What Happens: Rory gets accepted into Chilton, but her interest in Dean (Jared Padalecki sporting a serious baby face) causes her to reconsider.
Why You Should Watch: First, because you’ll be completely lost from this point forward if you don’t. The pilot also lays remarkable groundwork for the rest of the series, giving us a sneak peek at just how layered the show’s relationships are.
WATCH: “The Deer Hunters” (Season 1, Episode 4)
What Happens: After Rory gets a D on a major paper at Chilton, she crams for an upcoming test on Shakespeare — only to oversleep the morning of the exam and get hit by a deer en route to school.
Why You Should Watch: It only takes us about three minutes into the pilot for us to learn that Lorelai is feisty. But it turns out Rory’s got a bit of fight in her, too, as she lashes out at her classmates for mocking her tardiness. (I’m still waiting for an appropriate real-life moment to scream, “And for the last time, my name is RORY!”)
What Happens: Before Lorelai throws Rory a real Gilmore birthday party, Emily and Richard host a stuffy soiree of their own.
Why You Should Watch: Any episode that gives us insight into Lorelai’s relationship with her parents is a win — and when Emily realizes just how many milestones she’s missed in her own daughter’s life, her heartache is almost tangible.
WATCH: “Kiss and Tell” (Season 1, Episode 7)
What Happens: When Dean gives Rory her first kiss at Doose’s Market (in Aisle 3, which is a good aisle), Rory keeps it from Lorelai much longer than she should.
Why You Should Watch: Rory accidentally steals corn starch, runs across town to tell Lane about her kiss, agonizes over what to wear when Dean comes over for movie night — and Alexis Bledel perfectly captures the giddiness of young love.
What Happens: Rory’s dad Christopher comes back to town, and when his extra-judgmental parents join the Friday Night Dinner festivities, things take a turn for the worse.
Why You Should Watch: Even though Luke and Lorelai seem MFEO from the start, Christopher’s charm gets us wondering, “Wait. Maybe he’s the one for Lorelai?” (And then we continue asking ourselves that question for six more years. The agony!)
WATCH: “Love, Daisies and Troubadours” (Season 1, Episode 21)
What Happens: Rory finally tells Dean the three words he needs to hear. (“Get a haircut!” — I kid, I kid.) Meanwhile, Max proposes to Lorelai with the help of a thousand yellow daisies.
Why You Should Watch: Uh, are the thousand yellow daisies not enough?
What Happens: When Lorelai scores tickets to a Bangles concert — who were old news even by 2001 standards — things go south when she lets Rory take Paris, Madeline and Louise to the concert.
Why You Should Skip: When Madeline and Louise take off from the concert with two boys they just met, the episode takes on a Full House vibe, complete with a life lesson at the end of the hour. (On the other hand: A young Brandon Routh guest-stars!)
WATCH: “The Bracebridge Dinner” (Season 2, Episode 10)
What Happens: The Independence Inn hosts a fancy dinner party for the town, complete with old-fashioned food and costumes.
Why You Should Watch: Although the episode does move the plot along in a number of ways (Richard retires without telling Emily, Jess tries once more to win Rory over), this episode has always been one of my favorites because it embodies everything Stars Hollow is about. There’s a snowman-building contest, horse-drawn carriages and Sookie getting way too excited about all that old-timey dialogue.
What Happens: Rory ditches school and visits Jess in New York City, causing her to miss Lorelai’s graduation from business school.
Why You Should Watch: This entire episode is a Rory/Jess lover’s dream. They eat hot dogs together! They visit a record store together! He didn’t say goodbye! But there’s no scene more moving than Lorelai’s walk across the stage to grab her diploma, when she looks out at the audience to see her proud parents beaming. (I just have something in my eye, okay? I swear.)
WATCH: “I Can’t Get Started” (Season 2, Episode 22)
What Happens: Sookie gets married! Also, Christopher and Lorelai move toward an actual relationship, and Rory acts on her feelings for Jess. (Like, more than she already has.)
Why You Should Watch: Although the Season 2 finale brings out a full gamut of emotions in every character, the hour belongs to Lauren Graham, who gives one of her best (and most heartbreaking) performances of the series. Also, it’s tough to believe many didn’t catch on to Melissa McCarthy’s comedy chops until Bridesmaids, given Sookie’s middle-of-the-night meltdown in the Independence Inn kitchen.
SKIP: “Richard in Stars Hollow” (Season 2, Episode 12)
What Happens: Newly retired Richard spends the day in Stars Hollow with Lorelai, only to drive her nuts at every turn.
Why You Should Skip: Fortunately, Richard doesn’t stay retired for long, but the few episodes when he’s not working are some of the show’s weakest. This one is particularly infuriating, as Richard criticizes Lorelai nonstop during their day together.
