‘Gilmore Girls’ revival brings both development, decline

Franchesca Spektor/Staff

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The first visit back home after having been away for an extended time is a special experience. There’s a range of ways for it to go — maybe you appreciate your community’s little idiosyncrasies more after being so far from them. Perhaps your old friends warmly welcome you back, gushing about their own lives; you’re excited, of course, but maybe also a little melancholy that you missed it all. Maybe the one person you least expected to took a sharp 180 and became nearly unrecognizable. Most probably, it’s a mixture of all of the above. Returning to Stars Hollow after about a decade for “Gilmore Girls: A Year In The Life” certainly had such a mix of joy and disappointment; like that first visit home, though, it was a comfort in uncertain times.

When we left our favorite Lorelais at the end of season seven of “Gilmore Girls,” Rory Gilmore (Alexis Bledel), a fresh Yale graduate, struck out on the Barack Obama campaign trail. Her mother (Lauren Graham), the self-made owner of a successful inn, was rekindling her will-they-won’t-they relationship with her (dare I say obvious) soulmate, surly diner owner Luke Danes (Scott Patterson). We return now when Rory is as old as Lorelai was at the start of season one and Lorelai is decidedly middle-aged. In some ways, the Gilmore girls have changed little during this absence — they still joke at their trademark breakneck speeds with banter ranging from juvenile mockery to esoteric pop culture references.

In theory, a Lorelai nearing 50 should be a scary concept; in practice, she’s still Lorelai of the supersaturated dialogue, zany outfits and independence that sometimes verges on selfishness. Graham is — as before — the essential link here, elevating Lorelai from a mere caricature with the haunting anxiety of an impending midlife crisis. With Graham’s delivery consistently on target, Lorelai feels undeniably her multifaceted, eccentric self. Regardless of her extra decade of experience, though, she is very much still more “cool big sis” than stern mother (breathe a sigh of relief).

Speaking of stern mother, Lorelai’s mother Emily, played immaculately as always by Kelly Bishop, makes up the emotional core of the miniseries. Reeling from the death of her husband Richard, lovingly portrayed by the late Edward Hermann, the perfect Emily, forever the foil of frenzied Lorelai, begins to come undone. In one scene, she’s even clad in jeans and a T-shirt (but not without her gold necklace, of course). Although Emily’s fervent attempts to wrangle her ever-wild daughter without her stolid husband touch her story with moments of humor, they are matched by moments of tragic beauty — notably her mute 100-yard stare en route to Richard’s funeral, subtly scored with Tom Waits to keep up the Gilmore Girls tradition of a keen musical ear. Emily’s story arc, a touching tribute to Hermann, is imbued with emotional depth and redemption, making it a strong point of “A Year in the Life.”

Lorelai and Emily’s development makes Rory’s lack thereof especially disappointing. Once a timidly ambitious student who aspired to be the next Christiane Amanpour and delighted in C-SPAN before she could walk, 32-year-old Rory is a spiritless freelancer. Perhaps showrunners Amy Sherman-Palladino and Daniel Palladino intended for Rory to be the archetypal naturally talented Millennial struggling to find steady employment, but her relatable adolescent flaws matured unchecked into insidious vices, weakening her once iconically diligent character.

Rory’s sense of privilege was always an uncomfortable twinge beneath her storylines, but her lack of professionalism at the hands of this increasingly grotesque entitlement is appalling — with little regard for the career she worked so hard to begin, Rory falls asleep during an interview out of boredom, condescendingly berates the CEO of an up-and-coming website for not hiring her (although she inexplicably came to the interview pitchless) and even has a half-hearted one-night stand with a source for a story she reluctantly takes on for GQ. With a plot twist at the end that could be the nail in her journalistic career’s coffin, Rory stands at a crossroads; either it’ll force her to claw her way back upward like her mother before her, or she’ll ultimately crash and burn.

Despite Rory’s regression, the Palladinos attempted (and succeeded, to some degree) to modernize the Gilmores’ world, setting the revival apart from the vaguely pearl-clutching original series. Old-fashioned Stars Hollow now has a multicultural food fair and a gay pride parade. Luke’s adorably nerdy daughter April, now nearly an MIT graduate, is a civil liberty-obsessed fledgling stoner. Lorelai’s perpetually petulant friend and employee Michel now has a husband, Frederick, who is brought up casually and without fanfare. The Gilmores’ quirky neighbor Babette now whips out a smartphone as much as she hollers her offbeat idioms.

While “A Year In The Life” definitely has its downs, it’s a comforting return to the town and people we have grown to love. Besides, what home visit is complete without its share of drama?  

Contact Sahana Rangarajan at [email protected].