LORELAI Mmm. Kick-ass wine.
EMILY: How poetic.
LORELAI: It’s got a nice smell: earthy, vibrant. I can taste the Italians’ feet.
Lorelai is referring to grape-stomping or pieage, a traditional winemaking technique where the grapes are crushed by human feet – evidence of the practice can be found in pictures from ancient Egypt and ancient Rome. Since the Middle Ages this part of the winemaking process is nearly always done by machinery, and even in ancient times there were wine presses to do most of the work.
However, grape stomping has never been completely abandoned, and survives in small pockets. These days it is often a fun event at cultural festivals and wine festivals, and some vineyards will charge you for the pleasure of partaking in the activity.
The popular idea of grape stomping being part of the winemaking process can probably be traced back to I Love Lucy. In the 1956 episode Lucy’s Italian Movie, while on a trip to Rome a film producer suggests Lucy audition for his new movie called Bitter Grapes. Lucy thinks it must be about winemaking, so finds the only winery left in the area that still makes wine using grape-stomping so she can practice the technique in advance.
This probably explains why Lucy-loving Lorelai immediately connects the wine to Italian feet in particular.
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.
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.
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.
This is the television program that Lorelai and Rory watch with Dean, and is the basis for the episode’s title.
The Donna Reed Show is a sit-com starring Donna Reed as middle-class housewife Donna Stone. Carl Betz played opposite her as Donna’s paediatrician husband Alex, and Shelley Fabares and Paul Petersen were their teenaged children, Mary and Jeff.
Although Lorelai and Rory consider the show hopelessly outdated and sexist, episodes occasionally examined issues such as women’s rights (not with any radical outcomes, it must be said). But Donna Stone was a more assertive mother than had previously been shown on television, and it was the first sitcom to focus on the mother as the central figure in a domestic comedy. It helped pave the way for shows such as Roseanne and even Gilmore Girls (both shows that Amy Sherman-Palladino worked on).
The Donna Reed Show was attacked by feminists in the 1970s as presenting an idealised view of domesticity, so Rory and Lorelai’s criticisms feel really behind the times. It’s strange that they are giving feminist opinions from a generation ago as if they are clever and new – maybe they really do watch too many old movies?
The Donna Reed Show originally aired from 1958-1966, and was one of the most popular programs of 1963-64. It was only cancelled when Donna Reed became tired of doing the show.
Reruns of The Donna Reed Show were shown on Nick at Nite from 1985 to 1994. It wasn’t on TV in 2001, and hadn’t yet been released on DVD, meaning that the only way Lorelai and Rory can be watching the show is because they taped it off TV ages ago and are still watching it on video at least seven years later. Despite their mocking of the show, they must really be huge fans! (Again, how a show that hadn’t been on TV in nearly a decade is a relevant target for their attacks is a puzzle).
RORY: You were right [about Madeline and Louise checking out two guys].
PARIS: And before it’s dark, they’ll have every picnic basket that’s in Jellystone Park.
Paris is referring to the Hanna-Barbera cartoon character Yogi Bear, who, together with his sidekick Boo-Boo Bear, spent all his time trying to steal picnic baskets from Jellystone National Park (based on the real life Yellowstone National Park). Yogi Bear made his debut in 1958 on The Huckleberry Hound Show, and got his own show, The Yogi Bear Show, in 1961. Since then he’s appeared in numerous TV shows, animated films, video games, and comic books.
Paris is likening Yogi and Boo-Boo’s obsession for stealing picnic baskets to Madeline and Louise’s persistence in going after guys.
LOUISE: So how’s that going? Are you two [Rory and Dean] still Joanie Loves Chachi?
RORY: God, I hope not.
Joanie Loves Chachi was a sit-com which ran from 1982-1983. A spin-off from Happy Days, it starred Erin Moran as Joanie Cunningham (Richie Cunningham’s sister), and Scott Baio as her boyfriend Chachi Arcola (The Fonz’s cousin), with the pair becoming singer-songwriters in Chicago. The show quickly tanked as it turned out people weren’t watching Happy Days so they could see these two lovebirds warble at each other.
Rory’s disgusted response seems to indicate that she knows the show was a disaster and doesn’t want her relationship compared to it. The show ended before Rory and Louise were born, and was never popular, but reruns were shown on Nick at Nite (apparently all teenagers on Gilmore Girls watched Nick at Nite so they could keep up with 1980s cultural references).