Saturday, November 26, 2016

The Small Screen: Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life

Typically when I mention Gilmore Girls, the initial assumption made by others is that I am a television prisoner held captive by the women in my life. That a Black Friday binge session of the series involves my mother-in-law, wife and daughter forcing me to endure hours of programming that will leave me bored and begging for entertainment freedom. That I will be scratching and clawing to change the channel to something action packed and full of testosterone, because I guess the word "girls" in the title automatically cuts the other gender entirely out of the target audience.

The thing is though, when it was at its best, Gilmore Girls was truly a great series and it was often at its best. The first six seasons were brought to television screens by creators/writers/directors Amy Sherman-Palladino and her husband Daniel Palladino and they created a sharply written, funny and warm show that has proved to be insanely rewatchable years later, as I have enjoyed each episode multiple times at this point. The dialogue may defy realism at times because it is so snappy and quick-witted that many likely wonder, how do these people never miss a beat? How are they always ready and waiting with a vague reference or perfectly timed quip? This never bothered me, probably because I have friends who are like this, who somehow naturally have a response locked and loaded at every conversational turn. Also, regardless at what speed it is being delivered, one simple fact remains: Gilmore Girls is just so smart and well written. From the very first episode it was impossible for me not to appreciate it on a screenwriting level.

The seventh and at the time final season no longer involved the Palladino's after a contract dispute forced them and the CW network to go their separate ways, and even though the new showrunners and writers tried to replicate the magic it wasn't the same. The story went in strange and unfortunate directions, the relationships on the screen that we learned to root for and love deteriorated and even when they were repaired by the series finale, it never felt quite right. Gilmore Girls joined a list of other shows that I watched from beginning to end that were a personal favorite only to have it taper off by its conclusion, and while it was easy enough to remind myself that the good vastly outweighed the bad overall, that much time devoted to a show that fades to black on the screen forever leaving a sour taste in your mouth resonates over the long term. So many terrific programs tainted by misguided ideas on how to end them. An all too familiar shame.

When the news came out that Netflix had an agreement to bring the series back, and that it would be created by the Palladino's so they could have an opportunity to end the show on their terms, it was impossible not to be excited. Almost all of the original cast on board to return no matter how big or small the role, a countdown clock began to when we could spend a lazy day binge watching the new episodes and kudos to Netflix for picking Black Friday as the day to unleash them. While so many people were out shopping, I was thrilled to eat Thanksgiving leftovers and take in all 6+ hours of the new run in one sitting.

Even with all the excitement and anticipation, Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life managed to exceeded any expectations I had for the revival of the show. Honestly, I think I can safely say that this is the best the series has ever been, and if this is the way it ends (and I am conflicted as to whether I want it to be or not, but I will get to that later), it went out on top, replacing that ugly feeling after season 7 went off the rails. Limited to only 4 episodes but with each one running at a lengthy 90-ish minutes, the story is told seasonal starting with the Winter, and what an appropriate time to be reunited with the Gilmore's and Stars Hollow given how magical the shows relationship with cold weather and a graceful snowfall proved to be over the years. The humor is as clever as ever with scripts bringing the best out of every character, and it's amazing how every actor was able to walk in their old shoes again after 9 years away so comfortably. Lauren Graham as Lorelai Gilmore, a great character because she is at times so likable and funny and impossible not to love and yet there are plenty of moments throughout that serve to remind the audience how deeply flawed she is as a person, which might be frustrating for those wanting perfection from a lead role at the center of a show but in reality it's very honest and human. Rory Gilmore, daughter of Lorelai played by Alexis Bledel, following in her mother's footsteps in terms of being so smart and strong but making plenty of mistakes along the way growing up. When we first met these girls, Lorelai was a 32 year old mother of 16 year old Rory, and by the time this new Netflix mini-series revival began Rory has reached 32 herself and its fascinating to see how differently her place in life is than her mother's back in 2000. Not a mother, unmarried and still sorting out the path of her chosen career.

The third of the titled Gilmore girls is Emily Gilmore played by Kelly Bishop, mother of Lorelai and grandmother of Rory. Her circumstances, while unfortunately birthed of tragedy in reality as her husband on the series was played by the late Edward Herrmann who passed away in 2014, opened up so many storytelling paths for these four parts as we watch how the sudden and unexpected passing of the patriarch of the family has effected them all since. One of the truly wonderful and touching aspects of these new episodes is the way this was handled, as the balance here of the wide range of emotions in play felt so warm, authentic and in a way, cathartic. I sat down to watch these great characters again hoping to be moved in multiple ways and that's exactly what we get, as a smile plastered across my face quickly shifted to a tear in my eye but it never feels jarring. It always feels right.

