About Christmas TV History

Monday, May 9, 2016

Gilmore Girls Christmas (2001)

I'm one of the thousands of fans who are not so patiently awaiting the release of the four new Gilmore Girls movies (later this year on Netflix). With my excitement barely in check, I thought I'd discuss the 2nd season Christmas episode entitled "The Bracebridge Dinner." If you're not already a fan of the series, I will warn you. The plot points and character struggles in this one episode may seem lackluster for a holiday story. But I'm certain that fans of the series fondly recall this particular episode and recognize that the conflicts that arise here are ones of significance to the rest of the series.

The series originally ran for seven seasons (2000-2007). But you knew that, right?

If you've never had a chance to check out Gilmore Girls, I encourage you to give it a try. Start at the beginning and give over to its charms. It's a one-of-a-kind TV series with fast-talking women (think: Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday), more pop culture references than you can shake a stick at, and a cast full of quirky yet adorable supporting characters (much like a live-action Springfield within The Simpsons). There is good reason why the Gilmore Girls has inspires so many devotees.

Yes, you read that right: a snow Björk.

At the 2001 episode's start, we see Lorelai and her teenage daughter Rory building a snowman in the center of Stars Hollow for a snowman contest. While they do their best with their limited experience, they are frustrated by an entry created by an experienced snow sculptor next to them. He has created a life-like Ebenezer Scrooge from snow. How can they compete with a simple snow Björk against this ringer? Much of the personality of this series is in the many details--like this Björk reference.

Sookie (played by Melissa McCarthy) is prepping the extra staff they've hired for the special event.

As the title references, Lorelai is also busy organizing an authentic Bracebridge Dinner for a private group at the inn she manages. Have you heard of a Bracebridge Dinner before? It's an elaborate 19th century meal based on one described by American author Washington Irving in a short story. (There is a prominent Bracebridge Dinner held each year in Yosemite Park too). The dinner involves the servers to wear Renaissance costumes and to speak period English. Lorelai hires madrigal singers and musicians too. Her chef Sookie is under a great deal of stress to put together the complicated seven course meal. The excitement for Christmas around the inn is intense.

Ahhh--Friday night dinners. They rarely go over well.

Before the elaborate event at the inn, at Friday night dinner, Lorelai and Rory find that Richard and Emily are not getting along. The stress from Richard's workplace is having a deleterious effect on their relationship. Lorelai may not get along with her parents very well but she doesn't like seeing them unhappy either.

Lorelai breaks the news to Sookie that no one is coming to their event! Sookie says she feels sad and mad--she's smad!

Shortly before they expect the guests to arrive, word comes in that the Trelling Paper Company who has paid for the Bracebridge Dinner has canceled. The entire private party is snowed in in Chicago and won't be able to make it. Lorelai is horrified--they hired extra staff and prepared such a lovely, extravagant event. Even if it's all paid for, it's a shame no one will get to enjoy all the effort.

Their party won't go to waste after all!

Over coffee at Luke's diner, the girls get an idea. What if they invite everyone in Stars Hollow to come and enjoy the pre-paid special event. It's a nice way to share the extravagant experience and get rid of the seven course meal at the same time. Since the staff and food are all paid for--and all the rooms in the inn have been reserved--why not treat the entire town? What a great idea, right?

Organizing an enjoyable event is all about the details.

On the night of the Bracebridge Dinner, the town residents begin arriving. We're reminded what an eclectic mix of personalities and oddballs live in this New England small town. Everyone is here--Babette and her husband Morey, Miss Patty, Lane and her religious mother Mrs. Kim, town selectman Taylor Doose, and Bootsy. Many of the other town regulars have been hired to work the event--including Jackson and Kirk. Even Luke is there--he brings his juvenile delinquent nephew Jess which upsets Rory's jealous boyfriend Dean.

What's a party without Babette and Morey?

Dean wishes to spend more time with Rory at the event but his little sister Clara is pestering him.

Lorelai invites her parents to the dinner to pamper them during their time of difficulty.

