'A Year in the Life' won't win over any newcomers, but perfectly balances fan-servicing frivolity and family drama
It is extremely difficult to explain just why Gilmore Girls appeals to so many, while leaving so many other out in the cold. For fans, it's going to be impossible to escape the gravitational pull of Stars Hollow, the fictional Connecticut town where the show is set. There’s a joke, early on in the first episode of A Year in the Life, the new four-part feature-length revival that Netflix will release worldwide this week, in which Lorelai Gilmore (Lauren Graham), the kind of person who sets the standard for TV single motherhood, turns to her now grown-up daughter Rory (Alexis Bledel), who sets the standard for barely awoken TV white privilege and nice coats, and jokes about the town being stuck inside a snow globe. It’s a throwaway line, a reference to the falling snow that introduces the Winter chapter, but one with a lot of merit; Gilmore Girls is like a snowglobe, a cutesy and cornball piece of manufactured Americana, that has always been at its best in the moments when the show shakes things up with blustery drama.
The revival won’t win over new fans, which has always been Gilmore Girls biggest problem. For the uninitiated, the show’s a hard sell. First and foremost, there’s the hurdle of Amy Sherman-Palladino’s creation being a sappy chick flick, spread across 153 episodes, wringing every emotional high and low out of the interpersonal relationships of three generations of a wealthy family and their kooky neighbours. Despite being known for its zippy one-liners and pop-culture references delivered at the kinds of speed that would make Samuel Beckett’s Not I mouth sound like it’s had a few at the Christmas party, Gilmore Girls looks to some like a relic of the early 21st century, sweetly coated in icing sugar and seemingly at odds in an era when TV is all about crystal meth cooking and flame-retardant dragon mothers.
Kelly Bishop, who plays matriarch Emily Gilmore, delivers a performance pitched so perfectly that if there's any justice in Hollywood she'll be nominated during awards season [Saeed Adyani/Netflix]
But if you’re already a fan – and there are enough of those out there to merit the show being thrown the same kind of lifeline Netflix tossed at Arrested Development and Full House – A Year in the Life will be the binge-watching version of comfort food, with just enough bite to it to keep things interesting. Yes, it’s cosy and comfy, a cathode-ray hit of that sweet, sweet hygge, but it also contains some of the finest TV acting on familial strife and simmering tension you’ll see on screen this year.
In the near decade that has elapsed since the season finale, the only big development in the show’s characters’ lives has been the loss of one of its principal players, with actor Edward Hermann, who played Gilmore patriarch Richard, having passed away in 2014. The revival pulls his passing right into the middle of the plot, using grief and its ensuing stresses to cut right through the show’s sweetness with salt, with two stand-out sequences (an argument between Lorelai and her mother, and Paris Geller's bathroom epiphany) more than making up for the long and featherbrained scenes spread across the two seasonal episodes made available to critics.
The plot – in as much as can be explained, Netflix having issued one of the strictest embargoes this reviewer has ever seen – finds the Gilmores much as we left them. The original run dealt with how Lorelai, pregnant at 16 and having flown the gilded coop of her disapproving parents’ mansion, had to reconcile with her unforgiving folks in order to secure her daughter’s place at a private school, a stepping stone to her future career as a journalist. Now Rory is 32, she’s living that dream, waking up to the reality that sometimes career reverie can send you off in rudderless directions. Lorelai still runs her inn, and still, despite now pushing 50, squabbles with her mother Emily (Kelly Bishop, deserving of an Emmy nomination for her scene-stealing), who, in turn, is dealing as poorly as can be expected with the emtional turmoil of widowhood.
Storylines meander around the three women, with Rory the poorest served out of the three, pulled away from the main action and serving B-plots with plotting baes, her trio of boyfriends past arriving to teach her a lesson about herself, like a big set up for ‘A Christmas Carole King-sung theme song holiday spectacular’.
Everyone you want to see from Gilmore Girls' rich supporting cast returns, from series regulars like Lane and Paris (a spin-off starring Liza Weil and Kelly Bishop is the kind of announcement that could really steer around 2016, is all I’m sayin’), but also minor characters like Gypsy the mechanic, the town troubadour, Taylor Doose, and Kirk, the oddball Stars Hollow weirdo, whose heart is in the right place, positioned right behind a fourth nipple.
A decade has come and gone, creating a whole new pantheon of pop culture to pepper the plot, and that passage of time is felt in the show. Media, print and digital, perhaps isn’t now what Rory imagined it would be, and finding her at the same age as Lorelai was when the show debuted in 2000, the future that looked so shiny seems a little more tarnished. But as the girls become women, caught up in a world of uncertainty, it’s no wonder they, much like all of us, are craving the familiar. And where Netflix leads, we will follow.
Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life is released worldwide on Netflix on Friday, November 25th