Despite its flaws, ‘Gilmore Girls’ miniseries culminates in a satisfying ending
What is it about Lorelai and Rory?
Why is this fictional mother-daughter duo so beloved that the prospect of their reunion, in a four-part “Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life” miniseries debuting Friday on Netflix, makes grown women openly giddy?
Why have we been tearing up every time the series’ theme song, Carole King’s “Where You Lead,” kicks in during trailers? (Or is that just me?)
I’m no shrink, but my guess is we’re all projecting, just a little bit.
Lorelai (Lauren Graham) and Rory (Alexis Bledel) seem to have the ideal parent-child bond; they’re best friends without being carbon copies, or even on equal footing. They’re dazzlingly smart, witty, snarky, and honest. They manage to share one heart while maintaining two separate brains. Very often they exemplify the virtues of grace and tolerance; just as often, they’re a mess.
Who doesn’t want to see that in a mother, or a daughter, or a mirror?
“Gilmore Girls” is back because fans of the original series, which ran from 2000 to 2007, harassed its creator, Amy Sherman-Palladino, until she either had to write a sequel (collaborating with her spouse, Daniel Palladino) or answer for it on her deathbed. But those fans now include the children and grandchildren of people who saw the show in its first run — Generation Z-ers who only identify with Rory, even when they live to mock her. My own 13-year-old daughter is one of those. Rather than binge-watch, we took in the new miniseries together over four nights of dinners that willfully combined disparate cuisines, Gilmore-style, and included doughnuts as a core food group.
Did portions of our Netflix marathon leave me underwhelmed, confused, and in gastrointestinal distress? Yes. Was it all washed away by the moments that worked, either as nostalgia or story progression, and a satisfying final episode ending in those much-talked-about four words that I’m not allowed to reveal? Yes.
There’s quite a lot that I’m not allowed to talk about. No one wants critics spoiling the fun for “Gilmore Girls” devotees, least of all me. So I can’t tell you anything illuminating about Rory’s love life — teams Logan, Jess, and Dean please hold your fire — or what brings the 32-year-old wannabe journalist back home to Stars Hollow, Conn., or why Lorelai spoke so unconvincingly in first-look trailers about her current state of happiness with live-in boyfriend Luke (Scott Patterson). Oh, and what’s the deal with Sookie, the much adored chef at Lorelai’s Dragonfly Inn, played by Melissa McCarthy before Melissa McCarthy commanded movie star attention and salary? Can’t tell you that, either.
Here’s what I can say. Each of those characters, and just about everyone else who might matter to hardcore fans, has a place in the new miniseries, even if some are little more than walk-ons. There are a few smile-inducing cameos — none big enough to be a distraction — and the rapid-fire dialogue unsurprisingly name-checks more pop culture celebrities than a Democratic National Convention.
Edward Herrmann’s death in 2014 has shaped much of the story arc for this update. Herrmann played Richard Gilmore, Lorelai’s wealthy, elitist, secretly soft-hearted father. He now haunts every new episode, from the identity crisis that moves his widow (Kelly Bishop) to enter therapy and remake her life in the image of Marie Kondo, to the acute sense of diminishing time that leads Lorelai to shake up her small-town life.
Each installment of the miniseries represents one season of a calendar year, beginning with winter. The first two episodes are the weakest, too bogged down in drive-by catch-ups, forced banter, unnecessary asides, and gags that go nowhere. Too briefly, Liza Weil’s manic-obsessive Paris Geller dominates the screen and reminds us how it’s done.
It’s good to see that Stars Hollow endures, the same way that there will always be a place in our hearts for Mayberry, N.C. (thank you, Andy Griffith) and Cicely, Alaska (thank you, “Northern Exposure”). But if you’re also anticipating the sharp wit, focused writing, and oddball creativity of “Gilmore Girls” at its best, you won’t find much to sink your teeth into until Episode 3, when, not coincidentally, Rory and Lorelai come together (and also drift apart) in fuller, more meaningful ways. There’s a theatrical passage that doubles down on “Hamilton” and runs with it far too long; still, three quarters of the way through its six hours is where this long-simmering reunion finally starts to get interesting.
Episode 4 is vintage “GG,” an untamed, highly emotional ride that delivers incisive cultural commentary, rich introspection, and poignant moments that are no less valid just because they’re covered in Cheez Whiz. I laughed, I cried, I immediately wanted another helping.
In 2007, fans felt cheated by the series’ abrupt cancellation, after a controversial season that was not even helmed by its creator. Almost a decade later, we finally have our fully conceived ending that, remarkably, also feels like a beginning.
Where you lead, Amy Sherman-Palladino, I will follow. Any anywhere that you tell me to.
GILMORE GIRLS: A YEAR IN THE LIFE
Starring: Lauren Graham, Alexis Bledel, Kelly Bishop
On Netflix, streaming Friday