Friday, November 25, 2016

Descent Out Of Charm: Gilmore Girls: A Year In The Life Peaks Early!

The Good: First two episodes, Most of the acting
The Bad: Second pair of episodes, Character and plot direction
The Basics: Gilmore Girls: A Year In The Life starts with an intriguing reuinion of beloved characters who are all experiencing some sense of loss . . . before the show treads in the most familiar and unpleasant directions that Gilmore Girls went in.

When Netflix started producing Netflix Original Television programs, it was interesting to watch how quickly they moved from producing new content from previously-cancelled shows - like Arrested Development - to creating original content, like House Of Cards and Hemlock Grove. What seemed intriguing was how long it took the "network" to go back to buying up shuttered projects to revive them with new seasons. The latest revival is Gilmore Girls: A Year In The Life, a four-episode season that returns the viewer to the world of Gilmore Girls (reviewed here!). Picking up ten years after Gilmore Girls is an interesting concept, though it is hard to see the inherent need (the final season of Gilmore Girls did a very good job of closing the book on the portion of Lorelai and Rory's lives that the show chronicled) and requires a lot of faith that the writers would do a condensed season justice.

The concept of Gilmore Girls: A Year In The Life is a solid one: there are four ninety-minute episodes, each one presenting a season of a year in the life of the three main Gilmore women - Rory, Lorelai and Emily. Gilmore Girls: A Year In The Life is a tough execution of the concept and it is strange that executive producers and writers Amy Sherman-Palladino and Daniel Palladino skew toward where Gilmore Girls went before instead of treading into something truly new. After an initial high level of charm as Rory and Lorelai come back into each other's lives in more meaningful ways, there is torsion in their relationship and both protagonists find themselves aimless. But fans of Gilmore Girls have seen that before; when Rory had an affair with Dean while he was married and lost Lorelai's respect . . . and Rory ran away to Richard and Emily's.

It wasn't until the end of "Summer" that I came to recognize that I had some expectations for Gilmore Girls: A Year In The Life and that those expectations were not being met. Gilmore Girls: A Year In The Life could have been the story of an adult child floundering in a world beyond her control and her turning to her floundering mother and the two lifting each other out of their depressions and fears. But long before "Summer" ends, it is painfully clear that Rory has become unlikable in addition to aimless (her disdain for the Thirtysomething Crowd seems arrogant and her cheating on Paul with Logan creates a forced level of moral ambiguity that feels entirely cheap) and Lorelai has become so painfully emotionally distant that when the musical number in "Summer" comes up, it shines a light on just how broken Lorelai has been.

But the real wrench in Gilmore Girls: A Year In The Life is how the characters - who have been characterized by communications - are simply not communicating. Fans of Gilmore Girls who might be thrilled to seek Lorelai and Luke living together soon realize that there is no passion in their relationship; fans of the mother/daughter story of Lorelai and Rory quickly see that the two aren't actually having conversations (which is a real bummer because Gilmore Girls: A Year In The Life opens with a classic patter between the two). So, instead of growth and development, Gilmore Girls: A Year In The Life quickly forces conflict between Lorelai and Emily and Lorelai and Rory.

Opening in winter when Rory returns to Stars Hollow after leaving her apartment in New York, after getting a piece published in The New Yorker, Rory and Lorelai are reunited. Rory is trying to remember to break up with her utterly forgettable boyfriend, Paul, while jetting around trying to sell her next piece and crashing at various friends' homes. Lorelai is struggling with trying to find a new chef for the Dragonfly Inn and with her estrangement from her mother, following an incident at her father's funeral. Rory's return forces Lorelai and Emily back together and an offhanded remark from Emily causes Lorelai to explore having children with Luke. After a somewhat disastrous visit to Paris Geller's surrogacy business (while Rory is off in London meeting with Naomi, the subject of the book she wants to write, and hooking up with Logan), Lorelai and Luke reach the conclusion that they will not be having a child together.

In Spring, Lorelai goes to therapy with Emily, which is completely unpleasant for both of them. While Rory tries to get good material out of Naomi in London, Stars Hollow struggles with b-list actors who are working on a film in Woodbury occupying the Dragonfly Inn. When Conde Nast continues to put off their meeting with Rory, she turns to Logan Huntsberger's father for help. Emily has a private meeting with Luke where she reveals that Richard left money for Luke to franchise his diner . . . and then she takes him out to look at properties. Rory's life comes unhinged after an alumni event at Chilton when her writing options are winnowed away and she tries to write an article for GQ, but ends up having her first ever one night stand with a cosplay Wookie!

