Gilmore Girls

In Praise of Paris

39I'm doing a pretty intensive rewatch of Gilmore Girls. So intensive, in fact, that in the middle of binge-watching marathons, Netflix frequently feels compelled to ask if I'm still watching. Listen, Netflix: I don't come over to your house, knock the pint of Ben and Jerry's out of your hand and tell you to vacuum your floors, so stop judging. Anyway, upon this rewatch and with the benefit of enough years after the initial airing of the show that I now identify more with Lorelei than Rory, I've come to realize something: Most of the characters on this show are terrible people.

To some extent, this isn't shocking. Stars Hollow and nearby locales are home to a good number of antagonists and quasi-villainous characters. Emily and Richard Gilmore, though often secretly awesome, are set up to be Lorelei's eternal foes, and they act accordingly. (What's with Emily telling Christopher he still has a chance with Lorelei even as she's engaged to Luke?! Or with Richard reneging on his deal with Lorelei to get Rory back in school when she drops out of Yale for a semester?! These jerks.) We can all agree that Mitchum Huntzberger is a douchenozzle, and Taylor Doose is a bore. And though no one who loves Celine Deline so unabashedly can be all bad, Michel is, admittedly, a snob and a terrible employee.

But even the characters we've come to know and presumably love, it turns out, are sort of awful. I know! Delightful Lorelei and Rory? This article from Vulture reveals why they're both actually kind of the worst. Luke, meanwhile, is grumpy and obstinate to the point of assholery. Kirk is too quirky to live. I can't deal with Dean -- he's fickle and whiny and dull and, oh my god, that haircut -- and Jess is a boorish punk.

There are exceptions. Lane is lovely and a better friend than a puke like Rory deserves. Minor characters like Gypsy and Miss Patty aren't just filler for crowd scenes; they're authentically funny and charming. And I will NOT hear an ill word about Sookie St. James and Jackson Belleville.

Even as I've started to see the denizens of Stars Hollow for who they really are, though, I've come to realize that there's one character who, though she comes to the series as an ostensible villain and continues to be presented as a source of frustration even as she becomes one of Rory's best friends, is actually the best person on the show. Ladies and gentlemen, I come to sing the praises of one Paris Geller.

Paris starts the series as Rory's apparent enemy. Already queen of the academic castle at Chilton Academy when Rory enrolls in the private school, Paris is smart, assertive, and ambitious. When Rory rolls in, expecting to be crowned the Smartest Lil' Pixie Ever Enrolled, she immediately butts heads with Paris. As an audience, we're supposed to side with Rory, Our Special Snowflake. But put yourself in Paris's position. You're just minding your own business, trying to pave your own way to an Ivy League school. Your only friends are a couple of ditzes, and the one guy you've got a crush on immediately stars drooling over Snowflake. You'd be pissed, too, right? You'd defend your home turf and position yourself as Snowflake's rival, right? And if you were a guy, people would say you were tough, a take-no-shit-from-no-one kinda guy. But Paris? She's supposed to be a bitch, just because she isn't willing to cede her ground to Rory Gilmore.

On another show, Rory and Paris might have been seasons-long enemies. But Paris displays one of the most attractive characteristics a human being can possess:  a willingness to see things from a new perspective and to change accordingly. When Rory offers a gesture of friendship, Paris not only accepts; she becomes, arguably, one of the best examples of a good friend on the show.

Even Rory has to admit that Paris provides her exactly the sort of foil she needs to excel academically. And while Rory gets super judgey when Paris starts dating a (much) older professor at Yale (where both girls are students), Paris generally stays supportive of Rory's relationships, immediately defending her when Logan turns up uninvited and belligerent at their apartment but growing supportive and understanding when Rory and Logan get back together. Yes, when you call Paris, she'll launch into a tirade about how education in America is turning a generation of students into a coddled bunch of morons; but when it counts, she'll use her pre-med knowledge and her terrifying demeanor to wrench information out of the attending surgeon when your boyfriend is on the brink of death after jumping off a cliff in Costa Rica and no one will tell you anything.

Paris is fantastic. We're supposed to think she's driven to the point of psychosis, but if a guy were as ambitious as she is, everyone would praise him for his determination and focus. When Paris's family goes broke, she panics for all of three minutes, then sucks it up and learns to waitress -- going so far as to work for Rory, her one-time enemy. (In fact, Paris might as well be an orphan, based on what we know about her family. No wonder she's so independent and self-sufficient.) We're supposed to believe that Paris is too mean, but hey, my response to feeling nervous or uncertain is to get angry, too.

Would I want to live with Paris? Possibly not. Between the craft corner and the Krav Maga, things can get intense in the Geller household. Would I want to work with her? I mean, I respect her reluctance to remember the name of anyone on the Yale Daily News staff and her ability to construct her own cube, but...no. But would I want to be friends with Paris? You betcha.

