It’s been almost 14 years since Gilmore Girls first aired, but the opening bars of “Where You Lead” never fail to draw my attention to the TV. With rumors still circulating about a Gilmore Girls movie seven years after the show’s finale, I jumped at the chance to journey back to Stars Hollow with a series of nostalgia recaps for the EW Community. We’re kicking things off with the oh-so-dated pilot episode; I’ll be recapping another episode each week, through season 1 and beyond!
Season 1 | Episode 1 | “Pilot” | Aired October 5, 2000
As the Gilmore Girls pilot begins, we see a woman in a burly blue coat, strolling down an idyllic small-town street to “There She Goes” by The La’s. Arriving inside a quaint diner with mismatched tables and chairs, Lorelai Gilmore (Lauren Graham) grabs her coffee cup and starts begging Luke (Scott Patterson) for coffee. He’s grumpy, she’s talking a million miles a minute, and the chemistry between them is already starting to spark. Within a few minutes, Lorelai has dropped a Kerouac reference, scared off a man who’s hitting on her 16-year-old daughter, and proved she’s the coolest mom to ever appear on TV. All of that before her fourth cup of coffee!
The credits play, I sing along a little too loudly to the theme song, and we catch up with Lorelai at the Independence Inn, where we meet Michel Gerard (Yanic Truesdale), a rude and slightly lazy Frenchman who seems to both love and hate the Gilmore ladies.
“What’s with the muumuu?” Lorelai asks as her daughter Rory (Alexis Bledel) arrives, wearing a bulky, oversize white sweater that stands in stark contrast to her mother’s sleek black blazer and slightly too-short skirt. The shy 16-year-old shrugs off Lorelai’s joke, steals some stamps, asks Michel to check her French paper (which he only agrees to after Lorelai promises to stop speaking with an obnoxious French accent) and rushes off to meet her best friend before school.
That best friend, Lane Kim (Keiko Agena), is changing into a tie-dyed Woodstock T-shirt on the way to school, the whole way bemoaning the fact that her strict Korean mother is forcing her to date a future doctor. If typical high school television is any sort of indicator, Rory and Lane seem to be outsiders. That stereotype is confirmed even more once we see Rory in class, hard at work on her assignment while the “cool girls” gossip and paint their nails with pink, sparkly polish.
This pilot episode is all about introducing us to the many faces of Stars Hollow, and it quickly becomes clear that it’s a town full of characters. They’re eccentric and exaggerated, and while the personalities might not all be believable, I can’t help thinking that life might be a little more fun if the people in this quaint Connecticut town were really real.
The next character we meet is the most entertaining of all: Lorelai’s best friend and the Inn’s head chef, Sookie St. James (Melissa McCarthy). She’s loud and batty and prone to accidents in the kitchen. She and Lorelai are planning to open their own inn together, just as long as Sookie stays safe long enough for them to get there. (The two men working in the kitchen with her seem to be employed solely to make sure she doesn’t injure herself and/or burn the place down.)
When Rory gets to the inn after work, Lorelai and Sookie have something very special to tell her: “I’m going to be in a Britney Spears video?” she guesses, pulling a blue plaid skirt out of the bag her mom hands her. Good guess, but no. She’s going to Chilton! It’s a snobby, mega-expensive private high school that seems to be the key to get into her dream school, Harvard. Lorelai is not sure how she’s going to pay for it, and the camera slowly fades to her childhood home, playing “Where the Colors Don’t Go” as she stands reluctantly outside the gate.
As soon as her mother opens the door, it’s clear why Lorelai was so reluctant to go to her parents for a favor. “How are the ladies at the bridge club?” she asks.
“Old,” Emily (Kelly Bishop) replies.
“Well … good.” The icy awkwardness continues until Lorelai’s father, Richard (Edward Herrmann), comes in and immediately deduces that she needs money. He goes to get the checkbook, but Emily has one condition: Lorelai and Rory are to come to the Gilmores’ Hartford home for dinner every Friday, so that Emily and Richard can be actively, as well as financially, involved in the girls’ lives. Lorelai agrees.
Back at Rory’s school, it’s time for a meet-cute with the boy we’ve seen watching her in every scene. She drops her books, he walks up and terrifies her, and then she stands up, sees his incredible height and dreamy brown eyes, and falls in love. Dean (Jared Padalecki) just moved to Stars Hollow from Chicago (“Windy. Oprah,” chimes Rory) and he’s been noticing her for weeks. It’s sweet in that boy-stalks-girl-aww way that’s only OK on TV and not in real life.
All of a sudden, Rory is a little reluctant about heading to Chilton, and naturally her mother freaks out. “This is about a boy! Of course!” she screams, comparing Rory to herself after learning about Dean. Getting pregnant at 16 and not wanting to switch schools isn’t exactly the same thing, but it’s close enough for Lorelai’s analogy, and Rory storms off to her room. Lorelai goes off to sulk in the living room and both women turn on Macy Gray’s “I Try.” Like mother, like daughter.
It’s finally time for the dreaded Friday-night dinner, but Rory and Lorelai just stand outside the door, making no move to go inside. “So do we go in,” Rory asks, “or do we just stand here, reenacting The Little Match Girl?” They agree to be civil through dinner, but everything is awkward with everyone.
Uncomfortable formality quickly descends into full-on family drama when Richard brings up Rory’s father, Christopher, and his successful business, prompting Lorelai to storm into the kitchen and start scrubbing dishes. Emily goes after her, and we start to learn what’s kept Lorelai estranged from her parents all these years. She resents them for pushing her to get married, they’re still angry that she didn’t, and they’re even more upset that she took Rory and ran off to Stars Hollow to work as a maid. The whole screaming match can be heard in the dining room, where Rory sits in awkward silence and her grandfather dozes off at the table.
Where one mother-daughter relationship feels even more strained, another starts to fix itself after Rory finds out that Lorelai borrowed money from the grandparents to pay for Chilton. They leave Friday-night dinner and head straight to the diner for coffee and chili-cheese fries. Rory is back on the path to Chilton, Lorelai flirts a bit with Luke and all is well. The camera pans out to show the small-town street as Lorelai quizzes Rory about her crush and “My Little Corner of the World” begins to play.