Two years ago this fall, Netflix released Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life as a treat for loyal fans who had followed the show for over a decade. They brought back the show’s original creator, Amy Sherman-Palladino, who was clearly still bearing the wounds of her dramatic expulsion from Gilmore Girls’ final season. Expectations were high, and quite frankly, not met, with the series veering from pandering to fans by recreating hallmark scenes from early episodes to sometimes blatantly slapping them in the face with Palladino’s seemingly vengeful character reversals.
With its fast-paced, clever dialogue and its charming blend of offbeat humor and family drama, Gilmore Girls was bar none my favorite show as a teenager. Like many longtime fans, I eagerly awaited the release of the reboot, preparing a junk food feast Lorelai Gilmore would be proud of to mark the occasion. Sadly, I was so disappointed with – even angered by – what Palladino delivered that it has taken me nearly two years to return to the show and try to reevaluate.
In terms of what went wrong, to begin with, the off-colored jokes which quickly aged the original series were simply unacceptable in the reboot. I don’t recall Lorelai and Rory having a mean streak in the show’s first run, but two beautiful women sitting by the pool and shamelessly mocking the physiques of their neighbors can’t be described in any other way. Even more offensive was the racial insensitivity piped inside what otherwise is the remake’s standout storyline: after the death of her husband, family matriarch Emily Gilmore learns to relax her harsh snobbish ways and exacting standards with the help of her new housemaid Berta, a kind woman of nebulous Latina descent. Much of the humor in these scenes derives from Emily’s failure to understand Berta, who speaks a mix of Spanish, Portuguese, and gibberish. Herein lies a major missed opportunity, as Berta’s character could easily have been cast with a bilingual Latina actress speaking a regionally specific dialect of either language without missing a beat of the lost in translation humor. Giving her a more specific backstory could have allowed Berta to become a three-dimensional character, adding diversity to the predominantly white cast, and keeping with the tradition of the original show in depicting supportive female friendships. Instead, Palladino served up a mildly offensive caricature spoiling an otherwise heartwarming storyline.
Why does Emily stand out amongst the many interesting characters that populate the reboot? She is the only character, IN THE ENTIRE MINI SERIES, that makes progress or contains a major character arc. Are we as an audience really supposed to believe that Luke and Lorelai have never once considered their future together over the full ten years that have elapsed? This couple feels like it has been stuck in a time capsule with life completely on hold. Granted, Lorelai’s Wild reenactment storyline is entertaining and even poignant, but what does she really discover? That she wants to marry Luke (her common law husband) and that she didn’t actually hate her father. The problem here is that these two-character revelations already occurred in the original series…For an intelligent character, she sure seems to need to relearn a lot about herself.
By far, the most egregious crime against the integrity of the original series comes in the Rory/Logan storyline. Most fans didn’t buy the idea that overachiever Rory could become so disorganized and unambitious. I have no problem with a plotline surrounding Rory struggling to succeed in journalism, but I have every problem with her becoming a selfish, entitled brat who doesn’t learn from her past mistakes. The Rory of Palladino’s original conception, could never have been heartless enough to string along a boyfriend for two years, cheating on him repeatedly. She also knows better than to become the other woman (again) as she consistently aids Logan in cheating on his fiancé. Above all others, Logan’s regression truly illuminates Palladino’s persistent grudge. In Season 7 of the original series (which Palladino did not write), Logan undergoes a massive character arch, changing from the selfish playboy flailing under pressure from his powerful father to a thoughtful, mature, independent man off to seek his own path in life. Cut to the reboot where he is again working for his father and remorselessly cheating on his fiancé who was clearly handpicked by his wealthy family. Are we as fans really supposed to stand for this?
In trying to reclaim the characters from the last season of Gilmore Girls Palladino has obliterated much of their charm and depth. Paris, always one of the stand out characters on the show, is up to her usual antics, but the warmth that laid hidden behind the character’s harsh façade is missing. Her scenes are entertaining, but I have difficulty believing that she would show no emotion at the thought of getting a divorce or that she would leave her husband for the trifling reason that he changed his career from journalist to screenwriter (however much Palladino wants to poke fun at her own profession). Palladino seems to have forgotten that she has only had the opportunity to revamp the show with such artistic control because the fanbase fell in love with her original characters and maintained loyalty to her after she was forced to leave the original show. Is it too much to ask for consistency and character development in return?
Or how about some creativity? Palladino has an amazing canvas to work with in the quirky town of Stars Hollow, and though I will admit she was given a tall order to fill, she is a talented screenwriter who I believe can deliver more than the derivative scenes which populated the reboot. A Year in the Life plays like a Gilmore Girls greatest hits, complete with a reenactment of the famous Emily/Lorelai kitchen fight. The series always required a certain level of pop culture knowledge to understand Palladino’s humor and the reboot keeps with that tradition, but she also takes it a step further using references to structure entire scenes. Yes, the Life and Death Brigade reunion scene is entertaining, but it is entirely unoriginal, bordering on plagiarizing Julie Taymor’s Across the Universe. This isn’t a reference audience members need to get in order to enjoy the scene. In fact, it’s probably better if they didn’t see the limited release art film (that way A Year in the Life can maintain the illusion that it came up with this Beatles inspired sequence all on its own).
I will concede that Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life isn’t all bad. It still has the same eccentric characters, the same good actors, and the same 1940s banter. It has moments that are uproariously funny and others that are genuinely touching. Also, working on a Netflix budget means higher production value, which is most notable in the addition of dynamic camera movement to the show’s visual style. When I hear Sam Phillips’s scoring come on the soundtrack, I want to fall in love with the series all over again. Then, Palladino builds a bombshell into the last minute of the reboot and, damn it, I hope they make another four episodes because I need to know what happens!