OK so who said you can never go back? Really? Lots of people? Well tell them they were all wrong, that they have no idea what they’re talking about and that I smell snow.
Yes snow. It’s one of the first lines uttered in the Gilmore Girls reincarnation A Year in the Life which, paying due homage to the theme song sung by Carole King, kicks off its 4 episode, movie length running time all, arc with what looks like some winter lamenting.
But not before Rory (Alexis Bledel), now 32, rootless after disposing of her Brooklyn abode and bouncing around the globe writing stories for the likes of The New Yorker, meets her mum Lorelai (Lauren Graham) in the gazebo when some very meta (there is a passing reference to it being years since they’ve done this), fast-paced and naturally pop-culture laden conversation takes places which touches upon Zoolander 2, Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop website, Batman, Ben Affleck and “I Dreamed a Dream” in Les Miserables.
All in one short, sharp, vintage wonderful Gilmore Girls chat. With coffee of course. Welcome back everyone!
From that point, we plunge headlong into a recounting of Taylor Dosey’s quest to gather enough septic tank horror stories, which shall be re-enacted, naturally (How exactly beggars the mind!) to scare the county commissioners into hooking Stars Hollow up to the sewerage system, the virtues of Tator Tots as a meal accompaniment (Luke, played by Scott Patterson, disagrees) and Lorelai’s DVR-clogging predilection for Lifetime movies with really strange titles (Murder In a College Town, Crimes of the Mind, Fatal Acquital).
So the quirk is back in full, as is creator and chief writer Amy Sherman-Palladino’s vision of a Stars Hollow that is picture postcard beautiful – the Christmas decorations all lit up are truly magical – rapid-fire dialogue and a penchant for giving Kirk (Sean Gunn) one weird, copyright-infringing job after another (it’s Ööö-Ber, not Uber).
So everything we’ve loved with some updates – WifI passwords in Lukes? Selfies in the central square? Paris (Liza Weil) as the head of Dynasty Makers, a mega-big IVF firm? All present and accounted for 2016 take on the Gilmore Girls sir yes sir! – all happily given a forward push into a world where Luke and Lorelai are an old co-habiting couple (Emily doesn’t regard it as marriage but then of course she wouldn’t), Rory is playing the romantic field (Hello Logan aka Matt Czuchry) and the town troubadour Grant-Lee Phillips is duelling with his sister for the best busking spot in town.
There’s also a new man in Rory’s life, Paul (Jack Carpenter), who is sweet, attentive to a fault, caring and her boyfriend of two years; but as is the way of Rory, because he’s not flawed in some fairly demonstrative way like Dean (Jared Padalecki), Jess (milo Ventimiglia) and Logan were/are, she’s just not that into him.
To the degree that she, along with Lorelai and Luke and even Emily (Kelly Bishop) can’t remember him at all, and neglect to include him in social outings and conversations, even leaving him behind in the house one morning when they head out for brunch.
Yup he’s the romantic patsy and you can’t help feeling a little sorry for him and wishing Rory would just cut him loose as Lorelai keeps begging her daughter to do.
But then there’s a lot of indecision going on Rory-wise so it makes sense that Paul is caught up in her current root-less phase, which fortunately doesn’t preclude catching with Lane (Keiko Agena), hubbie Zack (Todd Lowe) or Logan in merry old London.
It’s all quirk and fun conversations but not all the time.
Because sadly in the intervening period between the end of Gilmore Girls seventh season in 2007 and now, Edward Herrmann who played Gilmore patriarch Richard died, leaving a massive emotional hole in the show and one which Sherman-Palladino spends the better part of the episode addressing.
This is the definitely non-quirky of the episode and it is handled with great sensitivity for the role Richard played in the lives of his beloved wife, Emily, daughter Lorelai (though she comes up short anecdote-wise at the wake causing all sorts of problems) and granddaughter Rory, all of whom miss him greatly as you’d expect.
We are witnesses to his sombre sad but beautifully appointed burial – overseen by Emily so you know it is tasteful and elegant – the wake at which Emily is the perfect hostess, a tense Friday night dinner (with added Kirk!) and the home alone aftermath in which Emily is tempted to throw everything that doesn’t give her joy, according a minimalist bible she has been given, until Lorelai steps in and stops her saying nothing, just four months after the funeral, will give her joy.
It’s touching moment, with the entire storyline beautifully touching on the horrific way grief unsettles and upends, resetting relationships and reinforcing already-existing dynamics, most notably the fractious one between Lorelai and Emily.
Sherman-Palldino handles the entire through line so profoundly well, reminding us once again that while Gilmore Girls is loved and revered for its quirkiness and goofiness that it really shines through its drama.
It’s testament to the show’s creator’s artistic vision that the quirk and the drama nestle side-by-side with ease, with neither suffering any kind of diminution through proximity to the other.
A Year in the Life: Winter confirms that this narrative dynamic has lost none of its heft as the episode re-introduces us to both the loopier moments of life in Stars Hollow but also the grim reality that death spares no one its life-levelling after effects, not even the residents of idiosyncratic storybook New England towns.
Granted you could argue that you should ever revive any TV show, that everything should be left in its viewing time and place and thus shall it always be, but Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life, the first episode at least, is a reminder that when it’s done right, and let’s face it Amy Sherman-Palladino always does it right, it is like going to visit an old friend where everything is different and yet nothing is all at once, and you simply pick up as if you never left.
That’s how Winter feels, quirks, grief, sadness, reflections and all, exactly how life would feel and proof that you can go back to the well and not be left wanting, even in the winter of almost everyone’s discontent (Taylor has his septic tank stories so he’s happy at least).