As a man in my mid-thirties I've never felt like I was quite the target market for Gilmore Girls but that hasn't stopped it from being one of my all-time favourite shows. When I first discovered the show in 2004, when it aired in the UK on Nickelodeon of all places, I found it enveloped me like a warm blanket with its small town setting and likeable characters. Like most fans of the show I wasn't pleased when the show's creator Amy Sherman-Palladino exited before the final season. This meant that Gilmore Girls lost its unique voice and the final season saw all of the characters going through the motions rather than acting in a believable manner. Most importantly Sherman-Palladino never got to reveal the four words that were meant to be uttered in the show's final scene.
Now, after nine years away, Gilmore Girls is back in the form of a four part Netflix miniseries and most importantly Sherman-Paladino is back at the helm. Subtitled A Year in the Life, each instalment of the Netflix series are roughly ninety minutes in length and represent a separate season. Beginning in winter, we return to the small Connecticut town of Stars Hollow alongside Rory (Alexis Bledel) who has popped back to visit her mother Lorelai (Lauren Graham). On the face of it Rory is still living the life of a successful journalist, having an article published in The New Yorker and being aggressively pursued by a youth-orientated website. However things are less rosy especially on the relationship front as Rory is dating the incredibly forgetful Paul whilst carrying on an affair with the engaged Logan (Matt Czuchry) any time she finds herself in London. Lorelai meanwhile is comfortable in her relationship with Luke (Scott Patterson) with the two seemingly having been together since Gilmore Girls ended the last time. However it seems that the two are still having communication issues especially when it comes to the topic of whether they want a baby. Lorelai is still at loggerheads with her mother Emily (Kelly Bishop) primarily after embarrassing her at her father Richard's funeral. Throughout A Year in the Life we see Emily struggle to adjust to life on her own as she tries to live life without the man she spent fifty years of her life with.
Of these trio of tales I would say that I was most gripped by Rory's story arc primarily as I recognise elements of my own life in hers. The sort of malaise felt by someone in their thirties who is seemingly drifting in their work and personal life is a feeling I can identify with. The first half of the series sees Rory still clinging towards her journalistic dreams as she attempts to write an article for GQ about queuing as well the biography of Alex Kingston's loopy Naomi Shropshire. However it's the second half of the series that sees Rory truly drifting as she returns to Stars Hollow, despite claiming she's not back and tries to evade the rather brilliant thirtysomething club. Eventually she becomes editor of The Stars Hollow Gazette and angers the residents when she tries to mess with tradition by taking the traditional poem from the front page. But she finally realises her calling after a chance meeting with Jess (Milo Ventimiglia) she decides what she really needs to do is write the story about her and her mother that the rest of us have been following on screen. Rory's equally messy relationships also made sense from her comical partnership with the hapless Paul to her one night stand with a Wookie it appears the youngest Gilmore girls is drifting in her love life too. Despite his engagement to a French heiress, it appears that Rory can't help herself from returning to Logan and it was clear from the start that this self-destructive relationship couldn't end well. However the final episode saw Rory end things with Logan in rather a mature way and turned down his offer of a house in which to write her new opus.
Lorelai's story seems to be the hardest to define as the character is seemingly searching for something in her life although she doesn't quite know what it is. In the first couple of episodes there's the suggestion that she and Luke will be having a child with the use of a surrogate. This storyline sees the return of Paris (Liza Weil) who now runs a surrogacy consultation firm and delights in showing Luke and Lorelai her collection of thoroughbreds. Lorelai also tries to work through some of her issues with Emily at therapy however she keeps attending sessions on her own. Finally she decides to follow in the footsteps of Reese Witherspoon and recreate the journey of Wild; the book not the film, but doesn't get very far. However a moment of clarity allows her to realise that what she really needs is to get married to Luke and therefore create an incredibly happy ending in the final scenes of 'Fall'.
