Netflix UK TV review: Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life (spoilers)
Helen Archer | On 29, Nov 2016
Warning: This contains spoilers. Read our spoiler-free review of A Year in the Life here.
The Gilmore Girls revival A Year in the Life has proved a dish so tempting no one seems able to turn it down. By this stage, fans will have devoured every last scrap of it, and yet, much like one of Lorelei’s favourite nutritionally dubious snacks, somehow the more you consume, the more you crave. Our hunger for news from Stars Hollow will, it seems, never be sated.
Over the course of the first seven years of the millennium, during which we got to know the three generations of Gilmore Girls, our relationships with them proved complicated. After an absence of nine years, they are no less so. When they first burst onto our screens, Emily Gilmore was the enemy, the controlling matriarch with a devastating line in put-downs. Lorelei was fiercely independent, the single mother who had created her life just as she wanted it, and 16-year-old Rory was not just the friend we all wanted to have, but the girl we all wanted to be – we were as invested in her hopes and dreams and future as her mother, her grandparents, and the entire Connecticut town.
But Gilmore Girls is a masterclass in the kind of subtle yet effective character development that can slowly yet systematically turn everything on its head, and over time our allegiances shifted. We began to understand Emily a little better, and her behaviour became relatable – all she wanted, really, was to be close to her family, and she came to represent the best of the Gilmores. Lorelei’s continued rejection of her upbringing became less understandable as time went on, and more as though she was holding some sort of increasingly bizarre, inexplicable grudge. Rory, meanwhile – having been told how wonderful she was on a daily basis by everyone around her – was showing signs of entitlement and a dubious moral compass.
The start of the revival finds Rory, at 32, somewhat unmoored. Though still the pride of Stars Hollow, the immense focus she possessed as a teenager and young woman has loosened its grip. With a few journalism credits – not much to show for nine years of work – she appears to be on the verge of her second life crisis.
Luke and Lorelei, too, seem to have existed in some sort of stasis, neither communicating with each other on anything other than surface level, nor moving on in their lives. Emily, of course, is grieving Richard, the man she was married to for 50 years – and it is Richard’s death, really, which kicks off the soul-searching and the much-needed change. Over the course of the year in which the revival takes place, the characters are forced into self-reflection and growth by the death of the patriarch.
There’s something of a meanness in Lorelei and Rory this time round, which perhaps was always there, yet comes increasingly into focus after their extended absence. This is exemplified best at the start of the third episode, Summer, as they sit by the pool (who knew Stars Hollow had a lido?) criticising the bodies of those less genetically fortunate than themselves. Rory seems to have become more arrogant over time, turning up her nose at suggestions she get a Masters and teach at Chiltern, the overtures from a website she deems beneath her, and the hand of friendship offered by the thirty-something gang. In her personal life, she doesn’t seem to have moved on much from the kind of hubris she demonstrated when she got together with Dean, after he married; although in a long-term relationship with a man she seems to hold no regard for, she is cheating on him with Logan – who is himself engaged to be married. At no point does she question the probity behind any of this, thinking, as always, only about her own feelings.
Lorelei’s mean streak, meanwhile, is shown in her reaction to the Stars Hollow musical, specifically the leading lady, whom she takes against for no apparent reason. The musical interlude itself, while entertaining, goes on for too long, and highlights an issue with the one-and-a-half-hour format – at double the length of the original episodes, the quick-fire dialogue is dialled down (actual seconds can go by when nothing is said) and some scenes seem to exist as padding. It’s not as streamlined as the series, and yet, even with this extra time and space, we don’t get enough of the peripheral characters. Lane is mere background when she appears – as usual, acting as a foil for Rory – and while Paris manages to steal every scene she is in, she is missing completely from the final two episodes. The always-dreadful Life and Death Brigade, by contrast, get an overlong and gratuitous music video-style send-off.
Having said all that, there are genuinely moving moments here. Lorelei’s phone call to Emily, in which she says what she should have at her father’s funeral, and her return from her failed ‘Wild’ (the book, not the movie) expedition, when Luke finally tells her how he feels about her, are beautifully done. And it would take a heart of stone not to be affected by Rory as she wanders around her grandparents’ deserted mansion, seeing the ghost of Richard everywhere she looks, before settling down to work at his desk.
Much of the wit and the fun of the original series are also still evident. The cleverness of the intertextuality we loved first time round persists. Doyle is now a successful screenwriter, mimicking Danny Strong’s career trajectory, and when Rory decides to write a book called Gilmore Girls, we can imagine it one day being made into a television series starring Lauren Graham and Alexis Bledel.
Even the ending, with its circularity, is itself a piece of post-modern pastiche, acting as something of a nod to everything that has gone before. Rory’s final revelation that she is pregnant – and we can assume that Logan is the father, unless it comes out looking like a Wookie – makes sense of the conversation between Rory and her ever-weak and ineffectual absent father, Christopher. It all signifies life repeating itself – that Rory will have Logan’s baby, and doubtless bring it up on her own; that Logan is Rory’s Christopher, while Jess’ last, longing look at Rory suggests he is her very own Luke. Everything has come full circle, and we can imagine a kind of eternal loop of Gilmore Girls living out their lives, generation after generation, in Stars Hollow. Whether the fans will be shown any of them remains to be seen.
Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life is now exclusively on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription. Seasons 1 to 7 of Gilmore Girls are also available.