A LOVABLE, MESSY RETURN
Revivals don’t get much better than Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life.
Gilmore Girls is notorious for ending on a sour note. Amy Sherman-Palladino and Daniel Palladino, creators and head writers, were ousted from the show’s final season in 2007 and were unable to complete the journeys of the characters they so lovingly helmed. Sherman-Palladino tried to get fans on board with a Gilmore Girls that was divorced from her influence, saying she trusted the writers still on staff, but the depature nonetheless created a rift between what was and what could have been. She claimed that from the show’s beginning, she had the last four words of the series planned and refused to tell fans what those words were unless she had the chance to finish the story herself.
Cue nine years of fan rabidly begging for the opportunity for her rewrite the series finale. On Nov. 25, those wishes came true when Netflix dropped four 90-minute episodes.
For characters and fans alike, A Year in the Life is about returning home. Rory Gilmore becomes the audience surrogate, the catalyst for the return to Stars Hollow, as her nose-diving writing career forces her to move back in with mother Lorelai at the age of 32.
The revival does wonders with an ensemble cast split into fragments. The once-iconic group scenes are few and far between, and some of the original run’s main stars (like Melissa McCarthy) have only cameo-sized presences. A Year in the Life was forced to rely on clever editing and off-screen references peppered throughout to create the successful illusion that the insular community is as tight-knit is ever, but it did so valiantly.
The conflict of organizing a large team of actors all juggling other projects at the time of filming was handled as well as possible, but still sacrificed of some of Gilmore Girls’ breadth: though the show used to forefront the narratives of side characters like Lane Kim, the revival rarely strays from the titular characters of Lorelai, Rory, and Emily Gilmore. Even so, the show never feels surfacy and uses its newly found focus to uncover new depths in some of television’s most complex familial relationships.
The revival’s greatest credit is its ability to at last see fault in the characters of Rory and Lorelai. Rory remains unduly entitled, and Lorelai’s stubbornness continues to significantly stress her relationships, but unlike in its original incarnation, A Year in the Life deals with these attributes as flaws rather than endearments. The novel self-awareness is what sets Gilmore Girls apart from other revivals. It doesn’t go out of its way to be exactly what it was a decade ago–instead, it uses that distance to improve upon its old mechanisms.
Even when A Year in the Life stumbles, it feels authentic to the world. In a (supposedly final) season equipped with only four episodes, a 20-minute-long musical number is dreadfully wasteful, but Gilmore Girls has never shied away from luxuriating in its own quirkiness. Wacky interludes are the meat of Stars Hollow’s worldbuilding even—and maybe especially—when they don’t stick the landing.
In a media landscape overrun with revivals, reboots, and sequels, Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life caught lightning in a bottle. It at once calls upon the audience to revel in the world they’ve spent years missing and asks them to embrace a new kind of story necessitated by returning to characters whose lives are much different than they were in 2007. Though the final four words seem to beg for more story still, they give Gilmore Girls the ending it was always meant to have, and it’s dangerous work to try to catch lightning twice.