Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life comes saddled with all the expectations that the recent glut of TV revival series do — to capture the spark that made the original show so beloved without simply banking on nostalgia.
Luckily, A Year in the Life, which premieres November 25 on Netflix, mostly succeeds in rekindling the original show’s flame thanks to the return of both the show’s original creator, Amy Sherman-Palladino (alongside her husband and executive producer Daniel Palladino) and much of its stellar principal cast. Stars Hollow, with its love of superfluous seasonal celebrations, is back, and though that show’s indulgence in that small-town charm can be tedious at times, it’s because of Rory, Lorelai, and Emily Gilmore that A Year in the Life is such a successful return home.
A Year in the Life tracks the lives of the Gilmores over the course of a year, with each of the four 90-minute episodes devoted to a different season. Beginning with “Winter” and ending in “Fall,” the seasons tinge Stars Hollow with a distinct visual flair for each episode, but largely serve to mark the passage of time as the Gilmores grapple with their respective issues.
Rory is chasing her journalistic dreams but finding that career path easier planned for than executed. Lorelai is happily together with Luke but still figuring out what their lives should be. And Emily, after the death of her husband Richard, is trying to determine who she is after losing the half of herself she’s lived with for decades.
Richard’s death, a result of actor Edward Hermann’s death in 2014, has a profound impact on all three Gilmores and the revival series as a whole. It’s surprising and yet absolutely fitting how much his passing lingers over the entire series. The grieving process is one that doesn’t end after a day — grief can come in waves over weeks, months, and even years as those left in the wake of a death learn to live in their new normal.
A Year in the Life’s format smartly captures that grieving process in an honest and refreshing way. From setting the scene for continued conflict between Lorelai and Emily to his memory serving as a catalyst for Rory’s career, Richard, and by extension Hermann, are honored in a touching manner.
The Amy Sherman-Palladino written and directed opening and closing chapters, “Winter” and “Fall,” strike that balance best. Winter catches us up on where the Gilmores are after years apart (with a winking nod to how comforting it is for them, and us, to return), while “Fall” is a beautiful encapsulation of so many moments that feel like fan service yet are wonderfully earned and executed.
Spring and Summer are not without their merits, but Daniel Palladino’s entries often dip into the series’ more indulgent tendencies, with pop culture references feeling more shoehorned into the show’s speedy dialogue and Stars Hollow’s quirks stealing the spotlight over the stronger emotional undercurrent.
“Summer” offers a prime example of this, when the show doesn’t throw away its shot to make a Hamilton reference when a Stars Hollow musical is being produced. But rather than leave that musical up to the imagination, the lengthier episode runtimes allows four or five full numbers to actually be staged.
While the sequence makes excellent use of one of the revival’s many, many guest stars and builds up to a great emotional crescendo, it’s indicative of the revival stretching to fill its 90-minute-per-episode running time rather than letting the material dictate the length of the story.
And speaking of the story’s length, the show can play fast and loose with time. With episodes meant to encapsulate entire seasons, it can be occasionally confusing how much time has passed scene to scene, especially when little changes between episodes.
While that may cause the episodes — even the best of them — to drag, the show inevitably recaptures the magic of the original series thanks to the beautiful balance of heartwarming and heart-wrenching moments among the three Gilmores. Lorelai and Rory’s relationship remains unlike most parent-child relationships on TV — it’s one built on friendship, and Lauren Graham and Alexis Bledel are able to fall back into their familiar cadence while also giving us a fascinating new look at these characters at much more mature moments when we last left them. And while not all the material concerning Emily works, Kelly Bishop effectively captures Emily’s grief and subsequent search for a new purpose in life.
The two stars are of course supported by a huge swath of the show’s main and supporting cast. Scott Patterson hasn’t lost a step as the curmudgeonly Luke, even if he’s become a bit more eclectic after living with Lorelai. Paris Gellar (Liza Weil) is as hilariously blunt as ever, and the trio of Rory’s previous boyfriends (Jared Padalecki as Dean, Milo Ventimiglia as Jess, and Matt Czuchry as Logan) all return in clever ways that echo the roles they played in Rory’s former life in Stars Hollow and at Yale.
And with all of those returns and the many new cameos, A Year in the Life shows itself as a revival that truly is for the fans. Newcomers might find bits and pieces of the story charming, but little of it will have the same impact as it will for those who spent seven seasons in Stars Hollow.
A Year in the Life is in many ways an ending for all three Gilmores as much as it is a beginning. It’s in exploring the crossroads all three stand at that the revival is successful enough to make up for each episode’s bloated running time, especially once “Fall’s” satisfying conclusions roll around.
Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life is one of the more successful revival series to come along. Sure, it leaves the door open for more (and, yes, you will finally get to hear Amy Sherman Palladino’s long-fabled final four words), A Year in the Life honors the legacy of the show that came before it while establishing a worthy new and complete chapter in that story. The format may not always fit the material, and the show’s penchant for quirk over quality occasionally springs up, but when A Year in the Life focuses on its leads, it’s another beautiful reminder about the power of family and friendship to get us through the best and worst of times.