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Gilmore Girls: The Complete Third Season
If a show happens to get through its first year as a critical darling and a ratings success, the inevitable issue of the "sophomore slump" usually rears its ugly head just about the time that the first season is concluding. Needless to say, it's an incredibly hard time for television shows to be a success with all the reality programming jamming up the airwaves. For a show to continually achieve that success year after year is even more rare. Gilmore Girls really hit the ground running with their first season, and their second season was nothing less than an improvement upon the themes and storylines of the first. The really tricky part, then, is to actually continue that progress and ride the momentum into subsequent seasons.
The third season of Gilmore Girls is often referred to as the weakest of the bunch, as the fifth season currently winds down its initial broadcast run. I, however, seem to think a bit differently. While there are some weak moments to be found in the show's third season, I find it far from boring and far from being the bastard child of Daniel and Amy Sherman-Palladino. The season, in fact, does a fine job of making the transition from cutesy, sometimes overly simplistic (in terms of storyline, never in terms of pop-culture references and rapid-fire dialogue) story arcs into tales of real consequence and choice for the lovely ladies (and gentlemen) of Stars Hollow, Connecticut. Lorelai and Rory have to finally face up to everything they've done up to this point in the series. They have to make a few more tough choices this time around, and it's clear to every viewer that those choices are going to have a major impact on seasons to come.
If season four is considered to be the real transition year for the show - with Rory finally going off to college and all - then season three is the successful transition into the transition year. You can see the wheels beginning to turn about halfway through the third season's episodes. The girls are forced to grow up a bit, which in turn, tends to make the show seem to grow up a bit. That's not saying that all the fun and whimsy of earlier seasons is gone in this season. On the contrary, there's a lot of simple fun and hilarity to be found in this season. The rapid-fire dialogue, funky wordplay, oddball comedy of the secondary characters, and obscure pop-culture references are all to be found in abundance in this season (just like every other season). The difference, however, is that not everything seems so easy for Lorelai, Rory, and the rest of the gang this time around. They not only find themselves in more squabbles with each other, but also with other people around them.
The show started to get a bit more serious, and choices all of a sudden seemed to hold much more weight and consequence for future events. As we see the stress mount up on Rory and Lorelai, the rest of the cast tends to get a bit wound up as well. Rory not only has to apply to and decide upon the college of her choice, but she also has to deal with a major decision in her love life (Dean or Jess), some major family unrest (yes, Lorelai still can't seem to get along with Richard and Emily for very long), and some major competition from Paris (who she was finally beginning to befriend). All this, along with the pressure of the entire town of Star Hollow on her shoulders, is enough to make anyone more than a little stressed out. It is, however, these very events in season three that help shape the person that Rory has become now, as the show concludes its fifth season. And it is these events in the third season of Gilmore Girls that begins the show's tough transition that gets fully underway in season four.
Gilmore Girls: The Complete Third Season captures the start of this transition beautifully. We get to see Rory make her difficult boyfriend decision, Luke's continued pining for Lorelai, Richard and Emily's slow drift into marital trouble, Rory's inevitably more independent life (she even does a few things her mother disagrees with, and even neglects to tell her some of the juicy details), and the proverbial planting of the seed that will bring the Dragonfly Inn under Lorelai and Sookie's care. That's a lot to cram into 22 episodes, and Gilmore Girls manages to do with plenty of time to spare for the colorful secondary characters as well. Lane finally meets herself a boyfriend and joins a rock band, Sookie and Jackson get a great surprise, Kirk does whatever it is Kirk seems to be doing on any particular day, and the staff at the Independence Inn get a very rude awakening.
How anyone could find all the greatness tucked into season three sub-par is beyond me. It may not be the absolute best season of Gilmore Girls, but it is far from the worst. For those poor souls who happen to think that the show has already jumped the shark, they usually point to two events: the arrival of Jess Mariano (and his relationship with Rory) and Rory going off to college. I, of course, happen to disagree on both counts. The role of Jess in the show's third season is an important and necessary one. If it weren't for the experience of dating Jess, Rory would never have been prepared for college life and her later rekindling of her relationship with Dean. She would never have had the arguments with Lorelai that shaped their relationship in a way that prepared them for life apart. And she probably would never have become the strong female that she is in the show's current season. For those exact reasons (and the fact that there are some of the funniest moments of the series contained within), the third season of Gilmore Girls proves to be much more important and entertaining than you originally might have thought.
