Nostalgia was a palpable theme this weekend, thanks to the highly anticipated release of Netflix’s “Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life” on Nov. 25. It brought back memories of a simpler time, a solid three election cycles ago, to be exact. After doing some growing up of their own, loyal fans were looking forward to catching up with their beloved characters of Stars Hollow. The revival walked a fine line between fan service and meaningful character development.
To say this “Gilmore Girls”(2000-2007) revival has been long awaited would be an “Ooo-ber” understatement. Negotiation disputes between creator Amy Sherman-Palladino and The CW caused the show to be taken off the air at the end of season 7. Since the season was written before the cancellation was announced, the ending turned out to be more open-ended than Sherman-Palladino would have liked. This premature departure devastated viewers as they weren’t ready to say goodbye to their favorite quick-witted characters.
In the years that followed, Sherman-Palladino fuelled a collective lament by repeatedly insisting that she knew what the final four words of the entire series would be in a proper finale. Alluding to this caused quite a frenzy as people attempted to guess. This unyielding curiosity, along with Netflix acquiring the rights to stream “Gilmore Girls,” led to the revival’s development. Clearly, the fans were ecstatic, but even more important, so was the original team. All major cast members, with the regretful exception of one, agreed to come back.
When season 7 had ended, Rory Gilmore (Alexis Bledel) had just graduated Yale University with a degree in journalism and was getting ready to join and cover then-Senator Barack Obama on the campaign trail. Lorelai Gilmore (Lauren Graham), Rory’s mother, was dealing with her own life-defining challenges as she opened up to the possibility of letting Luke, her on-again/off-again partner, play a more important role in her life. Lorelai’s parents, Emily (Kelly Bishop) and Richard (Edward Herrmann), were still very much in the picture as well, as they had long supported her efforts to give Rory the best opportunities she needed to start her life.
“A Year in the Life,” which is divided into four parts around the seasons (Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall), picks up nine years later, at a time where all three Gilmore Girls are dealing with the loss of Richard Gilmore, a story-line that was written in to honor the conspicuous absence felt after Herrmann’s passing in 2014. Meanwhile, it is revealed that, at 32, Rory is not exactly thriving. As it turns out, journalism wasn’t met with the same demand as STEM majors were post-grad, and her struggles realistically reflect that. Lorelai lets the demands of running her own inn in Stars Hollow distract her from dealing with the strained relationship she has with her mother. Emily’s life has been derailed the most as she comes to terms with missing her partner of 50 years.
In true “Gilmore Girls” fashion, the dialogue settles at a lightening speed, and the pop culture references just don’t know when to quit. While these have long since been beloved quirks of the show, this time around, they felt rather forced. The original show has been hailed for having an almost “timelessness” about it, but since the revival stuck to allusions limited to the landscape of the last two or three years, it felt akin to the “cool mom” who-tries-too-hard phenomenon. There are only so many Uber and Lena Dunham jokes one can handle.
The show hits its stride in the moments where it becomes clear that the priority is not to let the characters simply coast through life. Everyone is struggling and is flawed in their own ways, which while may be frustrating to viewers who have idealized the characters in their memory, is closer to real life. For instance, many will be disappointed in Rory’s decision to continue having an affair with Logan (Matt Czuchry) her college boyfriend, even though he’s engaged to someone else and she’s been in her own long-term relationship. This is hardly surprising though, considering how she cheated on all her relationships in the original. Others will feel appalled at Lorelai’s lack of compassion when it comes to her mother’s struggles. No one said these were perfect people, and the revival taps into this idea heavily.
Bishop ended up stealing the show with her incredible performance as Emily. While a lot of credit is due to having the most compelling, transformative character arc, Bishop was more than up for the challenge. Her heartbreak and loneliness is not minced but dealt with head on.
As for the final four words … readers won’t find any spoilers here.
Ultimately, viewers will enjoy spending time with familiar faces, but even the most die-hard fans will not be immune to detecting some shortcomings that, upon closer inspection, have been around since the days of its predecessor.