Record Review: Gilmore Girls Revival Surprises, Delights

gilmore-girls-netflix-winter-posterFor many reasons, 2007 was not a particularly good year for me. As I was a teenage boy then, most of these reasons involved teenage girls, one in particular. However, another reason that 2007 was lame was because that year marked the end of the original run of Gilmore Girls.

Thankfully, Netflix has brought back Lorelai, Rory, Emily, and all the rest of Gilmore Girls in the four-part mini-series Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life. In total, there’s six hours of fast-talkin’, pop-culture referencin’, Stars Hollowin’ goodness.

Look, if you’re reading this and you loved Gilmore Girls, you should absolutely watch A Year in the Life. In fact, you’ve probably watched it already. Write in with your thoughts.

If you merely liked Gilmore Girls but didn’t love it, well, there’s no accounting for taste, I suppose. I can’t imagine A Year in the Life will change your reckoning of the series.

And finally, there are those who have not had the pleasure of having watched, nay, experienced Gilmore Girls, one of the finest shows of all time. Such innocence of worldly pleasures

Anyway, although nearly ten years have passed since the end of the original series, Lauren Graham and Alexis Bledel slip seamlessly back into their roles as Lorelai and Rory Gilmore, who are mother and daughter and the best of friends. And as before, Kelly Bishop is terrific as matriarch Emily Gilmore.

To wrap up some loose ends, the mini-series revisits many of the friends and lovers of Rory’s youth. They’ve developed (settled is not quite the right word) into, frankly, more or less the people you’d expect. And the ones who have loving families are generally the happier, less confused ones. If Gilmore Girls ever had a message (besides to always talk fast), it’s that family, both the one you’re born into and the one you make for yourself, is the most important thing in life.

Returning are nearly all of the strange and wonderful townsfolk of Stars Hollow, Connecticut, the home, or at least, temporary base of the Gilmore girls. (Rory is going through some residential uncertainty as the mini-series opens.) Perhaps most striking is how much the same everyone looks after ten years. If anything, many people look quite a bit better. Two of Rory’s former boyfriends look like they’ve worked out a bit over the years, and others seem rather lighter on their feet. (And of course Bledel is preternaturally ageless. It’s a little freaky.)

Perhaps the most notable loss is that of Edward Hermann, who died in 2014. Hermann had played Richard, pater familias of the Gilmore clan, and Richard’s death is a backdrop for much of the A Year in the Life’s events and tensions, particularly that between Emily and Lorelai. The long-running discord between that mother-daughter pair arguably propelled the original setting of Gilmore Girls by driving a teenaged Lorelai run away from her parents 32 years before the start of the mini-series to raise Rory as a single mother.

I suppose as I’ve described the show so far, Gilmore Girls might sound rather like some overwrought melodrama, which of course, is an insane characterization of the show. Fundamentally, the original show was fueled by pop culture, junk food, and talking very fast. The mini-series relies on the same things, plus self-references. (Rory: “I do blood clot prevention foot pumps wearing my Yonah Schimmel Knishery baseball cap while toothpaste dries up a zit on my chin. Wow. Winded.” Lorelai: “Haven’t done that for a while.” Rory: “Felt good.”)

Many collaborators of show creator Amy Sherman-Palladino and the lead actors make cameo appearances large and small in the show, from Sutton Foster and Julia Goldani Telles (Bunheads, which Sherman-Palladino created) to Peter Krause and Mae Whitman (Parenthood, which Graham starred in). Paul Anka and Rachael Ray also make notable appearances.

There are a few missteps, however. At one point, Lorelai calls Rory an alumnus, a usage that Rory, a pedant after my own heart, surely would have begrudged. In another episode, Lorelai attempts to begin hiking the Pacific Crest Trail in the fall. While Lorelai was merely attempting a short-term section hike, the episode seemed to imply that several other hikers were starting thru-hikes, which ordinarily take months. And simply put, PCT thru-hikes begin in the spring, not the fall. You will die if you begin a PCT thru-hike in the fall. Do not begin a PCT thru-hike in the fall.

Were these sorts of inconsistencies and errors in the original series and I just didn’t notice? I mean, probably. Sixteen-year-old me was not cultured enough to be able to call out slightly-off references to beatnik literature and 80s pop music.

The ending to A Year in the Life was apparently what Sherman-Palladino had planned for the original series but was unable to use after being replaced as showrunner for the final season. Seeing it now after ten years, it was … something. I was rather surprised, and not entirely pleasantly so, but not unpleasantly so either. Some surprises are like that, I guess.

I suppose the fundamental question underlying the evaluation of these latter-day resurrections of long-dead shows is whether they recapture what made the original good or merely trade on viewers’ nostalgia. Certainly, A Year in the Life does not skimp on nostalgia for the original series or even nostalgia for other shows. But in the end, Sherman-Palladino and the cast have done an expectedly great job of doing all the funny, clever, and heartwarming things that made the original such a classic.

★★★★☆

Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life, Netflix

Jim An is the editor-in-chief of The Harvard Law Record and a member of the Harvard Law School Class of 2018.

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