We're likely to look back on 2020 as being extraordinary, and not in a good way. Who knew in January that a snazzy face mask might turn out to be an ideal Christmas gift? Or that the term "social distancing" would permeate the lexicon?
In these COVID-afflicted days, it's no surprise that people are turning to TV for comfort, a refuge from the scary world outside. So this might not feel like the time for another bleak European crime thriller, the type of series that features a melancholy piano theme and aerial shots of gloomily forbidding forests where murder victims' bodies are concealed.
Lauren Graham and Alexis Bledel as mother and daughter Lorelai and Rory in Gilmore Girls, which has just marked the 20th anniversary of its first US broadcast.
Still, there are other places to go. For a start, how about a visit to Stars Hollow? The fictional Connecticut town that appears perpetually bathed in a rosy glow is the setting for Gilmore Girls, which recently celebrated the 20th anniversary of its US premiere.
Along with similarly inviting series such as Friends and Schitt's Creek, Gilmore Girls has been the beneficiary of something that might be described as "the Netflix effect". These shows have become available in their entirety, so, even if you missed them first time 'round, or if you weren't even born then, here's your chance to enjoy them (Friends is now also on Binge and Foxtel on Demand).
Viewers have been embracing these offers of a great escape to places that offer a spirit-lifting view of the world. As Yanic Truesdale, who played Gilmore Girls' deliciously tart-tongued hotel concierge, Michel, told the New York Times, "There's not a day goes by that I don't have a 14, 15, 16-year-old girl telling me that they're watching it now."
Netflix has all seven seasons of Gilmore Girls, which ran here from 2001 to 2009, as well as four 2016 telemovies that it commissioned as a sequel to follow the story of single mum Lorelai Gilmore (Lauren Graham) and her daughter Rory (Alexis Bledel).
Emily in Paris has been criticised for its tourist-brochure depictions of Paris, but it’s also a tonic for dark times.Credit:Netflix
While its admirers recognised that it was something special, the show originally sat in a strange space. The mother-daughter foundation erroneously suggested to some that it would be earnest and syrupy, and erratic scheduling by Nine made it easy to overlook.
But what those who didn't tune in didn't know was that creator, producer and writer Amy Sherman Palladino's sparkling comedy-drama about love, family, friendship and community was a gem. And until she and her writer-producer husband, Daniel Palladino, departed at the end of the sixth season, it was graced by machine-gun-fast, witty dialogue. Their work is comparable to that of dialogue maestro Aaron Sorkin, although on Gilmore Girls the riffs are likely to be about daytime TV, celebrity gossip and snack food rather than politics.
In a gauge of just how under-valued it was, the series received no major Emmy nominations – for writing, direction, design or acting – collecting just one nomination and award: for make-up. But with the 20th anniversary, outpourings of admiration and affection have rightfully been flowing.
Alternatively, you could visit the French capital, although history might not be as kind to Emily in Paris (Netflix). But the rom-com's current appeal isn't hard to understand. There's been justifiable criticism of its twittery American heroine (Lily Collins), its glossy tourist-brochure view of Paris and its display of the kind of cultural arrogance that assumes that an indomitable American will invariably trump those snooty Frenchies.
As is customary, Nigella Lawson will deliver a new Yuletide special this year.Credit:ABC
But viewers have flocked to it because it's fun and it looks good. The City of Love shines, the clothes are eye-catching, the food looks delicious, the men are sexy. Whatever else it might be, it's a tonic in a dark time.
The search for escape and comfort, which has also benefited vintage local productions such as A Country Practice and McLeod's Daughters on the free-TV digital channels, isn't confined to fiction, as any visit to Nigella Lawson's TV domain attests.
Her casually comfortable London milieu invites us to enjoy fuss-free and attainable luxury, the kind of pleasure that can come from a perfectly buttered piece of toast. Over multiple series and Christmas specials since early in this century, the writer, cook and presenter has offered us a sanctuary that, like Stars Hollow and Emily's Paris, radiates a warm glow. Her invitation is to create a place to welcome family and friends, to gather together eating yummy food cooked using recipes that she promises aren't dauntingly difficult.
Christmas is approaching so, as has become the custom, she will deliver a Yuletide special. Then comes her new series, Cook, Eat, Repeat (Friday, January 1, ABC, 7.30pm). It finds her at home alone, in a kitchen that could be a storybook fantasy, or an interior-design magazine spread.
Framed by fairy lights, the dining table dotted with tea lights at night, it oozes the impression of home as a haven, dovetailing neatly with her mission of offering "food to brighten up even the darkest day". Of course, there's comfort food. The lamb shanks in aromatic broth are "a true lockdown life-enhancer", she purrs. Before tucking into the gooey chocolate tahini pudding cake, she repairs to the verdant courtyard, suggesting that "this needs to be eaten in calm and appreciative silence".
So calmly and appreciatively contemplate the pudding, visit a glittering Paris, or spend some quality time in Stars Hollow. TV is offering a balm and this year we really need it.
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