It’s been a while since I’ve written a proper review but this site remains for my own vanity so I have a place to spew my thoughts on TV whenever I see fit. It’d be hard to find something more fitting than the return of Gilmore Girls, certainly one of the most formative shows of my youth and a series I’ve revisited several times as I truly love this quirky world that blurs the lines between outright whimsy and brutal honesty. There has never been a show that captures quite the same tone and sparkling wit that Gilmore Girls possessed during its 7 years on the air (even in its lesser seventh season) and the most important thing about Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life is that it recaptures all of that for the most part. There certainly isn’t any real way to completely recreate something nine years later and have it still feel exactly like it did during a particular moment in time, but A Year in the Life comes awfully close and anyone that was pining for more Gilmore Girls certainly got it. Not a B-version or a sad imitation but the genuine article and it was a thoroughly satisfying experiencing to reenter Stars Hollow again for eight hours last weekend. SPOILERS AHEAD….
Given that what Netflix released is essentially four movies or eight episodes worth of Gilmore Girls, there’s a whole lot I could talk about so I’ll just focus on a few key points. The most divisive component of these four episodes is all things Rory as people are seemingly realizing for the first time that Rory’s naive idealistic view of the world often turns her into a selfish, narrow-sighted person. I mean, sure, it’d be nice if by 32 she wasn’t a “big fat, wookie-humping loser” but she’s kind of been on this path for a long time. And it’s irritating and frustrating and downright infuriating at times, but a lot of the knee-jerk “Rory is the worst” tweets by folks who make a living off of TV criticism have been incredibly bothersome to me because, while she is often “the worst”, that’s a pretty lazy, reductive way to look at the show.
I don’t know how much of this is really the intent of Amy Sherman-Palladino but the ups and downs of Rory’s life present one of the most realistic depictions of the fallout of privilege you can imagine. Think about the bubble that Rory grew up in. Even when they were cut off from Richard and Emily, she still lived a pretty charmed life as the golden child of Stars Hollow. She came with her mother under somewhat scandlous circumstances that made them small town celebrities and the fact that she was book smart and clearly gifted at a young age set her apart as a genuine prodigy. And look, she got into Harvard and Yale on her own merit so it’s not like she’s not actually smart, but her intelligence was paired with this “sky’s the limit” mentality that eventually made her feel invincible. Having an entire town follow and celebrate your every move can go to one’s head–and it only gets worse when your wealthy grandparents are all too willing to throw big money to invest in your brilliance. The show also reveals the downside of having a best friend for a mother. There are certainly a lot of sweet, joyous moments that result due to that arrangement, but there’s also an unchecked freedom. The world belongs to Rory in her mind because that’s been her reality since she was a kid. Adulthood was never gonna be easy for her unless the entire world treated her the same way that Lorelai, her grandparents and all of Stars Hollow did.
In the original series, the naive slant of her entitlement most obviously rears its ugly head at the end of season four where she sleeps with a married Dean and defends herself by saying, “but he’s my Dean.” It’s a ridiculous rationalization but through her skewed, privileged perspective, it’s a worthy justification. Everything she’s wanted has always been hers when she wanted it. Why should this be different? Some of her worst moments throughout the early seasons were born out of normal teenage curiosity (regardless what “Team” you’re on, her treatment of Dean when she first got caught up with mysterious bad boy Jess was cold but a pretty common occurence in young relationships) while many others were self-destructive decisions that only a person raised in a cocoon of privilege could justify (like leaving school to go live in her grandparent’s pool house). There are many aspects of Rory that are innocent and rather saintly but that was never the whole picture and it’s always odd to me that she’s remembered that way. She’s a complicated, flawed female character like the ones we’re always clamoring for…remember?
There is certainly something to be said about the presentation of her actions that may rub people the wrong way. The show is fairly judgment free, whether talking about the original or A Year in the Life, in depicting things that a young girl might get caught up in and the honest reactions those closest to her may have. But no matter what ugly parts of Rory we see, she’ll still be the prized child of Stars Hollow and I think that’s a hard pill for people to swallow when they want to see her held accountable for her mistakes. Gilmore Girls is weirdly remembered as a “family” show in which there may be lessons learned and lectures given, but it’s never been that. It pretty blatantly turned up its nose at conservative values and refused to venture outside of the gray when it comes to landing a concrete position on morality, so there’s no reason that would change now with A Year in the Life where Rory is carrying on a care-free affair with “her” Logan in London while he’s engaged and she has a boyfriend. If you think that a discouraged, displaced Rory wouldn’t fall back into the arms of an old boyfriend regardless of circumstances, then we didn’t watch the same show for seven seasons. It’s obviously wrong and pretty disgusting but when you’ve got privilege running through your veins but the world isn’t treating you the way you think it should, you make excuses for why it’s okay for you to carry on with your rich ex-boyfriend. And Logan is always torn between falling in line with family expectations and running away from all of it, so cheating on poor Odette was him cheating on the life he doesn’t really want. It’s not pretty, but that’s life. I’ve never understood people who want to watch TV characters that aren’t complex but rather wholesome robots that make the right choices all the time and immediately learn a lesson when they don’t.
