It’s practically tempting fate to bring back Gilmore Girls, TV’s most joyful exploration of dashed hopes and deferred dreams. Disappointment tugs at the sleeves of even the most modest of television reunions, and Gilmore Girls creator Amy Sherman-Palladino has never done anything modest: Her work is characterized by lengthy scripts, over-caffeinated characters, densely packed cultural references, and emotion, emotion, emotion. The original series’ ignoble end adds to the heft of expectation placed on the Netflix sequel, Gilmore Girls: A Year In The Life. That conclusion didn’t speak in its creator’s voice—though the phantom of her proposed “last four words” murmured in viewers’ ears. While they wait for that much-anticipated quotation, one line from A Year In The Life’s middle chapters seems to speak for the faithful returning to Stars Hollow: “If something’s good, keep it the same.”
A Year In The Life captures the spirit of vintage Gilmore—one swooping tour of Stars Hollow and some Rory-Lorelai chatter is all it really takes—but the passage of time has forced Sherman-Palladino’s hand in some respects. The presidential hopeful that Rory signs up to campaign for at the end of season seven is on his way out of office; in another tragic development, Edward Herrmann—who played stern Gilmore paterfamilias Richard—died of brain cancer in 2014. In one of the miniseries’ many full-circle flourishes, nine years off the air means Rory is on the verge of her 32nd birthday, meaning she’ll be as old as her mother was when Gilmore Girls began. This chronology leaves the three Gilmore girls in similar states of “unsettled”: Lorelai (Lauren Graham) feeling antsy in her relationships and her work life, Rory (Alexis Bledel) jet-setting on the strength of some well-placed bylines, and Emily (Kelly Bishop) in mourning after losing her husband of five decades.
The show’s three pillars are drawn closer through grief and age, yet repelled by the abundant personality quirks that provided much of the tension for the previous 153 episodes. A Year In The Life presents a series of changes for characters who’ve always dealt poorly with change—they prefer the dependable solace of society rituals, first snows, or boinking their now-married high-school boyfriends. In challenging Lorelai and Emily to take unprecedented steps or returning Rory to familiar territory, A Year In The Life offers an honest critique of its protagonists. And without being too cutesy about it—though, it’s Gilmore Girls, so it’s always a little bit cutesy—there’s some potential reflection in there for viewers who’ve had a hard time letting go of a now 16-year-old TV series.
With all four seasonally themed installments clocking in at over 90 minutes, A Year In The Life is an expansion of scale that amplifies all elements of Gilmore Girls—for better and worse. Given the average length of a Gilmore Girls script, this is the first streaming revival of a broadcast TV show that benefits from longer episodes. The rapid-fire patter gets more room to breathe, all the better for cheeky asides or pointed repetitions. That’s good news for those who come for the witty repartee, and bad news for the Luke Daneses in the audience who dread set-pieces featuring elaborate festivals or Stars Hollow town meetings. Super-sizing the episodes (which amounts to doubling the show’s runtime on The WB and CW, minus the commercials) means there’s enough time to stage a mini-musical during “Summer” and discover which of the supporting-cast townies can no longer handle the rhythms of Sherman-Palladino dialogue. (The creator wrote and directed episodes one and four, with her husband, Daniel Palladino, handling “Spring” and “Summer.”)
So there’s a depth of cloying silliness on display, but also a wealth of profound humanity. When Lorelai’s path through the Kübler-Ross model reaches acceptance, it prompts some career-highlight work for Graham; Emily’s grappling with this new phase in her life demonstrates that Bishop is, and always has been, the glue that holds Gilmore Girls together. The poignancy of her Bunheads performance secured Bishop’s role as Sherman-Palladino’s mourner-in-chief, and the year of Emily Gilmore’s life depicted in these episodes reinforces those bona fides, the stage and screen veteran giving such vibrancy (and acidic humor) to her character’s anger, frustration, and, eventually, satisfaction.
It’s Rory who has the roughest go of it, in terms of her lot in life and the material that’s written for it. Her rut is A Year In The Life’s rut, where the recurring characters, plots, and themes contribute to a story about stalling in your 30s—one that has stalling problems of its own, and only really gets into gear in the “Summer” and “Fall” episodes. The arc finds some bright spots when it places an old dynamic in a new context—Rory in the newsroom, or falling into familiar patterns with enemy-turned-best-friend Paris Geller (Liza Weil)—but it’s more often the source for scenes that feel like items being ticked off a superfan’s wish list.
Of course, there would be no Gilmore Girls: A Year In The Life if not for the superfans, and they’re duly rewarded for their loyalty with all manner of Easter eggs, answers to lingering questions, and cameos testifying to the show’s pop-culture endurance. And despite its imperfections, there was more story to be told here, which further justifies A Year In The Life’s existence. At the very least, it was a conclusion left untold when Amy Sherman-Palladino and Daniel Palladino parted ways with Gilmore Girls after the show’s sixth season. Of all the revisited destinations and character reunions, the most important involves bringing the words “written and directed by” back together with Sherman-Palladino’s name.
For binge-viewers, reviews by Myles McNutt will run the weekend of November 25. For those watching Gilmore Girls: A Year In The Life at a more relaxed pace, reviews by Gwen Ihnat will begin Monday, November 28, and run every other day through December 4.