"No! And it opened, and the words came out, and Emily was Emily, and my mouth was stunned, and my mind said, 'I told you so', and then my mouth got mad because no mouth likes to have its nose rubbed in it, and now my mind and my mouth aren't talking, and it'll be weeks before we get the boys together again."
"Your mouth has a nose?"
If you're reading a review of the second season of a TV show, it's a pretty safe bet you're familiar with the first season already, but I guess I'll spout off a brief recap anyway. Gilmore Girls follows Lorelia and Rory Gilmore (Lauren Graham and Alexis Bledel), two best friends in the sleepy, quirky Connecticut town of Stars Hollow who also happen to be mother and daughter. Although Lorelai gets along almost inhumanly well with her kid, she doesn't have nearly that sort of relationship with her own parents, Emily and Richard (Kelly Bishop and Edward Herrmann), whose pride, wealth, and unattainably lofty expectations don't mesh particularly well with the life their daughter's eked out for herself. They do spend quite a bit of time together, though -- one of the terms of covering Rory's tuition at the exclusive Chilton Academy is that Lorelai and Rory have to attend a weekly dinner in Hartford, where inevitably something unpleasant is revealed and everyone leaves miffed but pleasantfully full.
Anyway, this season picks up almost exactly where the last one left off, with Lorelai still ensnared in a love triangle. Scruffy diner owner Luke Danes (Scott Patterson) clearly has a thing for Lorelai, but they're still Sam and Diane-ing it out, especially now that Rory's English teacher Max Medina (Scott Cohen) has proposed. This season opens with Lorelai's struggle to make a decision whether or not to accept Max's flowery proposal. It also introduces Luke's nephew, Jess (Milo Ventimiglia), a troublemaker grudgingly shipped out of New York. Underneath the James Dean rebellious exterior lurks a bright, voracious reader, and although virtually everyone in the town wants Jess to head back home, Rory finds herself equal parts intrigued and repulsed. This understandably makes her relationship with bland, white bread nice guy Dean considerably bumpier. Meanwhile, Lorelai's father Richard struggles with obsolescence as he finds himself slowly being outsted from the insurance company where he's toiled for the past few decades, and...oh, there are a few dozen other subplots, but I'll spare you. If you'd like a more detailed episode-by-episode breakdown, TV Tome has a fairly comprehensive guide, although viewers seeing these episodes for the first time might want to steer clear to avoid spoilers.
Okay, okay, I realize that might not sound all that interesting, but reviewing Gilmore Girls is trickier than tackling a show like Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Every season of Buffy seemed to revolve around one or two main arcs that ran for the bulk of the year, with a couple of new characters introduced near the beginning, getting knocked off at the end, and everyone living happily every after until Fall sweeps rolled around again. In a lot of ways, the second season of Gilmore Girls is really more of the same from the first. There are no drastic alterations to the cast or setting, no epochal, life-shattering events in the characters' lives, and no devastating changes to the show's writing staff. It's more of the same, but in a good way since 'the same' was so great to begin with.
I already lavished the clever, rapid-fire dialogue, the innumerable pop-culture references, a soundtrack that warms my cynical former college radio DJ heart, and the sheer quality of the acting in my season one review, so rather than microwave those leftovers again, I'll point in the general direction of my earlier review. The second season maintains that impressive balancing act between comedy and drama, a remarkably effective mix that makes the funny parts funnier and the drama bits more dramatic. The way storylines sprawl also works well on DVD -- when characters have it out, all their conflicts aren't resolved in a neat, tidy bundle just before the credits roll. Episodes will frequently end on a sour note, not every argument is settled with a teary, heartfelt speech, and when characters do bicker, there often isn't an unambiguous right or wrong answer. That's a pretty realistic approach to the way people really are, and it gels surprisingly well even in a setting as outlandishly odd as Stars Hollow.
Oh, and aside from Jess, there's one other notable addition to the cast this year. An indescribably gifted young actor named Scott J. Hoffman is introduced in "Road Trip to Harvard", memorably portraying Harvard Coffee Guy, lighting up the screen as he takes Rory's order and forks over a couple of styrofoam cups. Even without a single line of dialogue, Hoffman makes an indelible impression. Sadly, Harvard Coffee Guy wasn't given an opportunity to dig his claws into more episodes, which is understandable considering that there's only one episode at Harvard this season, but his brief appearance will live in our hearts forever. I only point him out because Scott was one of my college roommates, and I feel obligated to pester him about his shortlived quasi-Hollywood days whenever I get a chance. If you're bored enough to want to know who to keep an eye out for, he's the only guy at Harvard wearing a "Harvard" shirt. Hoffman completists will also want to pick up his appearances as Yet Another Kid In FBI Academy from The X-Files and Guy Whose Emoting Would Seem To Indicate That He Didn't Do Well At The Track from The Practice. Okay, enough of that.
