THE SHOW “Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life”
WHEN | WHERE Starts streaming Friday on Netflix
WHAT IT’S ABOUT This four-part reboot — each chapter 90 minutes — is divided into winter, spring, summer and fall, and picks up nine years after the series created by Amy Sherman-Palladino ended. Lorelai Gilmore (Lauren Graham) is still running the Dragonfly Inn in Stars Hollow, Connecticut, with a cranky assist from Michel Gerard (Yanic Truesdale). One day, daughter Rory (Alexis Bledel) returns home. With one notable exception, core characters have returned, including Lorelai’s mother, Emily Gilmore (Kelly Bishop), and Luke Danes (Scott Patterson). Also back are Kirk Gleason (Sean Gunn), Paris Geller (Liza Weil), Lane Kim (Keiko Agena), Logan Huntzberger (Matt Czuchry), Jess Mariano (Milo Ventimiglia) and Taylor Doose (Michael Winters). What about Lorelai’s BFF Sookie St. James (Melissa McCarthy)? Sorry, you’ll just have to watch to find out. Sherman-Palladino and Daniel Palladino — her spouse, also writing partner on the first six seasons — wrote and directed all six hours. In a contract dispute with The CW, they quit before the seventh and final season.
MY SAY In theory, the idea of a “Gilmore Girls” reboot always tempted the fates as much as the fans. What if this turned out to be trite, irrelevant or dated? What if the original was an unbootable relic from the proto-Internet age? What if the characters got old, reminding us that we got old? What if this was depressing? I always figured “Gilmore Girls” was one dark quip or one failed relationship away from becoming the third act of “Our Town” anyway. Maybe Stars Hollow was secretly just a sunnier version of Grover’s Corners, or Bedford Falls (the one without George Bailey) or even something out of M. Night Shyamalan (“The Village?”). Nah, not “The Village.”
And so there you pretty much have it: After six straight hours of “A Year in the Life,” I too have become Lorelai Gilmore (or maybe Rory — same basic difference) while looking for any excuse to place vaguely absurd non sequiturs like “Thom Yorke” and “Carmen Miranda” in the same sentence. (Mission accomplished).
Plus what’s with all those “what ifs?” Maybe I just turned into Emily instead. Don’t I have anything good to say for all that time spent?
I do: “A Year in the Life” is a triumph. Engineered — or rather re-engineered — for an emotional wallop as much as for laughs, this is a big-hearted, generous, deeply felt gift to fans who years ago were left wondering about all the what-might-have -beens. Also consider this recompense for a disappointing seventh season, and all those other seasons that might have been.
Without giving anything away, the title and four-part structure are your keys to re-entry. On one obvious level, winter, spring, summer and fall refer to Carole King’s “You’ve Got a Friend” — King, by the way, reprises her on-screen role — while on a less obvious level, to the circle of life. Not just “The Lion King’s” “Circle of Life,” but “the full freaking circle,” to quote Lorelai here. Like the cycle of seasons, cycles can hold sway over individual lives, too. Brokering peace with those, or simply breaking them, can be another key — that one to happiness.
Meanwhile, strap yourselves in, or at least first find the rewind button on the remote. Your arrival back in Stars Hollow will be bracing, also lightning-fast. (Cultural references, you’ll recall, were the lingua franca of “Gilmore Girls,” and still are). Before the opening credits, you’ll hear a stream of familiar voices from the distant past — “Honestly Lorelai, it’s not your looks that are keeping them away — think about that” . . . “People die, we pay” . . . “Did you say something slutty.” Those all merge together, becoming a babble. Then suddenly silence, followed by this from Lorelai: “I smell snow.”
“A Year in the Life” doesn’t waste time with reintroductions. Viewers are thrown right back into a familiar world, too, although some might begin to suspect that Stars Hollow circa 2016 isn’t necessarily the one circa 2007. There’s a sharpened edge to “A Year in the Life,” a distinct melancholy, too. A little bit of tempus fugit may explain that, or possibly contemporary culture and technology — so vast and discombobulating that even Rory and Lorelai can’t begin to quip their way through a fraction of it. (They do try, of course.)
Reasons for the melancholy are immediately self-evident. Edward Herrmann, who played patriarch Richard Gilmore, died in 2014, and without him, the possibility of this revival remained in doubt. Sherman-Palladino and Palladino could have just gone the usual TV route in matters of bereavement — dedicate an episode to him, which they did. But they also pull him right into the heart of these six hours, honoring both his memory and that circle-of-life theme. Even in absence, Richard — and Herrmann — still hit some of the sharpest emotional notes here.
Fans will be happy with “A Year in the Life,” but what about newcomers? These six hours are packed with inside jokes, and literally dozens of characters from the past. “A Year” can have a secret-society feel to it at times, welcoming only to the cognoscenti. It can also be whimsically self-indulgent. Some scenes, notably music ones, can be padded while beloved characters are trotted out so fast — then disappear as fast — that you’d think this was a curtain call (At times, this is).
To hesitant newbies, I’d say this: “Gilmore Girls” is, and always was, about mothers and daughters. It’s all about navigating that most important of relationships while creating an identity of one’s own. It’s also about the crushing burden that culture places upon young women — then using the power of humor, and especially language, to slay that particular dragon. Most of all, it’s about the joy — and necessity — of self-discovery.
So dive right in. The themes are universal, the water warm and welcoming.
BOTTOM LINE A sweet, sad, sentimental and (above all) joyous return to Stars Hollow.