GILMORE GIRLS: A YEAR IN THE LIFE Review

Three generations of Gilmore women have returned to talk your ear off.

I reviewed each of the four installments separately over at Forever Young Adult: Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall

I also reviewed every episode of Gilmore Girls' original run

So they're back. With Netflix's Gilmore Girls revival A Year in the Life, we received four 90-minute episodes catching us up with Emily, Lorelai, Rory, Paris, Lane, Sookie and the mostly useless boys that surround them. It's a brilliant approach, to focus each installment on a different season of the year, as Gilmore Girls has always been so much about the seasons, about snow and daisies and the colorful foliage of Connecticut. Well, most of the seasons: Gilmore Girls has never cared much for summer, which may be one reason "Summer" is the weakest episode of the bunch. 

But let's start with the positive, and there is so much good here. The most important thing is that A Year in the Life feels like Gilmore Girls. It's talky and irreverent and whimsical and quirky. Though nine years have passed since the (first) final episode of the series, Lauren Graham and Kelly Bishop stepped so easily back into their characters, like a favorite winter coat they're able to shrug on at a moment's notice. Alexis Bledel seemed a little rustier at first ("Wow, winded!" "Haven't done that for a while."), but by the end, she felt as natural as the two powerhouse women who play her mother and grandmother. 

And everyone else was just right, too! Sean Gunn's Kirk, Scott Patterson's Luke, all of Rory's boys, even the far too brief scene with Melissa McCarthy's Sookie felt natural and authentic, a five-minute scene that had my heart swelling and my eyes welling. "Still best friends? "Still best friends." And no one, NO ONE, topped Liza Weil as Paris. She receives a tremendous amount of screentime in "Spring," and she uses it to her fullest advantage, giving the most memorable performance of the revival and kicking her way into all of our hearts forever. Paris is a typhoon, a furious, impassioned, brilliant woman who - like Lorelai and Rory and Emily - is finding herself unexpectedly at a loss at a point in her life when everything was supposed to be settled. Unsettled Paris always made for the best television, and A Year in the Life continues that tradition in fine form. 

The most exciting thing about A Year in the Life, other than the opportunity to spend more time with these beloved characters, is the chance to see what Amy Sherman-Palladino can do with some money. Ninety minutes was probably too long for each episode, and there was so much padding - though it only felt like it in the Dan Palladino-written and directed episodes, "Spring" and Summer," particularly with the interminable musical nonsense of "Summer," a lamentable waste of Bunheads' Sutton Foster and Broadway's Christian Borle. But, oh, when Amy Sherman-Palladino gets her hands on a little extra time and money, she does great things with it. 

Though the Life & Death Brigade has always exposed the weird classicism of Gilmore Girls (and Emily's Berta storyline exposed its casual racism), there is no scene more breathtaking or memorable than Rory's Wild Ride. What a magnificent spectacle! This is a set piece I anticipate revisiting over and over, a gorgeous pageant that shows off Sherman-Palladino's sensibilities to incomparable effect. Though Bunheads was close, what I want more than anything is for Amy Sherman-Palladino to write and direct a full-blown musical. That said, after "Stars Hollow: The Musical," I do not want the same of Dan Palladino.

Some more generalities before I get into specifics: the jokes, the pop culture references, the machine gun dialogue, the colors, Stars Hollow's sights and sounds, the cameos - it all worked. It worked great. Television's somewhat new obsession with reviving its most cherished properties has largely made for disappointing endeavors (Wet Hot American Summer is a notable exception), but Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life truly feels like Gilmore Girls. Sure, some mean-spirited humor made its way into my generally very loving show - poor Paul, poor Pat - but if we're being honest, Gilmore Girls always had a periodic penchant for mean-spiritedness. And yes, sure, we needed more Lane. We needed less filler. But all in all, A Year in the Life has everything it needed to have, the heart and style and humor of a show unlike any other.

SPOILERS BELOW:

Okay, onto specifics. Let's take each girl at a time: 

Emily's arc had the most rewarding conclusion for me. She's been at sixes and sevens since Richard's death, trying everything from the KonMari method to adopting an entire family (sigh) to heal her heart since the loss of her husband of fifty years. It makes sense for the revival to begin with a new wound between Emily and Lorelai, as Gilmore Girls has always had so much to say about their contentious relationship, and when Lorelai's unable to name a single positive memory of her father at his funeral (LORELAI. I can think of several), Emily feels left alone to grieve this great man by herself. It's a healing moment when Lorelai calls to tell her mom about the time her dad bought her a pretzel at the mall when she was sad, a scene that should secure Lauren Graham an Emmy, and it appears to be the last piece Emily needs to finally step out on her own. She shakes off Ray Wise and "bullshit!"s her way out of the DAR, buys the summer home she and Richard once frequented in Nantucket, puts on a pair of Keds and starts volunteering as a docent at the Whaling Museum. She spends her nights alone, drinking wine and looking up at the stars. It's beautiful, and moving - a woman who's never been alone, not once in her life, at last learns how to be alone. 

Lorelai's also feeling aimless since her father died and her best friend quit the dream they were supposed to build together. It's a wonderful tribute to Sookie's character that so much of Lorelai's plot revolves around missing Sookie, unsure how to move forward without her partner and terrified of losing Michel, the third piece of this bizarre and lovely trio. And as she watches her mother grieve, Lorelai begins to realize that she and Luke don't share the same life her parents shared. Much of that is by design, as Lorelai is constantly fighting to distance herself from her mother's world, but it's caused her to create distance in her own relationship, as well, to live her life separately from Luke's. She heads out on a Wild journey to find some clarity - and runs into dozens of women doing the same thing, which is what happens when you try to live someone else's adventure instead of finding your own - but before she even starts hiking, she finds the answers she's looking for. She calls her mom and then she goes home to tell Luke she wants to get married. Before she even can, Luke gives the most perfect speech, revealing a depth of emotion that has only ever hidden beneath the surface of this crotchety man's man, and it's made more clear than ever that these two are meant to be together, that they are something to each other that no one else could ever be. They get married in a stunning fairy land created by Kirk (who finally did something right!), and it's so meaningful, this moment that Lorelai realizes that she doesn't have to eschew everything her parents stood for, that their marriage is something to aspire to instead of shrink from. 

And then Rory. Oof. Rory has it the hardest by far of these three women, but since she is 32 and still has so much to learn, that feels right. Her career isn't what she wanted it to be, she's spent nearly three years dating a man mostly because she keeps forgetting to dump him (poor Paul!), and she's the mistress to an ex-boyfriend yet again. She doesn't figure out much in these four episodes, except that she should write a book about her and her mom. But that's no small thing, discovering the story that you're meant to tell. 

So then those four final words, which fans have been chasing since Gilmore Girls went off the air without Amy Sherman-Palladino's guidance in 2007. "Mom?" "Yeah?" "I'm pregnant." 

Lots of people are furious with that ending, one that leaves everything open for Rory and has her repeating the "mistakes" of her mom. But I love it. It's the perfect way to end this series, a show about cyclical seasons and our inextricable ties to the past. Here's what I said over at FYA, and I stand by it:

Gilmore Girls has always been about one thing: life happens when it happens, without any care for our plans or preferences, and the most beautiful messes come out of that one incontrovertible fact. Rory will finish her book. It will be a great, great book. She and Lorelai and Emily will be there for each other always. The rest of it - well, we can all have our own ideas about that.

I do have my own ideas, but they don't belong here. Let's dish in the comments. 

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