Screen Queens: Lauren Graham

You might know her as Lorelai Gilmore, or perhaps as Sarah Braverman. But you probably don't remember Denise, Shelly, or Andrea. Lauren Graham had been working steadily on TV when she landed the lead role on the small, smart WB show that made her a star. Since then, she's succeeded on film, on Broadway, and as an author. But to us, she'll always be one of TV's reigning queens. (And one of television's most consistently entertaining talk show guests.)

 

Must-See TV

In the mid-'90s, when NBC was an unstoppable comedy powerhouse and actors who looked like actual people could find work on TV, Graham popped up all over the network. Her first major role was on Caroline in the City as Richard's annoyingly optimistic (and strangely high-pitched) girlfriend Shelly.

 

 

Notice who else appeared in that second clip?

In addition to a guest spot on 3rd Rock from the Sun and a four-episode run on NewsRadio, Graham was one of Jerry's girls. As the speed-dial ranker, her voice was closer to its normal pitch.

 

 

Four Failed Sitcoms

Graham seemed to have little difficulty booking pilots, but finding something with legs proved more challenging. The buzziest and longest-lasting series was ABC's Townies, Molly Ringwald's hyped comeback vehicle. Needless to say, the Mystic Pizza knockoff stalled (after 15 episodes). But not before gifting us a Boston-accented Graham.

 

 

She also was Liz on the 1996 show Good Company, which lasted six episodes; Molly on 1998's Conrad Brown, which ran a respectable 13; and Opal on M.Y.O.B. NBC burned off that show's four episodes during the summer of 2000, right before the premiere of Gilmore Girls.

 

Rite of Passage

But first... you didn't think Graham avoided a trip to the mean streets of New York, did you? Well, she sort of did. Graham played a Hollywood producer who was interested in Rey Curtis in a three-episode stint on Law & Order. (Pardon her French.)

 

 

A Star Turn

And now we come to Gilmore Girls. In a layered performance, Graham played a woman whose close relationship with her teenage daughter was largely informed by her strained relationship with her own mother. She was nominated for a Golden Globe in 2002, but was overlooked by the WB/UPN/CW-blind Emmys. Her work with both Alexis Bledel and Kelly Bishop was often heartfelt and dramatic enough to squeeze a tear or two from the show's small but enthusiastic audience, but creator Amy Sherman-Palladino's fast-talking comedy and zeitgeisty quips were what really made the role (and the show) so special.

 

 

All the Feels!

In one of those interesting what-if casting scenarios, Parenthood's Sarah Braverman originally was played by Maura Tierney, who pulled out when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Graham had planned to take a break from TV motherhood, but this Jason Katims-produced series was too good to pass on. In a show full of emotional moments, Graham's work with Mae Whitman, who played her daughter, consistently created some of the feelsiest.

 

 

A Revival

One of the few bright spots of 2016, a true annus horribilis, was Netflix's announcement that the Gilmore team, led by Sherman-Palladino, would be reuniting to produce a four-part revivial series. Fittingly streaming the day after Thanksgiving, Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life sees the three generations of Gilmores come together to lead and follow, to call each other's names and be on trains — and other wonderful goodness.

All three roles are iconic, and each actress brings something special to the show. But Graham is the fast-talking champ who gives the series its emotional heart. All hail the queen.

 

 

Who's your screen queen? Let us know in the comments below! And check out our first Screen Queens feature on Taraji P. Henson here.

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