Many television shows are based in colleges or high schools, but most of them prefer to focus on the social lives of students as opposed to their academic lives. Backstabbing, betrayal and general debauchery abound.The Gilmore Girls was a different kind of youth-focused show. While it did chronicle the social failures and victories of its main character, Rory Gilmore, it also closely followed her intellectual journey, beginning at a public high school in her small hometown of (fictional) Stars Hollow, Connecticut to the prestigious (and also fictional) prep school Chilton, and finally on to Yale University.
Credit: ShmoopLike most TV starlets, Rory Gilmore (or the actress who played her) was thin and pretty, but unlike many other teenagers on television, she was also brilliant. Fans of the show learn that she read Norman Mailer's The Naked and the Dead, a classic WWII novel, while she was still "in feetie pajamas." Rory loves literature and current events. She idolizes Christiane Amanpour, and pursues her goal of becoming a foreign correspondent despite many obstacles.
Gilmore Girls also shows Rory's struggles with friends, family and dating but also realistically depicts the difficulty of gaining admission to an elite university like Harvard (where Rory applies and is accepted before she ultimately chooses Yale). After gaining admission to the exclusive Chilton Academy, Rory learns that being a strong student is not enough to be a competitive applicant at Harvard. To improve her chances of admission, she not only takes challenging courses like AP English Literature, but also becomes student body vice president and volunteers for Habitat for Humanity.
The show is also aware of the fact that wealth and privilege play a large role in a student's chances of being admitted to a top university. Rory's grandfather is a prominent Yale alumnus and "just happens" to be good friends with the dean of admissions. Other students at her expensive prep school talk about being "legacies" at top campuses: students who hail from a long line of alumni from the same prestigious college. In addition to having these kinds of advantageous connections, these students are also able to afford things like pricey ACT prep courses and college counselors.
Though Rory is technically a part of this world of privilege (her grandparents are extraordinarily wealthy and active participants in New England high society), her mother works hard to keep her humble and grounded. She supports Rory's dreams and goals, but clearly wishes that the Ivy League, and, indeed, the world at large, was more a meritocracy than an exclusive good old boys club. Rory's struggle to reconcile her blue-blood heritage with her more modest upbringing is a frequent theme in the show and makes her a compelling character instead of a stereotypical spoiled rich girl.
A shy, quiet girl who prefers reading novels to gaining social standing may not seem like a compelling protagonist for a television show, the Gilmore Girls enjoyed critical acclaim and relative longevity, hopefully proving that viewers are interested in watching a young woman of integrity and intellect as much as (or more than) the alternative.