What Happens: The town hosts its annual 24-hour dance marathon, which Lorelai is determined to win.
Why You Should Watch: Confession: This is my all-time favorite Gilmore episode, and I can’t even hope to keep my love for it a secret. Between Lorelai and Rory’s gorgeous costumes, actual progress in the Rory/Jess/Dean love triangle and Adam Brody’s appearance as the sweet Dave Rygalski, this episode is utterly pitch-perfect.
WATCH: “A Deep-Fried Korean Thanksgiving” (Season 3, Episode 9)
What Happens: Determined to see all of their loved ones on Thanksgiving, Lorelai and Rory celebrate the holiday at four different dinners.
Why You Should Watch: Two words: Drunk. Sookie.
WATCH: “Dear Emily and Richard” (Season 3, Episode 13)
What Happens: When Sherry goes into labor early (and Rory is the only one there to comfort her), a series of flashbacks shows 16-year-old Lorelai getting pregnant, giving birth and ultimately leaving home.
Why You Should Watch: First, to see a pre-Witches of East End Madchen Amick in her funniest Gilmore appearance. Second, to get an even better understanding of the deeply complicated Lorelai-Emily-Richard relationship (and perhaps even feel some sympathy for the elder Gilmores in the process).
WATCH: “The Big One” (Season 3, Episode 16)
What Happens: When Rory and Paris are invited to give a speech on C-SPAN for Chilton’s bicentennial, the presentation falls apart when Paris gets disappointing news about Harvard.
Why You Should Watch: It’s hard to pinpoint exactly which of Paris’ dizzying monologues from the series are the best. But the one she delivers in this episode, live on national television, is easily in the Top 3 — if only because it includes the words “sex” and “Harvard” in the same sentence.
WATCH: “Those Are Strings, Pinocchio” (Season 3, Episode 22)
What Happens: Rory graduates from Chilton, and Sookie and Lorelai move forward with purchasing the Dragonfly Inn.
Why You Should Watch: You won’t be able to get through Rory’s valedictorian speech without crying (or blubbering, at that). Plus, Luke sports his best haircut of the series. (It’s worth commemorating!)
SKIP: “Here Comes the Son” (Season 3, Episode 21)
What Happens: After Jess’ father makes a brief visit to Stars Hollow, Jess hops on a bus to California to track the man down again.
Why You Should Skip: Intended as a backdoor pilot for a Jess-centric spin-off that never came to be, the episode ends up feeling out of place in an otherwise banner season. (And watching Jess stroll through California in a leather jacket will make you very uncomfortable.)
WATCH: “The Lorelais’ First Day at Yale” (Season 4, Episode 2)
What Happens: Rory moves into her dorm room at Yale, and Lorelai stays the night to make her feel more at home.
Why You Should Watch: If you’re looking for an episode that perfectly encapsulates Lorelai and Rory’s relationship, this is the one. They’re brutally honest with each other (“Remember that stick from earlier? I think it’s somewhere else now!”), but Lorelai’s willingness to keep Rory company on her first night at college is one of the series’ most heartwarming moments. Prepare to add “Copper boom!” to your regular vocabulary.
WATCH: “The Festival of Living Art” (Season 4, Episode 7)
What Happens: Lorelai tries to redeem herself when Stars Hollow once again hosts The Festival of Living Art, and Sookie worries she’ll never give birth.
Why You Should Watch: Sure, the make-up in this episode may have earned Gilmore Girls its only Emmy ever (still not over it). But the episode is also completely fun and absurd, in a way only Stars Hollow could be.
WATCH: “The Incredible Sinking Lorelais” (Season 4, Episode 14)
What Happens: Lorelai and Rory are unable to get in touch with each other during a very stressful week.
Why You Should Watch: Because seeing Luke comfort Lorelai in her time of crisis (and, uh, watching Dean do the same for Rory, I guess) is absolutely precious.
What Happens: Luke’s sister Liz gets married, and Jess returns to town for the big occasion.
Why You Should Watch: I would put this on the Must-Skip list, solely for Jess’ hairstyle at the time. But the episode redeems itself with a sweet wedding ceremony, a heartbreaking ultimatum for Rory and the fantastic revelation that Luke can waltz.
WATCH: “Raincoats and Recipes” (Season 4, Episode 22)
What Happens: The Dragonfly Inn opens for a weekend-long test run, and Lorelai and Rory are at the center of the ensuing drama.
Why You Should Watch: Doesn’t that photo really say it all?
SKIP: “The Fundamental Things Apply” (Season 4, Episode 5)
What Happens: Rory’s venture into the dating world goes poorly, and Lorelai realizes her designer for the inn once worked for Emily.
