Back To Stars Hollow, Part One

Warning: There are spoilers a-plenty here, so if you’re planning on watching A Year In the Life and haven’t yet, go watch first. Unless you like spoilers, which I totally get. Anyhoo…

If you remember my review of the MacGyver redux, you already know my position on Hollywood’s reboot craze. Retreads, prequels, sequels, and adaptations make up more of the current output than anything else. They’re typically tiresome, but occasionally there are flashes of brilliance, and Gilmore Girls: A Year In the Life is one of them.

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Source: The New York Times

I’m a huuuuge fan of Gilmore Girls. I’ve been watching since the first season, and when they came out on DVD, I didn’t waste any time ordering the sets from Amazon, with one exception–Season Seven. The Palladinos departed the show after Season Six because the CW muckety-mucks were, frankly, acting like idiots, and what was left of the creative team suffered as a result. The seventh season was mostly abysmal, overly talk-y, and gave the impression of trying too hard. I actually gave up after only a few episodes, and I’ve never bought the DVDs. Seen it on Netflix only twice. No doubt Amy Sherman-Palladino felt much worse, watching her brainchild going places she never intended it to, and then abruptly expiring as if by head-on collision. Worse, she wasn’t allowed to end the show on her terms, and for a writer, that’s a massive disappointment.

It’s no surprise that when A Year In the Life was announced, people got excited. The way we had to leave Stars Hollow was no bueno, and learning that Amy Sherman-Palladino would be leading an expedition there has inspired fans and critics alike to do big ol’ happy dances. This was no remake or prequel or sequel by other people. This was the creator of Gilmore Girls and the original cast going back home. Four seasons, ninety minutes apiece. Yaasss. Add in a genius marketing campaign with tantalizing details dangled like proverbial carrots (with a fake kitchen table scene to boot), a drop date of Black Friday, and the sum is anticipation galore.

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The infamous fake scene, although those Pop-Tarts do look real. (Source: Empty Lighthouse)

There’s always a danger, though, of expectations exceeding reality. Like the first Star Wars prequel. Not that the movie was completely terrible, but fans were expecting more of what was in the original trilogy and got Jar Jar Binks instead. Talk about no bueno.

Then again, Amy Sherman-Palladino isn’t George Lucas. Jar Jar Binks isn’t her style, thank goodness. As of Friday, I’ve watched two of the four seasons (with Pop-Tarts by my side, of course), and so far A Year In the Life is pure pleasure, albeit with a few minor missteps.

Winter: Our first sight is quintessential Gilmore: Lorelai sitting on the gazebo steps drinking coffee, and lo and behold, Rory pops up and sits down beside her, fresh off a plane. Naturally, this inspires a “You’ve been gooped” speech from Lorelai, who can’t believe her daughter looks so awesome after flying coach. Naturally, Rory responds with variations of “Mom, you’re full of it,” before the two of them look at each other and smile.

“Haven’t done that in a while,” says Mom.

“Felt good,” says Daughter.

“Yes, it does,” say all the fans.

This is a show that’s very self-aware. It begins with a literal reunion of the two main characters, and then it’s a parade of everything that made the series memorable, at least for the first half-hour of the “Winter” episode. So much so, that I groaned a bit. It always bugs me when sequels recycle material from their predecessors, even if it’s only the characters being true to themselves. Kirk’s got yet another job (Ooober. Oooooober). Luke has moved into Lorelai’s house, and he’s still getting on she and Rory’s case about what they’re eating. Taylor is still selectman, and still walking around sprucing things up, even if it’s just brushing snow off the Stars Hollow sign.

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Paul, we hardly knew ye, which was probably just as well. (Source: Vulture)

Fortunately, the show jumps right into the plot. Lorelai is holding down the fort in Stars Hollow. Rory has become a vagabond, freelance writing for whomever she can and attempting to write a biography of a rather eccentric woman named Naomi Shropshire. Rory gave up her apartment in Brooklyn because she was never there, and she crashes at Logan’s apartment when she’s in London and at Paris’s five-story townhouse when in New York City. Yes, Logan and Paris. It’s hard to tell from the “Winter” episode exactly what Logan and Rory are to each other, but they seem very cozy. Never mind that Rory has been dating a guy named Paul for two years. This dude just shows up, only to get left behind. Again, and again, and again. He’s a classic non-entity who bothers no one, especially Logan, which just seems odd. Even odder is that Paul actually says, “I will follow” to Rory the first time we see him. Really, Gilmore? Really?

(On a side note, I toyed with the idea of taking a bite of Pop-Tart every time someone said the word, “follow,” but I only heard it twice, so there went that. Even so, I ended up eating two unfrosted strawberries and one Orange Crush. Lorelai would be proud of me.)

Paris is still, well, Paris, except that now she’s running a fertility and surrogacy clinic called Dynasty Makers, so she’s constantly checking out the way guys’ man-parts sit to determine their, um, output. Early on, Lorelai and Luke mull over the idea of hiring a surrogate, and Paris rates Luke as “symmetrical and well-balanced.” Creepy. Oh, and Paris has split from Doyle, but she gets the townhouse and nearly-full custody of their two children.

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Sorry Luke, you can’t sit in Richard’s chair. (Source: IGN)

The Winter episode gives a lot of story time to the passing of Richard Gilmore, who was played masterfully by the late Edward Hermann. The grief of Emily, Lorelai and Rory is palpable, especially Emily’s. She starts with hanging a massive oil painting of Richard next to the fireplace, and then moves on to decluttering the house. Lorelai goes over there to find her in jeans. I’ll let that one sink in for a minute. Emily Gilmore in jeans. The producers were right to include that bit in the trailers, because jeans are such a paradigm shift for suit-loving Emily. If we had come at it with fresh eyes, it might have been too much to take. Even a muumuu would have been less shocking.

