Welcome back to Stars Hollow. It’s been so long, but here we are. On Nov. 25, Netflix began streaming the four-episode “Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life,” the mini-series that continued the story that began in 2000’s “Gilmore Girls.”
It has created a kind of “Gilmore Girls” Ouroboros: Netflix’s audience devoured the new episodes—and then began binge-watching the seven seasons of the original series, or the other way around. This revealed the truth that “Gilmore Girls” was amazingly binge-worthy before shows were designed to be binge-watched. It brought an entirely new generation of viewers into the saga of “Gilmore Girls.”
When “Gilmore Girls” began airing on what used to be the WB (the network would later merge with UPN to form today’s CW), it became the TV equivalent of the black coffee that propelled the series’ protagonists Lorelai (Lauren Graham) and Rory Gilmore (Alexis Bledel), proving to be addictive and loaded. Created by Amy Sherman-Palladino, “Gilmore Girls” starts with single mom Lorelai (who got pregnant at 16 and walked away from a life of privilege) and her teenage daughter Rory. Rory qualified for a top-notch but expensive school called Chilton Academy and Lorelai must reconnect with her estranged parents (Kelly Bishop and Edward Hermann) to get the tuition.
In the following years, viewers would see the past, present and future of the Gilmore family drama, while meeting the quirky residents of the almost absurdist town of Stars Hollow (It had its own troubadour, seriously).
“Gilmore Girls” had many distinctive qualities, among them a fast talking-while-walking practice that was unrivalled by any series not called “The West Wing,” packed with the kind of pop culture references that seem ubiquitous now. But Palladino’s ability to get viewers invested in the lives of Lorelai and Rory truly brought the series to a new level of cult fandom. The series ran all the way to 2007, though Palladino was not involved in the series’ seventh season (We don’t talk about the seventh season).
Today, the original series is clearly an artifact from its early-aughts era, from the good (a willingness to roll out story arcs gradually over several episodes) to the bad (the striking lack of diversity in the casting). But there are elements that shine even from this far away.
In the six seasons under Palladino, Lorelai and Rory provided fascinating and frustrating character studies. Lorelai, the smart, sexy and sassy mom tiptoed the line between adorable and impossible. Is she independent or irresponsible? While Lorelai immediately dazzles you with her wit and spirit, it is clear she overthinks everything and may be self-destructive when it comes to relationships. But when she begins a relationship with the gruff but golden-hearted Luke (Scott Patterson), Lorelai may be changing—unless Rory’s father Christopher (David Sutcliffe) gets in the way.
Right or wrong
Meanwhile, Rory begins the series as pretty much the perfect girl, book-loving but kind, ambitious but sweet. As “Gilmore Girls” goes on, this begins to change as well, particularly when it comes to her love life. Are you Team Dean (sweetheart Jared Padalecki, later of “Supernatural”), Team Jess (bad boy Milo Ventimiglia, later of “Heroes”) or Team Logan (rich kid Matt Czurchry, later of “The Good Wife”)? Rory dreams of going to Harvard (but goes to Yale instead) and dreams of being a journalist. Viewers get to see Rory grow up—whether it’s the right way or the wrong way depends on your perspective.
Throughout this, the Gilmores struggle through their relationships, Rory constantly in the crossfire.
The single most powerful relationship is the one between Lorelai and Rory of course. “Gilmore Girls” is never tenser than when the two are fighting but the viewers know they will make up and prove resilient through whatever they’re going through. But every fight feels real and fearfully final.
But that is the beauty of “Gilmore Girls.” These characters just won’t do what you want them to do.
The series’ excellent taste in music (Carole King’s theme song is still gorgeous) and its impressive guests before they were really famous (Jon Hamm!) went well with the Star Hollow crew, be it crazy Kirk (Sean Gunn) or Dragonfly Inn chef Sookie (yes, that Melissa McCarthy). The show’s core can be found in its main cast. Though they would go on to do other things (Graham in TV’s “Parenthood” and Bledel in the “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” movies), the titular Gilmore Girls will forever be remembered as Lorelai and Rory, and correctly so. And can we say how sublime Bishop was in it?
“Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life” allowed Palladino to end the series the way she wanted to. Set 10 years after the series’ original end, “Year” is set after the death of Richard (Hermann died in real life in 2014), with Luke and Lorelai happy in a relationship, Emily struggling to overcome loss and Rory stuck in a jobless rut and a covert relationship. All these things come to a head and, truth be told, it seems like everyone goes a little crazy for a while. “Year” was as full-circle as full-circle can get. After all, “Year” features Rory at the age Lorelai was—32—when the series began. But Palladino’s sharp story spirals in “Year” upset many long-time viewers. Rory is the focus of many of these criticisms, as she acts impulsively, selfishly and spoiled. Fans were disappointed with either parts of “Year” or the entire thing.
Close scrutiny of “Year” comes easier after the sugar high of merely having any kind of “Gilmore Girls” back on TV. The episodes start off sluggishly and then suddenly become very backend-heavy. It takes quite a bit heaving lifting to get the events to where Palladino wants them to be; hence the observation that the subsequent years have the characters acting out of, well, character. The music numbers are quaint, unnecessary and insufferable. As sacrilegious as it sounds, there may be just too many cameos in the series. Look, it’s great that the show wanted EVERYBODY to reprise their original roles, but the way they appeared and then disappeared made it superficial and ultimately unfair to everyone. Maybe Chad Michael Murray was right on this one.
It could be argued, however, that Rory may have been this impulsive, selfish and spoiled character all along? Maybe Lorelai really is more like Emily than she realized. Isn’t it possible that this is what happens to people we care for after a decade? Love it or hate it, “Year” is the only way to see how they were supposed to end up, controversial ending and all.
The original “Gilmore Girls” remains superior to the gimmicky “Year,” but the collective experience remains among TV’s best-written shows. At the end the day in Stars Hollow, we embrace the show for everything it is, or as Rory memorably told Dean: “Because I love you, you idiot.”
“Gilmore Girls” seasons 1-7 and “Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life” can be streamed on Netflix.