Sixteen years ago, Gilmore Girls — a show about a mother-daughter duo for the ages — were introduced. Their drama blossomed for six seasons under creator Amy Sherman-Palladino on the WB and then went on for one last season on the CW without Sherman-Palladino at the helm . The drama ended with a satisfying graduation episode (where Rory finished her tenure at Yale) but it wasn’t the ending that the creator always wanted. Now, nine years later, the show’s creator has returned to the series for Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life, a new four-episode season, now available on Netflix.
The show’s four new episodes follow a seasonal pattern. The first one opens in winter and embraces the relationship between the two main characters and the unforgettable town of Stars Hollow. As Lorelai jokes, “the entire town was constructed in a snow globe.” Even in its opening moments, the show reawakens the joy of this wonderful small town and its quirky gang of characters.
Life may have changed dramatically outside of Stars Hollow but the personalities of favorites such as the sarcastic Michel (Yanic Truesdale), resident oddball Kirk (Sean Gunn) and the free-spirited Lane (Keiko Agena) have thankfully remained the same.
The show though feels different considering the real life loss of Edward Herrmann, who played Lorelai’s father Richard. Over these four episodes, the shadow of Richard remains around every corner. In fact, Emily Gilmore (played by the truly marvelous Kelly Bishop) may have the best arc of the characters here as she learns how to live without the love of her life. From de-cluttering in the first episode to her major life changes in the latter ones, Emily stands out as a truly complicated character who wants to move forward while still painfully hanging on to her past.
As for the two main characters, both Lorelai and Rory face a variety of new challenges here, many of which are internal struggles. Lorelai is nearing 50 while Rory is the same age that her mother was when Gilmore Girls first began. Both women are struggling with their places in life. There are plenty of professional and personal changes for both of them and these episodes show that while they may seem successful on the outside, they are both struggling.
Rory’s struggles are particularly poignant because as a freelance writer, her jobs may be prominent but her lifestyle in a transient one leaving her at the top of the world one day and struggling to survive the next.
There’s a lot to like in these four episodes but the show does oftentimes burden itself by trying to offer too much. The first episode, for instance, strays too far into a storyline regarding the hilarious Paris Geller (Liza Weil). It’s great to see Paris onscreen and listen to her endless quips but her position in the plot seems forced (especially galling considering that her position in the second episode feels far more natural for the character). The same can be said for the celebrity chefs who go in and out of Lorelai’s kitchen.
But in a year when so many reboots and unnecessary sequels have bombed at the box office, it’s beautiful to see a long-missed program return with such vigor and such a strong voice. Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life is thankfully much better than the sum of its part (some of which succeed admirably while others fall stealthily to the ground).
In the spring episode, Rory notes “I’m feeling very lost these days” and there are times when the plot feels a little lost itself. But overall, the show finds a way to bring its story to the conclusion that its creator always wanted and that fans — who may quibble about the ending — should be satisfied by.