Every year, as autumn comes around, it’s like clockwork. Wanting something cozy and comforting to watch as the days get colder, I turn once again to “Gilmore Girls.”
It’s a testament to showrunner Amy Sherman-Palladino that the world of Stars Hollow, with its low stakes, endless pop culture references and compelling relationships remains as charming and inviting to watch all these years later. It’s been 20 years this week since Lorelai (Lauren Graham), Rory (Alexis Bledel) and the other weird, wonderful residents of Stars Hollow arrived on our TV screens, so to celebrate I thought I’d rank my favorite episodes of the show.
1. Season 2, Episode 10 “The Bracebridge Dinner”
For me, season two’s “The Bracebridge Dinner” ultimately takes the top spot. When looking for a comfort-watch, this episode is my go-to every time. In true “Gilmore Girls” fashion, the stakes are small, with a guest’s cancellation at the inn ending with Lorelai inviting the town and her parents to an “out of control slumber party.” This episode encapsulates everything fans love about the show, with the cozy feel and community focus resulting in an episode that only “Gilmore Girls” could pull off so well. It’s also a great ensemble piece, featuring Emily (Kelly Bishop), Richard (Edward Herrmann) and Paris (Liza Weil) interacting with the other Stars Hollow residents, something that rarely happens throughout the show’s run. It’s not entirely without drama, as we see Richard’s retirement and Jess’s (Milo Ventimiglia) character officially becoming a threat to Rory and Dean’s (Jared Padalecki) relationship.
2. Season 3, Episode 7 “They Shoot Gilmores, Don’t They?”
“Gilmore Girls” fires on all cylinders with this fan-favorite episode centering around a 24-hour dance marathon in Stars Hollow. It’s brilliant watching the cast all dressed up on the dance floor (fittingly directed by “High School Musical”’s Kenny Ortega). It’s the kind of chaos that only Amy Sherman-Palladino could pull off, with (spoiler!) Rory and Dean’s breakup on the dance floor leading to Lorelai comforting a heartbroken Rory, while Kurt (Sean Gunn) dances in the background — “Gilmore Girls” in a nutshell.
3. Season 4, Episode 22 “Raincoats and Recipes”
This episode has everything. Lorelai and Sookie (Melissa McCarthy) open the Dragonfly Inn! Richard and Emily separate! Rory sleeps with a married Dean! Kirk has night terrors! But through all this glorious drama, Lorelai and Luke (Scott Patterson) finally kiss, in what must be the longest slow-burn relationship in TV history. This episode also complicates Rory’s character, firmly placing her in the wrong for the first time, marking the start of an interesting, but perhaps inevitable path for her character.
4. Season 5, Episode 13 “Wedding Bell Blues”
The show’s 100th episode is suitably memorable, with Richard and Emily’s vow renewal creating some intense family drama. This episode is a testament to how well-crafted the characters are at this point, as we see the highs of Richard and Emily’s love for each other and the lows of Emily’s meddling and Christopher’s (David Sutcliffe) general existence. It’s a perfect representation of the enthralling family dynamics that make the show so fun to watch.
5. Season 3, Episode 22 “Those are Strings, Pinocchio”
Rory’s graduation is a high point for “Gilmore Girls,” ending a significant chapter for Rory and Lorelai both. It is near-impossible to not well up when Rory (in what is probably the character’s finest hour) gives her graduation speech, particularly when she says: “My mother never gave me any idea that I couldn’t do whatever I wanted to do or be whomever I wanted to be.” (Reader, I cried.) One of the show’s best episodes, and easily the best of their season finales.
6. Season 1, Episode 9 “Rory’s Dance”
This episode highlights early on that, while “Gilmore Girls” has the ability to just be a comforting show about a mother and daughter, it can also gut-punch you when necessary. This is on full display here as Rory’s first dance at Chilton leads to Lorelai and Emily connecting before Rory’s overnight disappearance with Dean reopens the scars of the Gilmore family.
Watching Lauren Graham and Kelly Bishop spar with each other is magnetic, devastating and brilliant. This episode underlines that the core strength of the show lies with the dynamic between the three generations of Gilmore women, with all the hurt, resentment and love that comes with it.
7. Season 1, Episode 6 “Rory’s Birthday Parties”
“Gilmore Girls” merges its worlds for the first time and, as a result, produces one of its strongest early episodes. While there are many sweet moments at Rory’s 16th birthday party, it’s Emily and Richard’s attendance that stands out. It’s Emily’s quiet resignation that always strikes me though, as she realizes how little she knows her daughter and how much of her life she’s missed.
8. Season 5, Episode 7 “You Jump, I Jump Jack”
There’s a lot of bad to be said about Logan Huntzberger (Matt Czuchry), but if there’s an episode that defends his character and promotes his relationship with Rory, it’s this one. Notable for the first proper showcase of Yale’s Life and Death Brigade, the episode’s ending stunt stresses that at his best, Logan pushed Rory out of her comfort zone and helped her enjoy new experiences. It’s here that Rory becomes further intertwined with the world of privilege that Lorelai left behind.
9. Season 6, Episode 8 “Let Me Hear Your Balalaikas Ringing Out”
AKA the best defense for #TeamJess. Additionally, Jess’s return displays the best growth of any character on the show, which is rightly put to use as he convinces Rory to sort her life out.
10. Season 6, Episode 13 “Friday Night’s Alright for Fighting”
This episode is on the list only because of the legendary Friday night dinner. Truly incredible, with impeccable directing and displays of the show’s best writing.
Other Notable Episodes:
Season 3, Episode 2 “Haunted Leg”
An episode that reminds the audience that while Christopher’s character is the worst, Lauren Graham’s acting is the best.
Season 1, Episode 5 “Cinnamon’s Wake”
Features the thrills of Rory and Dean’s courtship and the best of Lorelai and Rory’s relationships with their neighbors in Stars Hollow.
Season 2, Episode 22 “I Can’t Get Started”
AKA the one where we first hear the iconic “Oy with the poodles already.” Additionally, a heck of a season finale.