Gilmore Girls countdown: The 10 best pop culture references from the show
In anticipation of the revival Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life releasing next week (thank you Netflix, we’re eternally indebted to you), let’s look at the 10 best pop culture references from the show’s original seven season run.
The year is 2001. Single mother Lorelai Gilmore, who manages The Independence Inn, wants to own and run her own inn someday (along with her best friend Sookie, who’s the chef extraordinaire at their current workplace). They’ve found the perfect spot for their own place, and after digging into property matters, Lorelai finds out whose name the deed for their eyed-upon property is in: it’s a sweet old bakery owner named Fran. That’s not the fun part though; when Lorelai asks Sookie to guess who owns the inn, the eccentric chef delivers an epic line that achingly resonates 15 years later.
Lorelai: I found out who owns the inn. Guess who it is?
Sookie: Tell me it’s not that bastard Donald Trump!
Just like The Simpsons kinda predicted Trump’s presidency back in 2000, this exchange from Gilmore Girls reflected an entire liberal (read “progressive”) generation’s apprehensions by capturing their disgust, distrust, and disdain for the American President-elect, a decade and a half before he got elected. Gilmore Girls (GG) was on point with a lot of its cultural observations (many of them still relevant today), the references in the teaser trailer announcing this fall’s GG revival date got the best responses from those mentioned in it, and the revival’s first trailer assured us that creator Amy Sherman-Palladino has kept the insanely-geekworthy pop culture references going, with a regular dose of the ever-witty banter. In anticipation of the revival Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life releasing next week (thank you Netflix, we’re eternally indebted to you), let’s look at the 10 best pop culture references from the show’s original seven season run.
- John Hughes movies:
The Gilmores have a great knack of quoting the most interesting movies, or sometimes the most absurd and archaic quotes. Everything from Casablanca and Star Wars to Heathers and Lord of the Rings (LOTR) have been referenced through the seven seasons. Movie nights are a big deal in the Gilmore household: there’s pizza, pop tarts, popcorn, 37 other kinds of junk food, and the inimitable quoting of the quotable quotes while actually viewing the movies.
To truly understand the way the mother and daughter duo’s brains function before they fast talk their way into our collective subconscious, we must look at the important bits of culture that existed in the world when Lorelai was young, the stuff she latched onto and then passed on to Rory. And nothing encapsulates Lorelai’s coming-of-age years better than John Hughes’ movies. Hughes’ movies are filled with quotable lines said unabashedly by his iconic characters, they tug at your heartstrings just the right amount, and they include era-defining soundtracks: all of which is kinda sorta Lorelai in a nutshell. In season 6, while throwing a birthday party for Luke’s preteen daughter, Lorelai organizes makeovers for everyone, a screening of Pretty in Pink, and introduces the girls to Molly Ringwald as “my generation’s Audrey Hepburn” (which, honestly, is a reference within a reference). But the best John Hughes reference is reserved for Rory: In episode 16, when Rory is speaking as a panelist for college journalists, Lorelai (while speaking to Rory’s father Christopher) describes Rory’s smarts by saying their daughter is “Anthony Michael Hall in The Breakfast Club smart.” You’re definitely smart when you’re compared to THE movie “brain” of all time!
- Star Wars:
While the Gilmore girls aren’t exactly science fiction nerds, they’re “equal opportunity cinephiles.” This also rubs off on those close to them: Luke (flannel and backward baseball cap wearing, diner owning Luke) in 2005, post Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of The Sith, rants about the “flashlight thingys” (lightsabers) and other Star Wars minutiae thereby prompting Lorelai to direct him to fan websites (imagine Luke on Reddit!) and giving us hope for a few more gems about The Force Awakens in the revival. Who wouldn’t want to hear Luke’s thoughts about Kylo Ren!
- The Beatles:
Music is very important to the Gilmores. Lorelai, the quintessential ’80s teen, is the ultimate Bono-worshipper, Bangles-lover, so the many musicians referenced in the series (359, according to this article) are barely surprising. Our favourite is the one about The Beatles, to make a very solid point: if you don’t know which of The Beatles are still alive, you don’t deserve to be called a Gilmore.
