Jess Mariano, as he originally appeared on Gilmore Girls, was not a great person. But he was a great match for Rory Gilmore.
Even though Gilmore Girls is the TV equivalent of a warm blanket, there still needs to be some conflict. If the series had started with Lorelai and Luke dating, Rory and Paris as best friends, or Lorelai and Emily in a perfect mother-daughter relationship, people would not have stuck around for episode 2.
While Rory’s love-life is usually a C-plot at best, there are two major contenders and two vocal factions: Team Jess and Team Dean. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m humble. I’ll admit that Team Dean has the catchier name. But that’s basically all they have going for them. As a character, Dean Forester is an 8-foot tall piece of chewed-up flavourless gum in a button down. Not to say all of that is on Jared Padalecki’s broad shoulders. He does great work as the Charlie Brown of the Supernatural universe. But he was given the role of Bland Handsome Boyfriend and was almost never able to elevate it. Milo Ventimiglia as Jess Mariano got much better material and had much better chemistry with Alexis Bledel’s Rory.
To be clear, I’m not Team Jess because he and Rory both read. That doesn’t exactly make for an epic love on its own. It’s the ways he bristles against Rory’s personality that makes him work better. He actively engages Rory and challenges her, both as a character and on a story level. Dean is “different” from Rory in the sense that he’s handy and kind of dumb. There just isn’t much there to play against.
An even more extreme example of this type of love triangle is in Veronica Mars. While both shows couldn’t be more different in content and tone, they do both have clever, pop-culture tinged stylized dialogue and an emerging love triangle between a “bland good guy” and a “brooding bad boy”. The character of Veronica Mars is awesome and of course you’d want the heroine to end up with the good guy in real life. But as a viewer? I’ll take the charming, abused, psychopath nine times out of ten. It’s just more interesting.Like I said, it’s an extreme example, but the same holds true for Rory. It’s more fun to see her with someone who challenges her. That’s the only explanation I have for people who are Team Dean: they hate Rory.
Of course, there is such a thing as leaning too far towards douchebag. See: Logan Huntzberger.
Really, this isn’t a defense of Jess so much as an outline of why he doesn’t need defending. I think Jess was a very popular character. There was even talk of a spinoff and they had that weird backdoor pilot episode where he goes to California to be with his dad. People love Jess. In fact, in an unscientific poll of my sister and myself Jess beat Dean 2-to-1 with a margin of error of 1.
When it comes to TV characters, you don’t want them to be the happily married friend who sends a nice card every Christmas. You want them to be the friend who breaks up with their significant other every month and gets drunk and talks shit on Facebook. Jess and Rory’s relationship falls on the latter end of the spectrum. Beyond their relationship, Jess also brought some much-needed dimension to Stars Hollow and brought out the best in other characters he interacted with. While the character was still around, the relationship between Jess and Luke was easily the most compelling aspect of the show. Hell, even the antagonism between Jess and Dean gave Dean something to do besides be tall.
A lot of people who are anti-Jess would probably point to the way he broke up with Rory by basically bailing on her and heading to Venice Beach. Which is, admittedly, a shitty thing to do. It’s close to Berger breaking up with Carrie on Sex and the City with a Post-It Note. What happened in Jess’s case was as justified as something like that can get. He was an interesting character with his own issues and storylines. Any time he returned to the show afterwards, things usually got awkward between him and Rory — even his “last” appearance — but in a fun, watchable way that actually makes you root for them.
On the flipside of that, can we talk about how much the writers scumbagged Dean’s character? I know I’ve already been ragging on him and I don’t want to turn this into more of an anti-Dean thing than a pro-Jess thing, but Dean Forester is a 7-foot tall pile of crap. His insecurity caused his breakup with Rory, he completely ruined Lindsay’s life and almost threatened to keep Luke and Lorelai apart forever with his shitty “wise words”. That last point especially I just cannot abide. Hell, if Christopher didn’t exist I’d go so far as to say Dean was the worst person on the show.
Knowing that all of the major boyfriends are showing up again in the revival is exciting. As awful as Dean is, I’m hoping the writers and Jared Padalecki either redeem him a bit or totally humiliate him. Logan is a major douchebag, but Matt Czuchry is a good actor and the character is generally fun. Above all, I’m excited to see Milo Ventimiglia return as Jess. Any time he showed up after he was a series regular he was always a welcome sight.
Ultimately no one does — or should, I guess — watch Gilmore Girls for the Rory relationship drama. But it’s still pretty fun to discuss or argue about. And I’m still right.