Rory moves back to Stars Hollow (despite her protestations) in summer. April visits Lorelai and Luke's and soon after, Jesse visits the town. To try to bring revenue to Stars Hollow, Taylor commissions a play: Stars Hollow: The Musical and Lorelai soon cuts out of the therapy she had continued after her mother bailed when her therapist auditions for a role. Emily becomes listless and obsessed with getting Richard's headstone right, after Rory encourages her to go back into the world. Stars Hollow's secret bar becomes the setting by which Michel tenders his resignation to Lorelai and when Rory pitches writing a book about their lives together, Lorelai rejects the idea soundly and decides to go on a walkabout.

Fall finds Lorelai going on a Wild-style walkabout in the Pacific Crest Trail. Jess returns to Stars Hollow to help his mother and T.J. and Luke. While Lorelai struggles with her walkabout, Rory is reunited with the Life And Death Brigade for a wild night. After Logan offers her a place to write, she rejects the offer and returns to her job renewed. When she cannot find her permit, Lorelai goes for a very short walk and it leads her to call her mother to tell her the story of her best memory of her father. When Lorelai returns home, Luke stands up for himself and their relationship. And Lorelai finally makes a leap with Luke that shows him how she feels.

As one might expect, the return of the beloved characters from Gilmore Girls are a key aspect of Gilmore Girls: A Year In The Life. For those who are unfamiliar with them, the key characters in Gilmore Girls: A Year In The Life are:

Lorelai Gilmore - Rory's mother and the owner of the Dragonfly Inn, she is struggling to make her relationship with Luke Danes work when she comes to realize that years prior he hinted he might want a child with her. She drinks a lot of coffee and is psyched to have Rory in her life more frequently again, even as she searches for a replacement chef for Sooki. She attends therapy with Emily, but when her mother abandons her grief counseling, she continues on her own. She tries to guide Rory, but is unsettled when Rory returns home. Goaded by Emily, she starts to see the dysfunction in her relationship with Luke and she decides to go to nature rather than actually deal with Luke and Rory.

Rory Gilmore - Having written a piece for The New Yorker that makes everyone in Stars Hollow proud, she is struggling to find her next piece that will sell. While finding that she is in a two year relationship with Paul, she meets with the eccentric Naomi Shropshire in London and pitches a book deal with her. She has boxes of her possessions shipped all over so she can crash with anyone of her friends and family. She finds Naomi is too drunk to be coherent and when the website that has been wooing her changes their mind after interviewing her, she moves back in with Lorelai! She takes over the Stars Hollow Gazette when the old managing editor abruptly retires. After taking a few stabs at doing things her way, she returns the newspaper to its traditional narrative. She is encouraged by Jess to write a book about her life with her mother and when her mother rejects the idea, she turns to Logan for support . . . only to discover that his arranged relationship plans with a French society woman are finally being executed.

Sookie - Having gone on sabbatical from the Dragonfly Inn, her absence forces Lorelai to try to hire someone new to cook. She pops up, though, to help Lorelai at a key moment in her friend's life.

Lane Kim - She is still married, with her two children and she is still in her band. She has not seen Rory for quite some time before Rory returns to Stars Hollow and has some boxes shipped to her place. At the Spring food event in Stars Hollow, she runs the Korean food table. She starts supporting Rory when Rory returns to town full-time, including trying to help her kick her Logan habit. She and Zack play music at the Silent Bar in Stars Hollow.

Paris - Now the owner and manager of Dynasty Makers surrogacy service, she is estranged from Doyle. She is as aggressive as ever, but is highly successful (namedropping to Lorelai and Luke that her service was recently used by Neil Patrick Harris!). She turns to Rory for help when they go back to Chilton for an alumni event (she terrifies the students she speaks to!) and she is psyched when Rory is willing to look after her kids occasionally.

Kirk - Still flitting from project to project, he starts as the owner of Ooo-ber, a car service, before he starts a grog cart business. He helps Taylor run the Spring International food celebration in Stars Hollow. He releases his second film, finally, and he is shocked (as a pig owner) to realize that his love of BLTs makes him a purveyor of pig genocide.

Michel - Married for five years to Frederick, he still works for Lorelai at the Dragonfly Inn. He is anxious about Frederick suddenly wanting children and about Lorelai firing every great chef who comes to work at the Dragonfly Inn. He becomes restless when the b-list actors stay at the Dragonfly, which makes Lorelai convinced he will abandon her, just as Sooki did. After visiting New York City and one of the prestigious hotels there, he tenders his resignation as he knows Lorelai cannot afford to pay him what he is worth. He starts to act kindly toward children visiting the Dragonfly Inn to prepare for possibly having a kid of his own.

