Ginny & Georgia is a really frustrating show. It begins badly, mellows out to fine, and then starts to become enjoyable. However, despite flashes of brilliance, it is trying to be and do far too many things, and as a result, it never quite manages to land.
This show follows mother and daughter duo Georgia (Brianne Howey) and Ginny Miller (Antonia Gentry) as they settle into their new lives in affluent Wellsbury. For Ginny, that means establishing the kind of social life she’s never had before, despite feeling unstable and constantly uprooted. For Georgia, it’s about outrunning her past and protecting her family. Netflix categorises it as a teen romantic drama/romantic comedy, but it’s at its best when it slips into drama or even thriller mode.
Its best really is good, because there are great things about this series. It balances a diverse cast of characters—different ethnicities, sexualities, and abilities—without being self-congratulatory. It broaches tough topics head-on, like self-harm, mental illness including eating disorders, childhood abuse, and racism. Georgia Miller is an incredible Elle Woods-type character (if Elle had had a significantly more traumatic and deprived past) and Brianne Howey is the standout performer on the show.
However, it also has some large flaws. Overall, the characterisation — much as the actors try to work with what they were given — is inconsistent, and the characters’ actions frequently contradict the exposition. It tries much too hard to mirror Gilmore Girls, which becomes distracting and annoying if you’re even a little bit familiar with it. It has two gay best friends, which would be fine if they were allowed as much romantic success as the straight leads, but they’re not (and the one lesbian sex scene is predictably far less explicit than the multiple straight ones). It shows Ginny Miller (Antonia Gentry) being a horrible friend and daughter without repercussion. And, it picks up issues like eating disorders and flings them aside without much examination, simply because there’s not enough time for the show to be all the things it clearly is trying to be.
Probably the biggest mishap – in terms of watchability at least – is sticking with the pilot episode. Georgia is an unlikable parody of herself to start with: a whirlwind who makes inappropriate sexual comments, steals weed, and breaks a nine-year-old’s nose. Ginny, meanwhile, epitomises the contradictory characterisation flaw. Introduced as awkward and also a virgin (in contrast to her mother being very confident in her sexuality), she decides to randomly have sex with the first person who climbs through her window. It’s great for her to explore her sexuality, but it was so out-of-character that the scene felt completely absurd.
Some of this conflict in characterisation seems to stem from the decision to parallel Gilmore Girls so much, which, it quickly becomes apparent, is absolutely nothing like the story the writers of Ginny & Georgia want to tell. If you came to this show hoping to see heart-warming mother–daughter BFFs, prepare to be disappointed: as much as the dialogue tries to tell us that slammed doors and animosity “isn’t us,” we see no evidence of this.
By contrast, the two subjects the show deals with best are ethnicity (specifically being a person from a mixed ethnic background) and abuse.
The former is something that is told through Ginny’s eyes, as one of the few people of colour in a very white school. It ranges from microaggressions, like her friend ruining her hair by trying to brush it and creepy offhand comments about wanting ‘mixed babies’, to a vicious argument about privilege. The argument is particularly compelling because it talks about privilege and ethnicity without reducing people of colour to a homogenous, equally oppressed group. The argument is between Ginny (of black and white heritage), and Hunter Chen (Mason Temple) (who is Taiwanese and white)—and they both passionately explain their own experience of oppression while failing to properly grasp the other’s perspective.
Abuse, meanwhile, is centre to Georgia’s story arc. The show is great at helping the viewer understand what went on without being gratuitous: the story is shown through Georgia’s actions and reactions, both in flashback scenes and in the present-day, only when it’s needed to advance the plot. Georgia is always centred. This part of Georgia’s story is where Brianne Howey really shines as an actor. She is a character that is so well put together on the outside that you need an actor who can show a person crumbling from the inside, and the suppressed emotion Howey gives the audience is far more powerful than any amount of crying and screaming could be.
There are other good things about the show too. The build-up of Georgia’s character, in general, is great: after a questionable start, the writers build layer on layer, until she is a nuanced, fascinating woman. Cynthia Fuller (Sabrina Grdevich), meanwhile, is a brilliant nemesis for Georgia and, despite not being the most powerful villain of the piece, is the only one you care about. There are fun set pieces like Sophomore Sleepover (think prom in pyjamas), musical theatre shows, and illicit teen parties aplenty. Episode 5, set on Halloween, has numerous horror-movie moments and jump scares, which was quite a nice change in pace. The friendships between Ginny and Maxine ‘Max’ Baker (Sara Waisglass) and Georgia and Ellen Baker (Jennifer Robertson) are lovely. And of course, there’s Clint Baker (Chris Kenopic), Max’s dad, who is a minor but likable character, who happens to provide some deaf representation too.
All of this doesn’t make up for Ginny & Georgia’s other highly questionable aspects, but a somewhat unexpected ending bodes well for a more original direction if it is renewed for a second season (as yet unconfirmed by Netflix).
Ginny & Georgia is available now on Netflix
Words by Naomi Curston