Stars Hollow was a town frozen in time. The tiny Connecticut home of Gilmore Girls never changed, nor did its inhabitants: diner owner Luke was always grouchy, inn chef Sookie always bubbly, town jester Kirk always good for a pratfall. The Gilmores, young mom Lorelai (Lauren Graham) and her bright daughter Rory (Alexis Bledel), with just 16 years separating them, had an enviably close relationship. They ate junk food, took road trips and fell in and out of love with boys, and Stars Hollow always stayed the same.
Until now. As it did with Arrested Development’s shoddy model homes and Fuller House’s Painted Ladies Netflix will resurrect Stars Hollow’s storefronts on Nov. 25 in Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life. And they’ll be different—slightly. Television is still perfecting the art of conjuring up nostalgia while contending with the passage of time. After all, nine years after the show’s last episode, Lorelai and Rory aren’t girls anymore, and in four 90-minute chapters, creator Amy Sherman-Palladino gives them grownup problems. “We didn’t want do a bunch of Gilmore episodes. We’d already done those,” she says. “It was a good time to see how Lorelai’s and Rory’s choices paid off.”
The new chapters (named “Winter,” “Spring,” “Summer” and “Fall” in a nod to the theme song) tackle grief, regret and loneliness, and each of the three Gilmore women—including Lorelai’s mother Emily—finds herself at a crossroads. Rory realizes at 32 that things haven’t turned out the way she meticulously planned. Lorelai, now 48, considers a major life change. And Emily, whose existence revolved around her husband Richard, must make a new life when he dies—a plot point spurred by the 2014 death of actor Edward Herrmann.
Sherman-Palladino must also reckon with a completely transformed television landscape. When the show premiered in 2000, the fast-talking, ambitious Gilmores were radical. The show found a home on the WB alongside Buffy and Felicity, with all three expanding the boundaries of how women could be portrayed on the small screen.
Rory, especially, stood out for her confidence. “Teenagers were either pretty cheerleaders or angsty girls wearing Doc Martens who wanted to be the pretty cheerleader,” says Sherman-Palladino. “Their lives revolved around boys and sex. We wanted Rory to be a teenager who was concerned with her studies but was also comfortable in her skin.” Compared with today’s shows, when even sitcoms tackle issues of race and gender, Rory’s problems feel quaint. The creator says Gilmore would be “too small” to be greenlighted today. Of course, that’s part of the show’s charm, and much of the same DNA is in the new installments. In the first scene, Graham and Bledel warm up for a verbal marathon, their banter updated with 2016 jokes about Gwyneth Paltrow’s brand Goop and Apple Watches.
Some things are harder to modernize. Online chatter focuses on which ex-boyfriend Rory should end up with—Dean the puppy dog, Jess the rebel or Logan the spoiled millionaire—speculation that is a bit retro in the year when Rory’s idol Hillary Clinton ran for President. “Sometimes I wish the Dean-and-Jess thing weren’t such a prominent thing,” Sherman-Palladino says. “I don’t see anybody debating if Rory won a Pulitzer.” Most 30-something women, she argues, aren’t mooning over high school beaux.
Yet the fans adore Rory’s love triangles, so to write them out would disappoint those viewers who demanded the revival in the first place. All three exes will appear in the new episodes, and Rory will have to contend with the fact that as far as she tries to stray from Stars Hollow—nowadays she works in London—there’s part of her that will never truly grow up.
This appears in the November 21, 2016 issue of TIME.
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