Sunday, February 20, 2011

TV: Gilmore Girls - Bonds, bonding and a lot of talking

Starring: Lauren Graham, Alexis Bledel
Category: Drama
Gilmore Girls: The Complete First Season

Every show tries to offer something truly unique at the beginning of the series. Even if it is another CSI rip-off or worse, a Kojak rip-off. The main thoughts of some TV executive watching a top rated show is probably "How do we do that but better?". In the end, most shows offer the same but in a slightly different way. Gilmore Girls on the other hand, offered something different, original. Two non-crime fighting female leads who are mother-daughter but act more like sisters. It also offered something interactive, a show where a mother can watch with her daughter and find things to talk about afterwards. It was not catered for either but for both. It wouldn't have seen the light at the other networks but the WB was probably desperate and were willing to try something really different to attract viewers.
Basically, the series is about the story of Lorelai Gilmore, played by Lauren Graham and her daughter Lorelai "Rory" Gilmore, played by Alexis Bledel, whom she had when she was 16. She leaves her family to raise Rory on her own, the way she wants to raise her. Their close relationship swings between Mother-Daughter and Best Friends territory. It is central to the series and grows as they both grow and tackle issues together and separately.
The series begin with Rory succeeding in getting a place at a prestigious prep school only to realize that the school fees are too high. Desperate, Lorelai goes to her estranged parents for help. They agree with the condition that both of the girls attend regular family dinners. This leads to too many uncomfortable dinner sessions. Imagine Thanksgiving every week. Ouch. The girls' relationship with the parents/grandparents is one of the key focus of the series.
The series also tells the story between the Gilmore Girls and their relationships with the interesting people of their town, Stars Hollow. This is one of the strengths of the series. It has a large cast of interesting characters that have unique personalities and hints of past history. It adds a whole new dimension to the story telling. It is not about the same 5 people every week with guests coming in and out. There are townsfolk that feature more prominently but the girls interact with almost everybody so everybody is involved in the story at some point. Even if you look at the number of townspeople who are central, it's more than a few. There is Luke with his Hardware-themed diner (because it was his father's hardware store before), Lorelai's accident-prone best friend and chef, Sookie; Rory's best friend and closet (literally) rocker Kim, Kim's strict mother, ever-glum Michel, their hippy neighbors Babette and Morey, glamorous dance teacher Patty, overzealous town mayor Taylor and multi-employed Kirk. It is so big, I am positively sure I missed someone.
The series is smart and made no apologies about it. There is a huge amount of dialogue. In the interviews,  almost all of the actors point out how thick the scripts were. It's witty, smart and sophisticated but it felt real at the same time. It was not out of place for the characters that said them and you could feel that even for the small parts, the actors put their hearts into it. As for smarts, nothing matches the exchanges between Lorelai and Rory. It is filled with inside and obscure references, a reflection of their love of reading. Some of the early DVDs even have a separate subtitle track that explains the references. It was rapid fire, blink-and-you'd-miss-it fast. It hints of strong emotions and an intimacy thats deep.
Tying the great dialogue, interesting characters and picturesque small-town setting are the stories that drives the series. They are often unique but yet we can relate to them. Relationship problems, family issues, work challenges, life happening in general. Very few things that happen seemed force or "situational". Some story lines develop over many episodes in short scenes. Kim's search for a boyfriend, for example.
The truth is I was trying to watch Parenthood but I was totally distracted by Lauren Graham. She still is to me Lorelai. I half expect here to break out into a 3 minutes monologue comparing the challenges of bringing up teenagers to winning the Crimean War. It was too much that I am going through the old DVDs just to get it out of my system. But rather than being a chore, it turns out like visiting an old friend and wondering, why haven't I been back more often. Then I think, why aren't are shows like this anymore?

Friday, February 04, 2011

TV: A tale of two Cupids

Starring: Jeremy Piven, Paula Marshall, Jeffery D. Sams
Category: Romance, Drama

What do you do if you were a TV network and you just cancelled a good show for poor ratings. Not just a good show. Those get cancelled all the time. But a show voted one of the top 10 shows that was cancelled before its time. Deny its existence? Bury it with a remake so bad that it was shown about the same time as another bad reality show with the same name?
What a fate for Cupid, a smart, beautifully-shot series with a slightly unconventional but challenging premise. It starred Jeremy Piven as Trevor, a recent resident of a mental asylum who thinks he is Cupid and Paula Marshall, as Dr. Claire Allen, the shrink assigned to monitor him. Trevor claims to be the banished Cupid, who can only return to Mt Olympus after he unites 100 couples. Dr. Claire Allen is a popular author who is looking for her next best-seller and runs a relationship-therapy session. Trevor thinks this is fertile grounds for him to find candidates for his quest. Most weeks there are basically two intertwining stories, Trevor working on uniting a couple, whether they want to or not and Claire and Trevor's relationship as a bickering patient-therapist to close friends to possibly something more. It sounds corny and with finding love a weekly theme, it always threatens to be so. But the series is filled with witty banter and intelligent dialogue. And you get to catch a pre-Entourage Piven doing what he does best.

The series had a lot going against it. First, it was up against Friends when they were at their best. They were also vying for the same group of audience which made it even harder. Second, it was an expensive series to produce because a lot of it was beautifully shot on location rather than on set (try to think of how little Friends was shot outside. Even street scenes were in a studio or a backlot). The cast was also larger than most. There were a few recurring guest characters but the story lines usually center around guest stars.