Reruns make the heart grow fonder. “Gilmore Girls” was not a hit during its 2000-07 run on the now-defunct WB Network, drawing only 5 million viewers a week at the series’ peak. But its return via four “mini-movies” on Netflix Friday is being treated as one of fall’s most anticipated events.
The show has graced the cover of Entertainment Weekly twice this year. Jimmy Fallon has been ranking his favorite characters on a nightly basis. Trivia Mafia dedicated a brunch to the series Saturday at St. Paul’s Amsterdam Bar, selling out seats well in advance.
It may have taken DVD box sets and a syndicated run on ABC Family for the masses to finally appreciate what I saw in the series back in 2000, when I chose it as the best show on television: the all-too rare delight of watching two strong, complicated, adorable, hilarious women trading quips without the need of a Y chromosome.
That crackling chemistry is on full display in the opening “winter” episode of “Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life,” as Rory (Alexis Bledel) joins mom Lorelai (Lauren Graham) at the town’s gazebo, the pair riffing on “Les Misérables,” hummus dip, “Zoolander 2” and getting “gooped,” all within a breathless minute.
“Wow, winded,” says Rory, who has just flown in from London, where she’s making a run at being the next Nora Ephron. “Felt good.”
Great, actually. Each 90-minute installment is jam-packed with pop culture references, from imagining a “Huckleberry Finn” prequel in which we learn our beloved rafter was once a Klan leader, to playing snooker at Michael Bay’s home.
At one point, Rory glances at a framed photo of the late Minnesota journalist David Carr. Creator Amy Sherman-Palladino, who split writing and directing duties with her husband, Dan Palladino, never bothers to identify Carr — and doesn’t care. Have no idea who the man is? That’s OK. A nod to Kim Kardashian is just seconds away.
Even those who have never cracked open a People magazine will appreciate the warmth and wit between its two plucky heroines. If only there was more time with just the two of them.
The original series lost much of its magic after Rory moved away to college and Lorelai had to bounce zingers off coffee-shop proprietor Luke, who never managed to keep up. The same could be said in this reunion, with the title characters spending long passages apart. The separation is particularly glaring in the fourth episode, in which nearly an hour goes by without the two sharing a scene.
I understand the urge to squeeze in visits with all of Rory’s exes and the eccentric residents of Stars Hollow. Nearly every former cast member is on board — even Melissa McCarthy, who went on to become one of Hollywood’s biggest box-office draws, albeit only for one scene as Lorelai’s delightfully harrowed bestie.
The early episodes do a fine job of honoring the late Edward Herrmann, who played the family patriarch. As Lorelai’s now-widowed mother Emily, Kelly Bishop takes advantage of every scene she’s in, from squabbling with Lorelai during the worst therapy session never conducted by Bob Newhart, to questioning her allegiance to her fellow “ladies who lunch.”
There’s also a delightful roster of cameos — classic crooners, celebrity chefs, alt-pop musicians, and Graham’s former castmates from NBC’s “Parenthood.”
I’ll leave the actual names as a surprise, with one exception: Minnesotan Peter Krause, Graham’s brother on NBC’s “Parenthood” and real-life boyfriend, pops up as the world’s most tolerant park ranger, foiling Lorelai’s attempts to follow Reese Witherspoon into the “Wild.”
As much fun as those two have, it can’t compare to the sparks between the two main characters, especially now that Bledel has loosened up as an actress. Her credentials as a reporter may be suspect — falling asleep during an interview is frowned upon at most journalism schools — but the satisfaction of hitting the dance floor with her at a tucked away tango club is most certainly not.
Graham was never nominated for an Emmy for “Gilmore” or “Parenthood,” another sharply written network dramedy that always teetered on the brink of cancellation. That oversight will seem all the more glaring after you watch the way she tackles two bookended scenes. First, she accidentally tarnishes her dad’s memory after his funeral, showing off her physical comedy skills in the process. Then she chokes back tears recalling the moment he comforted her as a teenager with a giant pretzel. Prepare to guffaw, sob a little yourself and track down the e-mail of every Emmy voter you can, demanding justice.
Don’t confuse these performances with any great statement on feminism. Despite their independence, the Gilmores live in an old-fashioned female fantasy, where junk food never leads to an ounce of fat, unemployment doesn’t stop you from dressing like a fashion plate and all men are smart, good-looking and above average. If the WB had the kind of cash suitors are willing to throw these ladies’ way, it would still be in business.
That said, few TV shows — or movies, for that matter — have given women this much license to be funny and smart. That was true in the 2000s and remains the case now.
Die-hard fans know that Sherman-Palladino wrote the final four words of the series during the original run, but never had a chance to reveal them as she left the show before its last season, taking much of the dialogue’s bite with her. That long-anticipated coda is finally delivered and I must admit I was genuinely surprised — and moved — by it.
The final scene between mother and daughter takes place back at that gazebo. Fittingly, it is just the two of them.