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One Good Thing: Netflix’s Ginny & Georgia is so much more than a Gilmore Girls rip-off

(Though it’s also occasionally just that … )

Georgia helps Ginny do her hair in a mirror.
Ginny & Georgia’s Brianne Howey (left) and Antonia Gentry are a mother-daughter duo with a complicated, codependent relationship — and if that sounds familiar, that’s wholly intentional.
Courtesy of Netflix
Emily St. James was a senior correspondent for Vox, covering American identities. Before she joined Vox in 2014, she was the first TV editor of the A.V. Club.

“Is this show awful?” I wondered aloud after watching the second episode of Netflix’s Ginny & Georgia.

I had been skeptical of the series, whose premise (at first blush) seemed to be “What if Lorelai Gilmore was a con artist, but the rest of Gilmore Girls was largely the same?” and whose mere existence seemed to be predicated on Netflix’s fears that it might lose Gilmore Girls from its streaming catalog someday. (The algorithm has to recommend something in its “complicated mother/daughter relationships” category.) But Ginny & Georgia’s second episode, which crams in so many stray plotlines it seems as though it’s casting about for a reason to exist, left me ready to abandon ship.

I’m glad I stuck with it. By the end of the series’ 10-episode first season, I was ready for more. Heck, I was more or less hooked by episode six. There is no denying Ginny & Georgia suffers from growing pains, or that season one would be a lot better if its story were spread out over additional episodes. (The way this series accelerates its will-they/won’t-they relationships made me realize that TV romances are much better when they play out across 22 episodes instead of 10.) But its charms are considerable, and it riffs on Gilmore Girls without being beholden to it. It made me nostalgic for the heyday of the WB.

Like Gilmore Girls, Ginny & Georgia is about a mother (Georgia) who had her daughter (Virginia/Ginny) as a teenager and is dealing with parenting that daughter now that said daughter is a teenager. When the series begins, Georgia is 30 and Ginny is 15; they live in a small town in Massachusetts (instead of Connecticut like in Gilmore Girls), and complicated family dynamics, class issues, and love triangles dominate both shows’ plotting.

But Ginny & Georgia adds a hefty dose of Shonda Rhimes-ian melodrama to that basic template. Creator Sarah Lampert and executive producer Debra Fisher ladle on the sudsy complexity as we learn Georgia has a more checkered past than she has let on to her kids. (Ginny has a half-brother named Austin, who is 9.) By the end of the first episode, it’s clear Georgia has got some serious skeletons in her closet.

The most notable reason to watch Ginny & George is for the half of the show that focuses on Ginny, played by newcomer Antonia Gentry. Ginny’s mother is white, and her father is Black. The show is at its best when it starts to dig into the complicated ways Ginny understands her own identity. A scene where Ginny argues about biracial identities with one point of her love triangle — Hunter (Mason Temple), a boy with one parent of Asian descent and one white parent — is a highlight of the whole season.

But Ginny’s half of the show also includes a teen friend group worth investing in, particularly her best friend Maxine (Sara Waisglass), a lesbian who is out and proud but who also has never had a girlfriend. Occasionally, the series can drift a little too far into Euphoria territory with the teens, who face Several Important Issues, but a scene where they just get to hang out and goof around will usually right the ship very quickly. The other point of Ginny’s love triangle is Marcus (Felix Mallard), who’s one of the best spins in a while on the “teen bad boy” trope. He deals pot, but nobody really cares. The real reason he and Ginny shouldn’t get together is that he’s Maxine’s twin brother. Scandalous!

Georgia’s half of the show is less successful, though it has its charms. Brianne Howey, an actor I’ve enjoyed in other works and who played a teenager herself in The Exorcist just a few years ago, sometimes feels a little stranded amid her character’s baroque, soapy plotlines. The series’ frequent flashbacks to Georgia’s past add very little to her story beyond what we already understand from her present self, and her main love interest for the season (the mayor, played by Friday Night Lights star Scott Porter, a.k.a. Jason Street) is a riff on a Shonda Rhimes love interest that feels simultaneously overheated and undercooked.

But even in this less successful half of the show, vague proximity to Ginny works wonders. The later episodes of the season, which bring Ginny and Georgia into wary conflict with one another and test the strength of their bond, is much better than the early episodes simply because both characters have good reason to be upset, and both have good reason to try to work out their differences.

By the season finale, Ginny & Georgia has wound its way to a cliffhanger straight out of the WB shows it so clearly admires, one where it seems like everything has changed forever in thrilling fashion. And yet you can also already see how the show will start to knit its status quo back together, assuming it gets a second season.

It takes a lot of work to overcome the kind of utter and abject horror I felt when Georgia said, “We’re like the Gilmore Girls but with bigger boobs” within the series’ first 15 minutes, especially to the extent that I’m absolutely going to mainline every single episode of season two, should one ever exist. But even with all of its faults, Ginny & Georgia got there for me. It is not a perfect show, but it’s a lovable and endlessly watchable one. Sometimes, when you just want to watch a fun TV show, “lovable and watchable” is better than perfection anyway.

Ginny & Georgia is currently streaming on Netflix. For more recommendations from the world of culture, check out the One Good Thing archives.