Type keyword(s) to search


Gilmore Girls Lives On in The CW's Sullivan's Crossing and The Spencer Sisters

The CW's new dramas deliver small-town charm, low-stakes drama, and strong autumnal energy.
  • Sullivan's Crossing and The Spencer Sisters capture the spirit of Gilmore Girls. (Photos: Everett Collection/Fremantle/Entertainment One)
    Sullivan's Crossing and The Spencer Sisters capture the spirit of Gilmore Girls. (Photos: Everett Collection/Fremantle/Entertainment One)

    The early aughts are back again — and nowhere is that more clear than in The CW's fall lineup. As part of Nexstar's new strategy, the network is moving away from homegrown originals and filling its schedule with unscripted fare, including axed Max series FBoy Island, and licensed titles like German thriller The Swarm. While these cost-cutting measures come as a direct response to current headwinds in the industry, two of The CW's biggest shows of the fall, Canadian imports Sullivan's Crossing and The Spencer Sisters, are remnants of a bygone era. Specifically, they feel like obvious attempts to capture an audience nostalgic for the small-town charm and interpersonal dynamics of wildly popular WB (turned CW) hit Gilmore Girls.

    From a casting standpoint, Sullivan's Crossing is tailor-made to appeal to longtime Gilmore Girls fans. The drama, which is produced by the team behind Virgin River, stars two Gilmore Girls alums: Scott Patterson, in his first TV role since reprising the character of Luke Danes in Netflix's A Year in the Life sequel, and Chad Michael Murray, who played Chilton d-bag Tristin Dugray in Seasons 1 and 2. Patterson's and Murray's Sullivan's Crossing characters aren't so different from their roles in the Amy Sherman-Palladino-verse. As Harry "Sully" Sullivan, the owner of a campground in rural Nova Scotia, Patterson once again takes on the mantle of the grumpy father figure who struggles to express his feelings about his estrangement from his daughter, Maggie Sullivan (Morgan Kohan), a neurosurgeon who returns to Sullivan's Crossing amid a career crisis. Maggie has a boyfriend (Allan Hawco) back in Boston, but she's drawn to Sully's handsome new employee Cal Jones (Murray), even if she initially believes he's an arrogant jerk.

    There's a cozy comfort to the drama that unfolds on Sullivan's Crossing, which plays out at bonfires and in the town of Timberlake's lone hangout spot, a diner that doubles as a karaoke bar. This is a community that looks after its own — something Maggie has forgotten in the years she's been away, but is reminded of when the elderly man (Richard Donat) who lives nearby stumbles onto the campground looking for his late wife. "I know it isn't how people do things in Boston, but here in Sulilvan's Crossing, we treat everyone like family," says Sully. While Gilmore Girls wasn't quite as explicit about it, that same mentality can be found throughout Stars Hollow, which often felt as if it operated on a different wavelength than the outside world.

    And though Sullivan's Crossing technically takes place over the summer, it has distinctly fall undertones, what with its chilly Nova Scotia nights and rustic scenery. (As befits the setting, there's no shortage of plaid in this show, from the flannel wrapped around Cal's waist when he's first introduced to the heavy jacket worn by Maggie's longtime friend Sydney, played by model and actress Lindura.) The show's autumnal spirit, plus the "it takes a village" mentality of longtime campground stewards Frank and Edna Cranebear (Tom Jackson and Andrea Mendard), help bring Gilmore Girls' familiar beats into 2023, even if Maggie and Sully's dynamic lacks the overfamiliarity and zippy dialogue that characterized Rory (Alexis Bledel) and Lorelai's (Lauren Graham) relationship.

    For a dose of mother-daughter antics, The CW offers up The Spencer Sisters. Interestingly, the hourlong dramedy also centers on a woman who returns home to the small town of Alder Bluffs after suffering a few setbacks in "the city." Darby Spencer (Stacey Farber) would prefer to be anywhere else than under her mother's roof, as Victoria Spencer (Lea Thompson), a famous mystery novelist, has a unique ability to insult her daughter, but the two put aside their complicated history when Darby's friend is wrongfully accused of plagiarism.

    Despite their obvious differences — Darby is idealistic and eager to prove she has what it takes to be a private eye, while Victoria hides her anxiety about being "washed up" behind a judgmental exterior — they realize that they're stronger together, and they establish the Spencer Sisters Detective Agency, a nod to Victoria's claim that "everyone says we look like sisters." It's not exactly true ("Your agent, who you pay money to, said that one time!" Darby reminds her) but the name sticks, and the unlikely partners set out to clean up Alder Bluffs, one case at a time.

    Their "sister" connection instantly links the Canadian series to Gilmore Girls, although Darby and Victoria's tentative truce is more similar to Lorelai and Emily Gilmore's (Kelly Bishop) frosty relationship than Lorelai and Rory's outwardly loving one. Still, Darby and Victoria's banter is a highlight of the premiere: "Why don't you pick me out something so we can both look like Swedish airline hostesses?" says a sarcastic Darby, after her mom suggests she "change into something less military." Even when Darby's resentment about her mother's career or Victoria's feelings of inadequacy bubble to the surface, their love wins out, reinforcing the central theme that the mother-daughter duo bring out the best in each other.

    There have been Gilmore Girls imitators in the past — Netflix's Ginny & Georgia chief among them — but Sullivan's Crossing and The Spencer Sisters feel as if they were produced with the express purpose of recapturing the magic of a show that played a key role in establishing the network's early identity. And though they leave something to be desired elsewhere (particularly in the writing), they accomplish this task with flying colors. For fans looking to augment their annual Gilmore Girls rewatch, these CW dramas offer an opportunity to return to a world where family is paramount (whether it's the family you're born with, or the family you choose) and running into a crush at the local diner feels like a life-or-death problem.

    Sullivan's Crossing premieres Wednesday, October 4 at 8:00 PM ET on The CW, followed by The Spencer Sisters at 9:00 PM ET. Join the discussion about the shows in our forums.

    Claire Spellberg Lustig is the Senior Editor at Primetimer and a scholar of The View. Follow her on Twitter at @c_spellberg.

    TOPICS: Sullivan's Crossing, The CW, Gilmore Girls, The Spencer Sisters, Chad Michael Murray, Lea Thompson, Morgan Kohan, Scott Patterson, Stacey Farber