“Paris Is Burning” (season one, episode 11, originally aired 1/11/2001)
This episode has a quality a lot of Gilmore Girls episodes have: For a long time, not very much happens, although there’s plenty of fun dialogue and humor to keep things interesting. And then all sorts of things happen and it turns into a surprisingly dramatic hour. Lorelai’s discomfort with Max comes a little out of nowhere, although it’s plausible; but once it comes out, it’s full speed ahead, and the two are taking some time off by the end of the episode.
Gilmore Girls has a very fluid relationship with time. It seems like weeks are passing between each episode and a lot of boring action is taking place off-screen. Lorelai and Max might go on a date, then we don’t see anything from them for a while, and then when the episode checks back in with them they’re practically married. Same with Rory and Dean, who go from making goo-goo eyes at each other to being joined at the hip without the audience even noticing. The important thing is that Max is now comfortable enough to ask Rory to call him by his first name; this sets off a whirlwind of emotion for Lorelai who is afraid of their growing intimacy, especially since Rory is getting attached.
Her fear is totally understandable, but it makes for a super-awkward episode. Everyone’s dancing around or ignoring the problem, Lorelai is being a big baby about the whole thing, Max doesn’t even get what’s going on at first—it’s a little painful to watch. It doesn’t help that I don’t love Scott Cohen in the big argument scenes. He’s too wrapped up in the knotty dialogue to really sell his passion for Lorelai as he’s trying to keep things afloat. The only time I really believe in the relationship is when Lorelai is explaining the whole thing to her mother—Lauren Graham sells how wounded she is, even though we’ve been irked at Lorelai’s behavior the whole episode.
“Paris Is Burning” is also the first major effort to humanize Paris, and it’s a little ham-fisted, but baby steps, right? We learn that she has a psychotically critical mother and is going through a very public, nasty divorce. She tells the whole school about Lorelai and Max as vengeance, and as a way to get everyone off her backs, but quickly apologizes to Rory when she’s confronted. The transition is a little too abrupt, and it pains me to say it but Liza Weil is too sarcastic in the scene (although she’s a wonderful actress and Paris will get interesting soon enough). I still enjoy the Paris character even as a bully, because she makes sense in a way that many high school bully characters don’t, but I’m also eager to see her get more depth.
The other major moment of “Paris Is Burning” comes with Lorelai’s offhand comment about Sookie not being in a relationship for years. It’s authentically wounding; Lorelai doesn’t even mean it maliciously, but it certainly ends up feeling that way. It’s a nice moment for the audience too, since Sookie so far has just been a best friend character with no hint of an inner life; that’s enough of a spur for Sookie to ask Jackson out on a date, which leads to the next, much more fun episode.
“Double Date” (season one, episode 12, originally aired 1/18/2001)
This is an Amy Sherman-Palladino joint and it’s full of weird, funny little details and moves at a nice pace, again impressive considering that almost nothing happens. Sure, Lorelai and Rory both go on double dates—Rory and Dean take Lane out with Dean’s friend Todd, and Lorelai tags along on Jackson and Sookie’s first date with his weirdo cousin Rune (Max Perlich). But hell, half this episode is just them planning and primping. I got flashbacks to my own boring life watching Sookie debate when to call Jackson. It’s to this show’s credit that it can make something like that work.
I just love Perlich. In general, and as Rune, who is the most miserable blind date imaginable. He looks like a grumpy hermit from a 19th century fishing town, wearing a flat cap and sporting a permanent stinkeye. And yet he has the audacity to be upset at the very sight of Lorelai, whom he pronounces too tall. Rune is almost implausibly annoying—he seems to have no understanding that Jackson is going on an important date with a woman he likes—but it’s funny enough for me to not really care why whatever’s going on is going on.
Jackson and Sookie are, of course, a match made in heaven. The show poses the question of her singlehood one episode before solving that problem forever. You’ll never have to worry about them again. The one truly tense moment is when is Jackson almost bullied out of the date in order to go bowling with Rune, but Sookie saves that one all by herself, a moment of triumph considering Lorelai has helped her so much until then.
Lane and Todd—the latter another ridiculous but hilarious character—aren’t a match made anywhere. Todd is essentially a 9-year-old in a gawky teenage body, and he seems to have no interest in anything (except for Beethoven). His one moment of good taste is pronouncing Lorelai “a babe” upon seeing her. Really, all he does is reflect poorly on Dean, which even perfect Dean seems to realize pretty quickly.
No, the important moment there is what it provokes, an honest discussion between Lorelai and Mrs. Kim on their respective approaches to parenting. Mrs. Kim is a slightly uncomfortable character to watch now; I don’t think we’d see such a stereotypical Asian dragon lady on network TV these days, even though I know Lane and her mother’s characterization is rooted in the real life of Amy Sherman-Palladino’s best friend (and Gilmore Girls producer) Helen Pai. And Emily Kuroda is no slouch in the role and will get more to do in the future. Here, she shows that her resolute methods are rooted in love, although she’s obviously far too overbearing; but she’s also no demon. This show specializes in not demonizing anyone and finding what’s good, or at least interesting, in every character. I can’t think of too many shows that completely lack a villain.
Lorelai and Luke also get in some solid flirting time; their brief poker game at the counter is fantastic, although sadly cut short before Luke gets the chance to ask her out (something Lorelai is not completely in the dark about). The awkwardness that ensues is no fun, but this is the first (of so many) times that there’s real romantic tension, not just deep friendship being noted as sexy by Emily Gilmore. Here’s to the next 2,000 occurrences.
- Lorelai’s terrible history with pets is introduced in “Paris Is Burning,” the beginning of a recurring theme throughout the show.
- Max claims he learned how to make osso bucco from an old Italian lady who lived upstairs. “Sweet.” “She was.” “So, an old girlfriend, huh?” “Yep!”
- Max’s gift of Marcel Proust’s Swann’s Way to Lorelai also has some importance in the future.
- Love the “Oscar!” “Felix!” moment as Lorelai and Rory clean out their fridge.
- Lorelai correctly identifies Claudine Longet as “the chick who shot the skier.” “Sure, why not,” Rory replies. “Renaissance woman.”
- Sookie says she’s so nervous. “You’re nervous? You don’t have a guy staring at you like you’re Cher and he’s the kid from Mask.”