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Gilmore Girls: “Concert Interruptus”/“That Damn Donna Reed”

Illustration for article titled iGilmore Girls/i: “Concert Interruptus”/“That Damn Donna Reed”
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“Concert Interruptus” (season one, episode 13; originally aired 2/2/01)

Ah, Gilmore Girls. It’s 2001, you’re about to fill your initial episode order, and it’s February sweeps—time for a big guest star. Who do you get? The Bangles. Who at this point hadn’t released an album since 1988. Yet we have an episode where Lorelai, Sookie, Rory, and Lane are genuinely excited to go see The Bangles in New York. Lorelai and Sookie, sure, that’s right in their wheelhouse. Rory and Lane? It’s a bit of a stretch. It’s especially funny that this is an episode in which two characters go on a slightly seedy adventure in New York, since it happens after a Bangles concert.


Okay, I’ll stop ripping on The Bangles—they’re all right really. Both of this week’s episodes move the Luke-Lorelai pairing forward in a way the show hadn’t tried before. Prior to “Concert Interruptus” and “That Damn Donna Reed,” Gilmore Girls dabbled in the pair’s mild flirtation, which came across as a strong, relaxed friendship. But this is as full speed ahead as the showgets about these things. In quick succession, we learn about Luke’s serious ex-girlfriend Rachel, a breakup wound he still nurses, he and Lorelai hang out alone in the diner drinking beer, Luke mistakes Lorelai’s cry for help as a booty call, and Lorelai admits to her mother that there might be something romantic at work.

Yeesh! In “Concert Interruptus,” the Luke-Lorelai action centers on the town rummage sale, which Lorelai is organizing, and a sweatshirt she fishes out of a bag of old clothes that belonged to Rachel. Rachel’s a cool world-traveler type and “Elle Macpherson pretty” according to Sookie, a fact that perturbs Lorelai perhaps more than it should. That’s all, but it’s enough to signal to Sookie that Lorelai thinks about Luke more than she admits.


The main action of “Concert Interruptus,” meanwhile, is the evolution of Paris—this is the first episode where she feels like Paris Geller, the character, and not just Paris Geller, bully. Her apology/humanization in “Paris Is Burning” was somewhat trite, but this is much clearer. The dynamic between her, Madeline, and Louise is much clearer now: Paris isn’t so much the queen bee as the worker bee, the one they all rely on to get things done, but also a bit of a wet blanket. Louise is just a generally enthusiastic, pleasant, somewhat silly person, and Madeline is a bored troublemaker (but also not particularly malicious).

The four have to do a project together on a weekend, and sensing a chance for bonding, Lorelai gives them the good Bangles tickets and scalps a couple of shitty ones for her and Sookie (their hysterical laughter at the nosebleed seats is a highlight). Everything immediately goes wrong as Madeline and Louise go to a party with some college boys (Brandon Routh, later Superman and telekinetic vegan bassist, is one of them) but what’s great to watch is how little Paris could care about it. She has a total “same shit, different day” attitude even though what these 16-year-old girls do is borderline nuts.


Lorelai deals with it, of course, being the badass that she is (although even she has nothing to say to a Cleo King cameo—“I don’t talk to anybody. People annoy me,” she says through an apartment door) but only Paris has fun traipsing through the Village to find two lost children. “I think this is the best night I’ve ever had,” she remarks to Rory without a hint of irony. Also, props to her for wearing that crazy unflattering coat-smock thing the whole episode. Own that thing, girlfriend.

“That Damn Donna Reed” (season one, episode 14; originally aired 2/22/01)

God, do you think The WB ever got frustrated with Gilmore Girls this early on? I know there was tension later, but when Amy Sherman-Palladino pitched them a Bangles episode and then a Donna Reed homage, do you think the network execs screamed, “HOW DO WE EVEN ADVERTISE THIS THING?”


