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Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life Review

Revivals of beloved television shows are a delicate thing. Balancing the need for fan service with a coherent and complex enough plot to make the revival necessary isn’t an easy thing to accomplish. I have to admit, I was pretty excited at the prospect of new episodes of Gilmore Girls. I warmly recall the nights spent watching the show on the WB (and later, the CW) with my sisters and mother, ruminating on how similar Richard and Emily were to my own grandparents, and chatting with friends about who was the best guy for Rory and when Luke and Lorelai would finally get together after several years of false starts. However, having watched several attempts to reignite the magic of a cancelled series fail rather spectacularly (the most recent big ticket foray on the nostalgia train, The X-files, gave us one great episode at the expense of five others ranging from ok to awful), I knew that the chance these four super-sized episodes would manage to recreate the joy of the best of Gilmore Girls would be low.

So I was pleasantly surprised with how much I enjoyed this extended stay in Star Hollow. Yes, there were a number of issues with the four episodes (which I will get into in the spoiler-filled section of the review below), but the highs were so high (listening to another spectacular Paris rant from the incomparable Liza Weil was something I didn’t know was missing from my life) that I’m willing to overlook the issues and declare this particular revival more of a success than a failure. It was wonderful to watch the interplay between Lauren Graham and Kelly Bishop once more, to hear Sookie spar with Michel, and to know that the characters we all know and love are just fine and will continue to be so even if we never get a chance to see them on screen again (and, while I enjoyed this brief return to Stars Hollow, I do hope the is the final time we see them on screen). Gilmore Girls was, at its heart, comfort food. Rifts and anger may have happened throughout the series, but they all managed to resolve themselves, one way or another, over time. And over this Thanksgiving break, I needed some comfort food more than I have in the past. I’m glad the series delivered that.

Warning: There are spoilers following the image below. Proceed with caution.

Gilmore Girls

As I mentioned above, the four episodes highlighted the greatest strengths of Gilmore Girls, while simultaneously highlighting the show’s most glaring weaknesses. Thankfully, the strengths of the series are tied to two of the shows best actors (and strongest characters) in Lauren Graham’s Lorelai and Kelly Bishop’s Emily (whose relationship was central to the revival), so the strengths outweighed the weaknesses (the most glaring of which were Alexis Bledel’s continued inability to cope with the show’s pacing and character interplay, and Amy Sherman-Palladino’s inability to give Rory complex and layered story arcs) and made for a mostly enjoyable ride.

I would have gladly watched six hours just dedicated to the relationships between Lorelai and Emily. And the best through line of the entire mini-series was each and every scene involving those two characters, as they finally took the time to listen to each other and begin to build the relationship that escaped them over the course of seven seasons. As much as Edward Herrmann’s Richard was missed (and each callback to Richard was lovingly and wonderfully placed throughout the episodes), the absence of the character allowed for the relationship between mother and daughter to reach a level previously unmatched. Forcing Lorelai and Emily to work through their differences (both the petty and the deep-seeded and painful) without the buffer of Richard was the highlight of the revival. And, considering the chemistry and talent encased in both Graham and Bishop, each moment landed perfectly, culminating in that absolutely spectacular phone conversation in “Fall.”

Gilmore Girls

At the close of “Fall,” I found the entire journey of Emily to be the most authentic and fully realized arc for the show’s titular Gilmore girls. I’m not sure if it was more due to it being the story least bogged down by poorly crafted romantic subplots (I’ll get to those issues later), or if it was more due to Bishop’s nuanced portrayal of a woman being forced to confront that the future she expected isn’t the one she has gotten, but Emily’s found contentment at the close of the series was the perfect bookend for her story. In fact, comparing Emily’s arc to those of Rory and Lorelai, with the younger characters flailing and remaining somewhat unsettled at the close of the series, makes the arc even more impressive. Some of that, I’m sure, comes from the various ages of the women, but I was less enthused with Lorelai and Rory’s endings than with Emily terrifying visitors to the whaling museum (I would watch a spin-off of Emily’s adventures as a docent).

The other rather pleasant surprise in the show was the work of Liza Weil as Paris in the series’s two initial installments. Always one of the more unique television characters, I hadn’t realized until now how Weil’s work as Paris managed to shield the audience from Rory’s rather bland nature (and Bledel’s rather bland work in the role). But here, in a limited capacity, Paris highlighted one of the best traits of Rory: the straight man off which the more complex and interesting characters can bounce their particular brand of intensity off of.

And man, was that scene in the Chilton bathroom the perfect example of both Rory and Paris at their best (and Francie, who was not the most interesting of characters during her initial run on the show, but who earned her quick cameo here). Paris’s presence elicited some of the largest laughs out of my family when watching the first episode, and seeing her neurosis back on screen was just plain fun. I haven’t really followed Weil’s post-Gilmore career (as a former attorney, I have zero interest in How To Get Away With Murder), but I wouldn’t say no to an entire series focusing on Paris’s exploits (and her navigating all those stairs in her brownstone).