One of my favourite things about Gilmore Girls were the colourful inhabitants of Stars Hollow all of whom had their own defining personalities. A Year in the Life did well in recruiting almost every actor who has ever appeared in more than a handful of Gilmore Girls episodes to return for A Year in the Life. In my opinion I felt that Michel (Yanic Truesdale) got more to do here than he ever did in the seven years he appeared on the show as he felt like somewhat of an outsider. But it seems nine years of working alongside Lorelai has seen the pair become firm friends to the extent that the innkeeper is upset when Michel reveals he's leaving. We also learnt that Michel is now married to the unseen Frederick and in the process of starting his own family which means he needs more money or more responsibility that Lorelai can provide. Of the rest of the town's colourful characters I found that Kirk (Sean Gunn) was well-served by a number of comic storylines namely the creation of a new driving app known as ooo-ber and the addition of a new pet pig who was by his side for most of his time on screen. Additionally Taylor (Michael Winters) was on fine form especially in 'Summer' when he was behind the creation of Stars Hollow: The Musical; a show that basically ripped off ideas from successful Broadway hits such as Hamilton and Mamma Mia!
However some of the character returns that we got throughout A Year in the Life felt less organic and more like a box-ticking exercise. For all the publicity about her finally agreeing to appear in the series I found Melissa McCarthy's cameo as Sookie to be underwhelming. Despite her star rising considerably since her Gilmore Girls stint I didn't feel that Sookie's reunion with Lorelai was particularly needed at that point in the story. Similarly pointless was the return of Rory's first boyfriend Dean (Jared Padalecki) who appeared in just one scene and added very little to the plot. Whilst I realise that bringing these characters back was to satisfy the fans I personally felt like some of them were shoehorned into the plot rather than feeling they needed to be part of the story.
I was personally relieved that the writing style of Sherman-Palladino and her husband Daniel hasn't changed with all of the dialogue feeling as warm and witty as did in the glory days of Gilmore Girls. Although some don't like the frantic pace in which the characters converse with one another I really enjoy the quick-paced exchanges as it is one of the elements I most associate with Gilmore Girls. Another of these elements are the pop culture references which are as present here as they were in the show's original run and thankfully none of them felt particularly out of place. I personally appreciated the references to recent TV shows including the spate of Game of Thrones nods as well as a mention of Halt and Catch Fire which I found to be particularly amusing. As a reward for fans several of little in-jokes have been included in A Year in the Life including a sighting of Mr. Kim the father of Rory's best friend Lane (Keiko Agena) whose lack of presence during the show's original run didn't go unnoticed by fans. Similarly the fact that Luke seemed to have several diner assistants all named Caesar was brought up when Emily asked her future son-in-law if he had any more Ceasars. Another nod to real life was given when it was revealed that Paris' estranged husband Doyle was now a screenwriter which has to be a reference to actor Danny Strong's real life career change.
Alongside the brilliant writing, the performances by the three lead actresses were all uniformly excellent with the trio still be absolutely believable in their roles. I felt that Lauren Graham was great at both handling the comic aspects of the show alongside the more emotional moments. Graham's facial expressions during the first run-through of Stars Hollow: The Musical were a particular joy as were her portrayal of Lorelai's attempts to sit through therapy sessions with Emily. From the evidence here Alexis Bledel has definitely grown as a performer since Gilmore Girls ended as I found her performance as the drifting Rory to be particularly compelling. However it was Kelly Bishop who stole the show as she gave a realistic performance as a widow trying to decide what to do with her life next. Bishop especially excelled during Emily's explicit rant at the DAR and a subsequent scene at a Nantucket whaling museum. Of the supporting cast I found that Liza Weil gave a great turn as the ever-focused Paris whilst Sean Gunn was brilliant as ever as the eccentric Kirk. Praise must go to Rose Abdoo, who fans know best as mechanic Gypsy, who was completely unrecognisable as Emily's new maid Berta who slowly moved all of her family into the Gilmore home.
However if this is all we're getting then I for one am satisfied with A Year in the Life as it gave Emily, Lorelai and Rory believable storylines which all concluded nicely within the six hours. Although I could've done without some of the longer scenes, overall nothing felt like it had really changed with the dialogue and character both feeling fresh once again. More than anything else A Year in the Life reminded me why I was such as Gilmore Girls fan the first time round and why I'll continue to champion the show in whatever form it may take.