After years of anticipation, Netflix has produced and released six new hours of Gilmore Girls. These new episodes should be enjoyable to watch, if only because they let us all revisit beloved characters and familiar settings.
But they’re also six terrible hours of television. They tear up and throw out just about everything good about the show that the fandom relished, in service of a thoughtless artistic vision ripped from crappy early-aughts movie musicals. It’s hard to even believe how bad they are.
The original Gilmore Girls is a Bush Two-era classic, an occasionally sappy drama about a mother-daughter friendship anchored by its characters’ rapid-fire dialogue and encyclopedic knowledge of pop culture. In its dealings with class, female ambition, and generational divides, it sometimes approached the big leagues of genuinely transcendent, moment-defining television.
It had flaws, sure — even the most adoring Gilmore Girls fan will concede that Rory was a little spoiled, and her mother Lorelai was a little immature, and that it’s weird as heck that they never bothered to fill the prop coffee cups with some kind of liquid. But it’s a cultural touchstone for millions of women for a reason: When it first came out, Gilmore Girls was the best thing we’d ever seen about mothers and daughters, and about girls who want to grow up to be not just successful, but important.
The reboot keeps much of the original creative team, with each episode written and directed by series creators Amy Sherman-Palladino and Dan Palladino. Casting director Jami Rudofsky, costume designer Brenda Maben, and producer Helen Pai are also notable holdovers, but change-ups in production design and cinematography stand out. The set has disorienting differences, mainly of scale, and much of the camera work is genuinely ridiculous. It looks like half of the series was shot from the angle of a security camera, and the other half was shot with hand-helds in extreme close-up. (Often peering directly up someone’s chin, Mr. Robot style.)
Since Gilmore Girls left the air, budgets for TV have gotten much bigger, particularly on high-end cable and streaming services that place their bets carefully, then shell out for prestige content with a built-in fan base. Without knowing the exact number, it’s safe to say Netflix gave them a big leash. A Gilmore Girls reboot was a safe bet in terms of pre-existing interest, and Netflix reportedly spent $750,000 per episode (each) on co-stars Alexis Bledel and Lauren Graham alone. Unfortunately, the new Gilmore Girls creative team seems so preoccupied with finding ways to spend this money that they completely dismantled the light magical realism that made the original Gilmore Girls so special. The draw of the series’ setting, Stars Hollow, is that it feels like a place that might exist if we weren’t too mired in our current dreary lives to go search for it. It looks like a real town, operates like a town, does everything a town normally does, except that snow falls on cue, and everyone there is super-charming. The new Stars Hollow is revealed as a backlot facade when Rory and Logan decide to stand on top of one of the fake roofs during a incredibly long, Baz Luhrmann-y steampunk musical sequence soundtracked by The Beatles “With a Little Help From My Friends,” the rights to which must have cost a small fortune. Where the original series made the emphatic point that there was nothing to do within 50 miles of Stars Hollow, now there’s inexplicably an elaborate tango club with cathedral ceilings just a quick (and highly illegal) open-air Model-T ride away.
Netflix has a reputation for giving its content creators complete freedom, so it’s retroactively clear that the family-friendly constraints of Gilmore Girls’ primetime network days actually helped the team rein in some gaudier impulses. Aesthetic restrictions may have made the Palladinos double down on wit and sparkle in their writing — something they all but abandoned in the revival. And while the original scripts could be a bit prudish, at least they weren’t hostile and misogynistic in their dealings with sex. In one of the new episodes, Rory has her first one-night stand with a man dressed in a Wookiee costume. Later, she pitches a reported piece on how women go to Comic Con just to have sex with nerds and then feel bad about themselves. Rory’s friend Paris (Liza Weil) operates a high-tech fertility clinic specializing in surrogacy, and refers to the women she employs as “breeders,” leading Lorelai’s live-in dude Luke (who has never been this stupid before) to believe he has to have sex with one of them in order to have a child.
The new episodes are also clogged with long, expensive setpieces that add nothing to the plot. The introduction of a Stars Hollow musical is just an excuse for Broadway darlings Sutton Foster and Christian Borle to show off for 20 minutes. Lorelai’s trip to California to “do Wild” is clearly just a cynical joke-tweet that went too far. And Luke and Lorelai’s impromptu wedding takes several pages of visual inspiration from Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland for no obvious reason.
For all the new gloss, Gilmore Girls: A Year In The Life is mostly joyless. All of the important characters are wallowing in misery, and not just because of the death of beloved patriarch Richard Gilmore (played by Edward Herrmann, who died in 2014). When we left Luke and Lorelai nine years ago, they were together at last, and seemingly poised to start the family they had discussed multiple times. Meeting them again, still unmarried — and more importantly, still childless after all these years — is actually depressing. The explanation is that they have communication problems, but come on. We’re supposed to believe they just forgot to talk about the prospect of a baby until it was biologically too late? Why? Lorelai’s oft-discussed triumphant life story, a gleaming heroine’s tale about independence, hard work, and inner strength, ends with her meekly accepting that she won’t get to have another child, and that she will have to take a ton of money from her parents to expand her inn — anything so she doesn’t go completely stir-crazy.
This six hours of television felt brutal and punishing — a story about female ambition cut off at the knees. It’s hurtful to see talented, brainy, driven Rory spiraling out 10 years down the line because she still has a terrible self-aggrandizing attitude. When we last saw her in 2007, she was heading off on Senator Obama’s campaign bus. Did she become a political reporter for a while? Does she really just have a handful of Slate and Atlantic bylines and one “Talk of the Town” piece to show for the last decade? Why didn’t she grow at all as a person? Did the writers really love her so much as she was that they just pickled her in it? The new episodes feel like an obnoxious, ham-fisted parable about what happens when kids are told they’re singularly special. At the last minute, the show tries to reverse itself by leading Rory to the idea of writing a memoir about her relationship with her mother… which is also a terrible, self-aggrandizing idea for a jobless person who is seemingly living off of a trust fund. It’s hard to say if the writers intended much of anything with a character arc that swings so dizzyling from cynical to smarmy.
Rory’s friend Lane (Keiko Agena), who resisted her mother’s puritanical rules with her every breath in order to win the freedom to make music, now works in her mother’s antique store. Paris, who was ambition made flesh, falls apart at the sight of a high-school crush. This last development is especially mean, considering it wasn’t even a symptom of the writers trying to make room for former cast member Chad Michael Murray — they just hired a nondescript blonde man to stand in the frame without turning around! I usually don’t feel cool about speaking on behalf of all women, but this scenario has literally never happened. Paris is 32 and wildly successful, and her crush, Tristan, was in seven episodes, max. Grown-ass Paris does not care.
The tacky technicolor veneer of the show only makes these cruel twists of fate feel more unnerving, like we’ve been baited into a witch’s gingerbread cottage.
And of course the four-part movie ends on November 5, 2016, just before the election that gave us President-Elect Trump. It’s a sparkly, sinister message-in-a-bottle from the final days before female ambition was excoriated on the grandest scale imaginable. How charming! Nestling into the couch with my sisters, mother, grandmother, and a party size bag of Cheetos, I expected six hours in Stars Hollow to be a salve. Turns out it’s a poison.