The news that Netflix is bringing back “Gilmore Girls” spread this week with the speed of Lorelai and Rory’s caffeinated banter. The streaming service is going to deliver four new 90-minute episodes, which will begin production early next year.
Loyal fans — and “Gilmore Girls” fans are nothing if not fiercely loyal — have been overwhelming social media with big cheers. Indefatigably, since the seven-season show ended in 2007, they’ve been calling for a series revival.
Most of the show’s original cast will be back, including Lauren Graham, Alexis Bledel, Kelly Bishop, and Scott Patterson. Actor Edward Hermann died last year — the new episodes will surely deal with his absence poignantly — and there is no word yet on whether now-box-office-star Melissa McCarthy, Matt Czuchry, or Liza Weil will be on board.
Most important of all, show creator Amy Sherman-Palladino — whose sensibility and voice made the series work — will be back, after having left the production before its final season due to contract disputes. Her return is a triumph of sorts for fans, many of whom felt the final season was a disappointment, and for Sherman-Palladino herself, who has said she never got to end the series in the way she’d always planned.
Could this be any more fantastic? [Vocal tone: ironic.]
I know I should be excited, and not dooming this venture before seeing it, and just being a positive person in general. I was an admirer of the series, even if the pop-filled high-speed exchanges could be wearying and precious. Why not revisit good old Stars Hollow and check in with the gang? Can Lorelai and Rory text as fast as they used to talk?
But, ever since the announcement of the return of “Arrested Development” a few years ago, I have written frequently of my problem with reviving series that died a natural death years earlier. By the end of the next year or two, we will have seen new episodes of “The X-Files,” “Twin Peaks,” “Full House,” “Heroes,” “24,” “Prison Break,” and “The Comeback.” These aren’t “reboots,” which are reinventions of old shows and movies with new casts; these are resurrections — zombies, in a way, since they are revivifications of dead bodies.
I’m not skeptical about them solely because they risk harming a show’s legacy, although I do think it’s too bad that season 4 of “Arrested Development” has diminished the historical take on the series from a three-season wonder of TV perfection to just a once-great sitcom. It went from a classic to a classic with qualifications, so that when you recommend it to someone you have to note, “Watch the first three seasons, but don’t bother with the fourth.”
Some of the shows being brought back to life had already harmed their own legacies, notably “The X-Files,” which had become an impossible muddle by the time it ended in 2002. “Heroes” and “Twin Peaks,” too, had lost much of their mojo before they left the air.
No, I’m skeptical about these nostalgia-tinged series revivals also because they aren’t usually creatively driven. They’re often the result of a numerical sense of audience desire, a corporate understanding that the show is “presold” — and as streamers such as Netflix compile statistics about what their subscribers watch, that understanding is more specific than ever.
At Netflix, executives mine the massive data bank of subscriber habits — what they watch, how they watch it, when they pause, when they drop a series — in order to make programming decisions. “House of Cards” evolved out of a formula involving the popularity of Kevin Spacey, director David Fincher, and political thrillers. Now, aware that old episodes of “Gilmore Girls” continue to perform well on the service, the Netflix people are confident that new episodes will also draw traffic. Netflix is giving viewers what they already want, proceeding with a sense of financial security, rather than giving them something new, original, and less guaranteed. The motivation is the science of money, and not the art of creating good scripted TV.
Ultimately, just because audiences may want more “Gilmore Girls” or “Twin Peaks” isn’t necessarily a reason to give it to them, is it? People always long for more candy, but sometimes it’s more powerful — yes, here is where I drag out one of entertainment’s most relevant quotes — to leave them wanting more. Sometimes, nostalgia should remain nostalgia.
If a series ended from natural causes, like “The X-Files,” “Heroes,” and “Twin Peaks,” it was tapped out. Let’s let all of them rest in peace. Zombies are popular right now, but zombified TV series? Please, no.Matthew Gilbert can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewGilbert.