Saturday, December 3, 2016

Welcome Back to Their Little Corner of the World

Since November 8th, as if sensing the seismic shift in the space-time continuum, my TV has utterly refused to tune into anything other than Gilmore Girls. Thus it is that I find myself prying my eyes away from Netflix during my fourth viewing of Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life. My obsession with the original series may elicit guffaws, but you will find no shame here. I will proudly regale you with favorite scenes, episodes ("Raincoats and Recipes!") and characters (Babette!).  Revivals can go horribly wrong and, given the way the original series ended (sans Palladino), the expectations for A Year in the Life were monumentally high. Creators/producers Amy Sherman-Palladino and Dan Palladino did not disappoint. A Year in the Life is a love letter to fans built on the relationships, the banter, sly nods to the original series (Banks. They like collars.) and pitch perfect performances.

The heart of the original series lies in the relationships between the core characters and A Year in the Life nicely adapts those relationships to account for the passage of time, the affect of distance and the loss of a patriarch. Some relationships see resolution years in the making, namely Lorelai and Luke, while others, even those seemingly settled in the original series, end with a question mark rather than a period (Jess had some serious thoughts going through his head as he was gazing through that window). The biggest factor in the mix is the death of patriarch Richard (actor Edward Herrmann died in 2014). Richard’s death weighs heavily on Emily, Lorelai and Rory who must come to terms not only with his loss but also with its’ effect on their relationship with each other. Emily and Lorelai  whose relationship has long been complicated by years of hurt and disappointment, find common ground coping with the loss and then lose it as quickly as it was found. Rory, living a vagabond existence, feels more lost than ever and she and Lorelai find themselves disagreeing on the next chapter of her life.

If there is one reason A Year in the Life does not crackle with the same synchronicity as the original series it is because of the maturation of the relationship between Lorelai and Rory. As naturally happens with age, distance and time, Lorelai and Rory are quite literally not as physically close and the spark that came from Lorelai and Rory sharing nearly every scene in the original series is lost. The Palladinos have done a commendable job keeping the unique ‘friend first, mother/daughter second’ relationship alive while also accounting for a natural maturation.

Without Lorelai and Rory attached at the hip, the tone of A Year in the Life feels a bit muted but there are still plenty of the blink and you’ll miss them lines for which ASP and DP are known. The early kitchen scene in "Winter" lets Luke get in on the fun and kicks off A Year in the Life with a familiar exchange: Luke lobbies for healthy food while Lorelai and Rory beg for tater tots. And Lane, expressing mock disappointment at Zack's recent promotion (tie required) admits to Rory, “I tell him he looks like a young Leonard Cohen but really he just looks like his dad.” One of the standouts is the scene on the eve of the wedding that begins between Jess and Luke and morphs into an exchange between Jess, Luke, Kirk, Lorelai and Rory. It overflows with the kind of energy and rat-a-tat dialogue that only exists in Stars Hollow.

A Year in the Life perfectly sews up the patchwork quilt made up of the people who inhabited the Gilmore Girls world. There are pop-ins and updates from almost all of the old gang. From Paris (Liza Weil) and Lane (Keiko Agena) to Michel (Yanic Truesdale) and Sookie (Melissa McCarthy), the characters have grown but remain true to their original sensibility. Paris operates a top of the line surrogacy clinic, Lane runs Kim's Antiques, Michel is ready to take on new challenges at the Dragonfly and Sookie works for Dan Barber at Blue Hill at Stone Barns. As for the charming and eccentric residents of Stars Hollow, there are plenty of familiar faces. Taylor (Michael Winters), Stars Hollow’s master and overseer, is still in charge, Gypsy (Rose Abdoo) is still busy fixing cars and Kirk (Sean Gunn) turns any harebrained idea into a job, I would have thrown my vote in for more Babette (Sally Struthers) and a bit less Kirk; her one-liners (“Tevye move over there’s a new Jew in town!”) are preferable to Kirk’s thickheaded storylines, but beggars can’t be choosers. Overall, there is a satisfying sense that the characters’ lives have been moving along nicely and we just happen to be checking in on them ten years later.

Of course, strong dialogue, well-rounded characters and emotional depth will fall flat without great execution and, thank goodness, the actors are up to the task. Alexis Bledel’s Rory seems a bit tentative at times, especially in the opening episode, but gains her footing. Scott Patterson expertly revives Luke as the curmudgeon with a heart of gold. Kelly Bishop is force to be reckoned with. In the aftermath of Richard’s death, she imbues Emily with strength, vulnerability and, at the conclusion, a renewed sense of self. That said, A Year in the Life is Lauren Graham’s show. ASP and DP grant her superior material and she absolutely shines. Lorelai's grief, anger, pain, sarcasm, self-reflection and happiness are effortless in her capable hands. A quiet, soul-searching scene on a California hilltop relies only on Graham’s facial expressions to convey the literal and figurative journey Lorelai has taken and the realization she is finally able to reach.

A Year in the Life is not without faults. Some diversions are entirely too lengthy or should not exist at all. The best part about the Stars Hollow musical is the end and the excursion with the Life and Death Brigade is completely unnecessary. There is also an oddly excessive amount of day drinking among the Gilmore girls that feels misplaced. But perhaps most distressing is Rory’s flailing storyline. At the outset, and for much too long, her main objective is tracking down a lucky outfit and getting better cell reception. Weak. And without a steady source of income how is she funding her weekly trips back and forth to London? That is never made clear. At one point in "Spring," after Rory‘s one night stand with a guy in a wookie costume, Lorelai finally says to her, “What’s going on here. This isn’t you.” Amen. Rory’s storyline gains a bit of focus as the year progresses and perhaps the lack of focus was intentional, a way to underscore the crossroads at which Rory finds herself, but it came across as disjointed and void of the qualities that made Rory a likable character in the original series.

Amy Sherman-Palladino and Dan Palladino faced a very difficult task: balancing what was beloved about the original series and updating both the tone and the relationships to account for the nearly ten year time leap. Will we see more of the Gilmore girls in the future? Who knows? The door was certainly left ajar. Maybe one day we will be lucky enough to be granted another opportunity to visit their little corner of the world.