Many of us came to Gilmore Girls at different times in our lives. Some got swept up in the original run, others (like myself) in the endless repeats that seemed to run alongside One Tree Hill, whilst many more discovered it after the announcement of A Year in the Life and the original’s addition to the Netflix catalogue. Its particular brand of fast-paced dialogue, focus on female relationships, and the wacky world of Stars Hollow has a huge amount of nostalgia attached to it and the immediate outpouring of excitement when new episodes were announced is a testament to the hold it still has over its fans.
A Year in the Life finds Rory still attempting, and sometimes succeeding in, her journalism career, flitting between London and New York like a high-powered jet-setter, but appearances bely the fragility of her existence. Lorelai is still happily running the Dragonfly and in a relationship with Luke who is continuing to run the diner with his unique form of customer service (make sure to look out for his new ‘Forbidden’ sign). Emily is struggling to find meaning in the wake of her husband Richard’s death and Stars Hollow is fully in the grip of Taylor’s next project, a sewer system.
The first episode, Winter, throws you straight back into the action with old quotes playing out over the titles before we get our the initial scene with Lorelai and Rory, instantly snapping back into the show’s familiar style. The Palladinos gleefully start throwing Gilmore Girls’ tropes at you, giving beloved characters an introduction suitable for existing fans of the show, and generally delighting at being able to play in this world again. There are a few continuity slip-ups, but everything is done with such enthusiasm and a genuine pleasure to be there that it doesn’t matter too much. Frankly, why anyone would attempt to watch these new episodes without seeing the first seven seasons first is beyond me because this revival is designed for the show’s longterm fans.
The focus is, of course, on Lorelai, Emily, and Rory and where their lives have gone since Rory left to travel with Barack Obama’s presidential campaign. Much is made of the ‘circle of life’ from the way in which the four feature-length episodes play out across the seasons to the little moments between the three Gilmore women. It’s a clever way of approaching the mini-series and throws up some wonderful scenes, as well as the odd gasp-out-loud shocker.
It’s an emotional rollercoaster, not in the least because of the sad passing of Edward Herrmann in the show’s absence from the airwaves. The way in which Richard Gilmore’s death is handled throughout the four episodes is simply sublime. The character was such a big presence in the series and the Palladinos honour that by ensuring that Richard continues to affect his family in some touching and fitting ways.
The performances of the cast all build these emotional highs and lows beautifully. Lauren Graham, Alexis Bledel and Kelly Bishop slot back into the characters and their chemistry with such ease as does the cast around them. The characteristic fast-paced patter is back (it’s definitely going to take a couple of watches to catch the many pop culture references) but there’s also a fine balance to it. There’s a moment, simply a look, in the Fall episode that absolutely broke my heart and it’s proof that such a talky show can do great things with silence.
The big emotional beats punctuate the year, balancing nicely with the usual Stars Hollow mayhem and even secondary characters get to have their turn in the spotlight. It becomes part of the joy to cheer or hiss when certain characters show up, especially if you happen to be on certain Teams. The town meetings are every bit as riotous as you remember them and Taylor just as gloriously meddling. Babette and Miss Patty are especially fun during an audition scene, whilst Kirk continues his reign as Stars Hollow MVP.
Overall, A Year in the Life is entertaining and lovely, but there are a few little niggles that crop up along the way. Perhaps because it’s been a while since I sat down with the series, but the humour feels harder, in some places nastier than the gentle fun had elsewhere. The feature length episodes are a great choice in some respects, allowing certain set pieces to get the kind of attention they wouldn’t in the usual episode runtime and giving some of the bigger scenes room to breathe. However, occasionally the pacing feels off, or a joke runs on a little too long and tests the patience of the viewer. Some running gags outstay their welcome by some margin.
There’s also the issue of the ending, which, whilst thematically on point, leaves a couple of characters feeling like their stories are left unresolved. Whether this means we might get new episodes or if it is truly the ending, it could be a sticking point for audiences. It feels especially unsatisfying when other characters, like Emily, are given such fantastic arcs across the four episodes. Rumours are already abounding that the show might return, but it would have been nice to have more of a sense of resolution.
There is so much to enjoy in A Year in the Life that I’ll swing back to positive for the end of this review. The way in which the show embraces its past and finds a way to get everyone back to Stars Hollow, even for the briefest of cameos, is truly a joy to watch. I have missed the trials and tribulations of Rory, Lorelai and Emily and to get them back for ‘a year’ is a very exciting event indeed.
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