Gilmore Girls review: A glorious return to Stars Hollow combines nostalgia and drama

The much-anticipated Netflix revival Gilmore Girls: A Year In The Life does not disappoint

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The familiar “La-La-La”s kick in as the camera pans over a snowy Stars Hollow, sending me to my happy place. We’re back! Nine years have gone by but it’s almost like no time at all has passed. There’s Lorelai, clutching a coffee cup, sitting in the gazebo! And there’s Rory, sitting down next to her with a smile!

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It’s time to order pizza and Chinese food from Al’s Pancake World and grab vast quantities of junk food from Doose’s Market because the Gilmore Girls experience is almost ready to begin. 

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The Gilmore Girls themselves take a few minutes to get back into their groove. Fresh off the plane from London, Rory (Alexis Bledel) tries to deliver a classic pop-culture-reference-filled run-on sentence – but it leaves her winded and gasping for breath.

“Haven’t done that in a while,” says Lorelai (Lauren Graham).

Rory fires back: “Felt good.”

And it does feel good. In fact, it feels great to be back. In a time when the outside world seems bleak and divided and uncertain, sitting down in front of Netflix’s Gilmore Girls: A Year In The Life is like taking a warm bath or eating your grandma’s chicken soup.

Quick-fire dialogue? Check. Arguments at Friday Night Dinner? Check. Luke grumbling about Lorelai’s diet while wearing a flannel shirt and backwards baseball cap? Check and double-check. It is a relief to see that the central feel of Gilmore Girls has been preserved with love.

The stars of Gilmore Girls may have gained a few wrinkles or adopted new haircuts – or, in the case of Liz Torres’ Miss Patty, dropped spectacular amounts of weight – but they’re all where we left them, captured in the snow globe that is Stars Hollow. An affectionate welcome back to officious town selectman Taylor Doose (Michael Winters), oddball odd-job man Kirk (Sean Gunn), Rory’s best friend Lane (Keiko Agena), ball of fury and wit Paris (Liza Weil) and sarcastic concierge Michel (Yanic Truesdale). And then there’s all Rory’s exes – Logan, Dean, Jess. It’s like seeing old friends.

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Oh, and Kirk now owns a pet pig and runs a Taxi service called oo-ber. Just don’t mention Über.

But the Gilmore Girls revival is more than just nostalgia and “fan service”: behind its idyllic facade is love and loss and old wounds that just won’t heal, which is what stops any of the above from suffocating the show with twee and cloying charm.

Lorelai’s relationship with her mother Emily Gilmore (Kelly Bishop) is still fraught by the pain of their shared history and mutual feelings of rejection and resentment. And the unconventional mother-daughter friendship between Lorelai and Rory doesn’t get any less interesting now Rory is the same age her mother was when the series started: 32 (doesn’t time fly?).

I wrote earlier that everything feels the same in the world of the Gilmore Girls, but there is one glaring exception: there is no Richard Gilmore making the drinks at Friday Night Dinner and proudly showing off his clever granddaughter.

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Edward Herrmann, who played Rory’s grandfather, Lorelai’s father and Emily’s husband, sadly died on New Year’s Eve in 2014 of brain cancer. His absence from the revival leaves a gaping hole in the Gilmore family.

But rather than work around his death, showrunner Amy Sherman-Palladino has instead made it a focal point for the revival, choosing not to shy away from grief or make any tributes saccharine. (A case in point: Emily has a new portrait of Richard on her wall, but Lorelai counters any sentimentality by pointing out that it is way too big.) Richard’s death leaves these four 90-minute episodes packed with more raw emotion than ever before.

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Emily (played so adeptly by Kelly Bishop) is alone after 50 years of marriage, working out how to live as a widow when (in her words) half of her is gone. It is deeply painful to watch her struggle, but grief does not dull her ability to cut Lorelai to the core with vicious words. And Lorelai must process the love she had for her father despite their clashes, as well as negotiating her relationship with her mother.  

The excitement and the hype for the Gilmore Girls revival may thrive on nostalgia, but A Year In The Life does more than serve up another helping of the same thing. There are novel ideas here. We see our beloved characters go to new places, aided by the expanse of 90-minute episodes with no advert breaks.

Rory is trying to project an image of herself as a happy freelance journalist enjoying her life on the road – but those of us who know Rory can immediately guess the emotional pain of the setbacks that have left her homeless and jobless despite her stellar credentials.

Our sympathy for her is tempered by how royally she is messing people around, but it was a brave decision for Sherman-Palladino to allow to her to fail and show her flaws. 

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Lorelai is seemingly settled with her 14-year-old dog Paul Anka and a long-term partner, but like her daughter she finds herself at a crossroads: is she happy with what she has, running her beloved Dragonfly Inn and living with Luke?

That makes it sound very serious, but the Gilmore Girls are still funny (Lorelai: “She’s Jack Kerouac, she’s On The Roading it, pass the peyote.” Emily: “And after you pass the peyote, what bathroom will you use to throw up in?”). It’s complex female relationships served up with humour and wit, and the performances from Bishop and Graham are razor-sharp. The other stand-out performance comes from Weil, who makes a hostile character (Paris) into one of the best characters in the series with her surprisingly relatable rant in the bathroom at Chilton.  

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One striking thing about the revival is the presence of modern technology, but also how little it is allowed to intrude. The first shot of Stars Hollow features a couple taking a selfie in front of the gazebo, but while smartphones now technically exist in the world of the Gilmore Girls, they don’t get reception – a great ruse that means Rory still has her trusty flip phone. And Lorelai can’t stand Twitter: “I don’t need some cool guy running around tweeting and making me feel uncool at my own inn.” 

Technology has changed the way Americans live so massively in the last decade that you can no longer pretend it doesn’t exist, but you can tell how much Sherman-Palladino wishes she could. “There’s a sort of glow and a nostalgia for a simpler time,” Graham has explained. “Amy always says she’s incapable of accepting modern technology into her works, so it’s about connection and people speaking to one another.” (Or in the case of Lorelai and Emily, frequently not speaking to each other.)

The Gilmore Girls creator seems more enthusiastic about embracing modern pop culture references. Gwyneth Paltrow’s goop, the Kardashians, Zoolander 2… It comes across as a little self-consciously voguish, but time will reveal how these references date.  

Season seven floundered without Sherman-Palladino, who left after a dispute with the network alongside her producer husband Daniel Palladino. With the revival there is a sense that wrongs are being righted and the Gilmore Girls have been guided back to where they were always supposed to be. Netflix’s strict embargo means we must remain tight-lipped about the most exciting storylines and plot details, but we can reassure you of one thing: It certainly “felt good” to see the Gilmore Girls again.

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Gilmore Girls: A Year In The Life will be released on Netflix on 25th November