Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Gilmore Girls Rebooted With Energy And Heart For "The Complete Fourth Season!"

The Good: Excellent character development, Decent serialization, Good acting, Funny and heartwarming
The Bad: Light on DVD extras
The Basics: With season four on DVD, Gilmore Girls recreates the show with the strongest relationship strained by distance as Lorelai and Rory move into adulthood.

Every now and again, I write a review with a cointoss rating. Right off the bat, I'll say that on my usual scale of ten points, Gilmore Girls - The Complete Fourth Season is a solid nine. On the site I used to write for, that made me force a choice between a four or five. Having to reboot the series Gilmore Girls following the third season (reviewed here!) which had the very natural climax of Rory graduating high school and the powerful, but contrived, fire which gutted the Independence Inn, leaving Lorelai out of work.

The fourth season of Gilmore Girls earns some serious respect and it certainly gets respect from me for how successfully it reboots itself.

The fourth season of Gilmore Girls finds mother and daughter Lorelai and Rory Gilmore returning from their European summer vacation to Stars Hollow where they discover Rory needs to be to Yale much sooner than expected. Rushing to Yale, Rory finds herself rooming with Paris Gellar. Lorelai separates from her daughter and Lorelai returns to Stars Hollow to discover Luke got married while on his cruise, her partnership with Sookie gets strained while Sookie becomes a mother and she begins dating a coffee magnate and then Jason, her father's new business partner.

At Yale, Rory deals with Paris, The Yale Review, and having dinner with the grandparents every Friday, which is complicated when Richard's mother moves in and strains the relationship between Richard and Emily. Moreover, after a strained time between Rory and Lane, Lane finds herself living with Rory and Rory's workload pushes her over the edge . . . to Dean.

In Stars Hollow, the other characters go through their own arcs. Emily finds herself losing Richard's respect as he returns to working full time and begins to neglect her, Dean marries his post-Rory high school girlfriend, Lane rocks out with her new band only to have her life revealed to her mother, and Luke works to get divorced while dealing with his deadbeat sister who resurfaces. Jess also resurfaces, longing for Rory and in love, he tries to change things between them, even as he tries to make good with Luke for the time he spent in Stars Hollow.

For those unfamiliar with Gilmore Girls, the magic of this family dramedy is in the dialogue. Gilmore Girls is a show wherein the characters speak at an accelerated rate and make musical and cultural allusions that require pretty regular trips to Wikipedia to understand. In the fourth season, that magic is increased by the addition of none other than Sebastian Bach as a recurring guest star for Lane's band. The former lead singer bursts into the series as a guitarist for Hep Alien, Lane's band and his presence is kitsch and hilarious, even when most of his lines are "X is/is not rock and roll."

If the genius of the show is in the dialogue and style, the heart of Gilmore Girls is in the characters. The characters are funny, realistic and ultimately deeply human in a way that makes them easy to watch disc after disc. In the fourth season, the show becomes strongly serialized and while not much might happen in any one episode, each disc has a decent character arc for almost every major character.

In the fourth season of Gilmore Girls, the principle cast includes:

Lorelai Gilmore - Mother of Rory who is rebuilding her life now that Rory is away at college. She stops dating a buyer for a coffee chain and starts seeing Jason, despite his quirks. While Lorelai aids Luke with his legal problems, she and Sookie deal with being poor while the Dragonfly Inn is renovated. Her relationship with her mother becomes strained, largely over money and Lorelai attempting to keep her relationship with Jason secret,

Rory Gilmore - Arriving at Yale, she discovers she has separation anxiety from Lorelai. Dealing with losing Jess and Dean getting married to Linsay, Rory and Paris actually become friends, though she finds herself stressed out about college. She begins working on the Yale Daily News and keeps up her friendship with Lane, despite the fact that that strains things with Paris,

Luke Danes - Married while on vacation, he determines to divorce his lawyer wife. Despite that, he gives his marriage a shot - even moving in with her - until he discovers her cheating on him. He moves on by vetting his sister's new boyfriend, reconciling his relationship with Jess and getting a self-help tape that steers him in the direction his heart wants him to go,

Emily Gilmore - Lorelai's mother finds herself neglected once again by Richard, who has started up his own business. Deemed frivolous by Richard and condemned by Gran, Emily goes on a shopping spree which leaves a rent in her relationship with Richard and Lorelai,

Sookie - Has her baby (at an inconvenient moment), is stressed by having to make money by catering with Lorelai, and discovers that Jackson wants more children. As the Dragonfly Inn becomes a reality, she begins to get excited about having a real kitchen to work with again,