There had to be a certain amount of conflict going into this revival so it wouldn’t have worked to have Rory be a success at this point and her being so lost and clueless as to how to navigate the real world is one of the more realistic aspects of A Year in the Life. I don’t have a hard time believing at all that Rory didn’t handle challenges and setbacks well and is beginning to flounder by 32, unsure of how to persevere in her career. I also don’t have a hard time believing that a lot of the setbacks would be a result of her own entitled naivete like what we saw with that blog interview or her silly approach to the “lines” article. Given how she was raised, she, no doubt, instinctively felt that jobs and opportunities would be handed to her. She’s smart and special and they should see that, regardless of whether or not she’s actually figured out what it is she has to say.
Again, I think this is a really smart understanding of the ways the flaws of a seemingly perfect Rory Gilmore would manifest themselves in adulthood but I don’t know if ASP thought this deep about it or not. Given the other millenials hanging around Stars Hollow, she doesn’t seem to have a particularly high opinion of this generation (I saw a tweet wondering if a millenial had run over her dog or something) but the insight regarding Rory’s choices seems spot on regardless of the intent. Does that make Rory the worst? I mean, sure. Sometimes. But it’s definitely more complicated than that.
Rory being stuck in neutral nine years later seems to fit but if we’re being honest, it’s kind of sad that Lorelai and Luke, though reunited, have been spinning their wheels since we last saw them. And that Lorelai’s relationship with her parents remained strained to the point that she wasn’t able to think of anything nice to say at her father’s funeral–I thought we’d made more progress than that. Those things and others are clearly a result of the revival wanting to give us the chance to witness some key moments (like Luke and Lorelai’s wedding) so we’re supposed to overlook how depressing it actually is that everyone’s stood in place for nine years. I can roll with it because I wanted to experiencing the satisfying end we missed out on, but I understand gripes as well.
As a result, some of tension in A Year in the Life comes from conflicts that feel a little dated. Luke and Lorelai still facing the same strains all these years later just makes their relationship feel loveless and rehashing the past between Lorelai and Emily very likely induced a few eyerolls and exclamations of “this again!?” I was mostly okay with it, accepting that these characters had to be frozen in time a bit for this to not just feel like a whole new show. Lorelai’s Wild journey of self-discovery and her and Luke finally deciding to tie the knot wasn’t the most compelling part of the new episodes, but I was more than happy to go along with the ride that included plenty of worthy Gilmorisms along the way. The loss of Edward Hermann obligated the show to write Richard’s death into the story and both the tremendous actor and beloved character were missed. But the loss provided an anchor in Emily’s storyline, bringing a new level of depth to the age-old rows with her daughter and even making her contemplate things about the life she’s always cherished. Kelly Bishop is as good as ever, stealing every scene she’s in and eventually taking Emily on a unique journey throughout these four episodes, seamlessly transitioning from being outrageously hilarious to devastatingly raw just like always.
Regardless of individual storylines, Gilmore Girls was always first and foremost about how it made you feel. Sharp wit, fast dialogue and something quaint and magical that made it impossible to resists its orbit. I’ve heard a few quibbles about the new episodes not “feeling” like the old show but I honestly can’t understand that complaint. They recreated the feel of the original pretty perfectly. They let certain bits play out a little longer than they may have given the time restraints of a normal episode, but then again, it was never a show afraid to take a quirky detour. That’s pretty much why Kirk exists. Of course, one particularly controversial bit happens to be the Stars Hollow Musical which does last a solid ten minutes and while I found it really funny and strangely endearing, I understand some folks feeling impatient over it given the number of secondary characters who really didn’t get enough screen time and maybe this ten minutes could have belonged to them instead.
