Nostalgia is a funny thing. It brings us happiness, while remaining elusive as to how to recapture it and also leaving us unsure how to feel. This sentiment best describes the long awaited “Gilmore Girls” revival “A Year in the Life.” The new series may leave fans struggling to reconcile the beloved Stars Hollow and characters they knew from over a decade ago with the world presented to them now. Creator Amy Sherman-Palladino (“Bunheads”) similarly seems to struggle bridging the gap between the show she left after its sixth season with the chance she has to revisit it now.
The four-part series loosely follows a four act structure, each set in a different season of the year. The slightly overwrought “seasons” metaphor attempts to hint at any sort of development in the show’s characters throughout the four episodes, but doesn’t lend much to the series overall. While the comforting sight of a snowy Stars Hollow and the resurrection of the “Lazy, Hazy, Crazy Days of Summer” town festival ignite the seasonal settings with a rewarding familiarity, the plot itself remains mostly disconnected from the thematic titles.
Faint efforts are made at reminding us that time has passed since we last saw Lorelai (Lauren Graham, “Parenthood”) and Rory (Alexis Bledel, “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants”). And while some are successful, many point glaringly to the fact that Sherman-Palladino wants to pick up where she left off before leaving the show (and taking her vision for the show’s ending with her). The title of “Winter” fades in over lines of dialogue from seasons past, introducing the series with an eerie feeling that enhances the uncertainty of what’s to come.
But this eeriness dissipates as soon as we’re dropped back into the cozy town of Stars Hollow with Rory and Lorelai’s casual reunion — one that indicates their lives continued on after the “Gilmore Girls” finale and we’re just now catching up with them as one would with old friends. Sherman-Palladino acknowledges the potential awkwardness of our first encounter with these characters after so long with subtle self-awareness. After their first round of Sherman-Palladino’s special brand of quick-fire banter, Rory exclaims “I’m out of breath,” and Lorelai responds “It’s been awhile since we’ve done that.” This tongue-in-cheek acknowledgement of the show’s return likely made fans’ hearts skip a beat with the layered emotion behind the exchange. Other continuities like Kirk’s (Sean Gunn, “Super”) half-witted entrepreneurial endeavors and Taylor’s (Michael Winters, “Deep Impact”) endless campaigning to modify the town are a treat. Moments like these make the revival worth watching, but at a cost.
At times, Sherman-Palladino and her husband Daniel Palladino (who each wrote two episodes, respectively) seem like they’re trying to fit far too much into the narrative. The four-part series plays out like a movie in which the plot moves along restlessly towards the culmination of its efforts in the very end. Storylines that don’t match the tone of the series are introduced with little explanation — a likely result of attempts to include old characters like Paris (Liza Weil, “How to Get Away With Murder”) and Logan (Matt Czuchry, “The Good Wife”) for our benefit.
Lorelai’s arc suffers the most from these atypical plot points — her insistence on wanting a baby then venturing out to California to emulate the story from “Wild” forces conflict between her and the seemingly idle Luke (Scott Patterson, “Meth Head”) It also distracts from the significance of the more successful subplots, including her mother Emily (Kelly Bishop, “Bunheads”) and her relationship with Rory. Rory’s arc flounders under similar twists and turns, most of which are self-inflicted obstacles that make it difficult to sympathize with Rory as she navigates her nomadic lifestyle and career with the self-doubt of a troubled 30-something.
However, some of the storylines introduced succeed with their unexpected novelty. And above all, the relationship between the three Gilmore women surpasses the sum of their parts. With the passing of actor Edward Herrmann (“The Practice”) who played the imposing Richard Gilmore, Sherman-Palladino poignantly weaves together both genuine emotion and comic relief that is reminiscent of the original series’ ability to bring together conflict and comedy with pathos and charm.
Overall, the revival somewhat resembles the oversized portrait of Richard commissioned by Emily that sits in the Gilmore living room. Emily refuses to acknowledge that it’s oversized, too overcome by her grief over Richard’s death to admit that his depiction is not what she had intended it to be. The looming presence of the portrait captures his likeness and essence, but doesn’t quite fit with its surroundings. In short, it represents something held dear by many but that can’t be recaptured in the appropriate way. The revival series is just that — a too-large-for-life replication of what was once great at odds with the new circumstances under which it was created.
Despite its flaws, the series revisits its characters with integrity and harkens back to a world where rapid dialogue chock-full of pop culture references is the norm, while creating a sense of closure for fans to hold on to.