Over Thanksgiving weekend, Netflix subscribers got a holiday gift they’d been looking forward to for much of the year: a return to Stars Hollow. Gilmore Girls: A Year In The Life, a four-episode miniseries, was the first new Gilmore Girls material since the series left TV in 2007, and came two years after the original series hit Netflix and reignited the show’s passionate fan base. While the show’s final season had happened without the original creators, A Year in the Life gave creator Amy Sherman-Palladino (along with her husband/collaborator Daniel Palladino) five hours of creative freedom to redeem the show’s underwhelming departure. There was just one problem with the new episodes: once the thrill of seeing Stars Hollow again wore off, they stopped seeming starry and felt a whole lot more hollow.
Nine years later, Rory Gilmore (Alexis Bledel) is still sleeping with a now-engaged Logan (Matt Czuchry), and being what seems like an objectively terrible journalist, seemingly without any of the empathy or intelligence she displayed during the show’s original run. Meanwhile, Rory’s mother and bantermate Lorelai (Lauren Graham) is bogged down by professional and personal malaise. At 90 minutes apiece, the episodes feel both overstuffed and slack; while the gang’s-all-here cast delivers all the old favorites, AYITL’s overall effect to is to make the show’s ill-fated seventh season seem better in retrospect. But Gilmore Girls is by no means the first beloved show to come back and then disappoint. In fact, that’s more the norm than the exception.
The New Revival Machine
The “bring back a cult hit” move is one of Netflix’s favorite, dating back to the Arrested Development revival that was the cornerstone of its first original programming slate in 2013. And the move has been a fraught one from the very beginning: with most of Arrested Development‘s cast busy with their successful post-AD careers, creator Mitch Hurwitz decided to make each of the 15 new episodes focus on a single character at a time, resulting in such a disjointed mess that he later re-cut the entire season to look more like its predecessors.
Despite the flaws, though, the streaming audience showed up in big enough numbers that acquiring niche properties for limited revivals stuck. With reboots and long-delayed sequels having racked up millions at the box office for years, television hadn’t fully strip-mined its own catalog for a new generation–and after Arrested Development, networks got down to business. The ensuing spate of “next-generation” shows updated properties like Beverly Hills 90210, Dallas, and even Boy Meets World with a mix of original castmembers and new, younger characters.
There were other revival models as well. While Arrested Development was getting ready to make its Netflix comeback, the creator of teen-detective show Veronica Mars took to Kickstarter to fund a feature-film sequel–and broke fundraising records. Yet, when the film ultimately arrived, it lacked the spirit of the original show. (We still wish the unproduced spin-off set at the FBI had become a reality, though.) And even most recently, The X-Files came back for a business-as-usual 10th season earlier this year–but aside from a glimmer of brilliance in “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster,” the sci-fi staple buckled under the weight of feeling “current,” and never reach the same level as its mid-’90s heyday.
None of these were cash-grabs. None were remakes in name only, or re-cast tributes made by fans of the original show. These were all essentially the same shows, with the same creators at the top, the same stars, and a chance to deliver excitement (or closure) to an audience ravenous for more of what they love. And the same can be said of the new quartet of Gilmore Girls episodes: Nearly every supporting character gets some time in the sun, there are meta-references aplenty, even fan-service cameos featuring actors from related shows (Parenthood, Bunheads) or even podcast hosts (the duo from Gilmore Guys). Yet, they all fell short.
The thing is, I was the target audience for all of these revivals. I adored Arrested Development when it was on the air; I soaked up every episode of Veronica Mars. When Gilmore Girls first brought its original episodes to Netflix, I devoured them despite their white-people-problems myopia. But each time a show I loved came back, I followed the same emotional trajectory: skepticism, followed by faith that the show’s reunited creative team would pull off something special, then (the good kind of) disbelief when new episodes actually materialized in front of my eyes–and finally, mild disappointment. Despite their promise, none of them managed to recapture the experience I remembered.
(Strangely enough, it’s last year’s Wet Hot American Summer: First Day Of Camp that emerged as the most creatively successful of the cult-revival shows. Instead of opting for the obvious sequel treatment to update the 2001 film, the creators made it a prequel series, with the 15-years-older cast playing their original characters at the very beginning of the summer depicted in the original movie. The results were perfectly absurd, and absurdly perfect.)
Missteps mean little, though, when money’s on the line. This TV season alone has Lethal Weapon, Frequency, and The Exorcist, with yet another 24 on the way. Next year, Showtime revives Twin Peaks next year. Young Justice will return for a third season on an as-yet unannounced network or streaming service. Mystery Science Theater 3000 will be the latest cult property to land at Netflix when it returns with a new stable of voice actors. Some will be good; many won’t. Some, hopefully, will be great.
We all want to recapture the responses we had to our favorite shows. We want to feel the same thrill of discovery, the same emotional investment in a relationship. We want characters who felt like extensions of ourselves to have progressed alongside us over the years. And despite my repeated disappointment, I’m still on board. If Gravity Falls ever comes back, I’ll be clamoring to attend the premiere; should more Hannibal become a possibility, I’ll join the letter-writing campaign. But my expectations have been permanently lowered. Getting the gang back together isn’t life-altering, and it’s not a return to a simpler time; it’s just a nice chance to see that old friends are still around.