There's really no need for this review to be as long as it is. If you got a kick out of the first season of Gilmore Girls, there's a good chance you'll feel the same way about season two. I would stop there, but...geez, I have four more bolded bullet points to cover. Give me a minute.
Video: Just like they aired on the WB a couple years back, these twenty-two episodes are presented full-frame. The overall quality's in the same ballpark as the previous season -- better defined than I'd expect from a TV broadcast, but with limited fine detail, some scattered softness, and quite a bit of film grain. Variation in quality from episode to episode is negligible, but for some reason, "Hammers and Veils" seemed a bit darker and almost lower resolution than the other episodes in this set. Some patterns, particularly bricks, shingles, and blinds, are prone to shimmering, and certain shades of blue, like Sookie's standard outfit, wind up looking awfully noisy as well. While I'm not exactly bowled over by the way these episodes look, it is an improvement over what I'd expect to see on cable and pretty much what I went in expecting.
Audio: The Dolby Digital stereo audio (192Kbps) is fairly ordinary as well. Most receivers will direct the bulk of the audio front and center, where the series' dialogue comes through cleanly and clearly. The hefty assortment of music is responsible for much of the set's stereo separation and almost all of the activity in the lower frequencies. Pretty standard stuff...no complaints. There are no alternate soundtracks, but each episode is accompanied by subtitles in English, French, and Spanish as well as closed captions.
I feel obligated to point out once again how great the soundtrack is, featuring music by The Velvet Underground, Spandau Ballet, Elastica, Ash, Elvis Costello, The Shins, Bjork, Madness, The Pixies, Wilco, Pavement, and Belle and Sebastian, just to rattle off a few. Grant Lee Buffalo, playing the town's troubadour, strums The Beach Boys' "Be True To Your School" and Wham's "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go" on a twelve-string acoustic, and any celebration that involves blasting "52 Girls" by The B-52's is my type of party. Anyway, just giving the music another thumbs-up.
Supplements: The second season of Gilmore Girls doesn't sport an overwhelming number of extras, but what's offered is decent enough. Four deleted scenes are included on this set -- Rory compiling a detailed list of Max's pros and cons from "Sadie, Sadie..." (3:05), a thirty-second bedroom bit from "Presenting Lorelai Gilmore", Paris and Rory watching TV and gabbing about boys in "There's The Rub" (2:25), and "I Can't Get It Started"'s glimpse at a post-unveiling Rory with an unaccompanied Abba rendition (1:24).
Most of the extras are on the sixth and final disc. One of the highlights of the season was Kirk's black and white short, a hysterical, deadpan spoof on independent film complete with stilted performances, choppy editing, and an overreliance on Dutch angles. The full short is offered here, without the cuts to the audience or overlaid dialogue from the original episode. "A-Tisket, A-Tasket" is played a second time, and its replay is peppered with pop-up trivia explaining some of the references and piling on random bits of trivia. It's a bit of an improvement over the similar pop-up episode from the season one set, although I'd really prefer to have an audio commentary in its place. "International Success" spends five and a half minutes on dubbed versions of the show in foreign markets, complete with comments from assorted professors of various languages and Amy Sherman-Palladino griping about the changes made to her work. Finally, "Who Wants To Argue?" is a minute-long montage of characters from the show shouting at each other.
Warner really might want to consider rethinking the way they package some of their box sets. The second season of Gilmore Girls arrives in the same book-style packaging as the first set. Last time I had two discs fall off the hubs during shipping, resulting in pretty nasty scratches and some severe playback issues. Only one disc came loose this time, but it was scratched so badly that it was almost completely unplayable. My usual set-top player recognized it as a DVD but refused to do much else with it, the disc locked up PowerDVD when I tried giving it a whirl on my PC, and my portable player kept skipping forward at random. Thankfully, I'm deranged enough to need multiple hands to count the number of things in my house that can play DVDs, but a better designed case wouldn't require me to have to get to the point where I'm testing something on my fourth DVD player.
The set also includes a booklet offering a synopsis, brief production notes, and a description of the six chapter stops of each episode. A separate booklet annotates a bunch of the season's many pop culture references. Further indicating that maybe I'm not part of the show's target demographic, a card for a free four month subscription to "Teen People" is also tucked inside. A set of mostly static 16x9 menus rounds off my laundry list of stuff I usually make a point to mention.
Conclusion: The quick summary is painless enough -- if you enjoyed the first season of Gilmore Girls, you'll probably like this one too. New viewers should not surprisingly give the previous set a look before delving into this one, but this box set does come highly recommended.