Gilmore Girls has always been a deceptively dark TV show. It layers ’50s screwball comedy dialogue and a never ending parade of small town quirks on top of a foundation of melancholy. At its core it is a show about depression, despair, denial, resentment, dysfunction, class issues, and relationships that inevitably turn inwards and tear each other apart. The show’s signature patter is, in fact, the characters’ coping mechanism in order to avoid dealing with twenty (and now thirty) years of strife.
But even for Gilmore Girls “Winter” (the first episode of the revival miniseries) is a dark episode of television. The show could never be about anything other than the tragic death of Edward Herrmann. He was towering figure as Richard Gilmore, the patriarch of the family, and his absence would infuse every scene of any revival series. The first episode shows how the grief from his death has sent each character scrambling into the hole of their own worst self, and the series itself is largely about how they slowly crawl out of those holes.
Stars Hollow, which even in winter has always been filmed in the warmest possible light, is cold and sterile. All color has been washed out of the set, leaving only blues and whites. Somewhat appropriate considering how the episode is one of the darkest episodes of television I have ever seen. Emily Gilmore is spinning out in a life without her husband, essentially trying to liquidate all her passions in a vein attempt to refind joy. Rory’s promising career is non-existent and she’s cheating on her boyfriend with her sleazy ex, who is cheating on his fiance with her. And Lorelai is forced to confront just how much of her life has passed while she essentially kept paused. I don’t think there is a more tragic scene than the realization that she and Luke missed a window to truly decide how they wanted to live their lives because they were both too scared of upsetting their status quo to actually discuss anything about the future.
But as “Winter” gives way to “Spring” and “Summer” the show submerges the mountains of grief once more. It never truly goes away, all three Gilmore women are still spinning out in their own ways, but the show allows them distractions and breathing room. Which, in turn, allows them to achieve healing and peace in “Fall.”
Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life is the rare gem among the shows that have been rebooted thanks to the freedom of streaming. While it dwells on all the nostalgia that the fans of the original show will love, it truly does push into new, but necessary, territory. The reboot provides closure and emotional anchoring. While there is some bloat brought on by Netflix, and it somewhat ruthlessly tries to include every minor character from the original series, it still is bursting with the verve that made Gilmore Girls such a special treat.
And, clearly, Amy Sherman-Palladino was bristling at the restrictions being a show on the WB in the early 2000s placed on her. In particular there is a positively beautiful string of profanity in one scene. Not to mention that she casually outs on gay character, creates a new gay character, and then has a town meeting ostensibly about the town’s failing gay pride parade that is really about how not enough gay people live in Stars Hollow, much to the town’s chagrin.
The most under served character by the reboot is Lane. Instead of growing up to be the awesome rocker chick we all assumed she would, she is working in mother’s antique shop and barely performing. She doesn’t even get a major arc in the reboot, instead being relegated to just supporting the major characters.
Also missing is Melissa McCarthy, who could only commit to one day of filming. Which is sad because McCarthy has never been better than she was on Gilmore Girls. She is a fantastic actress with a wonderful range, but who has tended to play the same broad type the more famous she has become. The show needed the sweetness and compassion that she brought as Sookie.
Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life really is exceptional. It is equally heartbreaking and beautiful. It breaks down the flaws in all the characters and the tensions in their relationships, and helps them move on to a state of peace. And both Kelly Bishop and Lauren Graham deliver the performances of their lifetimes (performances which, since Netflix can deposit this in the “Miniseries or Movie” category, will likely earn them both Emmys). Like its characters, Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life is tragic and flawed and poignant and triumphant and glorious and feels like home.