Content Warning for the Series: Self-harm, references to sexual assault and abuse, disordered eating.
The first thing I need to say is that Ginny and Georgia is not the second coming of the Gilmore Girls. Nor should it be. Yes, it is a show about a mother and daughter with only a fifteen-year age gap who have a complicated relationship and often make pop cultural references. And yes, they end up living in a chirpy New England town that has a mayor, a fall festival, a controlling and uptight town busybody, and a very attractive man behind the cafe/wine bar. But, 1. Those aspects of a small town did not spring fully-formed from Amy Sherman-Palladino’s head. 2. Gilmore Girls, a show that I love watching for most of its seasons, is not without problematical elements of its own, so, you know, let’s not get too high and mighty.
Perhaps I’m a little overly fired up on this topic because it seems that many people are using the Gilmore Girls comparison as a jumping off point for scorn toward Ginny and Georgia. Do I agree with their critiques that the show is trying to do a LOT of different things, which sometimes makes it feel disjointed and confusing? To a large degree, yes.
But, do I also think that this series—which is written and directed mostly by women and shows women as troubled, complex, interesting, and funny while also addressing a lot of issues, including sexual assault, self-harm, sexuality, and racism in a respectful and engaging way—is worth watching? Yes. And do I think that it deserves a second season? I do.
So (she continues a little huffily), as I said, Georgia (Brianne Howey) had Ginny (Antonia Gentry ) when she was a fifteen-year-old runaway. Ginny’s dad, Zion (Nathan Mitchell), with whom Georgia has always had a charged on-again off-again relationship, is a photographer who is always on the move. He doesn’t show up until episode eight, but, trust me, his face is worth the wait. Ginny, who is fifteen when we meet her, also has a nine-year-old half-brother, Austin (Diesel La Torraca), whose father is in jail for money laundering and fraud, possibly because Georgia set him up. (Ginny’s given name is Virginia and it never stopped bothering me that she and Georgia are named after states while Austin is named after a city. Shouldn’t his name be Texas?)
We meet the three of them as they are headed from Texas to New England to start a new life after Georgia’s husband Kenny (Darryl Scheelar), a wealthy owner of several yoga studios, dies suddenly, leaving his sizable fortune entirely to Georgia. So, things are a little complicated and they’re only about to get murkier.
Soon enough, they get to the cute little town of Wellsbury, which Ginny insists looks like “Paul Revere boned a Pumpkin Spice Latte,” and where Georgia insists things will be different than all the times before because they will be staying long enough to put down roots and they have enough money. Also, she promises that there will be no men romancing their way into her pants or their lives. They move into a large house in a comfortable part of town. Actually, I think the entire town is supposed to be comfortably wealthy and perfect, but it quickly becomes clear that not everything is what it seems. Georgia is hiding secrets of past abuse and crimes in her heart and also under her floorboards. (How do houses always have such conveniently and perfectly placed loose floorboards? Why do none of them have subflooring?)
Ginny is hiding her dark thoughts and tendencies toward self-harm. Austin, behind his plastic Harry Potter glasses, is housing his own suppressed rage that will soon manifest as violence toward other children (all be them nasty children). And Kenny’s ex-wife decides to contest the will and investigate Georgia, leaving them with no financial resources to pay for the large house, which will maybe force Georgia to commit more crimes to keep them afloat, and which definitely makes her have even more secrets to keep.
A lot happens in the first couple of episodes, which is fine and all, but it did feel like being thrown into the deep end, and I was skeptical if I would even keep watching. If you feel the same, maybe stick with it? For example, the droplets of spit from Ginny saying she’s never been kissed or had friends before have barely settled before she’s had secret unprotected sex with Marcus (Felix Mallard), the brooding, floppy haired stoner boy from next door, been accepted into his twin sister Max’s (Sara Waisglass) group of close-knit friends, and scored a date with a cute and gentle boy from her AP English class named Hunter (Mason Temple). She also schools her racist AP English teacher, who automatically assumes she’ll be an underachieving student, on the white male gaze, which is amazing to watch. It is jarring that she has sex so soon. It felt a bit like we didn’t have a chance to get to know her before she was already changing, but I also like that her virginity isn’t being held up like a delicate flower that she can only let go of at the exact perfect moment. Virginity is a social construct after all.
