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‘Gilmore Girls’ is great

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One of this season's most pro-family new shows revolves around a non-traditional mother-daughter duo.

The "Gilmore Girls" are 32-year-old Loralai Gilmore (Lauren Graham) and her 16-year-old daughter, Rory (Alexis Bledel). They're at the center of a wonderful hour that's fresh and funny.

In Thursday's premiere (7 p.m., WB/Ch. 30), we meet the Gilmores — including Loralai's wealthy parents (Edward Herrmann and Kelly Bishop), from whom she has been estranged since she got pregnant at the age of 16. Loralai has made a good life for herself and her daughter — Loralai is the successful manager of an inn. And she's remained independent from her old-money mother and father.

That is, until Rory is accepted at prestigious, expensive Chilton Prep. Loralai is forced to go to her parents for money.

They agree but with one string attached — her mother wants to be allowed back into Loralai's life and insists that both "Girls" come to dinner every Friday night.

Not your archetypal family unit but one that appears to be loaded with possibilities for a continuing series. Creator/executive producer Amy Sherman-Palladino has done a great job of taking a traditional TV format and making it hip.

"You want a show to stay on 5,000 years, pick a family show," Sherman-Palladino said. "Those are the richest areas in the world. I think those are where the greatest stories come from. It's the greatest complex relationships . . . As a writer, to really get something good and interesting and deep and screwed up and fun and heartwarming and evil all in the same thing, you can go to a family. So, for me, it's not a matter of hip or not hip. It's a matter of what is sort of a timeless show that I want to be deeply, deeply involved in for the rest of my life.

"As far as hip, well, I don't know. Many things are hip, and then they go off after 12 episodes."

Her show's off to a good start. Her characters are not only interesting, but they ring true.

"The characters are three-dimensional," said the estimable Herrmann. "They're funny. I think, on another level, the older Gilmores have values that are very stiff and difficult for kids to accept, except they're often correct. . . . There's as much of a distance between Rory and Loralai as there is between Loralai and her folks. And I see a bridge forming between Rory and the grandparents before there's another bridge between the two of them. I love the generational aspect of this series."

And, while there's plenty of humor in "Gilmore Girls," there's that underlying pain that gives the show depth.

"I know there's so much conflict between Loralai and the mother, but there's so much pain between the father and Loralai," Sherman-Palladino said. "That's a man who hasn't just shut down because he's stiff. He's shut down because his only daughter broke his heart. That's wonderful stuff to go and go into."

And there's more to the show than just the Gilmores — the pilot episode introduces a great supporting cast, from Loralai's best friend, a hopelessly clumsy cook (Melissa McCarthy), to Rory's best friend (Keiko Agena), whose traditional Korean-American parents don't quite approve of the Gilmores. There's the inn's haughty concierge (Yanic Truesdale), the owner of the local coffeehouse (Scott Patterson) who has feelings for Loralai; and Miss Patty (Liz Torres), the town's dance teacher and chief gossip.

Sherman-Palladino herself compared "Gilmore Girls" to "Northern Exposure," and it has that feel — a village full of characters who add to the show's palette. "Our town is going to become a character in the show," she said. At least in its first episode, "Gilmore Girls" is the best sort of family show — one that has "family values" (however non-traditional) as its underpinnings, not one that beats viewers over the head with its preaching.

"I'm all for families," Sherman-Palladino said. "Honestly, I didn't go into this with any sort of agenda. I went into this strictly with — what kind of stories can I picture myself working 24 hours a day on for, like, the next five years? And this is it for me."

Hopefully, it will be for viewers as well.

E-mal: pierce@desnews.com