Ever since we left Lorelai and Rory teasing Luke about his menu font in what was once thought to be the “Gilmore Girls” swan song ― shoutout to that swan that attacked Jess in Season 3 ― fans have wanted more, more, more.
But as many ill-fated revivals of late have made clear, sometimes it’s better for the house to be “full” instead of “fuller,” despite our yearning to revisit our favorite characters long after their collective cultural shelf-life.
This is the challenge facing Netflix’s much-hyped “Gilmore Girls” revival, titled “A Year in the Life,” which picks up with the hamlet of Stars Hollow nine years after the series wrapped on the CW. Debuting on the streaming service Nov. 25, the four seasonally-themed installments hold many surprises for “Gilmore” fanatics ― the final four words! Emily in jeans! Kirk! ― but there’s one question that’s been plaguing us since the revival was announced: Is it actually good?
On Wednesday, critics weighed in on whether “Gilmore Girls” was worth the update, so we’ve collected the good, bad and the “OMG, we’re crying” reviews for your reading pleasure.
The return of “Gilmore Girls” is winsome and riotous. It’s a better, bolder, more fulfilling capper to a beloved series that finished just-okay back in 2007, produced without creator Amy Sherman-Palladino and husband Daniel Palladino. But they’re back for this “special event series.” Listening to the rhythm, lilt, and inspired language of their dialogue is music to the ears — and in one hilarious passage, expresses in the form of an actual musical. It provides a welcome dose of hilarious and humane escapism that satisfies like a nostalgia trip even while subverting it.
One thing the passing of time hasn’t done and can’t do is hinder the core chemistry between the three lead actresses, especially now that Lorelai, Rory and Emily are back to sounding like Sherman-Palladino and therefore sounding like themselves. The wordy patter, the crackling repetition, the “We assume the audience is collectively in on every joke” references are back, as is the pervasive sense of simpatico they represent. The internal comfort level of “Gilmore Girls” has always stemmed from the understanding these characters have that they speak a language born of shared history and shared experience, a family language. And because viewers both recognize the uniqueness of the cadences and rhetorical devices, we’re part of the family as well. The specificity was lost in the zombie season, but it’s back now and with it the warm fuzzies and occasional tears.
Graham, who was always the show’s most valuable player, slips back into Lorelai mode without missing a sarcastic beat. She’s still a deft handler of sharp, quick-draw dialogue, and in light of the passing of her father — that’s not a spoiler since Edward Herrmann, who played Richard Gilmore, died in 2014 — she’s convincing in the more emotional moments as well.
Everything “Gilmore Girls” tries to pack in — the wit, the whimsy, the pop-culture references, the family conflict, the perfectly calibrated insults, the set pieces that go on a bit too long — can feel pretty pummeling at a 90-minute running time ... The show is sometimes too overstuffed for its own good. So here’s a recipe for enjoying this new edition of “Gilmore Girls”: Get a blanket and a mug of cocoa, and watch 30 or maybe 40 minutes at a time.
The relationship between a 32-year-old mother and a 16-year-old daughter — even one as unusual and specific as this — is fundamentally different from that of a 32-year-old daughter and her 48-year-old mother, and it’s less remarkable that they would act like pals than in the days when Lorelai wasn’t happy that Rory didn’t immediately tell her about her first kiss.
Because of that fundamental shift in the dynamic, because the Palladinos are trying to squeeze nearly every significant Gilmore character — not to mention exposition about what they’ve been up to since we last saw them — into four double-sized episodes that each cover an entire season of the calendar, and because TV reunions almost always feel out of sync from the shows that spawned them, it’s not a surprise that A Year in the Life is frequently a mess, and one that occasionally feels at best like a well-studied imitation of the genuine article.
The bad news: It’s not perfect. It’s actually far from perfect. The revival has four 90-minute chapters, and it turns out that 42-minute episodes were the perfect amount of time before the famously sparkling dialogue and wacky plotlines start to drag — and characters’ flaws go from endearing to irritating.
OMG, We’re Crying
This hint of melancholy is appreciated, because it’s tempting with TV reunions like this to make everything happy and cheerful. But these women are still growing, still discovering who they are, and inevitably butting heads in the process. Graham and Bishop, in particular, have some intense scenes together, including a nasty, gloves-off argument in the immediate wake of Richard’s death that cuts right to the bone. This revival isn’t afraid to go dark and get real when it needs to, and that emotional honesty underlines why we love “Gilmore Girls” in the first place.
The first of the four seasonally titled installments, “Winter,” does indeed open in a way that feels as comforting as digging into a just-warmed plate of turkey and cornbread stuffing. We see Stars Hollow, all a’twinkle with holiday lights. We see Lorelai, seated in that familiar town-center gazebo. And then we see Rory, again by her mother’s side and diving right back into their signature, run-on-sentence, pop-culture-reference-packed banter. “Haven’t done that for a while,” Lorelai says after a particularly quick game of dialogue ping-pong. “Feels good,” Rory replies.
The tears are plentiful, because the grief at Herrmann’s death has inspired the writers and elevated the actors. Graham and Bishop are particularly excellent when they get to butt heads over honoring Richard’s legacy, both Emmy-snubbed actresses bucking for recognition now that “Gilmore Girls” will find itself in the movie/miniseries awards category.
Bonus: Best Paris Geller Mention
Liza Weil’s Paris shows up in the final act. She’s a firecracker. Sample line: “Don’t stand there shaking! Apologize to your parents. Tell them you’ll pay them back for the two semesters you spent studying ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’’s effect on the Feminist agenda!”