Few series in recent memory have dared to be as fun and ambitious out of the gate as Netflix’s Ginny & Georgia, an engaging and suspenseful new dramedy about a mother-daughter duo that has invoked obvious—but frankly uninspired—comparisons to Gilmore Girls. Though the two shows share a picturesque New England setting, investigate topics of wealth and privilege, and feature competent single mothers who had children as teens, Ginny (Antonia Gentry) and Georgia (Brianne Howey) are far from this generation’s Rory and Lorelai.
A biracial 15-year-old whose parents had her when they were just teens themselves, Ginny has never had a stable life; her photographer father never stuck around for too long, and her mother frequently relocated their small family from town to town in search of normalcy and security. This has had the unfortunate but perhaps unsurprising effect of making Ginny a constant outsider whose struggles with her racial identity—her father is Black and her mother is white—have made it difficult for her to make friends and fit in at each new stop on the road to Wellsbury, Massachusetts, the wealthy and predominantly white town the family settles in at the beginning of the show. Ginny’s experience stands in direct contrast to the beautiful and exuberant Georgia, who has seemingly mastered the art of assimilation after years of practice. As such, Ginny silently resents her mother, blaming her for myriad issues in her life while also believing she’ll never measure up to the woman who raised her.
Of course the irony is that Ginny is more like Georgia than she realizes, a lesson that most of us learn about ourselves eventually after it’s much too late. But for much of the show’s breezy and thoroughly addictive first season, Ginny struggles to understand Georgia and the choices she makes for their small family, failing in the process to recognize the great lengths that Georgia has gone to keep Ginny and her younger half-brother, Austin (Diesel La Torraca), from experiencing the same tumultuous and unforgiving upbringing she did.
In a sense this is a fairly classic story about the often complex relationships that exist between mothers and daughters, as the latter get their first taste of freedom and begin to form their own opinions. In the hands of the show’s all-female creative team, led by first-time creator Sarah Lampert and first-time showrunner Debra J. Fisher, the show manages to capture this confusing and frustrating period in a young woman’s life with relative ease. And that extends to the show’s depiction of Ginny’s relationships with her new friends, especially the excessive and emotionally needy Maxine (Degrassi: Next Class’ Sara Waisglass) who quickly positions herself as Ginny’s best friend. These young women are authentically written to be self-absorbed and impulsive by nature. Everything that happens to them is either the best or worst thing that has ever or will ever happen because they don’t have the benefit of life experience or the ability to think about things in the long-term. They also rarely accept the consequences of their actions until it’s too late. It’s a tale as old as time.
However, much like its heroines, Ginny & Georgia has dreams of being more than what it appears to be on the surface. Those dreams manifest themselves in the form of multiple ambitious and overlapping storylines, including Ginny’s ongoing struggle with self-harm; Austin’s violent outbursts after being bullied at school; Georgia’s burgeoning relationship with the town mayor (Scott Porter) after scheming her way onto his reelection campaign; a private investigator looking into Georgia’s past; Ginny slowly twisting herself into knots so people will like her; and unrequited love on the part of local restaurant owner Joe (Raymond Ablack). This is not to mention the show’s references to racism, privilege, sexism, abuse, feminism, divorce, and even body image that crop up throughout the first season in an attempt to give voice to the countless issues affecting today’s teens.
The series tries to do so much in these first 10 episodes, and it’s more than admirable, but the result is a show that is so overstuffed it cannot successfully service each of its storylines in a satisfying way. Fortunately, the show remains immensely watchable regardless, and that is because of the quick pace, a seamless blend of genres, and Howey’s engaging performance as a cunning and ruthless but sympathetic woman who—despite what her daughter might think—is still very much in the process of figuring things out herself.
In Howey’s hands, Georgia is a blend of friendly warmth and steely reserve, a woman with all the strength and confidence of a classic femme fatale. This makes her irresistible to men but an enemy to plenty of women who are either threatened by her beauty and youth or wary of her intentions. However, it’s clear even without the flashbacks to Georgia’s own teen years that are sprinkled throughout the show that this is often nothing more than a facade built out of necessity and strengthened by years of use. When Georgia is alone and no longer forced to be on, the mask disappears and she is just another woman trying her best. Unfortunately for those around her, Georgia’s best often leads to her worst, taking the character down a dark path she claims is in the interest of providing her children with a life of comfort and safety. But she’s so focused on making sure her children don’t follow in her footsteps that she ultimately fails to recognize all the ways she’s hurting them, even neglecting obvious cries for help.
At times Ginny and Georgia both view Wellsbury as an idyllic place where their problems melt away at the town line. For Ginny, she sees it as a chance to have the life she’s always longed for. She looks at her new friends and sees stability in the form of two-parent households and teens who’ve never wanted for anything, with every luxury handed to them, including access to the best schools. She doesn’t stop to consider that those same teens might be hiding their own set of equally valid problems, like depression, pressure to fit into and follow a predetermined life path, or even a messy divorce. Meanwhile, Georgia sees Wellsbury as an escape, the image of suburban perfection where she can finally put down roots and let her guard down. But no such place actually exists. No one is free of problems or worries. Behind the stately brick homes and perfectly manicured lawns of Wellsbury are people just like Ginny and Georgia, people with big dreams who are similarly trying their best to figure things out.
I can’t say the show always nails these major revelations about life or motherhood or friendship, but there’s so much to like in these first 10 episodes it also doesn’t matter. In fact, the biggest hurdle the show faces is that Netflix hasn’t been too kind to similar coming-of-age shows of late. Last year’s Teenage Bounty Hunters, a series with a similar vibe to Ginny & Georgia, also had a fun premise and dealt with complicated female relationships, and Netflix canceled it after just one season. The same can be said about the ‘90s-set Everything Sucks! and even The Society, which was renewed only to be canceled later because of the pandemic. But the threat of becoming another one-season series shouldn’t keep anyone from enjoying this peek into the lives of Ginny and Georgia Miller. In fact, this is the only way the show has any hope of seeing a second season at all. And given where Ginny and Georgia end up at the end of the first season, you’re going to want to see everything Season 2 has in store.
Ginny & Georgia premieres Wednesday, Feb. 24 on Netflix.
Kaitlin Thomas is an entertainment journalist and TV critic. Her work has appeared in TV Guide, Salon, and TV.com, among other places. You can find her tweets about TV, sports, and Walton Goggins @thekaitling or read more of her work at kaitlinthomas.com.
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