Meanwhile, Georgia manages to sweet talk/blackmail Joe (Raymond Ablack), the attractive owner of the local cafe into providing organic lunches to the school, change her entire look, one-up Cynthia (Sabrina Grdevich), the local queen bee mother, and land herself a job with the very attractive Mayor, Paul Randolph (Scott Porter), with whom she has notable sexual chemistry. I smell a love triangle! (Former Hart of Dixie watchers will be sad to learn that Scott Porter’s shirts in this show are much looser fitting, but take heart (ha!), he’s still deeply appealing.)
Georgia also befriends Max and Marcus’s mother, Ellen, who is played by Jennifer Robertson, better known to many as Jocelyn on Schitt’s Creek. She’s as sarcastic and snarky as you (or at least I) would hope. Also, Ellen’s husband, Clint (Chris Kenopic), is deaf and the family uses sign language to communicate at home. It is a fucking joy to have a deaf character who is not only played by a deaf actor, but who is also is not inspirational or tragic. He’s just a somewhat dorky dad and husband who mostly does his own thing and would very much like to not have to attend school fundraising nights. Halle-fucking-lujah for this kind of inclusion. But still, this is a lot to happen in the first episode.
The beginning is so frenetic and fractured that it wasn’t really until the fifth or sixth episode that I felt committed to the characters and their plights. (So help me if this is another show that Netflix builds up for one season and then doesn’t renew!) And it was probably longer before I really felt like I mostly understood Georgia’s motivations for her less-than-legal or moral choices. And don’t get me wrong, I really appreciate the ways in which Georgia is a complicated, intense, and smart woman. Part of the difficulty in really getting a grasp on her is because there are just so many pieces to her story. We see her in flashbacks as a ragged teenager escaping one nasty situation after another. We see her in the more recent past watching the relationship between Kenny and her daughter. We see her in the present—bright, sleek, and always prepared with an electric smile—planning and scheming how to stay ahead of her past and maintain control of her present. It’s hard to talk too much about Georgia without giving away too many spoilers, but it’s safe to say that she’s a person who uses her beauty like a cudgel to beat what she needs out of the world. And while many of her choices are suspect, her motivations are always to protect her children from the trauma she experienced. There’s a moment when she stands on her balcony wearing flannel pajamas— her hair in a scrunchie, a blanket draped over her shoulders, and a cup of coffee in her hand—quietly watching the rabbit that has been breaking into her garden patch. Eventually, she reaches under the blanket, pulls out a gun equipped with a silencer, and shoots the rabbit dead. I feel like that’s the moment you decide how you feel about Georgia and the show. And I decided I liked them both just fine. (To be clear, I liked her as a character. I don’t condone backyard rabbit shooting. Or really any rabbit shooting.)
But, while Georgia is devoted to Ginny and is often one step ahead of her in terms of understanding her teenage motivations, the one area where she can’t possibly understand her daughter is in terms of race. In addition to constantly moving, Ginny talks about how her position as a biracial kid (Georgia is white and Zion is Black) makes her feel like a constant outsider; she’s never Black enough for the Black kids or white enough for the white kids. She points out that she is one of only seven Black students in the high school in Wellsbury. (Though, it’s interesting that Bracia (Tameka Griffiths), the one Black student with whom Ginny interacts, doesn’t have her own arc, and only seems to serve an instrument for Ginny to explore her own identity. It’s unfortunate because Bracia seems like a very interesting character.) There are many scenes addressing the casual racism Ginny experiences. Some of these feel slightly clunky in their execution (though it is certain that, being a white woman, I’m not the best judge of that), but ultimately painfully realistic. (And maybe they feel clunky because it should be unrealistic that people still say shit like this. You know?) Like when a new acquaintance tells Ginny that she wants to marry a Black man so they can have beautiful mixed babies. Or when, at the beauty station at the Sophomore Sleepover, the woman doesn’t know how to style Ginny’s hair. Or the multiple ways that her English teacher doubts Ginny’s abilities or accuses her of being disruptive. There is an excruciating argument between Hunter—whose mother is white and father Tawainese—and Ginny where they clash over how they want to address the racism they face and turn their anger toward each other by questioning the other’s identity and authenticity.
