Have you ever noticed that the themes of a lot of TV shows, movies, books, etc., overlap? For example, why do we need two monster-filled TV families? Two clans of flesh-eating lunatics? Two spitfire-led single-mom households, or a pair of blended families with packs of cloying kids, one more annoying than the next?
For Unconventional Families Week, The A.V. Club will put these rivalries to rest once and for all. Every day this week, we will select two families from a similar category. One of our writers will make the case for each side, and our fearless Editorial Director Josh Modell will make the call on the final victor. And whether you agree with Josh’s decision or not, be sure to add your vote to our online poll.
So let’s play the Feud! Kicking us off:
Gilmore Girls (2000-07)
We’ve covered Gilmore Girls extensively on this site, so let’s just rip through a capsule summation of the show. Young single mom Lorelai Gilmore (Lauren Graham) struggles to raise teenage daughter Rory (Alexis Bledel) in offbeat Stars Hollow, Connecticut. Hijinks ensue as mother and daughter seek to find themselves, protect each other, and make their mark in the world. It’s great. The end.
What makes Gilmore Girls work—beyond its stellar cast, charming storylines, and snappy dialogue—is the way Graham and Bledel bring true-life love and care to their on-screen mother-daughter bond. Despite having Rory much too young and with barely a leg to stand on, Lorelai raised a smart, fiercely independent kid, one imbued with the Gilmore qualities of intelligence, self-reliance, and a keen interest in breakfast foods. She’s the kind of single mom that all women would want to be, should they find themselves in that situation. She took a shitty turn of events and made the best of them.
Gilmore Girls also screams “functional” because of the way the show handled its characters’ incremental growth. As the show begins, after years as a hotel maid, Lorelai is now running an inn. She’ll eventually launch her own spot, The Dragonfly, but she’s had to come up from the bottom, even though she was born with a silver spoon in her mouth. Rory, same thing. She eventually goes to the exclusive Chilton Academy, but she’s spent much of her life making do. She gets into Yale (we assume) because she’s fiercely smart, her family’s legacy be damned. She becomes the editor of the Yale Daily News on her merit, and though her internship at the Stamford Eagle Gazette comes through a reasonable amount of boyfriend-related nepotism, she makes the best of it—at least before she flames out and hijacks a sailboat.
That failure, along with the failure of quite a few of Lorelai’s romantic entanglements, might have been hard for viewers to watch, but it’s also what made the show so real—and so functional. Lorelai and Rory fall down, but through their love for each other and their quick, stable minds, they pick each other back up. Viewers lived and learned alongside the Gilmore Girls, and that’s what helped make the show so much more than just a piece of WB fluff. We both found little bits of Lorelai and Rory in our existing selves and used them as models for who we could become, flaws and all. [Marah Eakin]
One Day At A Time (1975-84)
Norman Lear was on quite a tear in the ’70s; his hit sitcoms like All In The Family offered explorations of social issues along with heaping doses of wit-filled observation. The success of AITF soon led to spinoffs like The Jeffersons, Maude, and Good Times, which meant that Lear could write his own ticket at CBS. So he brought in a new take in 1975 with One Day At A Time, in which newly divorced 34-year-old Ann Romano (Bonnie Franklin) moves to Indianapolis to raise her two daughters: troubled Julie (Mackenzie Phillips) and tomboy Barbara (Valerie Bertinelli). Amorous building superintendent Schneider (Pat Harrington) provided the comic relief.
From the very first episode, Lear wasted no time pushing the ’70s issues right to the forefront, as Julie (always Julie) wants to go on a co-ed camping trip and as the new head of the household, Ann has to decide whether or not to let her go. Sex, alcohol, runaways: With Lear, any episode could constitute a Very Special Episode. Franklin tackled it all with spunk and grit, bouncing around the modest apartment (where 98 percent of the show appeared to be filmed) while whining at whoever was testing her patience that week, usually prefaced with an “Awwww” (“Awww, Julie…” “Awww, David…”). As antiquated as the show’s references to “liberation” may seem on the other side of the 21st century, at the time the show was, in fact, groundbreaking. Although divorced families were becoming more common, not many were yet seen on the air, and the show almost immediately received many letters from viewers, praising how much they could relate to the plights of Ann and her girls.
And plights they did have. Mackenzie Phillips was even more trouble offscreen than on, as her well-documented substance-abuse problem led to her being written off the show. Bertinelli, on the other hand, blossomed into a bright and likable heroine, a Rory Gilmore predecessor. Ann got remarried eventually, but even with her new husband, there was no question who the star of the show still was. As Ann Romano, Franklin blazed a new sitcom trail as the single mother who knew best. [Gwen Ihnat]
Most functional: Will I be stripped of my judgely duties in week one if I admit that I’ve never seen Gilmore Girls? (Though, strangely, I once met Lauren Graham.) I’m also biased by the fact that I was raised by a single mom pretty much at the exact time One Day At A Time was on the air, so I saw some of Ann Romano in Bonnie Modell. The final point in One Day’s favor: the theme song (“sowwwwww… up on your feet!”). But the question here is actually “most functional,” so I’m going with the little I know about Gilmore Girls, which seems far more goal-oriented and sweet. Ann was about tough love, and I’m pretty sure that after the show ended Mackenzie Phillips’ character was headed toward at least a decade of misery, not college. Advantage in functionality: Gilmore Girls. [Josh Modell]