While the musical worked for me, there were a few moments that fell flat. I thought the entire town meeting suggesting Taylor might be gay felt odd and out of place as did Carole King breaking into one of her own songs. The dialogue was mostly as strong and amusing as ever but there were a few times that the references felt more forced, more like a Gilmore Girls impression than actual Gilmore Girls (one of the worst was the lame Batman V. Superman line that Alexis Bledel delivered in a particularly stilted fashion). There was some awkwardness in trying to explain away Sookie’s absence (which also gave us almost no Jackson), a few continuity errors and a slight revisionist history with Michel (though his sexuality was ambiguous on the show, he did have a line or two that suggested her was actually straight). Still, I’d say the overall DNA of the show is very much intact and this feels remarkably close to the Gilmore Girls of yesteryear which is an incredibly difficult thing to pull off. There were some folks who complained about the gag where Lorelai and Rory continually forgot Paul and true, it was savage, but they’ve always been a little self-absorbed and mean-spirited. Not sure which Hallmark lenses you were watching the show through before.
It felt like eight extra hours of a show I very much love and it felt like a proper final chapter, in the hands of the creator where it belongs. From Lorelai and Rory’s familiar banter to a glorious Friday night dinner (featuring Kirk this time around), Lane and Zack briefly seen as rocker parents (as well as a Mr. Kim cameo!), getting the absolute most of Sookie’s one scene, the Life and Death Brigade returning in a fantastic sequence, a really nice moment for Rory and Dean and plenty of laid-back wisdom from Jess, there was plenty for any Gilmore Girls fan to appreciate. I’ll be honest, I even really liked the return of April Nardini. I thought that was a fun scene. The spirit and tone and humor of the show was present throughout all of this stuff and it really did feel like the resurrection of an old friend. Most importantly, number one on my #GilmoreGirlsTop4 list, the one and only Paris Gellar, had several moments to shine. Although I’m obviously heartbroken that her and Doyle are divorced, it makes sense and gave Danny Strong a chance to play douchey and he’s hilariously good at that. But Liza Weil just killed it. She’s playing such a different role now on How To Get Away With Murder and she’s got a different haircut and for some reason, I thought that would somehow hinder her from getting back into the role of Paris (because science, that’s why) but she absolutely killed it. If we don’t get any more Gilmore Girls after this, Netflix would be fools not to demand a Paris spinoff.
It’s impossible, however, to walk away from A Year in the Life and not wonder if there might be another chapter. Everyone’s playing coy at this point but if they could get the gang back together like this every couple years (or even more often than that!), I’d certainly be in (but please bring the theme song back and never do those awkward seasonal title openings ever again). The world that Amy Sherman-Palladino has created is so rich and wonderful, we’d be crazy to not want to go back again and again, especially after she’s shown that she has no problem capturing the same magic all these years later. Gilmore Girls has never been a premise-driven show, it’s just about life and relationships and it could really go on forever, even if Milo Ventimiglia had to keep his This Is Us mustache when he appeared.
I want more just because I’m greedy and I don’t want to live in a world where the crappy Full House reunion gets more seasons than Gilmore Girls but of course, the famous final four words are a big reason that many others want more. Based on what I’ve seen, that sort of left turn ending felt like a cruel, out-of-nowhere cliffhanger to many after so many years of waiting. I get that and I’m curious to see what happens next to, but I’m also okay if this is the end. The Palladinos seem pretty pumped about the whole “full circle” aspect of this thing but I don’t think that makes it especially clever–especially when you try to force Logan and Jess pegs into Christopher and Luke shaped holes. I mean, sure, that’s part of it and it makes some bit of sense that a show that celebrates a mother/daughter relationship ending with the daughter discovering that she’s going to be a mother but I like it more for the way that Gilmore Girls has often zigged when it was expected to zagged. It’s a show that’s very sweet and whimsical but has a cynical, irreverent edge and it was never interested in wrapping things up in a bow. There’s something kind of great about a show that was never quite what so many classified it to be ending with the golden child discovering that yet one more thing has happened in her life that she didn’t plan. Which again, makes it sound cruel, but I think it’s more just a recognition of the messy nature of life and a protest against the expectation that endings have to be neat and tidy.
For that reason, I’m totally fine if this is that is the last moment of Gilmore Girls I ever see. Don’t get me wrong, I would happily revisit Stars Hollow a million more times (Amy, where you lead, I will follow), but I think this ending is actually a lot more fitting than some are giving it credit for. Regardless of whether you can warm up to it or not though, don’t let it stop you from appreciating the eight hours of terrific content that comes before it. Four words don’t negate whether or not this was a worthwhile experience and from winter through fall, it absolutely was. For anyone who appreciates great television and loves to see it end on the terms its original creators, this was a victory and a wonderful achievement on the parts of all involved.