"Lazy-Hazy-Crazy Days" (original airdate: 9/24/02)
"Haunted Leg" (original airdate: 10/01/02)
"Application Anxiety" (original airdate: 10/08/02)
"One's Got Class and the Other One Dyes" (original airdate: 10/15/02)
"Eight O'Clock at the Oasis" (original airdate: 10/22/02)
"Take the Deviled Eggs…" (original airdate: 11/05/02)
"They Shoot Gilmores, Don't They?" (original airdate: 11/12/02)
"Let the Games Begin" (original airdate: 11/19/02)
"A Deep-Fried Korean Thanksgiving" (original airdate: 11/26/02)
"That'll Do, Pig" (original airdate: 01/14/03)
"I Solemnly Swear…" (original airdate: 01/21/03)
"Lorelai Out of Water" (original airdate: 01/28/03)
"Dear Emily and Richard" (original airdate: 02/04/03)
"Swan Song" (original airdate: 02/11/03)
"Face-Off" (original airdate: 02/18/03)
"The Big One" (original airdate: 02/25/03)
"A Tale of Poes and Fire" (original airdate: 04/15/03)
"Happy Birthday, Baby" (original airdate: 04/22/03)
"Keg! Max!" (original airdate: 04/29/03)
"Say Goodnight, Gracie" (original airdate: 05/06/03)
"Here Comes the Son" (original airdate: 05/13/03)
"Those are Strings, Pinocchio" (original airdate: 05/20/03)
Episode titles in bold are personal favorites on each disc though the entire season should, preferably, be viewed in order from beginning to end.
Gilmore Girls: The Complete Third Season is presented in an adequate 1.33:1 full frame transfer that is easily better than original broadcast quality, and even slightly improved over the previous seasons on DVD. There are a few problems with this transfer, but for the most part these episodes look great. All the various colors that are the visual highlight of the show come across beautifully on this DVD set, although overall color can, at times, be a bit soft. Flesh tones are accurate, and shadows and blacks are nicely rendered. Detail sometimes leaves a bit to be desired, as the overall image is occasionally soft. There's nary a sign of edge enhancement or visible layer changes on these discs, and the only really noticeable blemish on this transfer is the abundance of grain from time to time. The show has an overall graininess to it that is far from distracting, but in some lower-light scenes grain rears its ugly head in a big way. Even these instances, however, are less frequent than in previous releases. Nevertheless, the visual presentation on these discs is on par with what most of us have come to expect from a typical TV-on-DVD release and certainly outshines anything you might have seen during the original television broadcast.
The audio on these discs is presented in a Dolby Digital 2.0 format that also stands up nicely to the usual TV-on-DVD expectations. Dialogue, as in previous seasons, is absolutely the most important aspect of Gilmore Girls, as it comes rapid-fire throughout every episode, and is presented beautifully on this track. It comes across as crisp, loud, and distinct, and is clearly the focal point of this audio presentation. The soundtrack, however, also plays a crucial role in the show and is presented nicely here as well. Balance is good across the front soundstage, though there is some very slight level fluctuation and some episodes seem a bit louder than others. The surrounds provide some support to the soundtrack as well. The overall track sounds just as good, if not better, than it did when originally broadcast, and when piped through Dolby Pro Logic II encoding actually comes alive. This is especially evident in episode 19, "Keg! Max!" when Lane's band finally gets to play their first gig.
There may not be a large amount of extra material present, but the features that are included on this release really fit with the overall feel of the show and make the experience of this DVD set even more enjoyable.
The best extra feature on this set is a 15-minute cast documentary called "All Grown Up: Stories of Childhood Experiences," which is basically a compilation of interview clips with just about every cast member of the show. Each actor explains a little bit about his or her childhood, where they grew up, and what types of experiences they had as children in their community. Also included are many still pictures of the actors as youngsters. Although I wish this feature could have been even longer and more involved, it's still a very entertaining feature in its current state.
