It's fitting that Gilmore Girls, a charming and lighthearted series exploring the complicated relationships between three generations of women, has captured the hearts of a new generation of viewers 16 years after it debuted on The WB. Since the show's original seven-season run popped up on Netflix in October 2014, it has attracted more soon-to-be-overly-caffeinated young women to its cause through a simple central premise involving a mother and daughter who are also best friends. It's a set up that is essential to the success of the series — and a theme that drives much of the narrative in Netflix's Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life (Friday, Nov. 25) — but it is also largely tied to a different era of TV.
Gilmore Girls debuted at the height of The WB alongside other iconic and influential pop culture programs that Lorelai (Lauren Graham) and Rory (Alexis Bledel) likely would have referenced (and probably have), including Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dawson's Creek and Felicity. But by the time the show's then-series finale aired in May 2007, the so-called Golden Age of TV was already moving on to a darker, more complex era that would be dominated by the morally bankrupt stories of male antiheroes. Those worlds didn't line up with the Gilmores, their small New England town or their perfectly measured whimsy and staccato-like banter. Lorelai and Rory and the simple elegance of their existence, where Friday night dinners could be every bit as tense as whatever perilous situation Walter White found himself in, gave way to some of the most celebrated shows the medium has ever seen. And now, with more quality viewing options than ever before, it's a happy delight that the Gilmores have somehow managed to endure through it all.
For many young women, the rhythm of the Gilmores and their pop culture-laced dialogue was the soundtrack to the early 2000s. We experienced Rory's milestones alongside her, viewing the youngest Lorelai as a slightly annoying and sometimes frustratingly inaccessible woman but otherwise a worthwhile and respectable peer. Her idyllic life with her mother in Stars Hollow, a picturesque Connecticut town morphed into a world too bright and whimsical to exist anywhere outside the pages of one of Rory's favorite books, was an escape.
Today Gilmore Girls remains just that. It is a much-needed break from the bleak cynicism and brutality that once defined the best of the best. And Netflix's four new episodes are coming at just the right time to act as a happy reprieve from the tumultuous political landscape of the real world that is currently filling the airwaves and the Internet with horrifying examples of hate and vitriol. If you need a break from the madness, there's a rambling Lorelai monologue to help with that. If you want to escape to a world where Paris Geller (Liza Weil) is the most terrifying thing in existence, you just have to push a button. It's all right there.
For many long-time fans, this coda will be everything they could have hoped and dreamed, and with series creator Amy Sherman-Palladino and her husband and collaborator Daniel Palladino beside her on this journey (Amy wrote the first and fourth episodes, while Dan tackled two and three), that was probably to be expected. The series has always been the singular vision of one wild and amazing woman, and when the Palladinos departed the series amid contract disputes following Season 6, that vision slowly faltered without the woman who created it and nurtured it into the pop culture obsession it eventually became.
Stepping back onto the familiar streets of Stars Hollow, with its never-ending festivals, colorful townspeople and old-fashioned diners (with or without wi-fi), is a comforting reminder of a simpler and happier life. It is a world in which friendship and family, whether strengthened by healthy relationships or strained by decade-long unspoken resentments, get top billing. In the opening moments of "Winter," the first chapter of this new era, Sherman-Palladino's voice and signature rapid-fire dialogue is back with renewed energy. The episode quickly wraps viewers up like a warm blanket and refuses to loosen its grip even when the threat of suffocation becomes real. Meanwhile, Graham, Bledel and Kelly Bishop all slip easily back into their roles in a way that suggests maybe, just maybe these complicated, powerful and independent women and the world they inhabit continued to exist offscreen in the years since we last saw them. They are the women we've always known, familiar faults and all.
In the interest of keeping this a spoiler-free review — not just because our Netflix overlords demand it but because I don't dare take away an ounce of future joy from my fellow fans — it's safe to say that Lorelai is still the same woman we all wished had been our mother only now she's a decade older and in a stable relationship, and Rory is still Rory, for better or for worse. That is to say if you found her personality and actions frustrating before she'll likely be frustrating here, in large part because despite a travel-heavy lifestyle that has taken her firmly out of the sheltered but comfortable world of Stars Hollow, she hasn't grown all that much between 22 and 32. Rory is in a bit of a holding pattern when the series returns, and it's hard to imagine a woman with her talents experiencing the sort of problems she comes up against here.
Still, there's also a sense of satisfaction in knowing these characters haven't lost something in the decade between the Season 7 finale and now. Rory is still chasing her dreams; Lorelai is still a complicated ball of energy and emotions; and Emily is still the headstrong matriarch. But there's one obvious thing that's missing, and that is Edward Herrmann's Richard (the inimitable actor passed away in 2014). The significance of his death is far-reaching and although he is gone, his presence remains to influence each of the Gilmore women in a different way, even inspiring them, much the same way he did — or tried to do — when he was alive.
Elsewhere, everyone's favorite wacky characters return, including Melissa McCarthy's Sookie St. James, Sean Gunn's inexplicable but lovable Kirk and Liza Weil's Paris Geller, a one-woman hurricane and a true gift we've never really deserved. Each of Rory's former boyfriends makes an appearance, and despite their circumstances in the present, their presence in her life will likely bring about a new round of "Which Boyfriend Is Better for Rory?" because that's apparently what we do now. The misplaced importance of arguing about Dean (Jared Padalecki), Jess (Milo Ventimiglia) and Logan (Matt Czuchry) and their place in Rory's life has become one of the few constants with the exception of Lorelai's relationship with Luke (Scott Patterson) despite continued insistence from Sherman-Palladino that Rory's love life is actually not what's most important here. And she's right of course, but we probably shouldn't expect these new episodes to change anything despite the fact they very much do.
Unfortunately, Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life isn't without its flaws. In addition to the curious stagnation of Rory Gilmore, the new episodes all struggle with pacing, specifically as it relates to the passing of time. Each 90-minute outing covers an entire season of the year so that altogether they depict a year in the life of these women — hence the show's subtitle — but without this knowledge, it's just as easy to believe each covers just a few weeks' time. It makes for confusing arrivals and departures, a few instances of character growth that don't feel wholly earned and a few too many familiar faces popping up just because Team Palladino wanted to bring back as many people as possible (lookin' at you, Jason Stiles).
However, it ultimately doesn't matter. At the end of the day, what determines success will be how the fans react, and it feels so good to be back in Stars Hollow after nearly a decade away that the good greatly outweighs the questionable or even the bad. And truthfully, four episodes with the Gilmores probably won't be enough for most fans. It wasn't for me and it apparently wasn't enough for Sherman-Palladino, who told reporters during the Television Critics Association press tour earlier this year that after worrying she wouldn't have enough story found she wasn't actually able to include everything she wanted. But what we've got is pretty darn great, and more importantly, it's the ending Sherman-Palladino has always envisioned for her girls, right down to the now infamous final four words. It's hard to argue there's anything wrong with that, so despite the obvious problems and although it's still unclear whether or not this is really the end of the road, it doesn't matter. We're all incredibly lucky to have this chance to follow where the Gilmores lead one last heartwarming, emotional time. At least until we all re-watch it again next week.
All four 90-minute episodes of Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life premiere Friday, Nov. 25 on Netflix.