This is a weird concept for an episode, plain and simple. Dean is put off by Lorelai and Rory’s mockery of The Donna Reed Show, sticking up for its idyllic, Pleasantville-esque presentation of a painfully chipper mother slathering endless truckloads of food on her equally chipper family. He’s first subjected to mockery by the girls, but there is an interesting tension to it that doesn’t fully get explored.

Dean’s family and background are never fully explored on the show. We know he bags groceries at Doose’s, we know he has a bike and he works on cars and stuff like that—he’s generally a little more blue-collar than the Gilmores, although by all accounts he lives in a nice house in town with his nice, stable family. Something he clearly values, if his adoration of Donna Reed (and his frequent references to his mother cooking for the family) is any evidence.


In dating Rory, he’s wandered into a very different kind of family unit—also a functional one, but not a typical domestic tableau, where there’s a lot more pizza delivery and a lot less pot roasts. So he’s challenging her very way of life a little bit, but their conversation never really gets there—Rory sticks to the broader perspective of the oppressively bored, constrained 1950s housewife, which is fine, but a little less interesting from a character perspective.

Then the episode takes a truly odd turn when Rory sets up a whole Donna Reed dinner for Dean. What point is she trying to prove there? That such domesticity is within her, but just a small part of the whole? That the whole thing is silly, even with the nostalgic allure? Dean isn’t an interesting enough character to really react to all this. He’s bemused, he reminds Rory that he likes her as she is, and that’s kind of the end of it. There’s a lot of interesting stuff at work here, but it never quite comes together.


Lorelai’s is just full-on mired in Luke time, first egging him into painting the restaurant, then having a lovely moment with him reminiscing about his stubborn old dad, then a frenzied hunt around her house for Rory’s lost chick. He initially interprets the last thing as something different, a silly excuse to get him into the house for… something, anything. Because it’s pretty clear at this point that Luke would love something like that to happen with Lorelai. It’s her who can barely understand her own feelings.

In the episode’s best moment (although I do love all the sensitive character-shading Luke gets here), Emily finally draws it out of her daughter. She may be nosy, she may be annoying about it, but Lorelai’s frequent protestations that her mother knows nothing about her are proven wrong again and again. Emily pegged it first, and she’s been picking at it ever since. Here, she gets Lorelai to admit she doesn’t know if she likes Luke or not. “Maybe I do.” “Thank you. I’m glad you were finally honest with me. Now we can discuss what on earth you could possibly be thinking.”


But this is Gilmore Girls, and if you don’t already know, well, it’s a show that excels in throwing up obstacles between Luke and Lorelai. So here, as if summoned, is Christopher, Rory’s father, arriving on Lorelai’s dream motorcycle and immediately insinuating himself into their home. Ah, Christopher. As the Gilmore Girls universe expands, it just gets more interesting.

Stray observations:

  • “Help, there’s a man in my kitchen, somebody call the constable!” Man, Lorelai is an incorrigible flirt with Luke.
  • “I find your mother completely fascinating,” Madeline says. “Funny, so does she.”
  • Paris pegs Louise and Madeline’s interest in the boys immediately. “And before it’s dark, they’ll have every picnic basket that it’s in Jellystone Park.”
  • “I must now sublimate all impure thoughts by going in the kitchen and making an endless string of casseroles.”
  • Lorelai persuades Luke to paint with her. “We’ll drink a couple beers, we’ll sing painting songs.” She offers: “Grab your brush and grab your rollers, all you kids and all you bowlers, we’re going painting today! Say yes or there’s another verse.”
  • Rory cat-sits for Babette. “Morey just got cable, so you can watch those four girls talking dirty if you want to.”
  • Yes, the “STELLA!” moment is a little cheesy. But it always makes me laugh. The scene should cut there, though!
  • Michel hates Lorelai’s cavalier eating attitudes. “Someday this will all catch up to you. You’ll become the balloon lady, and with the luck of God, I’ll be here to see it.”
  • The first appearance of Grant-Lee Phillips as the town troubadour comes in “That Damn Donna Reed.” He’s around town singing his songs every so often.

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