In season 4, Richard and Emily nonchalantly discuss which of The Beatles are still alive, leaving a mortified Lorelai complaining to Rory about her parents’ statement: “Paul and Keith are dead. John and Bingo are still kicking (an ignoramus remark so legendary, it’s been made into a T-shirt slogan!).
We feel ya, Lorelai! And so do Paul, Ringo, and the ghosts of John and George.
- Characters from Quentin Tarantino movies:
Not everyone can pull off a Quentin Tarantino themed party (with Rory using the checked skirt from her Chilton uniform to dress up as Gogo Yubari from Kill Bill - Vol. 1, and Logan dressed as Butch Coolidge from Pulp Fiction) as well as GG did in season 5. Our favourite Tarantino movie reference, though, came a few episodes earlier: at her parents’ vow renewal ceremony, Luke (our working class hero/diner owner) sticks out like a sore thumb feels out of place among Hartford’s upper class elites and Richard and Emily’s well-heeled cronies. Appalled that he’ll be expected to dance, Lorelai comforts him with a joke, casually name-dropping a Tarantino movie by saying, “We’re doing the one from Pulp Fiction. Do you want to be Uma, or should I?” Ah, classic Lorelai + vintage Tarantino = a pop culture match made in heaven!
Movie mentions on GG are like celebrity gossip: omnipresent and impossible to resist! The number of movie references on the show is a matter of debate: numbers range from 284 to 463 or even more (you can take this Buzzfeed quiz to find out how many of the movies you’ve watched, and proceed to feel cinematically inferior for another 70 years). Like we mentioned earlier, movie nights at the Gilmores = huge deal. There’s even a Gilmore Guide to Movie Night (we strongly recommend it, even for non-movie nights!).
In season 3, when Rory moves into her dorm room at Yale and discovers that her frenemy from Chilton, Paris, is her roommate, she says: “Of all the gin joints.” Humphrey Bogart’s lovelorn Rick Blaine from Casablanca isn’t what you’d expect a typical 18-year old to quote, and that’s exactly why this is a memorable movie reference: because it highlights the fact that Rory so isn’t your typical 18-year old!
- US Presidents/Other Politicians:
Besides the fact that the series ended in 2007 with Rory the journalist covering then-Senator Barack Obama’s campaign trail (super insightful considering the next 9 years!), GG has always hit the liberal nail right on the conservative head with its humour-laden political commentary. A show about a single mother who becomes pregnant at 16 was always going to be more liberal in its tone; so whether it was Lorelai claiming that she “hates George W. Bush” at dinner with Christopher’s conservative parents (just so she could rile them and take the pressure off Rory) or Sookie’s diss at Donald Trump, the show has had plenty of politically sound references. Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright (who campaigned for Hillary Clinton this year) even made an appearance on the show, in Rory’s dream sequence.
Our favourite political reference is from season 5: after they’ve finally kissed, Lorelai asks Luke when he’ll return from the Renaissance Fair (Luke’s there helping his sister); when he tells her he’ll finally be back later that day, Lorelai doesn’t believe him and says, “See you when Hillary’s president.” This was back in 2005, two years before Clinton campaigned for the Democratic nomination; in 2016, as the Democratic party nominee, we came close to finallyseeing her win. Alas! It’s a good thing Luke and Lorelai got together, because this one feels like a mean joke now!
- Oprah and Christiane Amanpour:
Rory wants to be a journalist. Every GG fan knows that. Bookish Rory’s heroes are the characters she reads about in books. And the inspiring real women she looks up to. Like Oprah. And Christiane Amanpour.
But a brilliant student like Rory can also turn a bit dumbstruck; as she does when she runs into a tall, dark stranger (Dean, freshly transferred to Stars Hollow from Chicago). In the series pilot, when a carrying-too-many-books-at-once-as-always Rory meets Dean, he glances at her books and complements her taste in literature (well, duh!). When he tells her he’s from Chicago, the usually articulate Rory mumbles: “Chicago. Windy. Oprah.” Cue teenage romance.