Emily Gilmore - Lorelai's mother, widowed by Richard four months ago, she has been estranged from Lorelai because of things Lorelai said at Richard's funeral. She mistakenly gets a portrait of her dead husband made in a massive size and tries to declutter her mansion because things there do not bring her joy. She takes Lorelai's advice and gets into therapy. After a few unproductive sessions with Lorelai in therapy, she turns her attention to franchising Luke's diner . . . even though he has no desire to franchise. She retreats from the world, but is encouraged by Rory to re-engage. Getting active in the D.A.R. and at the club again brings her a renewed sense of vitality. She begins to see one of Richard's old friends socially. She stands up to the artifice of her old life rather abruptly.

and Luke Danes - Living with Lorelai and giving out false wi-fi passwords at his diner to patrons there, he is now ambivalent to the idea of having a child with Lorelai. He is still annoyed by Taylor (who is obsessed with a Stars Hollow sewer project) and put off by Rory's unmemorable boyfriend, Paul. He lives with Lorelai and is shocked when Emily tries to execute Richard's wish to have his diner franchised. He has been going along with Lorelai's arrangement for the two of them and he is shocked when Lorelai decides to go on a walkabout.

Fans of Gilmore Girls are likely to love the cameos, both integral (Sebastian Bach!) and obscure - the appearance of Jason at Richard's funeral is an excellent touch that makes perfect sense for the continuity, even if he was a largely forgettable relationship in Lorelai's parade of men. The Town Troubadour is back and characters like April, Doyle, and even Francie make brief appearances. There are some fun cameos for those who love the actors on Gilmore Girls - like Mae Whitman, Lauren Graham's on-screen daughter on Parenthood, who shows up just long enough to be recognized. And when Jason Ritter and Peter Krause show up, it is hard not to smirk.

Gilmore Girls: A Year In The Life misses the opportunity to tell a fresh story, though, as the characters move toward a predictable sense of conflict. Gilmore Girls was often at its best when it was the Gilmore women against the world - woman vs. society stories. In fact, the essential conflict that opened Gilmore Girls was one woman struggling against a sense of poverty that pushed her to fight for something better for her daughter. Gilmore Girls: A Year In The Life has everyone unhappy and there is nothing entertaining about that. Lorelai has been in a relationship with Luke for nine years . . . but they don't talk, they don't connect, they just live together. Rory is cheating on one man with a man who is engaged to be married . . . there's nothing interesting or compelling about her lack of integrity or character in not cutting Paul loose and maintaining an emotional dependence upon Logan. And Emily's journey through her grief in Gilmore Girls: A Year In The Life is woefully underplayed (in favor of a strange series of jokes involving her new housekeeper who does not speak a recognizable language) and is not used to truly advance the character or the relationship Emily has with her daughter or grand daughter.

On the acting front, Gilmore Girls: A Year In The Life provides some wonderful actors with familiar parts to play and more than giving viewers something new to thrill to, it simply reminds the viewers what they loved about the performers before. Lauren Graham has a good cry in "Summer" that allows her to illustrate emotional range without any lines and when Scott Patterson's Luke finally stands up for himself, it is a welcome thing. But Alexis Bledel is overshadowed by Liza Weil in every scene they share and Bledel playing Rory as listless quickly wears thin. Bledel never acts loving in Gilmore Girls: A Year In The Life and given that the core relationship of Gilmore Girls is the bond shared by a mother and daughter, Bledel and Graham lacking chemistry is somewhat devastating in Gilmore Girls: A Year In The Life.

The fact that one of the biggest emotional scenes of Gilmore Girls: A Year In The Life allows Milo Ventimiglia and Scott Patterson to illustrate a depth and development of their characters' relationship says something. Jess and Luke grew into a relationship where they can be emotionally honest with one another, while Lorelai simply goes where Wild (book and movie) went before. Kelly Bishop is consistent as Emily, though she is unfortunately underused for her range and abilities.

Gilmore Girls: A Year In The Life is not bad, but it belabors the references to Gilmore Girls - the return of the Life And Death Brigade is particularly droll and seems like time that could have been better spent doing something with Rory and Lane to actually develop their adult relationship - while highlighting a number of the worst character aspects of the beloved characters and neglecting the aspects that made Gilmore Girls fresh. The dialogue in Gilmore Girls: A Year In The Life is nowhere near as fast, the references are far more sparse and the relationships are more strained than they are emotionally deep or connected. Gilmore Girls: A Year In The Life is not bad, but it peaks early and becomes dramatically less charming as it progresses.

For other Netflix exclusive television shows, please check out my reviews of:
Luke Cage - Season 1
House Of Cards - Season 3
Orange Is The New Black - Season 4
Daredevil - Season 2
Jessica Jones - Season 1
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt - Season 2
Grace And Frankie - Season 2
Sense8 - Season 1
Arrested Development - Season 4
Stranger Things - Season 1


For other television series and episode reviews, please visit my Television And Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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