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Gilmore Girls: A Year In The Life (re)starts with a warm “Winter” welcome

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Welcome to our “Binge Watch” coverage of Gilmore Girls: A Year In The Life, where Myles McNutt will be covering the entirety of the Netflix revival over the course of Friday, November 25. Starting on Monday, Gwen Ihnat will be offering some more in-depth reviews of each episode—posting every other day—for those operating at a more moderate pace.

Near the end of “Winter,” Gypsy spots Lorelai in Stars Hollow’s town square, and informs her that her car is finally fixed. Lorelai is still driving her trusty Jeep (which already broke down and had its engine replaced in season seven), despite Gypsy’s insistence she should buy a new car, and so the trusted mechanic encourages Lorelai to hurry—the car is still idling, as Gypsy is afraid it won’t start again.


I had the same fear for Gilmore Girls. Nearly a decade has passed since Gilmore Girls was last on the air, and the show’s final season reinforced that its particular brand of melodramatic patter carries a high degree of difficulty. While I am on the record as defending the end of season seven, and was ultimately satisfied with the back-half of the season upon revisiting it over the summer ahead of spending time with the Gilmore Guys, there is no doubt that it highlighted the challenge of restarting this engine after a catastrophic event, which is the only way to really describe Amy Sherman-Palladino’s exit from the series at the end of season six. Early episodes showed how challenging it was for someone else to get behind the wheel, and at first blush Amy’s return for the revival is a signal of hope. However, restarting an engine after nine years rusting away in a garage represents its own challenge regardless of who is driving, and I entered A Year In The Life nervous that it would all feel wrong.


“Winter” largely puts those fears to rest, although it takes a while for the engine to warm up (I swear I’m dropping the car metaphor now, I promise). The opening act of the episode struggles because it has to act like the engine has been idling for all these years (okay, I lied, the car metaphor is still here). We know that nine years has passed, and the show even acknowledges it with a meta-moment when Rory and Lorelai finish bantering for the first time, but we don’t reunite with the girls Gilmore after some sort of significant separation. Life has just been going on as normal for these characters, for the most part, and so the opening of the episode is trapped in neutral (seriously, I keep trying to drop this metaphor, I don’t know what’s wrong with me)—it needs to make it seem like everything is normal, but it also has to clarify relationships, and it struggles to mix the two modes, like when Rory runs into Lane at Doose’s and they exchange inane pleasantries. Some of the early moments feel awkward like this, more for our benefit than for the characters themselves.

There’s always been a “performative” element to Gilmore Girls—lines come faster than humans would actually speak, the wordplay designed more to be listened to by the audience than by the people it’s allegedly being spoken to, and so it takes a while—even after having rewatched the entire series over the past couple of years— to get a feel for the clutch (I’ll stop now). It’s impossible to know what order the episodes were shot in, but it creates the illusion that the actors also needed time to sink back into these roles, although some of that has to do with not entirely knowing how the characters came to this point. Lorelai seems overly cruel to celebrity chef Roy Choi before we get a better sense of her complicated feelings about Sookie’s extended sabbatical, and Rory—and literally everyone else, to be fair—is a straight-up asshole to new boyfriend Paul for reasons that aren’t really clear until we learn about her “What stays in Vegas” arrangement with a certain ex-boyfriend. While we might know the basic essence of these characters, what’s happened to them and what’s going on in their lives is necessary context, and parts of the episode feel a bit like driving a car without power steering (I am so sorry, I don’t even like this one).

“Winter” hits its stride, though, when it abandons the narrative it starts with. It makes sense why they’d start with banter via a New Year’s return to Stars Hollow for a newly homeless Rory. It gives them the space to tell some jokes, getting back into rhythm (yes, I almost wrote gear) and able to offer some relevant exposition in the process. Rory wrote a piece for The New Yorker! She spends time in London! Taylor is still Taylor! Kirk is still Kirk! Luke and Lorelai are still together! But “Winter” doesn’t truly embrace what made Gilmore Girls tick until it flashes back four months earlier to Richard’s funeral, tapping into the emotional weight of his passing for both Emily and Lorelai. While mentioned previously, seeing Richard’s funeral is a punch in the gut (I cried), and what follows is even tougher to watch as Lorelai’s childhood distance from her father emerges and brings with it all of her tension with her mother since she first left home at sixteen. Their “full circle” fight successfully activates the show’s emotional core, showcasing their respective forms of grieving and anchoring their arcs to follow: while Emily searches for what her life means without her partner of fifty years, Lorelai wonders whether her mother is right about her relationship with Luke, and whether she’s as selfish as Emily suggests.


From that point, the show feels anchored. New storylines start to feel linked to the past we never saw—it’s a cheat that Lorelai and Luke just happened to never have a definitive conversation about having children in that nine-year span, but that cheat feels rooted in Emily’s words and in Lorelai’s own soul-searching following Richard’s death. It also creates an opportunity to branch off and bring in new characters, with Liza Weil demonstrating that she has not lost a step as Paris Gellar, fertility specialist to the stars. The back half of “Winter” starts to feel more like an episode of Gilmore Girls than “the much-anticipated return of Gilmore Girls,” and the show feels better when it’s not towing that particular (probably stolen) boat behind it.