As the complicated party gets underway, various obstacles and problems begin popping up.  Rory's domineering classmate Paris shows up at the inn with paperwork she insists needs completed immediately (despite the holiday break). Jackson's creepy and unlikable cousin Rune has been hired as wait staff but his costume doesn't fit. Richard and Emily are unexpectedly getting along quite well!? And, everyone is nervous about Jess and Dean in the same room. What more can go wrong?

Rory's clever solution to distract Paris? Invite her to participate in the Bracebridge Dinner.

Lorelai surprises all the guests with horse-drawn sleigh rides before dinner. What could be more Christmasy? Most of the guests are enjoying the splendid party.

Luke shares his wisdom on "the secret of parenting." Lorelai laughs.

At the last minute, bad boy Jess jumps into Rory's sleigh and they talk. He admires her Björk snowman. Rory isn't resisting his attention as much as she used to. They're becoming better friends.

The dinner portion of the evening begins.

Jackson makes a good Squire of Bracebridge.

The Bracebridge Dinner seems to be going well and people are enjoying themselves. Maybe too much. The food and wine are plentiful. Jackson is playing the role of the Bracebridge Squire, the host of the Renaissance-style dinner. Mrs. Kim frets because no one else is saying grace before eating. Rory and Lorelai tease Kirk, who is working as a waiter. Lorelai attempts to get him to break character by insisting that the best I Love Lucy episodes were the ones filmed in Europe. Kirk can stand it no longer and asserts that everyone knows the best episodes were the ones with Ricky and Lucy in Hollywood--and he's broken character!

Inspired by the episode of I Love Lucy where Lucy tries to get the Buckingham Palace guard to break from character, Lorelai wants to break Kirk from his Renaissance character.

The revelers are enjoying the party--even Richard and Emily. That is, until Richard lets it slip that he's not feeling stressed from work anymore because he's quit his job. Shocked and devastated, Emily is hurt that her husband of many decades has kept her in the dark about his sudden "retirement" and change of life without talking to her about the decision. Later, Rory confronts her mother about over-reacting to plans she's made to spend some time with her father Christopher (and his new girlfriend Sherry) over holiday break. Making things worse, Emily insists on getting some space between herself and Richard by sleeping in Lorelai and Rory's room.

Richard shares a story about his travels to Prague and then reveals he's "retired."

If Emily's not happy, then no one is happy.

In the middle of the night, a sleepless Emily and Richard find each other and reconcile. The next morning, Lorelai hears the details of the party that continued after she went to bed. Under the influence of too much wine, Bootsy sang "Hotel California" and banged spoons on his head. Rumors spread that Jackson accompanied Bootsy's song by drumming on his belly. Paris has created a long list of period discrepancies from the evening's re-enactment. Exhausted, Lorelai is just glad that the party is over. Despite Lorelai's best intentions, the Bracebridge Dinner turned out much like an over-indulgent office Christmas party.

A sleigh ride through Stars Hollow? Yes, please!

Lorelai and Rory take the horse-drawn sleigh as transportation back home the morning after. Passing through Stars Hollow's town square, mother and daughter see that the ringer's Ebenezer Scrooge snow sculpture has been knocked down. Perhaps the snow Björk will win the contest after all? Who would commit such a brazen act of vandalism? Rory knows.

Rory is traumatized by ugly baby photos in Christmas cards.

Much of the pleasure in watching"The Bracebridge Dinner" episode--and every other episode in the series--is in the abundance of details. Small moments like Rory and Lorelai making fun of the ugly baby photos friends and family send in their Christmas cards, Lorelai mocking the DVD commentary on the release of Godfather 3 in which Coppola justifies casting his daughter Sofia, Paris insisting that cubed ice wasn't a Renaissance-era tradition, Rune in his underwear in the kitchen, Babette's sarcastic comments to Mrs. Kim, a snow Björk and the song "Human Behavior" playing under the closing scene, and more. Did I mention how saturated this series is with pop culture references? All these small moments, combined with rich, textured characters and heart-felt emotions create a TV series that has fans overjoyed to see more. I can't wait for the four new movies coming this Fall.

Are you a Gilmore Girls fan too?

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