One of the toughest things to figure out in a situation like this is a way to provide fan service in terms of giving cameos to all of the characters from the show without it feeling clunky and out of place. As I was following the casting news of this revival it felt like every single day word was coming out of another familiar face returning, but rather than excite me it had me wondering if it was all too much. How can every friend and ex-boyfriend return to their lives during only a four episode arc without it feeling like overkill, a constant stream of winks and nods rather than actually moving the story forward? While a few of these cameos do end up feeling like nothing more than fan service, with little to no reason to be invoked in the moment, for the most part the Palladino's pull this off with flying colors as most of the characters blend in appropriately and at times even deeply matter to the progression of the main characters.

On basically every level I am blown away by how good the new Gilmore Girls is. Directed beautifully, written even better, performed perfectly and paced like a dream you don't want to wake from, A Year in the Life might be one of the best things to air on television this year, and yes I know what I am saying. I have watched every moment of Game of Thrones, every ingenious episode of Atlanta, the cold and compelling The Night Of and the wonderfully weird nostalgic journey that is Stranger Things and yet I have fallen madly in love with the Gilmore Girls all over again. I already can't wait to watch these four parts all over again, and now that I know the ending it will be interesting to see how brilliantly it all builds to it. I am certain many will be disappointed by the abrupt nature of the final scene, the way it leaves unanswered questions that probably will never be answered, but for me it is perfect.

As I mentioned early, I have a conflicted feeling as to whether I want this to be the official end of Gilmore Girls or not. On the one hand, it's such a terrific conclusion, watching them come full circle as four words uttered quickly likely made so many people watching gasp and instantly hope it signals another season on the way. I love the idea that uncertainty remains for Rory and Lorelai, that life doesn't wrap everything with a bow and address every detail, and when you reflect back to a conversation that takes place between Rory and her father Christopher (David Sutcliffe) a little bit earier during the fourth and final part ("Fall") you will recognize that everyone watching (myself included) made an assumption that the questions Rory asked were nothing more than research and general curiosity but in actuality they were heavily loaded and vital to her future as a person. I am being extremely vague, I know, but that's because if you haven't seen the series, I don't want to ruin it.

One last thing before I wrap up the many, many words I have devoted to the return of Gilmore Girls: if this limited run is worthy of any one piece of award recognition, I hope it is for the lead performance of Lauren Graham, and a scene in which she makes a phone call to her mother in the final episode is her masterpiece as a character. It's flawless and powerful and heartbreaking and beautiful. It's perfect, and one of quite a few moments I keep replaying in my head.

What a splendid achievement this turned out to be, and if it proves to truly be the last time we every visit Stars Hollow this time, what a way to go out. So much time and energy was poured into these 6 hours of the show, probably the same amount that they would normally have to expend in order to create 22 episodes back when they were working with a traditional season schedule and it shows. These episodes are so meticulously detailed and filled with love, and if the Gilmore Girls ever touched your heart in the past, the Netflix revival mini-series is an absolute treasure.


  1. Hey, thank you for a lovely review! That moment when Lorelai calls her mother was my favourite moment in this revival, and possibly the series. It was beautiful. Lauren Graham is simply incredible. I think she carries the entire show.

    I don't have as positive a reaction as you do to Rory's last words. To be honest, Rory's never been one of my favourite characters. I think she gets away too easily with doing things that would be unforgivable in other people. Despite that, I do think she deserved better. She's not 20 any more, so while some drifting and confusion is understandable, I kind of expected her to be a bit more put together, more mature from the life experience of all those years we haven't seen.

    However, as a whole, I loved A Year in the Life. I think it was marvellously executed, and like you, I was very moved by it. I am really going to miss watching the Gilmore Girls.

    1. Thank you for reading it Mahathi! Really appreciate it and the feedback, means a lot.

      Glad we agree on Lauren Graham and that specific powerful. Breathtaking moment, possibly the best thing that has ever happened throughout the series.

      I actually found Rory to be more likable during this revival than I ever did during the original 7 seasons. I didn't really see her struggles in her early 30's as being a sign that she isn't really put together, I find them realistic even for someone as accomplished as she given the path she wanted to take in life. It's important to follow your passion and pursue your dreams, but the challenges are pretty great trying to be a journalist. Plus, in the end the growth we see in her character facing these struggles is what leads to her realization as to how she can best put her talents to use and do something really meaningful.

      Glad you loved the revival, as you clearly know from reading this I did as well. Have a good one!

    2. You make some good points about Rory. I'm always a little hard on her because I identified very strongly with her in the first few seasons. But you're right - her path is a pretty hard one. Maybe you liked her more because she seemed less idolized?
      The best thing about Gilmore Girls has always been the female relationships and that was pitch perfect here. And how can we forget to mention the fantastic Kelly Bishop! That they handled Hermann's/Richard's passing without gimmickry or manipulation is a tribute to how wonderful they are with emotions.

      I do enjoy your reviews, although I don't often comment :)

    3. Thank you for the terrific thoughts and also the very kind words. I appreciate the support, I hope you continue checking out my reviews. Means a lot to me Mahathi, thanks again.