladino’s idea of a perfect first boyfriend, and Max Medina, Rory’s English teacher, enter their lives, for the first time the Gilmore girls are suddenly not alone. Boys are knocking at windows, men are falling asleep on couches, and Lorelai and Rory are constantly trying to figure out how to make their relationships work and how much of their romantic lives to share with each other. All of it comes to a head by the end of the season, where we see Max propose with 1,000 yellow daisies and Rory finally utter those magical words (“I love you, you idiot”) when Dean drives his pickup truck to Chilton. This could’ve meant happily ever after, but we all know Max and Dean will only be the first of many men to try and woo a Gilmore. And what about Lorelai’s Luke hallucination at the beginning of this episode? Oh, it’s only just begun. –Matt Melis
Gilmost Line: “Obviously, he’s met one of those Thursday afternoon girls.” “What’s a Thursday afternoon girl?” “They’re those slutty girls that get guys to switch their Thursday afternoons with another checkout guy, so they can go do slutty Thursday afternoon things.” –Rory Gilmore and Lane Kim
Gilmost Meal: Diapers for the little ones, dorsal fins and cooga munga, and farfignugen snooden doogen (code for burgers, fries, and sodas smuggled into a town meeting)
Only in Stars Hollow: There’s no Battle of the Bands, but there’s a heated duel between Grant Lee Phillips and David Gruber Allen for the post of Town Troubadour.
Lane’s Mix: “One Line” by PJ Harvey