Some things have inexplicable staying power. The Hermès Birkin bag. Cheetos. Crocs.
And for nostalgic millennials, there is “Gilmore Girls.” The show ended its seven-year run on the WB and CW networks in 2007, yet viewers keep returning to the familiar comfort of the fictional town of Stars Hollow, Conn., where the series was set.
Netflix recorded 500 million viewing hours for the show from January to June of last year, surpassing hits like “Seinfeld” and “Stranger Things,” and data released on Monday by the research firm Nielsen showed that “Gilmore Girls” was among the Top 10 most-watched shows across the major streaming platforms in 2023.
The show, which concluded the month before the iPhone was introduced, is even finding a younger audience on TikTok, where users post scenes they love and argue about their favorite romantic partners for every character.
Yanic Truesdale, who played the grumpy inn concierge Michel, lovingly called it “the show that will never die.”
“I’ve had hundreds, if not thousands, over the years, of people saying, ‘I got a surgery, and your show kept me going,’” he said. “Or, ‘I lost my dad,’ or ‘I lost this person, and I would watch the show and I would feel better.’”
He added that he still meets fans who offer testaments to its popularity: “I’m always amazed that 10-year-olds, 15-year-olds — kids — are watching it as if it just came out.”
What is it about this show that makes it so comforting to rewatch?
“It has that heart that touches people,” said Brenda Maben, the show’s costume designer.
“There’s no violence,” she added. “It’s just small-town love, basically, and that’s why I think people like it. It makes them feel safe and warm and cozy. It just brings up good feelings.”
For Truesdale, the appeal “probably more so now than ever is that it’s not a cynical show; it’s a show about a bunch of different people that come together and find ways to like each other and get along.”
The show follows Lorelai Gilmore (Lauren Graham) and her daughter, Rory (Alexis Bledel), as they reconnect with Lorelai’s affluent parents to send Rory to an elite high school to help her get into Harvard. The town where they live, Stars Hollow, with its endearingly nosy residents and seasonally decorated center, has also become a character in its own right, with fans flocking to Washington, Conn., one of the places that inspired it.
There are no life-or-death dramas or unsolvable dilemmas in the show, only deeply intertwined relationships, quirky townsfolk and snappy dialogue.
In a thread in the r/GilmoreGirls subreddit from 2021, dozens of people shared why they turn back to the series so often: It’s an emotional support show. It’s comfort food. It got me through a breakup. It reminds me of my childhood. Winter is depressing, and “Gilmore Girls” makes it better.
Rewatching is like “that same feeling of remembering that you have a pint of your favorite ice cream in the freezer,” said Tara Llewellyn, who hosts “Gilmore to Say,” a “Gilmore Girls” rewatch podcast, with Haley McIntosh. “It’s so hard to pinpoint why that is. It could be because of nostalgia; it could be because it reminds you of a relationship.”
Llewellyn and McIntosh estimated that they each spend about five to 10 hours a week watching the show.
Rewatching a favorite show can also be a healthy coping mechanism for stressful times, said Ellen Hendriksen, a clinical psychologist and an assistant professor at Boston University.
“If predictability or certainty is missing from your life, or if we’re reflecting on the larger political landscape, or environmental uncertainty, even something like a TV show can definitely act as a certainty anchor,” Dr. Hendriksen said.
A 2009 study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology found that rewatching our favorite TV shows can reduce feelings of loneliness and mitigate drops in self-esteem and mood.
And for some, the cold and gloomy seasons can amplify the need for self-care.
“Life kind of slips away, the trees are losing their leaves, and everything starts to be gray, so you need to find some comfort somewhere,” Truesdale, who is from Montreal, said.
“Being from Canada, I associate fall and winter with connecting with my friends and being more introspective,” he added. “So, it kind of makes sense to me that you would want to watch a show that conveys those emotions, because that’s kind of how you’re feeling.”
Over the years, fans have come to associate “Gilmore Girls” with the colder months, and viewership data supports the connection. Between late 2020 and the middle of 2023, streaming viewership of “Gilmore Girls” was on average about 14 percent higher in the fall and winter than in the spring and summer, according to Nielsen. The show had particularly high engagement in January, according to Nielsen, as well as in October, November and August.
McIntosh said that her podcast’s audience increases “tenfold” starting in the fall, matching when each season of “Gilmore Girls” begins with Rory’s new school year. “The colors that they’re wearing, the foods that they’re eating, the town events that are occurring” all feel like fall, McIntosh said.
And then there is winter: What fan could forget Lorelai saying, “I smell snow,” moments before the season’s first flurry?
“It’s my favorite time of year,” Maben, the costume designer, said. “I love sweaters; I love layering; I love being cozy, and hopefully I demonstrated my love for that in the show.”
A few quintessential winter scenes from the series come to mind, like when Lorelai arrives home after a long day to find that her boyfriend, Luke, has built an ice-skating rink in her front yard.
Then there was the snowy dinner with sleigh rides that Lorelai hosted for the residents of Stars Hollow at her inn. The show’s creator, Amy Sherman-Palladino, told Rolling Stone that filming that episode was “the greatest moment of my life, ever.”
In each season, Stars Hollow hosts events that seem to draw everyone in town: the Autumn Festival, the Winter Carnival, the Firelight Festival, the Christmas pageant, the Stars Hollow Dance Marathon, the Knit-a-thon.
“The characters — the townies — just make you feel like you want to dive in and live in this small town where everybody knows each other’s business,” Llewellyn said.
Viewers “consider this their comfort food,” she added. “You know the ending, you know how it’s going to turn out. There’s something very soothing about that.”