'Ginny & Georgia': Meet the New Gilmore Girls, Dialed Up to 11

'Ginny & Georgia': Meet the New Gilmore Girls, Dialed Up to 11

At first glance, Netflix’s Ginny & Georgia seems like it was created by a streaming-service algorithm. The story of a single mom (Brianne Howey’s Georgia) and the precocious teenage daughter (Antonia Gentry’s Ginny) she had when she was a teen herself, it not only mimics the central premise of Gilmore Girls, but that show’s quaint New England location, its alliterative double-G title, and even the idea that our heroines spend a lot of time hanging around a local restaurant whose gruff, bearded owner favors plaid shirts. It’s as if the show’s actual flesh-and-blood creator, Sarah Lampert, was tasked with making sure that Netflix users bingeing old Gilmore episodes had something satisfying to turn to when the recommendation engine pointed them in a new direction.

Lampert (in her first credited TV or film writing job) doesn’t exactly run from the comparisons, either. The title characters’ first argument is, like so many between Lorelai and Rory Gilmore, about pop-culture ephemera — in this case, whether Vanessa Hudgens or Stockard Channing is the superior Rizzo from Grease — and soon after, Georgia literally says, “We’re like the Gilmore Girls, but with bigger boobs.”

However cynical the show’s origins may or may not have been — in the press notes, Lampert talks about growing up watching shows like Gilmore Girls and Buffy, but also says she drew inspiration from her own teenage years and family relationships — Ginny & Georgia is most interesting when viewed through the lens of how much television has changed in the 21 years since Gilmore Girls debuted. The new show ultimately has charms of its own, even as it suggests what shape its predecessor would have to take were it made today, and for a streamer in particular(*).

(*) Technically, we already have an example of a Gilmore Girls-esque product made for a streamer: the 2016 Netflix miniseries Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life. But best not to dwell on that reunion, and how we all would have been better off never seeing what Rory Gilmore was like as an adult.  

Gilmore Girls was a cozy comforter of a series in which the appeal was less about the stories than the pleasing rhythms of Amy Sherman-Palladino’s quippy, rat-a-tat dialogue (and the way actors like Lauren Graham and Kelly Bishop delivered it) and the chance to spend time in the company of so many lovably quirky characters. Precious little happened in many episodes — the biggest source of conflict was often about an unkind word said at a family dinner, or an obscure ordinance brought up at a town hall meeting — and relationships (both platonic and romantic) gradually built over each season, or sometimes across multiple seasons.

As a show producing 22 episodes per season in a much less crowded viewing environment, Gilmore Girls could afford to meander. Ginny & Georgia has only 10 episodes to play with in its first season (Netflix’s standard length in recent years), and has to fight for the attention of viewers who have a near-limitless choice of shows, present and past. So it moves faster, and is more loaded with character, incident, and flash. If Lampert and her collaborators (including showrunner Debra J. Fisher) wanted to lean even more into the comparisons, they could have sold the show as: “What if Gilmore Girls, but Lorelai is a ruthless con woman?” That’s essentially who Lorelai already was, but in exploring Georgia’s dark past (in flashbacks to her teen years, she’s played by Nikki Roumel), the new series is more overt and dramatic about it, weaving in a variety of mysteries and threats that feel more out of a Shonda Rhimes show than one from Sherman-Palladino.

As Georgia, Ginny, and Ginny’s sweet little half-brother Austin (Diesel La Torraca) roll into their new town — “It looks like Paul Revere boned a pumpkin spice latte,” Ginny quips — the series wastes little time flooding the zone with characters, love triangles, blackmail, and other forms of intrigue. Ginny is almost instantly drawn into the friend group of neighbor Max (Sara Waisglass) and a potential romance with doting classmate Hunter (Mason Temple), while fighting an attraction to Max’s twin brother Marcus (Felix Mallard). Georgia quickly gets her hooks into the town’s dashing mayor, Paul (Scott Porter*), while also flirting with local restaurateur Joe (Raymond Ablack). There are legal battles, a shady private investigator, and a surprisingly heated local election, on top of everything that Ginny is dealing with at school.

(*) Nearly as fourth-wall-breaking as the “Gilmore Girls, but with bigger boobs” line is when Georgia paraphrases the “Clear eyes, full hearts” catchphrase from Friday Night Lights as she’s romancing former Dillon Panthers quarterback Jason Street.

With all of that, the show is biting off more than it can chew, and a lot of it — particularly anything romantic — ends up feeling rushed. This is arguably an improvement over the period when every Netflix show treated its first season as a really long premise pilot where barely anything happens, but there can be a middle ground between the two.

The series also leans hard into issue-oriented storytelling in a way that would have seemed wholly foreign to the quaint, low-stakes world of Gilmore Girls. There are stories about self-harm, drinking and drug use, and lots and lots of teen sex. None of it is at the Euphoria level — though someone finds an alternate use for an electric toothbrush that would surely give Rory Gilmore the vapors to even think of it — but it can feel like Ginny & Georgia is trying too hard.

Yet it’s in the more topical material where the series is at its strongest. While Georgia styles herself as just shy of a caricature of a Southern belle —  “She loves Vivien Leigh,” Ginny suggests, “because her whole life has been making a dress out of curtains” — Ginny’s often-absent father Zion (Nathan Mitchell) is black. The show does a good job at depicting the indignities big and small Ginny suffers for never quite fitting in anywhere, and there’s a fantastic scene late in the season where she and the half-Taiwanese Hunter argue over whose biracial status causes them more grief. (For that matter, while the series as a whole is wildly overpopulated, it finds empathy where it can for nearly every character, even a seeming cartoon villain like Sabrina Grdevich’s Cynthia, a local queen bee who does not approve of Georgia suddenly becoming the center of attention.)

No matter how ridiculous or busy the storytelling can get, Howey and Gentry are both appealing and versatile performers, even when some of the story choices start to suggest that Ginny isn’t joking when she calls her mom a psychopath. Some of the supporting players, like Waisglass and Ablack, are able to break through and get attention within the crowded cast. The show calms down a bit late in the season and is watchable — if, like a good Gilmore, overcaffeinated — throughout. There’s also one area where Ginny & Georgia has a clear leg up on its predecessor: It understands from the jump that it’s not especially healthy to have a mom who wants to be your best friend and is reluctant to fully grow up herself.

Netflix has made shows before that seemed at least partially designed to appeal to fans of an acquired library title — trying to funnel Breaking Bad viewers, for instance, into checking out the thematically similar Ozark. The attempt has never been quite so transparent as it is here. The differences in narrative style and tone between Gilmore Girls and Ginny & Georgia are striking enough that the attempt to feed the algorithmic beast could backfire. But for those who don’t mind their heaping spoonfuls of small-town drama mixed into a much pulpier stew, this new series may satisfy as much as the older one.

Netflix is releasing all 10 episodes of Ginny & Georgia on February 24th. I’ve seen the whole season.

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