Let’s cut right to the chase, “Gilmore Girls” fans, and start with the good news: The Netflix revival of the beloved drama has everything you want. Lorelai and Rory return as the mother-daughter best-friend duo who live in the gloriously quirky town of Stars Hollow, Connecticut. The original creator and executive producers are in charge, ensuring the highly anticipated reboot is chock-full of callbacks, inside jokes and life updates on your favorite supporting characters.
The bad news: It’s not perfect. It’s actually far from perfect. The revival has four 90-minute chapters, and it turns out that 42-minute episodes were the perfect amount of time before the famously sparkling dialogue and wacky plotlines start to drag – and characters’ flaws go from endearing to irritating.
The best news: Fans won’t care. Because “Gilmore Girls” is back.
Although television is cluttered with nostalgia projects, nothing quite strikes a chord like “Gilmore Girls,” which ran on the WB and the CW from 2000 to 2007. Executive producers Amy Sherman-Palladino and Dan Palladino couldn’t reach a financial deal with the studio and left before the seventh and final season, which was considered a huge disappointment, bogged down by nonsensical story lines. It all adds an extra layer of excitement to the revival, because viewers finally get to see the “real” ending.
As someone who has re-watched “Gilmore Girls” more times than I care to admit, hitting “play” on the first episode was nerve-racking. The magic of “Gilmore Girls” is buried deep in my psyche, as it is for many other fans, thanks to deeply relatable characters (Rory made it cool to be an introvert who loved to read!), sharp writing and the dream of living in a cozy town. Would the revival meet my sky-high expectations? Or would it confirm my fears that it could never live up to the actual series?
I’ll be honest – it was a little of both. Before viewing the episodes, Netflix required reporters to sign agreements in which we swore not to reveal any spoilers or surprises or specific plot points or twists or turns or … any significant details whatsoever, especially about various romantic entanglements.
But here’s what I can tell you: The first episode is delightfully surreal. As in, is this really happening? Are Lorelai (Lauren Graham) and Rory (Alexis Bledel) bantering about coffee and trading pop culture references like no time has passed? The Stars Hollow Gazette gets a shout-out? Wait, town weirdo Kirk (Sean Gunn) has a pet pig? Actually, that seems about right.
Viewers get swept back into the all-consuming “Gilmore” world, starting in the wintertime. Each episode takes place in a different season over a year.
The theme of the revival is arriving at a crossroads (yes, Lorelai would make a Britney Spears joke here) and what to do when there are no easy answers. When we last saw Rory – the straight-A student with dreams of being a foreign correspondent – she had just graduated from Yale University with a job with a political website covering then-Sen. Barack Obama’s presidential campaign.
Although theoretically that would be quite the launchpad for a successful career, curiously, in the new series,it doesn’t come up at all. Now 32, Rory is struggling to find a permanent foothold in the fiercely competitive journalism world. On a trip home to Stars Hollow, she repeatedly assures her mother that she has a lot of irons in the fire (“I heard. You should become a blacksmith,” Lorelai deadpans), although she’s clearly terrified about her future.
Lorelai, meanwhile, is dealing with a midlife crisis of sorts, spending a fair amount of time in a (mostly bewildered) therapist’s office. She’s not just dealing with her complicated family issues: getting pregnant at 16 and running away from her wealthy, stifling parents. She’s also thinking about the future of the Dragonfly Inn, her dream business that she opened with her best friend, Sookie (Melissa McCarthy). Plus, she and grumpy diner owner Luke (Scott Patterson), the fan-favorite choice for her soul mate, aren’t all smooth sailing – even though the trailer features them sharing a kiss.
Threaded through the stories is the grief over the death of Edward Herrmann, who played Richard, Lorelai’s father; Herrmann died of cancer two years ago. In the revival, his widow, Emily (Kelly Bishop), grapples with life without her husband of 50 years.
She’s devastated, but still, she’s Emily Gilmore: Nothing can stop her from making a snarky comment to Lorelai, with whom she has a stormy relationship, or taking Luke down a peg. (Emily: “Luke.” Luke: “Yes?” Emily: “That was just my way of saying goodbye.”) And remember how she used to hire and fire maids every few days? Now, there’s a story line with her non-English-speaking housekeeper, one that seems out of place for a TV show in 2016.
In the years since “Gilmore Girls” went off the air, some viewers have pointed out the show’slack of diversity and its racial stereotypes, particularly Mrs. Kim (Emily Kuroda), the very strict Korean mother of Rory’s best friend Lane (Keiko Agena). Although Stars Hollow has evolved in many ways, much of the original tone remains the same – and there’s a hint at how the show feels about politically correct culture.
“Body shaming! Trigger warnings!” Lorelai sarcastically yells when Luke is upset that she’s eating tacos before a full dinner. “War on Christmas!”
One of the downsides of re-watching your favorite show is that the flaws become magnified. Many young women re-watch “Gilmore Girls” and realize they relate more to Lorelai than Rory, a scary reminder of the passage of time – and that Rory could be, well, kind of annoying.
All the characters have their negative traits, which are on display in the revival: Selfishness, the rash decisions that hurt others, the casual cruelty disguised as banter. Although it’s all part of making them well-rounded, binge-watching six hours of it in a row reinforces how your much-loved characters make poor choices.
This could be why Sherman-Palladino was upset when Netflix refused to release the episodes one week at a time, and instead will drop them all once, which is custom. Indeed, some advice: Ninety-minute “Gilmore Girls” episodes are not for binge-watching, at least not all in one sitting.
Not only do some of the characters become insufferable, but some expanded scenes are ones that don’t necessarily need expanding. For example, instead of a couple minutes of one of Stars Hollow’s typically terrible stage productions, there’s enough time to stretch it out for much longer.
Then again, maybe you love Stars Hollow musicals. Maybe you can’t get enough of Taylor Doose (Michael Winters) running the town meetings; or Paris Geller’s (Liza Weil) insults; or Lane’s band, Hep Alien; or references to Tori Spelling and Neil Patrick Harris.
That’s the one benefit of a “Gilmore Girls” mini-movie – with extended time and producers’ creative freedom, it’s a veritable buffet of every “Gilmore” experience imaginable. And for this show in particular, that’s all the fans really care about, anyway.
“Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life” (four episodes) begins streaming Nov. 25 on Netflix.