Lane - Having almost outed herself to her mother the prior season, Lane finds that keeping her band a secret from Mrs. Kim no longer works when she stays out all night at a gig. Evicted by her mother, Lane bounces to Rory until she ends up at the apartment with two of her bandmates,

Michel - Made jealous by Sookie's new nanny, he works to stay on Lorelai and Sookie's good sides until the Dragonfly can actually be opened,

Paris - Following her breakdowns at the end of the third season, she rebounds with her idiot life coach who tries to make her into a better person. Instead, she gets involved with The Yale Daily News and begins romancing an older professor, Flemming, who she begins to get quite serious about,

Kirk - Continuing to go through jobs, Kirk has a date that goes extraordinarily well for him, much to everyone's surprise,

Dean - (recurring) Married to Linsay, he finds domestic life agrees with him, though Linsay wants a townhouse. This leads him to drop out of college and work more, work that puts him at the Dragonfly and in Rory's path,

Jason - "Digger." An old friend of the Gilmore family, he has serious issues with his father, Floyd, the man who Richard used to work for. He negotiates with Richard to buy into Richard's business, becoming his partner and quickly getting into a romantic relationship with Lorelai. Jason suffers from sleep apneia, so he utilizes his extreme wealth to put her up in an adjacent room to his, with all the comforts she could ever want. A decent guy, ruthless at business,

and Richard Gilmore - Stressed about his work and his wife's spending habits, he builds his business with Jason and introduces Rory to life at Yale.

The characters are amazingly presented with Chris Eigeman joining the cast as Jason. Eigeman has surprisingly good chemistry with Lauren Graham, who plays Lorelai. Graham, who has been working the chemistry with Scott Patterson for years, adapts wonderfully to Eigeman's presence.

The fourth season of Gilmore Girls also has some impressive recurring guest stars. Arielle Kebbel portrays Linsay far better than she played the lead in John Tucker Must Die. Sebastian Bach recurs with the revelation that he has a genius sense of comic timing to delivering lines. And, perhaps, the coup of the guest stars is Michael York, of Austin Powers fame. He appears as Professor Flemming, Paris's beau and he plays off Liza Weil wonderfully. And hey, not enough good can be said about Liza Weil, who plays Paris brilliantly, evolving her from deeply wounded to fairly actualized in the course of the season. It's too bad that she didn't have a meatier role this season, but the plot with Flemming works great.

The other main cast member who is given a chance to truly reach out is Scott Patterson. Patterson began the series relegated to behind the counter at Luke's Diner and in the fourth season, he transforms Luke into a truly viable character. Patterson has more complicated dialogue this season and while some characters - like Emily and Richard - are building toward rather destructive breakups, Luke is clearly trying to improve himself. Patterson is adept at playing that, using almost every opportunity he has on screen to push Luke in a different direction, even if it is simply slouching less.

But, as one might suspect, the show rests on the acting talents of Lauren Graham and Alexis Bledel. Graham has been a pro from the first episode and it is hard to say that she gives a great performance in this boxed set because she gives a solid performance that simply continues the character in the same vein. In the earliest episodes of the seasons, though, Graham gives decent performances as Lorelai experiences separation anxiety from Rory. This gives Graham a chance to play a deeper sadness than she has brought to the character before now and Graham works it beautifully.

Alexis Bledel, however, rises to the occasion of having a much more meaty role. Gone is the doe-eyed performance of Rory as a scared little girl. In the course of this season, Bledel takes over the main storyline and she interacts with a whole new bevy of guest stars and she makes the role work. She infuses more and more confidence into the character of Rory and that works for her.

On DVD, Gilmore Girls is a bit light on extras. This season, there are no commentary tracks and only two deleted scenes. There is a text commentary - of sorts - on one of the episodes, but it's not the most insightful outing. There is also a trivia game, which is fun, on disc six and there is a montage of characters in relationships which is pretty worthless to anyone who is already a true fan of the series.

That said, this is a wonderful DVD set for anyone who loves family dramas. It's also a great set for those who hate the typical family dramas and want something better. That is why it's easy to recommend, even if it is not perfect.

For a far better set, check out Gilmore Girls: The Complete Series, reviewed here!

For other notable fourth seasons, be sure to check out my reviews of:
Frasier Season Four
Star Trek: The Next Generation Season Four
Heroes Season Four


For other television reviews, please be sure to visit my index page on the subject by clicking here!

© 2011, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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