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Gilmore Girls: The Complete Fourth Season
The tough part about creating quality dramatic television is that, unlike many sitcoms and reality shows, the hour-long drama (or even comedy-drama) must grow. Sitcom characters never have to change. That's part of the charm of those types of shows. They are completely episodic, the characters can stay the same age forever, and we can simply watch them go through some different type of predicament every week. The hour-long drama (especially those with season, or series, long story arcs like Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Veronica Mars) has a responsibility to allow its characters to grow, go through transitions, and tackle all the difficulties that come along with that growth. This difficulty, on the other hand, is also what makes quality dramatic television so worthwhile. The viewers get to know and love these characters, their arcs, growth, and maturation. It's one of the most rewarding aspects of watching a show like Gilmore Girls.
That being said, Gilmore Girls: The Complete Fourth Season finds Lorelai, Rory, and the rest of the wacky Stars Hollow clan during the most transitional periods of their lives. People are moving, relationships are drastically changing, new people are flying in and out of their lives, and the ever-present daily bond between a mother and daughter is slightly severed. Season four was a rough year for just about every single character on Gilmore Girls. In my review of Gilmore Girls: The Complete Third Season, I described season three as the transition into the transition. Well, season four we are definitely into full transition mode. Some fans cried foul, while others chose to simply tune out. A ratings dip like Gilmore Girls experienced in its fourth season, however, has to be expected. By choosing to place their characters in new environments and situations, Daniel and Amy Sherman-Palladino took a chance that tests the true mettle of shows of this kind, and that risk is one of the reasons that I love the duo so much. They trust, respect, and never condescend to their audience. The ratings for season four may have dipped, but the true quality of Gilmore Girls showed through as season five provided some of the highest numbers the series had ever garnered.
Instead of yammering on about how difficult it is for a show to take the chances that Gilmore Girls takes in its fourth season, I thought it might be best to examine some of the reasons why this particular season ends up slightly less entertaining than its predecessors. Now, don't get me wrong, Gilmore Girls – even at its worst moments – is more entertaining and insightful than 99% of the shows on television, but season four certainly has its downfalls.
The biggest, and clearly most brutal, change in Gilmore Girls: The Complete Fourth Season is the transition of Lorelai and Rory's relationship. It was, in fact, a necessary transition. We all knew that Rory would eventually have to go off to college, but no one realized just how difficult it would be not only for the two characters, but also for the show's viewers. During "The Lorelais' First Day at Yale," we get to see just how devastating the idea of not having her mother around is for Rory. She, quite literally, freaks out and ends up begging Lorelai to come back to Yale and sleep over. The really tough part – at least for viewers – though was when Lorelai finally did leave and Rory was left to her own devices at college. No more lightning speed banter between Rory and Lorelai every single day. They would, instead, be forced to use their cell phones to communicate on a daily basis. This was a nifty little idea (on the part of the show's creative team) to keep the relationship afloat and chatting, but the connection just wasn't quite the same during the fourth season. Watching Rory and Lorelai go back and forth on their cell phones just doesn't carry the same weight as their conversations in person.
One major benefit of Rory's college transition, however, is the extra screen time for Paris Gellar. I've always had a soft spot in my heart for the snide witticisms of snobby Paris Gellar, but my affection for her character grew exponentially in the show's fourth season. After ditching a silly subplot that started the season by pairing her with a "life coach," Paris finally gets the chance to really shine. She becomes the perfect match (and roommate) for Rory, taking over some of the rapid-fire exchanges that Rory might have previously shared with Lorelai. Their arguments are top-notch material that provides some of the funniest moments of the entire series. By finally becoming a fully fleshed out character – and not just an adversary for Rory at Chilton – Paris gets to shine, and she manages to become one of the season's biggest bright-spots. Where she seemed to be a bit one-note during their Chilton years, Paris uses the fourth season to not only continue to be the tough-minded, sarcastic, rich snob, but she also seems to grow a heart and become Rory's true confidante.
There are plenty of viewers that would say that the fourth season of Gilmore Girls is the end of the line – the point of no return. Rory can't be the same person she was for the first three seasons, and her separation from Lorelai irrevocably scars the series. To those viewers, I'd have to say that they are partially correct. Rory can't go back to the person she was for those first three seasons, nor should she, but that in no way scars the series. The transition year is a tough year for any show, but it is one that every quality dramatic series must go through in order to truly win over an audience. Sometimes the biggest risks reap the biggest rewards, and Gilmore Girls is great evidence of that. Daniel and Amy Sherman-Palladino take some very drastic chances in their show's fourth season. Nearly every character and relationship changes in a dramatic fashion, and the fourth year of Gilmore Girls does, in fact, suffer from these changes at times. It is, however, still an undeniably entertaining show that bounced back with an excellent fifth season. Big risks, big rewards. Remember? Gilmore Girls: The Complete Fourth Season may have its rough spots, but the good easily outweighs the bad, and I'd watch this slightly less-than-perfect season of Gilmore Girls over 99% of the other drivel on television any day of the week.