The 90-minute format suits “Winter” better than I feel it might suit the episodes that follow—it gives them space to work out the necessary information, and then Amy is able to settle in and start parceling things out more purposefully. Logan’s reveal is an effective bit of narrative trickery, as we’re lulled into a presumption of Rory talking to someone on speaker before eventually revealing their arrangement. Rory’s story is the biggest issue with “Winter,” as it’s disconnected from Stars Hollow and requires a lot of presumptions about Rory’s skill as a journalist that the show and Alexis Bledel aren’t even really bothering to sell us on, but its unmoored nature fits her character’s journey, and lets the show reverse into the post-graduation ennui that occurred during the show’s absence. There’s a story to be told here, but it doesn’t have the same emotional depth to it, and we somewhat awkwardly leave the episode without even checking in on Rory’s side of things, focusing exclusively on Lorelai and Emily’s therapy session to come.

As with all Netflix releases, it’s possible—and in this case likely, especially if you’re reading this—that the absence of Rory’s story near the end of “Winter” won’t matter, as we’ll have moved onto the next episode immediately. The central task of this episode is creating a sense of forward momentum, and it achieves that goal—I felt welcomed back to Stars Hollow, and reinvested in these characters’ lives as they exist in 2016. However, unlike the episodes that follow, “Winter” has to significantly acknowledge the past, and provide both clarity and catharsis about what has happened in the show’s absence. And while all of this is generative for the future—like Luke and Lorelai not being married—the episode’s weight is reinforced in its credits: as “For Edward Hermann” appears,” and as I put Tom Waits’ “Time” on repeat, I’m reminded of the emotional depth of these characters and their world, and how glad I am that we’re returning to it unexpectedly all these years later.


Stray observations

  • Interesting choice to open on the voices from the show’s past—I didn’t hate the effect, and it’s a fitting beginning, but I missed Carole King, and hope we don’t go the entire series without a proper sing-along opportunity.
  • I almost wrote a whole draft where I used the sewer system as a metaphor instead, so be glad I chose the car. (I didn’t even realize I’d written that “reverse” one until editing, I swear.)
  • The show is very casual about how it reveals certain details from the past, no more so than in making Michel’s homosexuality canon. It happens in the blink of an eye, albeit in a substantial enough story—activating Lorelai’s baby anxiety—that we come back to it a few times. It’s refreshing, if fifteen years late.
  • However, the casualness with which the show reveals that Paris and Doyle have separated is less successful, because I refuse to accept it. There’s another meta-element here—Danny Strong, who played Doyle, also became a screenwriter—but if those two aren’t reconciled by the end of the revival I am going to be very, very angry.
  • Liza Weil is so great throughout the episode, but I especially loved her face during the Hep Alien performance. What a treasure.
  • We’re going to see a parade of cameos—I know because the internet kept telling me every time someone was confirmed to be coming back—but the biggest here is Digger, who is (logically) at Richard’s funeral and shares a nice moment with Lorelai. These cameos could get old as the revival continues, but there’s a nice “Hey, shouldn’t Digger be here? Oh, there he is” to it.
  • Real talk: It feels weird to see people I know from other things in this world that seems so familiar. Alex Kingston, why are you here?
  • Related: I honestly wasn’t sure if Ray Wise was on the show before and I just forgot, but he wasn’t, so I wonder if we’ll see him again. I’d ship Emily and Ray Wise.
  • Luke refusing to give out his Wifi password is a nice runner.
  • You may be familiar with my “Empty Cup Awards” project, so let’s just say that no one involved with this production has been paying attention—I broke down the opening scene based on the trailer, but it’s not better in full.
  • Welcome, again, to our “Binge Watch” coverage of Gilmore Girls: A Year In The Life. This is part of a much larger coverage slate for the revival: Erik Adams has already written an advance review, the staff has a “road map to Stars Hollow” up to refresh your memory of the series itself, Gwen Ihnat talked to the cast over the summer, and starting on Monday Gwen will be offering some more reflective reviews of each episode—posting every other day—for those operating at a slower pace. For these reviews, though, you’re getting my immediate reactions, captured after watching each episode, posting every two hours until tonight at 7/6c. They might not always cover all elements of an episode in depth, but that’s to leave space for us to discuss further in the comments, so I hope that these will prove an enjoyable companion to your Thanksgiving weekend binge-viewing experience.

On the topic of comments…

As anyone who followed my Orange is The New Black reviews knows, I have strong feelings about the importance of protecting against spoilers in Netflix comment sections—the review is written without knowledge of future episodes, and creates a spoiler-free space for those who are at the same point in the narrative.


Obviously, this “binge watch” structure is a bit different, as there will be only a two-hour gap between reviews. Accordingly, how I’d imagine these comment sections working is for them to serve as a space for you to work out some of your reactions to each episode—if there’s a comment you have, or a response to something that I’ve written, or just a line from the episode you want to share, this comment section is designed for that. I’ll be monitoring these comment spaces, and certainly hope that as others come to reviews over the course of the weekend, they might add to the “in the moment” discussion with their own observations.

However, that creates its own challenge, as there’s a temptation to come back to these reviews and “correct” people’s presumptions, or hint at things, or just plain ol’ be a jerk and spoil what’s going to happen. So as I’ll note in the pinned comments, just resist—the review for “Fall” will be up later today, where we can have a freewheeling, no holds barred, conversation.