The original Gilmore Girls series spoke to a generation of women. Yes, there were some wonderful and relatable male characters for men to relate to, but most of the die-hard fans grew up with Lorelai and Rory, identifying with one or the other or both. In fact, with Netflix’s reboot of the series coming with its “Year in the Life” season, I rewatched the original series to find that I now identified more with Lorelai than 16-year-old Rory. Go figure. Fans have been clamoring to know what happened to their favorite mother-daughter duo, along with the rest of the memorable characters, and show creators Amy Sherman-Palladino and her husband Dan Palladino delivered a beautifully gift-wrapped answer.
From the very start, the show is a nod to fans. The first episode feels almost like a roll-call of all the characters we know and love, even if they are reduced to literally “Hi Patty! Hi Gypsy!” moments. After so many years away, it is a delight to see the whole range of characters, but not like this. I was so excited to see the characters, but more than that I wanted to see what had changed or how they had grown, not just have them pointed out.
The core characters are still Rory and Lorelai, although the focus seems to be on Rory and her millennial struggles. Like so many smart, precocious teenagers, she seems utterly adrift as an adult. With comparisons made to boomerang kids – 20-30-somethings who return home after failing to find their feet in the “real world” – Rory is 32 but still facing similar struggles as she was at the end of the original series. While some might see this as a judgement of Lorelai’s parenting, or simply a sign of Rory’s poor decision-making skills, it feels to me more like a commentary on what many youths around the world are battling with; Rory has a quality education, and is clearly smart, beautiful and charming, so why isn’t she wildly successful?
Unfortunately, this still feels inextricably linked from her love life. Why hasn’t she met any new, compelling or at least memorable men who can play a role in her life? Why does she need a man to help her find success? I like the exploration of her career and relationship missteps, but they end up feeling more connected than the empowered woman themes of the show would otherwise suggest.
With the death of Edward Herrmann who played Richard Gilmore, the series seems fueled by the question of grief. Lorelai and Emily appear to have grown closer prior to the death, although the way that they deal with their grief forms a key plot point and relationship battle. The scenes between these two women are among the most poignant and memorable of the season. With Lorelei slowly approaching the same age as Emily was in the original series, the inter-generational connections seem all the more telling and important. Emily also seems to learn more from Lorelai, finding a new view of the world as a widow. I did wonder why Rory didn’t seem to grieve as much, her closeness with her grandfather was a big part of the old series and I would have expected more.
I was also appalled by my own reactions to seeing the characters. I couldn’t help but notice how they have aged in the decade. They are all still beautiful, but I noticed how they look older more than I did with the male characters in the show. Much like watching Rogue One, it seems that women aren’t allowed to get older, aren’t allowed to change. The male characters look much the same, albeit a bit more gray or grilled, but I couldn’t help but notice the jowls, wrinkles and body changes on the female characters. It’s sad how conditioned we are to believe that women on TV have to either fit into Rory or Emily’s age bracket – Lorelai seemed to float awkwardly between the two.
The secondary characters are rather less well-developed by comparison. Luke and Lorelai have been together for years by the time this season is underway, yet their chemistry and connection isn’t nearly as palpable as it was before. Perhaps it’s meant to denote the rut they’ve fallen into, but it takes away from their on-screen energy.
Then there is the parade of Rory’s old friends and boyfriends. I don’t know many 30-somethings who still see their old high school friends as frequently as she seems to. It’s lovely to believe Rory would have kept in touch with her old friends, but with their lives so radically different to hers, complete with husbands and children, it becomes a bit hard to believe. At least her interaction with first boyfriend, Dean, felt authentically awkward and brief. The best character return? Sookie, of course, played by Melissa McCarthy.
The format of the show has changed, and it is a vast improvement. Instead of standard sized episodes spread over a season, each episode is feature length, weighing in at 90 minutes, with four mini-movie episodes in total. The seasons in the quaint town of Stars Hollow might seem odd, with snowy winter turning to a green spring almost overnight, but it helps give a bit more breathing room to the series, allowing for extended moments between characters and some more interesting pacing for certain scenes.
Unfortunately, there also seems to be a lot more fluff. Why did we need so much about Emily and her maid? Her revolving door maids were a running gag in the original series, and it was nice to see that shift, but it never really makes sense or feels believable. And the insane amount of time spent on the town musical is funny but feels like more an in-joke for those who enjoyed watching the cameo appearances.
In fact, most of the season feels like an in-joke, a love letter to fans that is meant to make us reminisce about the old times and simply enjoy seeing the characters again, instead of a new season for moving their stories and characters forward. It is still witty and fun, and most fans will be happy to see their favorite characters again, but like any other visit with old friends, it can feel a bit hollow after the fact.
That said, the final episode is an absolute treat. The characters finally feel more real, the appearances make more sense and the story finally seems to be moving forward in a meaningful way. The much teased final four words serve as a beginning and an end. Sure, we could see more in the future to find out what happens next, but it also feels like coming full circle. It is almost as if this was the episode that the creators really wanted to make, really wanted to explore with the other three simply serving as unnecessary set-up or filler to fulfill whatever contractual obligations were put in place to get Netflix on board. This is when the season became a true love letter to fans, and made me almost willing to watch the whole thing again.