The best and most nuanced part of the show, though, is when it deals with the teenage dramas of Ginny and her friends. (As an aside, there are so many strong Canandian accents in this group that I routinely forgot the show wasn’t set in Canada. Not a complaint at all.) Beyond the giddy facades of things like Sophomore Sleepover, Battle of the Bands, and basement house parties, the writers clearly have a solid understanding of the mercurial nature of being a teenager—that never ending slide back and forth between puffed up bravado and absolute terror, between sexual desire and overwhelming confusion, between self-centered selfishness and empathetic caring, between casual cruelty and deep compassion. You see it in the love triangle (I mean, obviously there was going to be a love triangle) between Ginny, Hunter—who is academic, polite, and respectful—and Marcus—a rebellious, wounded loner who keeps his cards close to his chest. They’re familiar tropes for anyone who has watched, well, pretty much anything with teenage romance, but what stands out here is how gentle and respectful the story is with Marcus. It’s made clear that he’s as lost and fragile as the rest of the teenagers, which isn’t a side you always see of the darker romantic interest. It’s also interesting how Hunter is so focused on being respectful that at times he fails to really see or understand Ginny, while Marcus intrinsically gets her isolation. Also, I think it’s fair to say that it’s not really about either boy, but about Ginny and her exploration of herself, which is what it should be about. It’s also there in the (completely obnoxious) way that Ginny’s new friends, Max, Abby (Katie Douglas), and Norah (Chelsea Clark) jokingly pretend to ostracize one of the group before bursting into laughter and welcoming her with hugs. There’s always a moment when you can see how the girl on the outside wonders if this time they might be serious, and if you’ve been a teenage girl you’ll probably feel that fear and fragility of friendship in your chest.
The show treats the characters and the issues they face with the respect and seriousness they deserve. Honestly, it’s what saves Max—who is loud and brash and always saying things for shock value—from being completely insufferable. The way the story moves from Max talking about which of their friends has the “biggest dick” to her nervous hesitation when it comes to having sex with her first girlfriend humanizes and grounds her. And that’s true of all the teenage characters, who are shown first flaunting their public personalities and then struggling with their private fears and burdens. We see them become myopically centered on their own issues before remembering that everyone is just trying to make it through. We see them, especially Ginny, rail against their parents before folding themselves into the safety of their arms. (Though, the relationship is naturally more complicated for Ginny and Georgia in ways we cannot discuss until you’ve watched the show.)
Ginny, who is used to being the new kid and an outsider, now has to navigate friendships, dating, sex, drinking, and popularity, which she does with realistically varying degrees of skill and emotional intelligence. (Because no matter how smart and mature a teenager might be, she is inevitably going to do some really, really dumb shit.) She is sometimes desperately trying to blend and other times trying to assert her individuality. When she becomes well-known around the school virtually overnight, she swings back and forth between wanting to help people through her new status and hungrily seeking revenge for the times she felt maligned. It’s all clearly written by people who remember the difficult maze most teenagers must navigate to find their identity.
Phew, much like the series, this review has a lot going on, and some would probably say far too much going on. The long and the short of it is that I think I enjoyed Ginny and Georgia more than a lot of people who actually get paid to write reviews. To each their own and all that, but where they saw, as one person put it, “trash,” I saw an interesting and engaging look at a mother and daughter trying to wrangle a world that is constantly telling them that they are unimportant, dispensable, and unworthy. Sure, sometimes that’s expressed through melodramatic, mildly soap-operatic plot lines that veer toward convoluted, but to me that’s part of the fun and the risk in mixing real world issues with humor, drama, and a little bit of fantasy. And great gadzooks, can’t we all use a little fantasy?
Side note: Taylor Swift took issue with a part of the series where Ginny tells Georgia that she “goes through men faster than Taylor Swift.” Taylor Swift tweeted that it was uncalled for and misogynistic. Since then her fans have been flooding places with one star reviews. And look, is it a great line? No. Is it believable that a teenager could hurl something like that at her mother? Absolutely! Does it make sense for Ginny to be a little slut-shaming in this instance? Yes. Could the writers still have done better and found a way to convey the same idea without using another woman as a reference? Definitely! Do I hope they take note and do better? I do! Is that one line a reason to throw away the entire show? That’s up to you, but my vote is no.