TV discussion

In Defence Of… Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life

Television revivals are everywhere today. The past couple of years have seen The X-Files, Twin Peaks, Will and Grace, Arrested Development and 24 re-enter our living rooms, frequently to divisive reactions,

2016 in particular was a big year for the television revival. The year started off with The X-Files pulling in big numbers for the Fox Network and as 2016 came to a close, and the autumn and winter months started to settle in, with the leaves falling and the temperature dropping, it seemed only right that Netflix would bring Lorelai and Rory Gilmore back in to our lives after a nine-year absence.

The return of Gilmore Girls was heavily hyped and eagerly awaited. You couldn’t switch on Netflix without the trailer running at the top of our menus for weeks before hand,  the popping up of Luke’s Diners’ all over the US, while it was recently announced that the four-part season was the most binged series on Netflix within twenty-four hours of its debut.

Best of all, there was the feeling that the return of the series was making right one of American television’s most horrible wrongs. When Gilmore Girls returned for it seventh season, it did so without its guiding lights, the wife/husband team of Amy Sherman-Palladino and Daniel Palladino. The former created the series for The WB Network, and the latter, her husband, was her most frequent collaborator, with the duo writing and directing many of its episodes. Amy Sherman-Palladino’s voice was arguably one of the most unique in television, an equal to Aaron Sorkin, she had the ability to marry fast paced dialogue, brilliant drama, witty comedy and character development into a compulsive, hilarious and sometimes heartbreaking way.

So when the Palladino’s left the show after a break down in contract renegotiation for the seventh season, Gilmore Girls felt adrift as it continued towards what would end up being its series finale. David S Rosenthal was a decent writer, but the show lacked the usual spark and felt a little lifeless compared to what it had been, and for years it looked as if we would never get the ending that had become something of a pop cultural myth. For years Amy Sherman-Palladino claimed to always know what the final four words of dialogue of the series would be, something that had been denied everyone by the failing of contract negotiations with The CW network.

On the 25th of November 2016, the series returned, taking place over the course of a year, each episode covering a different season of that year, and with its creator back steering the series. The reactions were, as always with these things, all over the place. Many loved it, some hated it, others were indifferent and were left to wonder whether the show should have come back in the first place, whilst those final four words became the subject of much controversy.

Not without some flaws and imperfections, for the most part this reviewer has no qualms in saying that he really enjoyed the revival. From its snowy, dreamy opening, to its final moments that might just be the greatest wedding sequence ever filmed for a television show, A Year in the Life succeeded in many ways.

Is it without flaws? No, as there are issues here. Like the Arrested Development revival from a few years ago (also a Netflix project), there is a feeling that some of the supporting cast are only available for a certain amount of time, most evident in the fact that Melissa McCarthy’s Sookie was only able to come back for one scene in the finale, and that the whole Michel subplot feels like something that really ought to have been Sookie’s role in the show, although it was lovely to see Yanic Truesdale get something substantial to do rather than standing at the reception desk of the Dragonfly Inn being an angry French person, something he always did brilliantly well, but it’s a joy to see his character fleshed out in a nicely developed manner as he is here.

The revival also doesn’t know what to with Lane anymore. Rory’s best friend through the seven season run of the original, by Sherman-Palladino’s admission she didn’t know what to do with her given that the Palladino-free seventh season saw the character have a baby, thus leaving her with very little direction to go in the revival, although the presence of Keiko Agena is always welcome on the show, it just would have been nice if she had more substantial material. Also problematic was a running joke concerning Rory’s boyfriend, Paul. Frequently forgetting him, as well as everyone else struggling to remember who he is, the joke starts pretty funny, but becomes somewhat mean-spirited the more the revival goes on.

Certain whimsical sequences do go on for maybe a touch longer than they should, namely the Life and Death Brigade sequence in the finale, while many hated the Stars Hollow Musical (guiltily I rather loved it and wouldn’t have wanted it cut for anything in the world), but the longer running time allowed the show to flex itself out and not have to squeeze as much within the space of forty-five minutes.

One of the most famous aspects of the original run was how the script page count was so long, thus the reason the dialogue was delivered so quickly, a trademark of the show. Amazingly, the dialogue and its delivery for A Year in the Life was still fast paced and incredibly energetic, and each episode has a lovely pace that was never self-indulgent with its run time, and allowed the story to breathe.

The most controversial aspect of A Year of the Life, and the one that  brought it down in many people’s eyes, was the character of Rory. Fans were dismayed to see the character cheat on her boyfriend, complete with its Arrested Development-style running joke on everyone struggling to remember him, while indulging in a no-strings relationship with Logan (Matt Czuchry) who was engaged to someone else, while also having a one night stand with a Wookiee (yes, really), and going into a job interview unprepared, fully expecting the job to be given to her on the spot.

