In the opening minutes of Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life, Lorelai and Rory Gilmore catch up with each other the way they always have: through rapid-fire banter laden with references to “I Dreamed a Dream,” Goop, Zoolander 2, and Omar from The Wire, among other things. At one point, Rory has to pause, acknowledging to her mother that she’s winded from all the talking and allusions.
“Haven’t done that for a while,” Lorelai smirks.
“Felt good,” Rory admits.
It’s the first, but far from the last, self-aware moment from Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life, a reunion miniseries shot and set 9 years after the end of Gilmore Girls, and a decade since the show’s creator and dominant voice, Amy Sherman-Palladino, left in a contract dispute (along with her husband and fellow writer/producer Daniel Palladino). A Year in the Life is a chance to get the band back together — the metaphorical band, that is, though Lane’s band Hep Alien tears through a tasty cover of Joe Jackson’s “I’m the Man” at one point — to catch up on how Lorelai (Lauren Graham) and Luke (Scott Patterson) are getting on, how adulthood is treating Rory (Alexis Bledel), what happened to everybody else from Stars Hollow and Chilton and Yale, and to give Sherman-Palladino the chance to end her creation on her own terms, down to the four final words she always promised but never got to reveal.
We’re in the midst of a boom in TV show revivals, because nostalgia rules the entertainment world, and because familiar brand names are one of the few ways to break through the clutter of Peak TV. Jack Bauer returned to battle terror one last time in 24: Live Another Day, and Fox has a Kiefer-less sequel series debuting in January — about a year after the network’s six-part X-Files sequel. NBC tried to muster enthusiasm from the 10 people who watched Heroes all the way to the end with Heroes Reborn, while Netflix — which will release all four 90-minute episodes of A Year in the Life on November 25 — gifted the world with Fuller House. Sometime next year, we will probably get the long-awaited Twin Peaks sequel on Showtime, along with a flood of other resurrected catalog titles.
The problem with revivals is that great TV shows — or even mediocre but successful ones — are alchemy: A product of a specific time in the lives of the people making the show, the characters on the show, and even the culture in which they originally aired. Even if all of the original participants return, it’s hard to recreate the feeling of them being together back in the day. You can maybe bottle the lightning again for an episode (“Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster”), or generate a fainter flicker for a season (Live Another Day was a solid, if uninspiring, approximation of late-period 24), but overall disappointment is all but inevitable.
The passage of time is particularly acute for Gilmore Girls, and not just because Edward Herrmann died two years ago, which turns the loss of Lorelai’s father Richard — and how it’s affected her relationship with her mother Emily (Kelly Bishop) — into one of A Year in the Life‘s more prominent story threads. Gilmore Girls was the story of a woman who had a baby at far too young an age, who had raised the girl to be more best friend than daughter, and who was now watching Rory be tempted to make the same mistakes she had at that age. The relationship between a 32-year-old mother and a 16-year-old daughter — even one as unusual and specific as this — is fundamentally different from that of a 32-year-old daughter and her 48-year-old mother, and it’s less remarkable that they would act like pals than in the days when Lorelai wasn’t happy that Rory didn’t immediately tell her about her first kiss.
Because of that fundamental shift in the dynamic, because the Palladinos are trying to squeeze nearly every significant Gilmore character — not to mention exposition about what they’ve been up to since we last saw them — into four double-sized episodes that each cover an entire season of the calendar, and because TV reunions almost always feel out of sync from the shows that spawned them, it’s not a surprise that A Year in the Life is frequently a mess, and one that occasionally feels at best like a well-studied imitation of the genuine article.