"Ballrooms and Biscotti" (original airdate: 09/23/03)
"The Lorelais' First Day at Yale" (original airdate: 09/30/03)
"The Hobbit, the Sofa, and Digger Stiles" (original airdate: 10/07/03)
"Chicken or Beef?" (original airdate: 10/14/03)
"The Fundamental Things Apply" (original airdate: 10/21/03)
"An Affair to Remember" (original airdate: 10/28/03)
"The Festival of Living Art" (original airdate: 11/04/03)
"Die, Jerk" (original airdate: 11/11/03)
"Ted Koppel's Big Night Out" (original airdate: 11/18/03)
"The Nanny and the Professor" (original airdate: 01/20/04)
"In the Clamor and the Clangor" (original airdate: 01/27/04)
"A Family Matter" (original airdate: 02/03/04)
"Nag Hammadi is Where They Found the Gnostic Gospels" (original airdate: 02/10/04)
"The Incredible Shrinking Lorelais" (original airdate: 02/17/04)
"Scene in a Mall" (original airdate: 02/24/04)
"The Reigning Lorelai" (original airdate: 03/02/04)
"Girls in Bikinis, Boys Doin' the Twist" (original airdate: 04/13/04)
"Tick, Tick, Tick, Boom!" (original airdate: 04/20/04)
"Afterboom" (original airdate: 04/27/04)
"Luke Can See Her Face" (original airdate: 05/04/04)
"Last Week Fights, This Week Tights" (original airdate: 05/11/04)
"Raincoats and Recipes" (original airdate: 05/18/04)
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 Fourth Season is presented in an adequate 1.33:1 full frame transfer that is easily better than original broadcast quality, and is certainly on par with the previous season 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 the first and second season sets. 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 17, "Girls in Bikinis, Boys Doin' the Twist" when The Shins provide some live entertainment.
I'm not exactly sure what Warner Bros. was thinking when they put this set together. Not only have they included less extra material than on previous Gilmore Girls season sets, but the few extra features that are included tend to be more filler material than actually entertaining or interesting features.
Nearly all of the extra material for Gilmore Girls: The Complete Fourth Season is located on the sixth disc, and the most significant feature included on this set is Gilmore Goodies and Gossip for "Girls in Bikinis, Boys Doin' the Twist," which is basically a pop-up video version of episode 17. The episode is shown in its entirety, only this time around little factoids pop up, occasionally, on the bottom of the screen. These factoids provide information about the cast, the obscure references made in the dialogue, and many other tidbits of information culled from the episode. While I think this feature was a great idea, I'm not so sure it's as good as it could have been. The pop-ups don't come frequently enough for my taste, and sometimes they only provide the most general information. Where they do shine, however, is when they refer to the obscure pop-culture references that pepper the dialogue of Gilmore Girls. This feature also appeared on the first season set and the fact still remains that it would have been great to have this feature for every episode to decipher the sometimes nearly undecipherable references. It could have been an excellent Annotated Gilmore Girls, but alas, comes across as merely hit-or-miss in its current form. I mean, it's great to know where a "brain freeze" comes from, but this type of information doesn't exactly expand my knowledge or enjoyment of Gilmore Girls.
There are also two additional scenes on two episodes included on this release. "Ballrooms & Biscotti" and "The Reigning Lorelai" each have one unaired scene, which don't necessarily add much to the episodes, but are still a welcome addition to this set. The unaired scene for "Ballrooms & Biscotti" is a humorous little aside featuring Kirk, and the scene for "The Reigning Lorelai" is really just a filler scene featuring Digger Stiles and Lorelai. It's certainly nice to have these two scenes collected here, but there aren't really of much significance.
The Stars Hollow Challenge Trivia Quiz also appears on the sixth disc, and is your basic set-top trivia game. While the graphics, transitions, and menus are pretty neat, the game itself is probably too easy for any serious Gilmore Girls fan. Worse than the easy questions, however, are the rewards for answering correctly. You guessed it: short video clips from the season of Gilmore Girls that you probably just finished watching. Great. This feature is fun for the first few minutes, but quickly runs its course.
We also have a very short featurette called "Who Wants to Get Together?: 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. They tried to make this feature work on the first season box as well. It was pretty much a waste of time then, and it's still a waste of time here.
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 and third season releases. 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.
Yes, I am still pining for a release with those coveted commentaries, documentaries, and extra goodies. Rumor has it that Amy Sherman-Palladino and Daniel Palladino will provide commentary for some episodes on the fifth season release. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that this information is true, but I'm certainly not holding my breath at this point.
A Note on the Packaging:
Gilmore Girls: The Complete Fourth Season is packaged exactly like the previous season release. This time, however, I managed to receive my copy with no cracked plastic holders, scratched discs, or "floaters." Maybe I'm just lucky. I don't particularly like this packaging and I'm still going to urge Warner Bros. to switch over to the slim-cases in cardboard packaging like many studios are using for their DVD sets these days.
While the fourth season of Gilmore Girls may be the hardest for the casual fan to get through, there's still plenty for the hardcore Gilmore fans to love. Rory going off to college, Luke and Lorelai finally acknowledging that maybe there's something between them, Paris and Rory ending up as roomies, and Kirk running naked through Stars Hollow. What more could you ask for, really? It takes a little getting used to, but Gilmore Girls: The Complete Fourth Season handles the show's transition year very well, and leads into one of the most compelling years the show has ever seen. As long as Daniel and Amy Sherman-Palladino are leading the way, I'll be along for the ride.
Warner Bros., unfortunately, doesn't seem to share my sentiments about the show. While they do still provide an adequate audio-visual presentation, they decided to skimp on the extra material for this season's set. I said, in my season three review, that it was the last time I was going to let WB off the hook for a sub-par DVD release and as much as I'd like to, on the quality of the show alone, give this set a highly recommended rating, I just can't do it. Hopefully Warner Bros. will wise up and give the fan's of Gilmore Girls what they want: better packaging, some real meaty extra material, and some audio commentaries from the show's cast and creators. Until then, it's only because the show is just so damn good that Gilmore Girls: The Complete Fourth Season comes as recommended.