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“Stay photogenic. I beg of you.”
The Netflix-funded revival of the beloved Gilmore Girls is great. If you loved the show back in its 2000-07 WB/CW run, caught up with it through ABC Family repeats, or through said streaming service, you’ll still love it. I did. My wife did. For better and worse Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life is the same as it ever was.
The theme of the familiar looms large over the course of the four 90-minute episodes. (Or movies, however you want to define it is up to you.) Nearly everyone you want to see is here, with the notable absence of Edward Herrmann, who passed away before the reunion. There are callbacks to decade-old jokes, and most importantly the show’s beating heart—creator Amy Sherman-Palladino—is back to play ringmaster.
But as the quote above implies, everything changes: Pictures and memories will always hold a magic that can’t be recaptured. That’s where this revival finds its dramatic thrust. The characters, and the show, wrestle with change and that struggle proves rewarding, even if everything doesn’t always click. Things can’t stay the same—and they shouldn’t.
In the second episode, Spring, Luke (Scott Patterson) and Lorelai (Lauren Graham) have a conversation about the merits of change versus keeping things the same that is so meta it would make Community blush. One of the ways the show pushes forward is by leaning into Lorelai and Rory (Alexis Bledel) becoming their respective mothers. Rory has broken free of her good-girl tendencies to be a nomadic woman looking for direction. Like Lorelai before her, Rory goes back to Stars Hollow to help get her life in order. This world-worn Rory has an edge that suits Bledel.
Her story takes her to a few places that fans of the show never would’ve imagined back in the halcyon days. Lorelai’s journey has her taking on more of Emily’s (Kelly Bishop) tendencies than she would ever admit. But it’s there in Lorelai’s judgments of Rory, and more obviously mirrored in her constant firing of replacement chefs at the Dragonfly Inn. It’s funny that Luke recognizes the value of change, as he’s the character defined by his commitment to routine and reluctance to evolve.
As always Gilmore’s strongest moments are between the girls and this is where the new season hits its highest points. Much of that drama revolves around the absence of family patriarch Richard (replacing Hermann’s “Special appearance by” credit with “In memory of” is the biggest tearjerker moment of the whole six hours). Emily is wracked with grief, and leads to Emily and Lorelai in therapy, which is enough to justify the revival on its own.
The dynamic between Lorelai and Rory, the show’s signature element, doesn’t have the same finish-sentences effect as before, and they’ve settled into something more casual. There are still moments that feel like before (the opening scene panders in all the right ways), but the girls are more confrontational in their dynamic.
It’s great spending time with the potpourri of familiar faces. The sense of community the show worked so hard to establish pays off with an emotive curtain call. Kirk (Sean Gunn) is still works a different job every episode and even blesses us with “a second film by kirk,” which immediately goes into the pantheon of the show’s greatest bits. Miss Patty, Babette, Taylor, and Gypsy prove to be great points for the “change is dumb” argument. To no one’s surprise, Rory’s old boyfriends all reappear. Dean, Jess, and Logan are all in significantly better places than when we last crossed paths, so all the shippers won’t gain any new ammo to work with. (If you’re not down with Jess, then I don’t want to hear it.)
With every revival and reboot, hope springs eternal until the new thing is devoured by fans and fails to live up with unreachable expectations. There’s a reason high school reunions are spent reliving the past instead of focusing on the future. The reason for hope this time is the return of Sherman-Palladino, who was famously absent from the show’s final broadcast season, denying fans the ending she had planned, including the elusive final four words. By the time those words hit and we’ve seen another year in the life of the Gilmore girls, there’s genuine satisfaction to be had.
This project is more than fan service (shout out to Luke’s new diner rules, the town hall meetings); more than just a roll call of old characters and cameos (we see you Jackson, Digger (!), Rachael Ray (?), superfans the Gilmore Guys and Jason Mantzoukas). This is a trip down memory lane that builds on what came before it, and lays the groundwork for future (hopefully) trips.
Eddie Strait is a member of the Austin Film Critic Association. His reviews focus primarily on streaming entertainment, with an emphasis on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and other on-demand services.