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Gilmore Girls at 20: Why we still find wholesome comfort in Stars Hollow

(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

Every autumn, I rewatch Gilmore Girls. Whether I start right from the beginning or pick and choose an episode at random (thanks, Netflix), it’s become a yearly ritual, and I’m not alone in my tradition.

The first episode of Gilmore Girls aired in October 2000, introducing the world to fast-talking, coffee-loving Lorelai Gilmore (Lauren Graham), her precocious teenage daughter Rory (Alexis Bledel), and the other residents of Stars Hollow, a quirky, fictional small town in Connecticut. 

It begins with Rory winning a place at a prestigious private school in the next town –the only problem is, her single mother can’t afford the tuition fees. Lorelai reluctantly asks her wealthy but estranged parents (played perfectly by Kelly Bishop and Edward Herrmann) for help and they agree on the condition that Lorelai and Rory agree to come to dinner at their house every Friday.

Through seven seasons and 153 episodes, we see Rory go through high school and college – from her first kiss to graduation – and watch Lorelai progress through her career, as she takes business night classes and eventually buys her own inn with her best friend Sookie (Melissa McCarthy). Everything that happens is whimsical, with happy endings that make it pure escapism, while the sporadic doses of heartbreak and anger – from breakups to, admittedly always short-lived, mother-daughter feuds – stop it being too schmaltzy (just about). Those of us who made it through the series were bound to get attached to Stars Hollow's residents.

Nostalgia ultra

(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

Gilmore Girls occupies a timeless space – an autumnal present situated somewhere between past and future, straddling nostalgia and aspiration. Watching for the first time as a teenager, I envied Rory’s experiences at Yale. I spent all my time dreaming about finally moving away to university and the romanticised view of a redbrick Ivy League institution. In other words, I wanted to be Rory, reading under a tree, walking around campus clutching a pile of books, making a perfectly worded point in class.

The show now acts as a window into my own rose-tinted memories of university. Turns out, neither Rory Gilmore nor higher education were as great as my naive teen self would have liked to believe. In fact, Rory in the 2016 Gilmore Girls revival, A Year in the Life, is not a good person at all. (But we don’t talk about the revival.) At least now I understand a few more of the references to classic films and TV shows.

There’s also the show's look. As well as being quintessentially noughties, it’s visually warm and homely. The word 'cottagecore' comes to mind – cottagecore being the cosy Gen Z trend taking TikTok and Instagram by storm; the New York Times described it as a “nostalgia-ridden aesthetic” and “a desire to live in a world outside the one currently inhabited”. With its distinctly early '00s fashion and music choices, Gilmore Girls ticks those boxes, with even those people watching while the show was airing likely feeling like the bliss of Star Hollow was a world away from their own. Nothing truly bad ever happens – it’s just a little bit too quaint to be true.

Gilmore Girls makes me want to go to Luke’s Diner for a cup of coffee; to pick up snacks from Doose’s Market and join Rory and Lorelai for a movie night. Everything from the theme song (Carole King’s "Where You Lead") through to the end credits is the epitome of safe, comfortable viewing – you know what you’re going to get. Watching Gilmore Girls feels like climbing into clean sheets at the end of a long day. And if there was ever a time that we crave comfort, it’s now, so it’s no wonder we still can’t get enough of the wholesome vibes of Stars Hollow.