Of course, the ultimate proof that Paris Geller is good people is that she lands Doyle McMaster, a.k.a. television's Danny Strong, a.k.a. Jonathan from Buffy. Not that being able to snag a good dude should be the thing by which a lady's awesomeness should be measured. But the fact that Paris creates a strong, caring relationship with someone who both loves and challenges her, based on mutual respect and a love for strange martial arts, is yet another testament to her ability to do things on her own terms but also to grow and change and learn.

Watching Gilmore Girls again, I find myself loving a lot of the characters in spite of their flaws. When it comes to Paris, though, I find myself rooting for her over even the main ladies. Paris gets knocked down, but she pops right back up. Paris is smart, and she knows it, and she's mean sometimes -- but she knows that, too. And she's willing to evolve. Who wouldn't want that in a friend?

Friend Shipper

Daryl and CarolI’ve been listening to Slate’s podcast recapping the latest season of The Walking Dead (available to Slate Plus members only, sorry guys), and an exchange that took place on the first episode between host Mike Vuolo and Chris Wade caught my attention:

Vuolo: I think that [Carol’s] relationship with Daryl is fantastic because it’s not quite a sexual relationship, it doesn’t feel romantic, it doesn’t feel even sister-brother; it just feels like a pure friendship.

Wade: “Companionate”? Is that a word?

Vuolo: Sure, why not?

Wade: They see something in each other that makes things about this world better. Yeah I think it is great; and it is one of the few moments of subtlety, which I always appreciate in The Walking Dead. Of not having to spell out, like, Oh, they are together. And they don’t seem to need to have any kind of definitions because both of them are realistic enough about what’s going on right now in their world to know that just caring for each other and, like, caring about each other’s well-being more, perhaps, than anyone else is enough to be important and help them live this terrible life they’re in.

(I think my attributions are correct, but both of those dudes’ voices sound similar.)

This is something I think about a lot: the state of friendship between male and female characters on television. As much as movies and television shows get dinged for not passing the Bechdel Test, they can be just as guilty of what I’ll call the Harry Burns Fallacy, after the assertion made by Billy Crystal’s character in When Harry Met Sally—that “men and women can’t be friends because the sex part always gets in the way.”

On T.V., the Harry Burns Fallacy rings true. It’s rare to see an unrelated single man and single woman have a relationship that’s anything other than romantic. Even if they start out as just friends, somewhere down the line they’re sure to end up in bed together, dating, and/or married. It’s telling that on a show called Friends, four out of six of the titular friends ended up in romantic relationships together.

I’m not anti-romance. Trust me, I’m as big a shipper as the next gal. I will tell you now: No one on the face of this planet wanted Parks and Recreation’s Ben and Leslie to get together more than I did. I was actually sorta into Spuffy, and I pulled hard for Cophine. I would see a Science Bros movie in a hot second. And I do not give shit one about Dean-or-Jess: I was a Logan girl all the way (go ahead and hate; I’m standing firm).

But I’m also a die-hard friend shipper. While the romance and companionship of dating and marriage are an essential part of life and have provided compelling storylines on a billion T.V. shows, there’s something to be said for friendship between a man and a woman. Like all great friendships, close lady-dude friendships are about what Chris Wade eloquently described as “see[ing] something in each other that makes things about this world better.” But when you’re friends with someone of the opposite sex, you get the added bonus of radically shifting your perspective: You learn things about the opposite sex you wouldn’t otherwise gain access to, but without the pressure or possibility of something sexual happening.

So many male-female television friendships culminate in romance, though—as if the only value in different-sex friendships is the possibility of “something more.” Sex and marriage, particularly on television, are portrayed as the ultimate connection between two people. As a person in the world, though, I know that there are connections that go just as deep between friends, whether they’re two gals, two dudes, or two people of the opposite sex. What’s deeper, I ask you, than caring about another person’s well-being more than anyone else’s, or helping another person live this life?

That’s why I hope Carol and Daryl remain friends. I won’t lie; I once shipped them. And there have been clues that something romantic may have passed between them. But as they’re portrayed at the moment, they represent a rare animal on television: the man-woman friendship that’s “just” a friendship. There’s mutual respect between them. They’ve both watched the other change and grow. They’ve developed an ease with each other that isn’t charged with sexual tension. In this season’s second episode, when Daryl hops in a car to chase down the men who abducted another friend, Carol jumps in, too, and the tone of this partnership is less I can’t bear to be separated from my lover and more I got your back, bro. “Just friends”? There’s no “just” about a relationship for which you’d risk your life, romantic or platonic. And the only “something more” I need is more friendships like this one on T.V.