The moment doesn’t last, though. What’s nice to see is that the relationship between Lorelai and Emily has evolved in a positive direction, to the point that they’re able to get scotch together at Richard’s funeral. With their arms around each other. Unfortunately, that moment doesn’t last, either. Emily later takes her grief out on her daughter and accuses her of not being proud of her heritage. “Full freaking circle,” Lorelai says before exiting the scene.

Which is also the purpose of “Winter” and A Year In the Life–to bring everything full freaking circle.

Spring: For the kick-off, we find Lorelai and Emily sitting on a therapist’s couch. If you’re familiar with the original series, you know that Lorelai would always kid Emily about going to a psychiatrist, and with her husband gone, Emily books sessions for she and Lorelai out of spite. The lucky (!) professional who gets to listen to these two is Claudia (played by Kerry Butler from The Mindy Project), and after a few go-rounds she takes up smoking.

Meanwhile, back in Stars Hollow, just in case we’ve forgotten how quirky the place is, we’re treated to an International Food Festival, with an unseen choir brightly belting, “Welcome to our world of food and fun!” Taylor and Kirk are running around in a tizzy because a hundred-odd countries that were supposed to participate flaked out, but they’re the only ones bothered by the no-shows. At the Korean table, Mrs. Kim brings in a choir from ye olde sod, who sedately sing hymns in Korean, but she doesn’t like what she hears. “They suck eggs,” she says.

“Language, Mama,” says Lane, aghast.

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Well, hello there. (Source: Vulture)

But never mind that. Far, far bigger than the sucky Korean choir is a blink-and-you-miss-it appearance by none other than Mr. Kim. Yes, you read that right. Lane’s dad, who was missing in action for the whole of the series, even when his daughter got married, is visible for a few fleeting seconds in the sequel. He waves and smiles, but then it’s back to our regularly scheduled program.

And what a program it is. Rory goes back to Chilton with Paris for Alumni Day, where each of them give talks to the newest generation of students about what made their education there memorable. Rory is, of course, winsome and inspiring, and Paris is…er, scary, not only for her delivery style, but for walking down the halls yelling, “I do not want his sperm.” into a smartphone. At least we get to see her gorgeous townhouse after that, along with her two kids.

We can’t go back to Stars Hollow without stopping at the Dragonfly Inn. Even though the place is always booked solid, Lorelai is having trouble. She’s afraid Michel is bored with the Dragonfly and thinking about leaving, plus she misses Sookie, who is on sabbatical helping a farmer develop new growing methods. As such, the Dragonfly plays host to different chefs who do a two-week stint, if they can make it that far. In “Winter”, the chef is a gentleman named Roy Choi who likes cooking abalone, but gets the boot after he puts away the coffeemaker. Oops. In “Spring” the chef is Rachael Ray, who loses her spot because a lot of B-list actors are staying at the Inn and no one’s eating her sandwiches. Huh? Who wouldn’t want to eat a Rachael Ray sammie? I know I would.

Lorelai doesn’t mind dropping everything to meet Rory in New York, though, where Rory’s trying to develop a story about people who wait in lines. Poor Rory. Her world goes downhill fast. Rory is offered a teaching job at Chilton, but turns it down because she just doesn’t see teaching in her future. That’s pretty much her last not-desperate moment. Logan is engaged to Odette, a Frenchwoman who lives in Paris (the city, of course), so apparently he and Rory are each other’s side relationship. Rory has three cell phones, all for different purposes, but no one calls her, Paul included. Rory has an interview with Conde Nast, who blow her off until Mitchum Huntzberger puts in a good word for her. In spite of that, more trouble piles on. Naomi Shropshire drops Rory as biographer, she can’t stay awake while interviewing people for her line piece, and she has a one-night stand with a fella dressed as Chewbacca. Even Sandee Says, the online magazine who has headhunted Rory all winter loses interest when she finally meets Sandee. All of this culminates in Rory ripping apart her three cell phones and throwing them in the trash. Since we last saw her nine years ago, Rory has taken up tap dancing to relieve stress. Suffice it to say, she does quite a bit of footwork towards the end of this episode.

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Kirk and Petal start off on a walk from…Luke and Lorelai’s house? (Source: Variety)

On the bright side, though, long before Rory’s stuff hits the fan, we’re treated to A Second Film By Kirk. Yep, a sequel within a sequel, only this one involves Kirk’s pig, Petal. The Black-White-and-Red Theater will never be the same.

Once I got past the opening half-hour or so, I had a great time watching “Winter” and “Spring”. Some of “Spring” did seem a wee bit contrived, and as I said earlier, there’s a lot of rehashing of old material. None of the revisitation is bad, and some of it is necessary to tie A Year In the Life to the previous series, but these characters are already established. A show like this doesn’t have to resurrect every single Gilmore-ism to be good, and it shouldn’t. The fans who have binge-watched the original episodes over and over certainly don’t need it. A Year In the Life is strongest when it allows everyone to move forward, which it does. Swimmingly. I can’t wait to see “Summer” and “Fall”. I may go back and watch it again at least once, probably more.

Speaking of moving forward, check back here tomorrow for Part Two. I’m loving A Year In the Life, but even diehards need to blink now and then. And stretch. And eat something besides Pop-Tarts. Until then, all…

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