Also included on this set is a short featurette called "Our Favorite '80s: Favorite Era Dance Moves," which is, for the most part, more cast interviews where each actor tells his or her favorite dance moves from the '80s. On the surface, this may seem like a silly, boring little feature, but that all changes when a few key cast members decide to break out their favorite dance moves mid-interview. If you've ever had the urge to see Keiko Agena do the "Running Man" or Sean Gunn do his best "Human Robot," now's you're chance. Just watching Kirk bust a move is worth the price of this entire DVD set.
There are also four additional scenes on three episodes included on this release. "Swan Song" and "Say Goodnight, Gracie" each have one unaired scene, and the season finale ("Those are Strings, Pinocchio") has two. While most of these deleted scenes are interesting, but not entirely necessary, additions to their episodes, the most important excised scene is probably the flashback scene in the season finale that shows Lorelai and Rory living in the Independence Inn many years earlier. The rest of the deleted scenes are certainly funny, but this particular scene would easily have carried the most weight had it stayed in the final version of the episode.
We also have a very short featurette called "Who Wants to Fall in Love?: Season's Most Romantic Moments," which is my least favorite type of feature. Running just over a minute long, this is simply a collection of short clips from the season that include shots of characters kissing and otherwise being "romantic." This is a bit of wasted bonus material, in my opinion.
Much more useful is the "Your Guide to Gilmore-isms" booklet that rounds out the extra material. This booklet is exactly the kind of "Annotated Gilmore Girls" that I had hoped would be included in the first season DVD release and, thankfully, was also included in the second season release. It is a treasure trove of information on the many different wordplays and pop-culture references that are scattered throughout the season's rapid-fire dialogue. Sure, an actual video feature on this aspect of the show - preferably featuring the show's creators - would have been even better, but this booklet is a very good alternative.
Although I still pine for a future DVD release of Gilmore Girls that will include commentaries by the creators, cast, and crew, the collection of extra material on this set is comparable to earlier releases of the show. While there may not be a ton of material here, what is provided is rather good.
A Note on the Packaging:
Possibly at the behest of many fans that complained about the packaging of the first two seasons' releases on DVD, Warner Bros. has decided to change their packaging for this DVD release. The first two seasons featured thick, plastic disc-holders that folded out like pages in a book, but failed to do a good job of securing the actual discs. Nice design, but poor execution, as many people ended up getting scratched discs and "floaters." For this current release, Warner Bros. has changed the thick, plastic disc-holders with weak clasps to thin, plastic disc-holders with stronger clasps, opening up a whole new set of problems. This time around, I had no scratched discs or "floaters" in my set. This set was also lighter and a bit slimmer. The problem, however, with these new plastic disc-holders is that they're not exactly sturdy. Three of the six in my set had some form of chipping, or a very blatant crack, in them. Of course, the most important part of these DVD sets are the actual discs and the content on them, but this packaging issue seems just like a bit of shortsightedness on the part of the studio. Please, Warner Bros., I'm urging you to switch over to the slim-cases in cardboard packaging like many studios are using for their DVD sets these days. It would solve a lot of the aforementioned problems.
There's not much more that I can say to actually sell you on Gilmore Girls: The Complete Third Season. Chances are, you probably already know if you're going to pick up this set or not. If you're already a fan of the series, it's a no-brainer. Just having all 22 episodes of season three on DVD is, alone, worth the price of this set. If, however, you're one of the naysayers who like the series but can't stand the sight of Jess Mariano and, therefore, didn't really enjoy the third season in its initial broadcast run, I urge you to pick up this set and give the season another chance. As with every season of Gilmore Girls, there's a lot more to enjoy the second time around, and this DVD release is certainly the best way to go about viewing the season again. The audio-visual presentation is just fine and the inclusion of a few nice extras makes this a highly recommended set. This is the last time, however, that I'm letting Warner Bros. off the hook for shoddy packaging and the lack of audio commentaries. Next time, I might not be so kind. Nevertheless, this DVD set is definitely one the fans of the show will want to add to their collection.