The nostalgic TV revival is a genre still in search of a purpose: Too often, shows like Arrested Development, Full House, and The X-Files have returned for no reason other than to gin up easy viewership, to appeal to those seeking to remember better days. Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life is the first such TV sequel that really uses the long-delayed circumstances of its existence to its advantage. There’s a smart self-awareness to the show (available on Netflix starting Friday) that goes beyond sly winks to the camera about how long it’s been since its titular mother-daughter team have appeared onscreen. Considering it could merely exist as a cheap cash-in, that A Year in the Life feels so emotionally resonant is somewhat miraculous.
Perhaps it isn’t too surprising, though, given that A Year in the Life represents a redemptive moment for the show. Gilmore Girls saw its original run end rather abruptly in 2007, after an unsatisfying seventh season that aired without its major creative voice, Amy Sherman-Palladino. She created Gilmore Girls but wasn’t able to end it, due to botched negotiations with its network; A Year in the Life was her chance to reclaim her show and finish it on her own terms. Happily, it’s more than that. Over the course of four feature-length episodes (each about 90 minutes long), the show renews the witty spirit that has helped it endure since it went off the air. But the series is also unafraid to grapple with how much time has passed—and the inertia that needed to be overcome to recapture the magic.