The lasting importance of Sookie St. James

No matter what corner of the internet you turn to, there is talk about Gilmore Girls. Though the show has been off the air for eight years, for those of us who bought every episode on DVD and have now streamed every episode on Netflix, it’s never really gone away.

Many of the chatter about the show focuses on the glory that is Lorelai Gilmore. An inspiration to women, single mothers, and young girls trying to navigate their way to independence, Lorelai was a fast-talking life lesson filled with humor and joie de vivre. A secondary portion of affection always goes to Rory Gilmore, Lorelai’s daughter. Rory was beautiful and spirited and a great comfort to all of us girls who preferred books to boys and studying to parties. We loved the Gilmore girls, and love them, and will always love them.

These two main characters were supported by a bevy of secondary characters: Luke, Michel, Taylor, Jess. But our  personal favorite was always Sookie St. James.

Sookie, for those of you out of the Stars Hollow loop, was Lorelai’s best friend. And while she may have started the series as the quirky, clumsy sidekick, she quickly developed into much more (thanks to written character development by Amy Sherman Palladino and Melissa McCarthy’s incomparable performance).

We love Sookie for so many reasons; for being an incredible (but lovably forgetful chef), for her positivity, her devotion to Lorelai, her love for Jackson. We also love her for the way she broke television molds, and redefined what it means to be a TV best friend. She is not the Ethel to Lorelai’s Lucy, she’s another Lucy.

First and foremost, we need to hit on the enormous power of Sookie as a television mainstay. Melissa McCarthy is all about body positivity, and Sookie St. James was too. Though she was not a typical television size 2, her body image was never a plot point — and with that simple omission came a good deal of power. Sookie reminded viewers that women of all sizes are beautiful and should be represented on TV, without ever making a thing of it. Sookie was Sookie, just like Rory was Rory, and Lorelai was Lorelai. The show avoided a focus on appearances and in doing so allowed Sookie to step outside of a previously constructed television box. No one had to look a certain way on Gilmore Girls, there was no one standard of beauty, and we are so thankful for that.

Sookie also carved her own path by way of her storyline. Many television best friends serve as little more than comic relief. Early on, this may have been what Sookie’s part was expected to be, but after a few episodes it was very clear that nobody puts Sookie in the corner. Sookie’s character had story arcs independent from Lorelai — her relationship with Jackson, her fears about becoming a mother — that were incredibly important to the series. She was a best friend, but she was also an individual.

Another distinguishing characteristic of the Sookie bestie plotline? Lorelai and Sookie never competed over matters of the heart. Rather than the tired stereotype of women being jealous when a friend gets married or engaged, Sookie and Lorelai always looked out for one another and supported eachother. When Sookie got engaged, Lorelai never compared her love life and rather reminisced about all of the beautiful moments she was able to witness between Sookie and Jackson.

Continuing the conversation about what’s special in the Sookie/Lorelai dynamic; they do not play opposites. Television shows, even shows we love like Friends, often put extremely different personality types together for comedic effect (for example, the party girl and the Type A). Sure those odd couples might make you belly laugh, but realistically people aren’t that binary. In that way, Sookie and Lorelai were relatable (and funny) in a way that was fresh.

Taking that one step further, neither Sookie nor Lorelai fall into an easy archetype. Both have conflicting traits within themselves and that’s a wonderful and (again) realistic thing. For example, Lorelai is incredibly Type A when it comes to business, but she’s utterly disorganized when it comes to her home. Sookie is similar. She cooks in a very specific way, but her kitchen and meal prep are often all over the map. When you show both of these women embodying several typically conflicting labels at once, they shed the idea that they need to be one specific thing in order to be understood. This in turn eradicates comparison. We don’t need to say, “she’s the smart one, she’s the brunette; she’s the funny one, or she’s the successful one.” They are both so many different things, just like real women.

So why is Sookie such a lasting and important character? Because of that realness. She showed millions of viewers what it means to be a great best friend, and Gilmore Girls showed millions of viewers that women can be exactly who they want to be.

In many ways, Sookie was the kind of best friend we all hope for. She had no negativity, no anger, no secrets. Lorelai shared everything with Sookie, and Sookie always showed up. She spoke her mind, but was supportive. She was the kind of friend who would tell you the truth, but also bring 10 pounds of mac and cheese to your house to soften the blow. This is the true importance of Sookie St. James: Not only did she break through all of the “woman best friend” cliches, she showed us what it truly means to be a best friend in the process. She was a relatably real character in our television pantheon, and not one we will soon forget.

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[Images via WB]

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