‘A Year in the Life’ puts beautiful bow on ‘Gilmore Girls’ saga (TV review)

Amy Sherman-Palladino and Daniel Palladino warmly invite fans back into Lorelai and Rory’s world in “Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life,” four 90-minute episodes that hit Netflix last week. I had always been satisfied with the seven seasons of “Gilmore Girls” (the cancellation of “Bunheads” after one season left a much bigger void), but by the end of these six hours, I realized that this bow was indeed needed to tie up the saga in a more perfect way.

This is the “true” ending that displaces Season 7, which was OK but wasn’t guided by the Palladinos. For instance, Amy had always known the “last four words” of the story. But the nine-year gap since we last saw these characters seems designed by fate, too. Rory is now 32, the same age as Lorelai in the pilot episode. And Richard’s recent passing makes for a perfect re-entry point; although Edward Hermann’s death in 2014 was of course not the impetus for these episodes, the continuation of the story honors him. The loss of this patriarch – “a lion of a man,” as Jason says at the funeral – is a threshold moment in the lives of all three Gilmore girls – Emily (Kelly Bishop), Lorelai (Lauren Graham) and Rory (Alexis Bledel).

“A Year in the Life” – split into one episode for each season of the calendar – welcomes back the fan base with open arms. There’s no caginess about the past nine years that twists the knife over what we missed (such as when the “X-Files” miniseries opened with Mulder and Scully split up). Unavoidably, we have to catch up on minor details, but Amy and Dan find a good balance between the notions that 1) everyone is still living their lives, and 2) there are good reasons why we’re checking in on them at this point.

In short, fans will adore and savor “A Year in the Life.” Now on to the details, which will be SPOILERS if you haven’t watched it yet.

As a rare fan who was more invested in Rory than Lorelai (which isn’t to say that Graham hasn’t always carried the show, because she has), I found “A Year in the Life” to be a fascinating comparison of Rory at this stage in her life with Lorelai when the series began.

“A Year in the Life” is more on-point about Rory’s journalism career than at any time during the regular series, where the writers sometimes flat-out forgot that she had a newspaper job (Remember Stamford? Neither did the Palladinos.). In the nine-year gap, Rory had been freelancing and living in a crappy apartment in New York. Of course, she could’ve got a journalism job at any time, but she is intent on becoming a rare industry superstar.

The Palladinos nicely illustrate the exhausting life of a freelancer. “Winter,” the first episode, tells us that Rory has recently had a piece published in the New Yorker. After a few horrifying interviews with a snobbish socialite for a biography that doesn’t get off the ground (the worst part of the miniseries, although perhaps necessary), Rory is falling asleep while interviewing people for a GQ spec piece in “Spring.” After being headhunted for months (a concession to fantasy), Rory eventually decides to take a steady paying gig at the webmag Sandee Says, only to be shockingly rejected.

The portrayal of Rory running the Stars Hollow Gazette – with Charlie, who’s always falling asleep, and Ellen, who’s always filing the same drawer – is on point, as is the fact that Rory’s salary is zero. Notably, though, Ellen and Charlie are whimsical punchlines, to a point slightly beyond the “Gilmore Girls” norm.

This stylization is apparent throughout “A Year in the Life,” usually not in a bad way. However, the start of the final episode, “Fall,” is insane. When Logan (Matt Czuchry) and his Life and Death Brigade buddies take Rory on a wild romp of golfing on Stars Hollow rooftops and staying at New England hotels that Finn buys on a whim, it HAS to be a dream sequence. But, somehow, it’s not.

Obviously, Amy never got “Bunheads” out of her system. I don’t blame her at all – I’m in the same boat – but I have mixed feelings about how much “AYITL” made me want Netflix to show the same love to “Bunheads.” A good chunk of “Summer” – taking advantage of this long-form format – is a musical about the history of Stars Hollow in the style of “Hamilton” and starring Sutton Foster. “Fall’s” dream-sequence-that-isn’t-a-dream-sequence has a tango number, and there are literally ballet dancers at Luke and Lorelai’s wedding for no logical reason. On some level, I love all of it; on another, I know it doesn’t match with “Gilmore Girls’ ” conception.

In addition to Foster, two of the Bunheads pop up. Julia Goldani Telles is the SandeeSays editor, thus allowing for a scene with her lookalike Bledel. (If “GG” was cast a decade later, I have no doubt Lorelai and Rory would’ve been played by Foster and Goldani Telles.) Bailey De Young is one of Stars Hollow’s 30-Something Gang, who move back in with their parents, having been dealt blows by the harsh economy.

Stacey Oristano also appears, and there are a bevy of cameos from “Parenthood,” on which Graham played another single mom, Sarah Braverman, during that nine-year “GG” gap. None of them distracted me, though. I had become accustomed to the troupe nature of the Palladinos’ work from “Bunheads,” which used numerous “GG” veterans. Adding to the troupe feel is that Gypsy actress Rose Abdoo also delightfully plays Emily’s new maid, Berta, who speaks a language that isn’t quite Spanish and has to be translated as subtitles.