For all the controversial reactions to Rory, it’s amazing that many didn’t realise that this was in fact just a continuation of a theme from the original series. Rory was frequently a character who wasn’t afraid to give in to some of her more selfish urges, and behave in ways that wasn’t the best. Did everyone forget that she slept with Dean even though he was married at the end of season four? Did everyone forget that she crashed a boat and ran to her grandparents afterwards, nearly destroying her relationship with her mother in the process? Did everyone forget about that time she ran off to New York to hook up with Jess when she should have been at her mum’s graduation?

If anything, A Year in the Life continued Rory’s somewhat flawed nature and questionable decisions. None of this ever made her a “bad” person by any stretch of the imagination, it just made her real and believable, and Alexis Bledel’s performance was wonderful throughout, and now that she was older, she brought a more grown up air that probably meant that her mistakes were more likely to not be forgiven by an audience who was now fully seeing her as a grown up and not as a teenager like on the original run of the show. If anything, it made her arc that more interesting and real.

With its year-long setting, A Year in the Life was very much about the passing of time. Whilst only taking place within the span of a year, the revival was as much about how the past nine years had passed since the show ended, and how things had changed. Rory was in an unsure place in her life, whilst her mother was in a great place with Luke (the less said about what they went through in the second half of season six and the entirety of season seven, the better).

If A Year in the Life has something that makes it a brilliant revival, and worthy of reappraisal, it’s in its ability to show that Gilmore Girls wasn’t just a two-way show, it was in fact a show dominated by three brilliant central female performances. Like the original series, as great as Lauren Graham and Alexis Bledel were, the secret weapon at the heart of the revival, and at the heart of Gilmore Girls overall, was Kelly Bishop as Emily.

The death of Edward Herrmann meant that Richard Gilmore was going to be absent, and writing his death into the show added a poignant air which allowed Bishop to deliver a superb performance throughout. From her breakdown, to bitter resentment at Lorelai for not being able to remember something wonderful about Richard at his funeral, to what might be the single greatest use of the word bulls**t in television history, Bishop’s performance was, amazingly, the beating heart of A Year of the Life.

What the series revealed itself to be was not the story of two generations, but in fact three generations. Bishop’s performance went from emotionally raw to hilariously funny, to genuinely bittersweet, and her final moments in the finale was a beautiful summing up of what her character had went through in the course of the series. It felt like a definitively final word on her character. Well, that and the moment when we see her wearing one of Lorelais old t-shirts and a pair of jeans, which was probably the stand out moment of the entire show for it’s jaw dropping hilarity.

In the middle of the present and the past is Lorelai. Finally settled down with Luke, although not married until the final moments of the show, their relationship goes through the type of ups and downs in all four episodes that are brilliantly dramatic in the way that Amy and Daniel do so well, even if Lorelai deciding to do Wild (the book, not the movie) in the penultimate episode, which carries into the finale, does seem a strange choice initially, but ends up paying off with what is arguably Lauren Graham’s finest hour.

There will probably be auditions throughout Hollywood for years to come that will use Lorelai’s telephone call to Emily, but I doubt any will ever match just how damn good Lauren Graham is in this moment. Never has a story that involves a giant pretzel and a visit to the movies to see Grease ever going to be as devastatingly brilliant as this is. If there are any dry eyes in the house, then you’re not human. It’s the type of moment that really ought to be played in award ceremonies.

Of course, the last beat of the show was probably one of the most eagerly awaited in modern television history. After a magical wedding, complete with a gorgeous reappraisal of Sam Phillip’s “Reflecting Light”, Gilmore Girls:A Year in the Life ends in a manner that is either a brilliant cliffhanger that is a summing up of the show’s core themes, or its creator trolling the audience in a cruel manner.

I think the former.

There is so much that the show could do going forward, but in reality one could say that its final moments is a perfect summing up of the show; it’s a cliffhanger, but one in which we don’t ever need to know what happens next. The build up to it in retrospect tells us everything we need to know; Rory’s visit with Christopher, Jess’ sad, melancholy look to Rory as he leaves her house, the final moments with Logan.

Many may have complained, but in reality the final moments were a bittersweet cliffhanger that told us that life will go on in Stars Hollow as it always has done, and the story has probably wrote itself like it did for Rory’s mum all those years ago. Those Gilmore Girls, sitting at the gazebo, a new drama awaiting them, is as great an ending as we could hope for.

If more is made then that is great, but if not, then it’s as good a place as any to finish.

Did you enjoy Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life? Let us know!

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