One of my daughters likes to be frightened; the other cannot stand to worry.
The one who craves fear is 12: She swallows police procedurals whole, lobbies to watch Stephen King movies and takes refuge in Harry Potter audiobooks. Her sister, who is 7, is happiest with “Baby Boss” and a French cartoon called “Miraculous,” about Marinette, a superhero ladybug. She likes things that tie up nicely.
So even before our strange pandemic year of isolation, finding common television fare was near impossible. We avoided conflict, mostly, because huge chunks of time were — and remain — unnaturally divided. Orli, the 12-year-old, has spent many days in the hospital over the past 15 months, receiving chemotherapy, or suffering its aftereffects, or recovering from surgeries, of which there have been seven, of varying complexity. In the hospital, Orli watched “9 to 5” and “Working Girl” with me and binged on terror with my partner, her father, Ian. Back at home her sister, Hana, watched “Sing!” (on repeat) and “The InBESTigators,” an Australian Netflix series about a crew of mystery-solving kids.
Still, fortunately, we are together enough that I am often in search of something for us all to watch as a family, a refuge from Zoom school and pathogens, hospitals and worry, and treatments worse than illnesses, not to mention the regular, frustrating encroachments of never-ending video games the girls play for hours on end. We all need means of staving off continued Covid-induced boredom. I wanted us to engage with some of it together.
But three-quarters of the way through the pandemic, we had run dry. Then I remembered “Gilmore Girls.”
The show, about a super-bonded (very) young single mom and her teenage daughter, debuted nearly 21 years ago on WB, the network that also brought you “Dawson’s Creek,” and was pitched at a similar audience: insouciant smart girls. It ran for seven seasons, six of which were helmed by the powerhouse writer-director Amy Sherman-Palladino.
Though I’d been aware of the Gilmores, when the show first appeared, I was too young for Lorelai Gilmore, in her early 30s, and too old for high-school-aged Rory, who was, in my mind, too virginal and perfect. Post-college, I was gripped by the grit of “The Sopranos,” bent on creating my own drama in a railroad flat that was burglarized twice, and spending what little extra cash I had from my entry-level journalism salary on travel.
Now that I’m older than Lorelai, I find her problems soothing in their relative lack of complexity and Rory’s fealty to her mother enviable. We all loved their best-friend relationship. It was the perfect escape as 2020 gave way to 2021.
In midwinter, we settled into an almost nightly routine of visiting Stars Hollow, the show’s fictional Connecticut town. It’s kind of a post-feminist “Leave It to Beaver” America: The diner is almost never closed and is run by only one man, a brooding, 1980s-style heartthrob. Every business is local, and every business survives. Ian would often drift away to do work, but the girls and I were hooked.
It’s always sunny in Stars Hollow, unless it snows, and then it’s magical. No one is staring at a smartphone because, at first, no one even seems to have a cellphone at all. There is a thrilling invariability to their worries. No one is ever truly at risk.
The central tension of the show is Lorelai’s continuing frustration with her cartoonishly wealthy, cocktail-swilling parents, who are endlessly disappointed in her, despite what looks like really quite decent success — including a large home with a great porch, work she enjoys, enough disposable income to eat out for every meal and a town full of people who care enormously about her family. (The supporting cast includes an effervescent Melissa McCarthy and cameos from Carole King, whose “Where You Lead” is the show’s sing-along-with-me theme song.)
The depth of community alone seemed otherworldly to us, marooned as we were, away from extended family, synagogue and most friends. We are coolly cognizant of our immediate neighbors — wave-hello friendly — but no one knows whether Orli is at home or at the hospital. And in truth, most of the time I’m not unhappy to be able to avoid the scrutiny of small-town life.
The story lines work because of the fierceness with which the two main characters love each other. The Seinfeldeian relative nothingness of their days feels like what life might have been like if no one was sick and everything, more or less, always worked out. Ms. Sherman-Palladino’s famously smart-alecky, double-time, vocabulary-rich dialogue kept the sweet Gilmore girls plenty tart.
The show is predicated on the idea that the past haunts the Gilmores (Lorelai’s teenage pregnancy) and the future rests on Rory. But the present is, blissfully, a given — there is work, there is school, there are loves, there are breakups — no one worries much that the next day won’t dawn as crisp and bright and caffeinated as the last.
There was a reassurance in that for us. We don’t dwell on the past because its very normalcy complicates our very abnormal current life. We cannot plan even a few weeks into the future, as we await news of Orli’s next treatment plans. We are “being present,” as so many yoga classes have urged me to do, because there is no other place to rest.
So we stayed with the Gilmores, the girls layered on each side of me on the couch, securely tucked in like weighted blankets, until the show threatened to lose us. In Season 6, the writers’ room divided Rory and Lorelai for several episodes; mother and daughter had stopped speaking over Rory’s decision to temporarily drop out of Yale. It bothered us how terribly out of character this was for both blue-ribbon Rory, who had always been too driven to be so rash, and Lorelai, because it seemed impossible that she could be happy without her girl. Their rift broke the spell.
Meanwhile, at the hospital, during a weekend in the I.C.U. and then, a few weeks later, after a surgery to remove a malignant lung lesion, Orli and I binged on “Ginny and Georgia,” a different, darker, once-upon-a teenage-mom story with less-white cast and a queer secondary story line. At home, Hana and I watched a series about a girl and a horse. The four of us, Ian included, took refuge in the classics — “The Princess Bride,” “The Wizard of Oz.”
I had hoped, I realize now, that we would arrive at the end of 153 episodes of “Gilmore Girls” and in that time our own lives would have normalized: The vaccine would have arrived, Orli’s cancer would be back in remission, spring would have cracked our isolation. Just two of those three things have come to pass. Safety still seems elusive, normalcy a palimpsest.
I take comfort that we’ve got one season left. So here we remain, on our binge-watching island, a peacock blue couch I bought in an era when the frivolous worry of whether I would always love this color was among my most pressing concerns. A time when I, like Lorelai, could worry as much about the decisions of the past as the promise of the future, content my present was as ordered as Stars Hollow.
Sarah Wildman is a staff editor in Opinion. She is the author of “Paper Love: Searching for the Girl My Grandfather Left Behind.”
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