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Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life Review

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★★★★

This review refers to the first two episodes of this four-episode season, as were made available to critics.

Imagine if His Girl Friday’s Hildy Johnson moved to Bedford Falls, had an equally fast-talking kid and genned up on pop culture. That’s Gilmore Girls, which returns on Netflix with four feature-length, seasonally themed episodes. It’s essentially a family drama, set in a small town that really is straight from It’s A Wonderful Life. But it’s also one of the fastest-talking, smartest shows ever made. These four films, with original showrunners Amy Sherman-Palladino and Daniel Palladino back after sitting out the show’s seventh and final season, aim to give it the send-off Sherman-Palladino always intended. Judging by the first two episodes, they may succeed.

One of the fastest-talking, smartest shows ever made.

It’s not easy to describe the particular appeal of Gilmore Girls to the uninitiated. There’s a whimsical, soft-focus touch to that fairy-tale setting that can seem cloying at first, and the rhythms of the language verge on stagey — especially here, where the cast are visibly settling back into their roles. But there’s meat and grit in the relationships that give it edge, and its blend of wit and warmth means that fans put this on a level with The West Wing or The Sopranos. Lauren Graham’s Lorelai, and to a lesser extent her daughter Rory (Alexis Bledel) and mother Emily (Kelly Bishop) supply an endless flood of wisecracks, put-downs and gags that stop the story of three generations of Gilmore girls from feeling mawkish or overly sentimental.

That’s really the nub of the plot: three generations of women muddling along. Lorelai fell pregnant at 16 and cut her wealthy, disapproving parents out of her life for years — something Emily never quite forgave. But they’re both devoted to Lorelai’s daughter Rory, a rare A-student good girl who wasn’t painted into geekishness. Now 32, she’s a journalist casting about for her next step in life. Lorelai is long settled with the series’ will-they-won’t-they love interest Luke (Scott Patterson) and has become a respectable hotel owner, but she still clashes with Emily like a sulky teenager. Their meandering course continues here. Both Lorelai and Rory are feeling increasing unease about the direction of their lives, while Emily grieves for her now departed husband Richard (the late Edward Herrmann, to whom the first episode is dedicated).

It remains a pleasure you don’t have to feel guilty about.

But the show’s delight lies in its tapestry of characters and, remarkably, the rest of them have all returned. Gilmore exes and acquaintances, as well as the eccentric residents of Star’s Hollow, are all present and correct, down to Gypsy the mechanic (Rose Abdoo), mean schoolgirl Francie (Emily Bergl) and the town troubadour (Grant-Lee Phillips). It’s a testament to the affection in which the show is held — by those who made it as well as audiences. And it allows us to see town busybody Taylor Doose (Michael Winters) continue his relentless Star’s Hollow improvement crusade, and Mrs Kim (Emily Kuroda) still browbeating her young, Christian charges.

Time has passed even in this world — there are distractingly voguish discussions about the decline of print media, and internet start-ups run by appallingly young millennials — and,with Rory now the same age Lorelai was at the beginning of the show, the Gilmores are no longer promising young things with their entire lives ahead of them. But even though they grapple with ageing in an uncertain world, Star’s Hollow, and Gilmore Girls, remains a pleasure you don’t have to feel guilty about.

There are moments when it feels like Gilmore karaoke, as the cast get used to their roles again. But once they catch the rhythms of the speech, it’s a very welcome return to the warm embrace of Star’s Hollow.

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