Lorelai says that the scripts for The Donna Reed Show were written by a man, which Rory endorses. Although most of the writers on the show were male, there were female writers too, including Barbara Avedon (creator of Cagney & Lacey) [pictured], Helen Levitt, Erna Lazarus, Peggy Chantler Dick, Kay Lenard, Mathilde Ferro, Jacqueline Trotte, Sheila Lynch, and Janet Carlson.
Amusingly, That Damn Donna Reed was written by a man – Daniel Palladino. There may be a slight suggestion here that just because a man writes a script for female characters doesn’t automatically make it anti-woman or oppressive to them, just as a script by a woman isn’t necessarily a feminist text.
LORELAI: She’s [Donna Reed] medicated.
RORY: And acting from a script.
LORELAI: Written by a man.
RORY: Well said, Sister Suffragette.
Sister Suffragette is a song from the 1964 Disney film Mary Poppins, written by Richard and Robert Sherman. Sung by Glynis Johns in the role of Mrs. Winifred Banks, it is a pro-suffrage song as Mrs. Banks is a supporter of votes for women. The song’s chorus ends with the words, “Well done, Sister Suffragette!”.
Mary Poppins was loosely based on the children’s book of the same name by Australian author P.L. Travers, and directed by Robert Stevenson, with Julie Andrews in the title role. The story is about a magical nanny who comes to care for two children in Edwardian London, and improves the lives of all the family.
Mary Poppins was the #3 film of of 1964 and received universal acclaim from critics. It won five Academy Awards, including a Best Actress for Julie Andrews, and is generally seen as Walt Disney’s crowning achievement. It was released on home video three times during the 1990s, suggesting that Lorelai may have bought it for Rory the previous decade.
As they watch The Donna Reed Show, Lorelai and Rory make up their own snarky dialogue to accompany the episode. This is highly suggestive of the American comedy television series Mystery Science Theater 3000, which originally ran from 1988 to 1999.
The premise of the show is that the host has been kidnapped by mad scientists and imprisoned on a space ship to watch bad movies until it drives him crazy. To keep his sanity, the host builds sentient robots to act as his companions, and makes sarcastic comments on the film he is forced to watch. This may be one of the inspirations for Lorelai and Rory’s behaviour.
RORY: My favorite episode –
LORELAI: Mm, mm … tell me, tell me.
RORY: – is when their son, Jeff, comes home from school and nothing happens.
LORELAI: Oh that’s a good one. One of my favorites is when Mary, the daughter, gets a part-time job and nothing happens.
Television episodes where “nothing happens” is also criticism that could be levelled at Gilmore Girls, and has been (for example, at A.V. Club). Maybe your favourite episode is the one where Lorelai’s house gets termites, and nothing happens, or the one where Lane dyes her hair purple, and nothing happens – or even when Rory dresses up as Donna Reed, and nothing happens.
Like The Donna Reed Show, the world of Gilmore Girls is one where interpersonal relationships are more important than dramatic outer events. Even when something quite exciting does happen, the characters have often been returned to the status quo by the end by the episode, or only subtle changes have occurred.
DEAN: So it’s a show?
RORY: It’s a lifestyle.
LORELAI: It’s a religion.
Dialogue which fans have taken and applied to Gilmore Girls itself.
DEAN: So, who’s Donna Reed?
LORELAI: You don’t know who Donna Reed is? The quintessential ’50s mom with the perfect ’50s family?
RORY: Never without a smile and high heels?
LORELAI: Hair, that if you hit it with a hammer, would crack?
Donna Reed, born Donna Mullenger (1921-1986) was an American actress and producer, with a career lasting over 40 years, and roles in more than 40 films. She is well known for her role as Mary Bailey in the 1946 film It’s a Wonderful Life, and in 1953 won Best Supporting Actress playing Lorene Burke in From Here to Eternity.
The Donna Reed Show made her a household name and earned her a Golden Globe for Best Female TV Star, and several Emmy nominations. She also appeared on television in The Love Boat, and as Miss Ellie Ewing on Dallas from 1984-85, her final role.
As Lorelai and Rory only talk about Donna Reed in regard to her role on The Donna Reed Show, it suggests that they are ignorant about her life and career otherwise, or simply discount it. You can’t help but feel that the writer is setting them up as straw feminists.
Dean brings salad to have with the pizza, which makes Lorelai and Rory eye him strangely until he says the salad is only for him. Lorelai’s eating of salad while waiting for a pizza a couple of months ago must have been through sheer desperation, and not something she mentions to others or plans to replicate.