While “GG” had pushed the whimsy more and more as it went on, the existence of Rory’s boyfriend Paul (Jack Carpenter) is almost too sitcom-y. As a running joke in “Winter,” Rory literally forgets he exists. This paints Rory as a much more awful person than when we first met her. But that’s always been the thing about “GG”: As long as they eventually cop to their bad behavior, we forgive Rory and Lorelai for their self-centeredness.

Of course, Rory-and-Paul are not what viewers returned for. Among the Big Three past boyfriends, Logan gets way more screentime than Jess and Dean, which might be because Milo Ventimiglia was busy with “This Is Us” and Jared Padalecki with “Supernatural.” But it also reminds us that the Palladinos’ interest in Logan has always exceeded that of viewers. And, indeed, Logan is way too perfect in “AYITL,” always producing exactly what Rory needs – even the key to a frickin’ house in Maine for Rory to write her book in.

Still, I do appreciate the palpable sadness of this relationship, where they both agree that “When we’re together, we’re together; when we’re not, we’re not.” Logan/Rory is unquestionably a repeat of Christopher/Lorelai.

So who is Rory’s answer to Luke? It’s obviously Jess, but “AYITL” presents this argument in sketchy fashion. Rory has a sweet full-circle run-in with Dean in Doose’s, so we can feel good that that’s out of the way. I’m actually Team Marty, but Rory’s sweet-but-dorky Yale classmate – who doesn’t appear in “AYITL” — is obviously equivalent to Paul in the Palladinos’ eyes.

But among the Big Three, I’m Team Jess. Now a reasonably successful author, Luke’s nephew obviously is most compatible with Rory, and that’s nicely illustrated here when he pitches Rory her winning book idea: the story of her life with her mom. Jess also gives Rory a longing look through the window after he claims to Luke that he and Rory are a thing of the past.

(One logistical oddity of “GG” is that if Lorelai and Luke are married, then Rory and Jess would be step-cousins. This is never brought up on the show, nor should it be, but I wonder if it plays in the back of the writers’ minds.)

While Rory-and-Jess are hardly a done deal, the much-anticipated “final four words” are now in the books: “Mom?” “Yeah?” “I’m pregnant.” Good on Amy for hyping these as four words; if it was two or three, more people would’ve guessed them. This exchange is both a perfect full-circle bow for the series and a theoretical jumping-off point for more episodes, perhaps about Rory and Jess raising the child Rory had with Logan. Some people might break into “Who is the father?” debates, but I don’t think that’s the point. I think those four words mark the end of the “Gilmore Girls” saga.

MORE HIGH AND LOW POINTS

  • Lorelai’s (well, Luke and Lorelai’s, but let’s face it – Lorelai’s) Christmas decorations are completely on point.
  • There is a Mr. Kim! In “Winter,” we briefly glimpse Lane’s kind-looking dad. He never appeared in the original seven seasons, although we knew he had to exist – so it led to rabid fan speculation about “Where is Mr. Kim?” It wasn’t a planned quirk like not seeing Wilson’s face on “Home Improvement”; it just kind of happened. So the Palladinos finally put the mystery to rest.
  • Michel (Yanic Truesdale) is gay and now has a husband. This solves another fan-favorite mystery. I liked the idea of him being an effeminate lady’s man, but whatever. The mystery of Taylor’s (Michael Winters) sexual orientation lingers, although it is addressed when a community member pointedly asks him if he can think of anyone else who’d like to march in the First Annual Stars Hollow Gay Pride Parade.
  • The most pitch-perfect sequence of the miniseries is the contrast between Rory’s and Paris’ (Liza Weil) speeches to students at Chilton. Needless to say, the latter class is horrified.
  • Dan, who wrote the middle two episodes, can’t compete with Amy’s musical numbers for over-the-top stylization, but he pushes the whimsy to a new level in “Spring”: Kirk reminds patrons at the Black, White and Read Movie Theater that outside food is not permitted. Cue a montage of Hep Alien eating takeout, Andrew pulling out a cake and Babette and Maury grilling.
  • “AYITL” adds unnecessary insider humor at a few points, like when Sophie (Carole King) pitches her “original” song, “I Feel the Earth Move.” Taylor rejects it as “not catchy.” Another example is when Lorelai suggests that Rory drop the “The” from the title of her book, making it simply “Gilmore Girls.”
  • The fact that Lorelai is fine with Rory sleeping with Logan (who is married to an off-screen wife) and a guy dressed as Wookiee is on point, since Rory is an adult. However, the fact that Lorelai genuinely doesn’t realize her daughter has been going to London to shack up with Logan is insane, as it’s the only way to explain how she could afford the plane tickets. It’s an example of “GG’s” occasional blindspots when it comes to finances.
  • The last major cast return is Sookie in “Fall.” Even though Melissa McCarthy has become the biggest star post-“GG,” she struck me as the most off-point in recapturing her character. Sookie’s voice is not pitched properly.
  • The word “bull****” is allowed on Netflix, and Emily takes advantage of this three times in “Fall” when quitting the DAR, much to my satisfaction.

What were your favorite and least favorite things about “A Year in the Life?” Share your thoughts below.

More “Gilmore Girls” reviews:

Season 1

Season 2

Season 3

Season 4

Season 5

Season 6

Season 7


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