Why You Should Skip: Although Luke and Lorelai’s movie night saves this episode, Rory’s awkward date (urine mints?) and Lorelai’s workplace woes aren’t particularly compelling.
WATCH: “Written in the Stars” (Season 5, Episode 3)
What Happens: Luke takes Lorelai out on their first official date, and Rory meets Logan for the first time. (Let us never forget Cary Agos’ roots.)
Why You Should Watch: I repeat: Luke takes Lorelai out on their first official date! And all it takes is a seven-year-old horoscope to get us swooning.
WATCH: “Wedding Bell Blues” (Season 5, Episode 13)
What Happens: In the series’ 100th episode, newly reconciled Emily and Richard renew their wedding vows — but things go south at the ceremony.
Why You Should Watch: If you’re a longtime Gilmore fan, you know the awful events that are set in motion by this episode. But at the same time, it’s thrilling to watch the mayhem unfold — even if Christopher’s appearance at the ceremony sends your blood pressure through the roof.
WATCH: “Say Something” (Season 5, Episode 14)
What Happens: In the aftermath of Emily and Richard’s vow renewal, Luke breaks up with Lorelai.
Why You Should Watch: To get through this hour, you may need to crack open one of those extra-large tubs of Ben & Jerry’s that Rory eats in her post-Dean wallowing. It’s the only real way to cope with Lorelai’s heartache — and this devastating dream sequence that was featured at the show’s creative peak.
WATCH (Bonus!): “But I’m a Gilmore!” (Season 5, Episode 19)
What Happens: When Rory gives Logan an ultimatum, she becomes his official girlfriend — and endures a humiliating dinner at the Huntzbergers’ home that evening.
Why You Should Watch: Even though this is a crucial episode for Rory and Logan’s relationship, we’re more excited to see our own Michael Ausiello (that’s him, on the right!), who briefly appeared as a guest at the Dragonfly Inn hoping to get away from a bickering Luke and Lorelai. The performance drew rave reviews, including this one from his Aunt Joan: “I didn’t see you. What scene were you in?”
SKIP: “But Not as Cute as Pushkin” (Season 5, Episode 10)
What Happens: Rory hosts a Chilton student who has ambitions of going to Yale, while Luke becomes sullen on the anniversary of his dad’s death.
Why You Should Skip: Rory’s protégé is frustratingly obsessed with the freedom of college life (Boys! Watching TV before bed! Did I mention boys?), making it hard to buy into the premise of the episode. However, the episode does feature this memorable line: “Damn it, Gilmore, give ’em back their balls.” So, there’s that.
WATCH: “We’ve Got Magic to Do” (Season 6, Episode 5)
What Happens: Rory takes over the planning for a DAR function, and Emily and Richard learn the truth about the Huntzbergers’ treatment of Rory.
Why You Should Watch: There’s nothing quite like seeing Emily “The Cobra” Gilmore take down an opponent. It’s even better when she uses the phrase “two-bit gold-digger.”
WATCH: “Friday Night’s Alright for Fighting” (Season 6, Episode 13)
What Happens: Logan helps Rory and the Yale Daily News staff meet their deadline, and Friday Night Dinners resume.
Why You Should Watch: Best. Friday Night Dinner. Ever.
What Happens: Luke and Lorelai join Rory and Logan on a Valentine’s Day trip to Martha’s Vineyard.
Why You Should Skip: When both couples spend a weekend in the same vacation house together, it leads to a number of painfully awkward moments — all of which needlessly make Luke and Lorelai seem like the inferior couple.
WATCH: “Bon Voyage” (Season 7, Episode 22)
What Happens: Rory takes a job as a political reporter, and the entire town comes together to see her off.
Why You Should Watch: Yes, the series finale was overstuffed, a bit too saccharine and not how Amy Sherman-Palladino envisioned her show ending. You don’t have to love it, and there are plenty of fans who don’t. But your Gilmore Girls viewing experience wouldn’t be complete without the series ender — and Luke’s painstaking efforts to throw Rory a perfect party are the precise thing that will have you reaching for the Kleenex.
SKIP: “Lorelai? Lorelai?” (Season 7, Episode 20)
What Happens: April gets accepted into a science camp that keeps her from a boating trip with Luke, and Logan asks Lorelai’s permission to propose to Rory.
Why You Should Skip: Allow me to explain before you say, “But this is the episode where Lorelai sings to Luke!” Although Lorelai’s poignant performance of “I Will Always Love You” is an unforgettable moment in her relationship with Luke, the scene also gives us some secondhand embarrassment. (Plus, Amy Sherman-Palladino once said, “When I put karaoke in a script, someone is going to be able to shoot me in the head at a table read.” And who are we to argue?)