Earlier today, Netflix debuted Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life, the four-part, six-hour reunion of the beloved family dramedy. I posted my overall thoughts on the revival last week, and now that some of you have had time to watch the whole thing, let’s get into more detail of the parts that worked for me and the parts that didn’t — with full spoilers for the whole limited series — coming up just as soon as I accidentally join a vegetable cult…
GREAT: The opening.
Though I watched these episodes while New Jersey was in the midst of an unseasonable warm streak, I got chills during the entire opening sequence, which perfectly set the mood for the return by opening with snippets of classic dialogue (“Oy, with the poodles already!”) against a black background, all building the sense of nostalgia and anticipation until we hear Lorelai say, once again, “I smell snow”…
… and then it is winter in Stars Hollow, and Sam Phillips is la-la-la’ing, and Lauren Graham sits on the steps of the gazebo, looking serene and happy even before Rory surprises her and they dive into their first bit of epic Amy Sherman-Palladino banter in a decade. After so much time away — not to mention the Palladino-less final season(*) — that opening instantly recaptures the feeling of the show at its best and sets a mood that led me to forgive many of the bumps that followed.
(*) By the way, I’m not one offended by the seventh season’s existence. There had already been a lot of problems near the end of the Palladinos’ tenure (the introduction of April and the Lorelai/Luke estrangement that followed, to name a couple), and all things considered, David Rosenthal wrote a pretty good series finale. But neither he nor any of the other writers that year could duplicate Sherman-Palladino’s unique voice, even if they occasionally came up with strong moments that weren’t quip-dependent, like Lorelai singing “I Will Always Love You” at karaoke.
NOT-SO-GREAT: The famous Final Four Words.
This exchange between Rory and Lorelai was apparently how Amy Sherman-Palladino always intended to end the series, and she just carried it over to A Year in the Life. And you can see some very clear “all this has happened before, and all of it will happen again” full circle storytelling here, as Rory winds up repeating the unplanned(*) pregnancy that came to define her mother’s life.
(*) In the days after I watched the episodes, I briefly pondered the idea that Rory planned this out with help from her fertility specialist pal Paris, but then Myles McNutt suggested I rewatch the Kiefer Sutherland discussion in “Fall,” which is interrupted in the middle by Rory getting a phone call that seems to completely throw her, which in turn makes the Christopher scene play very differently in hindsight: it’s not her doing research for the book, but her feeling him out for whether or not she should make Logan — her history-repeats-itself version of Christopher, a guy who’s perfect on paper but too weak to stand with her — a part of the baby’s life.
But like a lot of Rory’s character arc in the miniseries, it’s something that has a very different connotation when she’s 22 than when she’s 32. Even had Sherman-Palladino gotten to do it back in the ’00s, it wouldn’t have been nearly as big a life-exploding event as when Lorelai became pregnant with her — Rory would be a Yale graduate, an adult, and someone with a much healthier relationship with both her mother and grandparents (and would be more willing to accept the money Emily and Richard could offer to help her manage single motherhood) than Lorelai ever had — but it’s still a major bump in the road for someone who had her entire future mapped out. But in A Year in the Life, we see that Rory got badly lost on the way to that future. She didn’t become the next Christiane Amanpour, or Susan Orlean, or any of the other women to whose careers she might have aspired. There’s no great job in journalism for a baby to get in the way of, no incredible plan that becomes impossible if Rory is now a single mom. If anything — not that this should be a motivating factor towards Rory deciding to have and keep the baby — her pregnancy offers both a conclusion to the memoir she’s writing and an extra marketing hook when it’s published.
Also, the Final Four Words are more frustrating now than they would have been a decade ago, because back then they would have definitely meant the end of the story, where here it’s fodder for talk of Netflix doing yet another limited series, or maybe even a Rory-centric sequel series (James Poniewozik suggested the best title to me: Gilmost Girls). Because anything can be revived now, and often is, it’s no longer the period on the end of the sentence — leaving us up in the air as to what’s coming next, but bringing some thematic closure to the story — but an ellipsis that, whether Sherman-Palladino intended it this way or not, will only drive speculation about more more more.
GREAT: Emily and Lorelai’s reconciliation.
Edward Herrmann’s death was a huge loss, but Richard’s absence gives A Year in the Life the strongest of its three main narratives, as it leads to an ugly falling-out between Emily and Lorelai, and forces the Gilmore matriarch to reconsider who she is and what she wants in a world without her beloved husband.
Where the passage of time has radically altered the nature of Rory and Lorelai’s relationship — it’s simply less remarkable for an adult daughter to be so friendly with her mother than when she was a teenager — the decade that’s passed changes nothing about who Emily and Lorelai are in relation to one another, which makes it easier to jump right back into their dynamic, and to offer some real growth and closure to it.
Kelly Bishop and Lauren Graham both did great work together, and apart, throughout this arc, but particularly in its climactic scene, where Lorelai — having failed in her attempt to recreate Cheryl Strayed’s Pacific Crest Trail hike from Wild — calls her mother and tells her the story she wishes she had told on the day of Richard’s funeral, with both women smiling through tears as they finally get to grieve this great man at the same time, in the same way. Beautiful.
NOT-SO-GREAT: Most of the material about the men in Lorelai and Rory’s lives.