Gilmore Girls

But, while there was an awful lot to like (and, I would argue, enough to potentially ignore the lesser elements of the story), this certainly wasn’t a perfect return to television of Gilmore Girls. And an awful lot of that criticism has to do with Rory’s pretty awful season arc. I’ve mentioned a number of times that I wasn’t particularly thrilled with Alexis Bledel’s limited acting chops, and that bears repeating. But much of what was wrong with Rory’s story came from Amy Sherman-Palladino’s arc for the character, and not necessarily from the portrayal itself. Essentially, Rory’s a pretty awful person. Think about it. For four episodes, she cheated on her boyfriend Paul (who was essentially used as a gag hearkening back to Arrested Development‘s use of Ann) with scuzzy Logan (who, in turn, was cheating on his fiancee, which is even worse than what Rory was doing). She has failed to get any semblance of a career going (if she really wanted to be a writer, she wouldn’t be flitting around from Connecticut to London so much without any real writing gigs- knowing a number of freelancers, that’s not what you do to become successful).

And, from the word go of these four episodes, it was clear that she was going to eventually end up back in Stars Hollow writing the Gilmore Girls novel, so everything she did- every silly moment- was just filler to get her to that point. Each step on Rory’s journey this season wasn’t to make her realize she wanted to write a book. It was to make us dismiss every other path for her and conclude that she will write a best selling novel telling the story we’ve watched for years. And sure, that’s all well and good, but the show has done nothing to prove to us that Rory is capable of doing this, and that’s my problem with it. Just like the show has done nothing to prove that she’s at all ready to be a mother.

Gilmore Girls

Ah, the mythic last four words. The words that Sherman-Palladino wanted to end the seventh season of the show with, so many years ago, before she and her husband Daniel left over financial issues with the CW (and subjected us to a further decline in quality with that seventh season- although the sixth season was pretty rough, too). I understand that those words (“Mom.” “Yes?” “I’m pregnant.”) were meant to bring the show full circle (a theme voiced throughout the four episodes). But Rory having a child (whose father is a slightly reformed rich party boy) at 32 isn’t anywhere close to Lorelai having Rory at 16 (even Rory having a kid at 23, a Yale graduate with a solid support structure, isn’t the same). Do I mind that those four words are the last four words ever spoken on Gilmore Girls? No, not really. But they certainly didn’t live up to the ridiculous hype that surrounded them for years. And, perhaps most importantly, they only served the hinder the character of Rory further.

Perhaps living up to the enormous expectations of both her mother and her grandparents was simply too much for Rory (I can’t imagine having all those hopes and dreams on one’s shoulders would be easy- as her “drop out of Yale” phase showed us), but man, does Rory not have her life together. Considering how much of a joke the 30-Somthing Gang was made to be on the show, it appeared that the Palladinos were trying to juxtapose them with Rory, signaling that Rory was better than they were. Yet, Rory is absolutely no different. She’s moved back home. She’s pregnant. She has no job prospects and no salary coming in. And, she’s living off her mother and grandmother’s money. She’s not a stable adult. She’s certainly a well-loved adult, with a great family around her, but she’s not independent and she doesn’t have the means to stand on her own two feet. Ultimately, her arc took her nowhere. She’s still at the same place as at the start of the series, only pregnant and working on a book that may or may not sell. Not much change in her character there, and that was the major disappointment of the season.

I was, on the whole, happy to return to Stars Hollow. But I don’t think I would want to continue to come back every five or ten years to check in on things. I’m perfectly content to have events unfold the way the Palladino’s wanted them to, and to get one last chance to say goodbye to some of these characters on their creators’ own terms. What Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life proved was that revival seasons of shows can be a positive, if not a perfect, experience. But only if there remain important stories to tell.

Gilmore Girls

Final Thoughts:

— Although she was only available for a brief return, how wonderful was it to see Melissa McCarthy back on screen as Sookie? Her chemistry with Graham remained intact, and it was a joy to hear Michel and Sookie sniping at each other again.

— One thing that really didn’t work was the use of celebrity chef cameos. I would rather have just heard about them happening than seen the chefs awkwardly try to act. Also something that didn’t work? That musical. I’m a theatre nerd, so I loved seeing Christian Borle and Sutton Foster singing and dancing, but boy did that part of the show go on way too long. That last song sung by Foster, though, was amazing.

— Was it just me, or was the chemistry between Graham and Scott Patterson seriously lacking? Luke and Lorelai were such a font of sexual chemistry during the early seasons of the series, and it was missing a big way this time around. A real bummer.

— I wish the series hadn’t focused so much on a trip through Rory’s dating past. Dean’s random cameo felt really out of place. Jess still has a ton of chemistry with Rory, but I didn’t need to know he still carries a futile torch for her. And the less said about Logan (and the stupid tangent with the Life and Death Brigade) the better.

— There was some speculation before the series premiered about whether or not the show would take advantage of the looser rules on Netflix regarding nudity, sex, and swearing. While the show stayed largely true to its WB roots (thankfully), I did enjoy hearing Emily throw out “bullshit” multiple times. If anyone was going to swear, it had to be her.

Rating
7.5
Pros
  • Great arc for Emily
  • Strong performances from Graham, Bishop, and Weil
Cons
  • Rory/Bledel is still a liability
  • Too much time spent on Rory's love life and not enough on her work life

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Meet the Author

About / Bio
TV critic based in Chicago. When not watching and writing about awesome television shows, I can be found lamenting over the latest disappointing performance by any of the various Chicago sports teams or my beloved Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Follow me @JeaniusIsMe on Twitter.

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