Screen Test

New Gilmore Girls episodes are a self-indulgent mess

Gilmore Girls: A Year In The Life is for hardcore fans while High Maintenance leaves viewers feeling sweetly melancholic

The Gilmore Girls revival was always going to be about fan service. In that respect, Gilmore Girls: A Year In The Life does what it is supposed to, with generous helpings of everything that made the original cult series (2000-2007) a hit and left viewers wanting more - including that quippy banter between mother Lorelai (Lauren Graham) and daughter Rory (Alexis Bledel), and the charming quirks of their small-town neighbours.

The final four words spoken in this quartet of new episodes - words teased by creator Amy Sherman-Palladino for a decade now - will satisfy most of the faithful and are a neat way for the series to come full circle while leaving the door open for more.

Yet A Year In The Life will also be the final nail in the coffin for fans who have outgrown the original.

In the early 2000s, it was refreshing to see a comedy celebrate a single mother made good, her whip-smart daughter, and their rapid-fire, oddball takes on pop culture.

 A Year In The Life.
Above: Alexis Bledel (left) and Lauren Graham star in Gilmore Girls: A Year In The Life. PHOTO: NETFLIX

But watch it with a critical eye now and it is striking how limited the show's world view was even as it cast the Gilmores as underdogs and champions of alternative culture, although this was obscured by the likeable characters and clever dialogue.

At its core, the show hasn't aged well either.

Much has been made of the fact that Lorelai overcame the odds as a single, teenage mother. But any attempt at social commentary here was drowned out by the fact that she and Rory were quickly embraced by Rory's multimillionaire, high-society grandparents, whose lifestyle the show revelled in as much as it mocked.

And while admirable, Rory's aspirations could not have been more unimaginative. She was a straight-A student, got into one of the most famous Ivy League colleges, aspired to write for the most famous newspaper in the country, and later lived in London and New York.

Mum Lorelai and friends such as Paris (Liza Weil) were always more edgy and interesting. By comparison, mild-mannered Rory was a bit of a cipher and Bledel's one-note performance didn't help.

All of this is still true in A Year In The Life, but now there is no novelty to distract you from it.

Contemporary viewers will also be less inclined to overlook the fact that most of the non-white characters are reduced to two-dimensional ethnic stereotypes. Now, in addition to the snooty French inn manager Michel and Korean-American dragon lady Mrs Kim, you have a dozen Hispanic servants working wordlessly for Rory's grandmother.

One thing these new episodes deserve credit for is doing a better job than the original series of questioning the inevitability of happily-ever-after for the main characters.

Despite that, Gilmore Girls redux is a bit of a self-indulgent mess, structurally and tonally.

The episodes are still too long and the writers do not seem to know what to do with the time: the sombre moments become excessively morose and a town musical carries on for so long that by the end, you will be begging for the whimsy to end.

If you are not a hardcore fan, this is probably not for you.

Ben Sinclair in High Maintenance PHOTO: HBO ASIA

You don't need any inside knowledge, however, to enjoy High Maintenance.




    3/5 stars


    Cinemax (StarHub TV Channel 611), Saturdays, 10pm; HBO On Demand (StarHub TV Channel 602) and StarHub Go

    4/5 stars

This is an anthology of self-contained but interlocking stories in the vein of the five-taxis-in-five-cities film Night On Earth (1991) or Midnight Diner, the manga, TV (2009-2014) and film (2014) franchise about customers at a Japanese diner.

Here the private lives glimpsed belong to the customers of a kindly Brooklyn marijuana-delivery guy played by Ben Sinclair, who first created this as a Web series with Katja Blichfeld in 2012.

But it's not really about drugs or people getting high; that is just the frame holding together these telling vignettes of lives glimpsed by the nameless weed dealer.

He often catches his customers in unguarded moments. Thus we meet a pair of co-dependent best friends as their relationship is unravelling; a soda-can-hoarding agoraphobe dealing with a death in the family; a Muslim student chafing against her strict upbringing; elderly Chinese immigrants dealing with their son's success and new lifestyle, and a lonely dog who falls in love with his dog-walker.

As character studies, they are minimalistic but they are drawn with such humour, insight and compassion that they are all the more evocative for it.

All six episodes this season are equally moving and well-acted, while also varying considerably in style.

Each is a mini essay on the human condition that exercises the empathy muscles and leaves the viewer feeling sweetly melancholic. Not too shabby for half an hour an episode.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 30, 2016, with the headline 'Gilmore Girls redux lacks novelty'. Print Edition | Subscribe