Christiane Amanpour’s impact on Rory is different: she wants to be like the journalist, reporting from the battleground, brave and fierce. So when, on her first day at Yale, Rory misses Lorelai (who volunteers to keep her daughter company for the night), Rory’s mock-disgust at herself for being so timid is evident when she tells her mom, “It’s going to be very hard being Christiane Amanpour broadcasting live from a Tehran foxhole with my mommy.” This reference is great because it perfectly captures Rory’s personality, and a trait she constantly struggles with: her shyness/timidity/introversion. She gradually overcomes these, and when Amanpour visits Lorelai’s Dragonfly Inn in a later season, Rory walks up to her to strike a conversation (even though she’s in her pajamas!). Character growth = check!
- Jimmy Choo:
The funniest pop culture references on GG come up when they’re misinterpreted by someone who isn’t aware of said references (usually the older Gilmores).
When Richard informs Lorelai that an investment he’d made in her name has now turned into a neat $75,000 which she’s entitled to, a pleasantly freaked out Lorelai immediately calculates that she can buy 150 pairs of Jimmy Choos with the amount. Partly to scandalize her father (who’s appropriately scandalized) and partly because she’s, well, Lorelai, Richard’s reaction to the idea is exactly what a mild-and-well mannered upper class gentleman would say: “You’re not going to spend $75000 on Jimmy Choos when you could buy four hundred pairs of less prestigious but I’m sure equally stylish shoes.” Jimmy Choo, who?
It’s our opinion that nothing truly great can be without a mention of Charles Schulz's beloved comic strip Peanuts. The long-running nature of the cartoon guarantees that references to it hit a lot of pop culture sweet spots.
On GG, this came during an exchange between Lorelai and Michel (her French-to-the-core, sassy, always-annoyed and snobbish, Celine Dion and Destiny’s Child loving inn concierge). In season 1, Lorelai tells Michel about Rory’s golfing day with Richard, when she suddenly realizes he’s ignoring her. When she asks him, “You don’t care at all, do you?”, Michel responds, “To me, you’re the teacher in a Charlie Brown cartoon.” In Charlie Brown (Peanuts) cartoons, whenever an adult speaks, a trombone is used to create the effect of a droning voice. So what Michel is effectively hearing is this:
- Writers, writers, and more writers:
What do Jack Kerouac, Mark Twain and Lewis Carroll have in common? They’ve all been referenced on GG. What do Leo Tolstoy, Marcel Proust and Herman Melville have in common? Characters from their books were part of Rory’s graduation speech. Rory Gilmore’s honest-to-god moving valedictorian speech at her graduation from Chilton, perfectly exemplified two things: (1) The indelible importance Lorelai plays in her life, and (2) What books and literature mean to her. As the only child of an outgoing single mother, Rory is a shy, precocious teenager when we meet her; through her reading habits and her bookish references, we learn more about this remarkable young woman.
Book references on GG aren’t just Rory’s thing; most characters make them. It’s difficult to choose one top book reference, so here’s a few (because you can never have enough about books!):
“It’s been cold pop-tarts for a week; it’s like a damned Dickens novel!” — Lorelai to Sookie, when she’s avoiding telling her about Christopher by instead talking about her broken toaster.
“You’re a regular Jack Kerouac.” — Lorelai to a random guy at Luke’s diner, who tries to hit on her. He’s a tourist passing through Stars Hollow.
“It’s getting a little too ‘Lewis Carroll’ for me.” — Lorelai to Emily, who insists that they’ll go to Europe in the fall, not heeding Lorelai’s advice to travel in spring instead. When Lorelai quips, “You know Mom, I heard a rumor: Europe’s still there in the spring”, Emily responds, “We know that it’s there in the spring, but we never go in the spring because we always go in the fall”. Hey, if Lewis Carroll could use repetition to demonstrate logical concepts, so can Emily Gilmore!
“It takes a second to emerge from Samuel Beckett. He’s a strange man. Go on.” — Richard to Emily, when she’s trying to talk to him about Cornish game hen and Brussel sprouts.
“Nothing! No wine, no beer, no cooking sherry! It's like Dylan Thomas just blew through town.” — Luke, to nobody in particular. He’s upset when Lorelai and he aren’t able to find any “festive” alcohol with which to celebrate their engagement.
There are many more, but we can halt here. For those who want to know every book that Rory read on the show, see the exhaustive list this kind Australian gentleman created. The brave can also check to see how many books they’ve read from Rory’s list. We’re off now. Time to get back to the Kerouac paperback on our bedside!
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