tv review

Ginny & Georgia Is So, So Much. Truly, So Much.

The mother-daughter relationship between Georgia (Brianne Howey) and Ginny (Antonia Gentry) feels reminiscent of Gilmore Girls, but that reference point is merely one layer of what Ginny & Georgia is doing. Photo: Courtesy of Netflix

Guy Fieri has a recipe called Trash Can Nachos, and the idea is exactly as over-the-top and probably as delicious as it sounds. It’s not just a few layers of chips with some toppings and melted shredded cheese. It’s a tower of tortilla chips, built inside a large metal can and layered with carne asada, beans, salsa, red onion, jalapeño, Cotija cheese, and then soldered together with a roux-based cheese sauce made from four other kinds of cheese and heavy cream. It’s clearly nachos, but it’s also so much more, crowd-pleasing but also polarizing, and stuffed with bits that do not need to be there. Except that if you took anything away, it’d be less fully itself.

Trash Can Nachos is what the new Netflix series Ginny & Georgia most reminds me of. It’s an hourlong drama about a woman named Georgia (Brianne Howey) with a checkered past and two kids, who moves to an affluent suburban community in Massachusetts for a fresh start. Her daughter, Ginny (Antonia Gentry), was born when Georgia was only 15, and the Gilmore Girls mom-and-daughter-are-more-like-sisters impression is palpable. It also seems purposeful, given the double-G hit of the title and the quirky town setting. The Gilmore Girls comparison is obvious and Ginny & Georgia invites it readily, but that reference point is merely one layer of what Ginny & Georgia is doing. To call it a Gilmore knockoff would be like trying to describe Trash Can Nachos by saying, “Oh yeah, they’re like most nachos you’d make for yourself on a typical day.”

Because Ginny & Georgia has so much more going on than just the tense dynamics between a mother and daughter who are unusually close in age. As the show starts digging into Georgia’s past, which includes a smorgasbord of illegal activity, Georgia also starts covering her tracks in the present, and the show becomes a crime drama. When Ginny starts making friends at her new school, the show shifts into light teen drama mode, but when they party pretty hard and Ginny engages in some frightening self-harm, the teen drama becomes much darker. Georgia starts working for the town’s mayor (Scott Porter) and in those portions the series shifts more into a local political dramedy. Throughout it all, the series is heavily influenced by who among the several love interests Ginny and Georgia are most drawn to, and in those sections it’s comedy, with a strong dash of brooding romance. Oh and also, Ginny has a younger brother named Austin (Diesel La Torraca) who is sometimes an adorable, socially anxious Harry Potter fan and is sometimes frighteningly comfortable with violent behavior.

So it’s not just Gilmore Girls, it’s also Dare Me, Euphoria, Weeds, Sneaky Pete, Mom, Desperate Housewives, and How to Get Away With Murder, with a hit of We Need to Talk About Kevin and a reverse Hart of Dixie twist.

Describing a TV show via comparison with all the other shows it’s most like is lazy, and it tends to underplay what’s most interesting and unique about a new series. It’s a shorthand way to illustrate familiar things. In Ginny & Georgia’s case, describing it by way of other TV shows feels inevitable, because the show does many things well, but is not great at sewing all those parts together into one big consistent world. It’s almost impossible to know what kind of a show it’s going to be from scene to scene. Will this next part with Georgia be more “mom trying to be wholesome but failing,” or will it be more “mom who doesn’t care at all about wholesomeness because she’s engaging in embezzlement right now”? Is the tone of this town council meeting going to be “these suburban citizens are lovable kooks” or will it be “this is soul-killing and dull”? It’s a wild and unpredictable mixture of so many genres and tones that watching it often feels like being shuttled from one TV show into another, with little warning and less explanation. It feels like a Frankenstein’s monster of so many other things, and if you look closely you can still see where all the individual parts came from.

It’s an uneven and over-long show that shambles toward the last episode in fits and starts. And yet, if you ignore the large-scale structural problems and the question of why this tower of nachos had to be built in a can so big with so many different cheeses, Ginny & Georgia offers plenty of narrative threads to pull you along through the season.

Ginny and the three other girls in her tight-knit friend group (Sara Waisglass as Max, Katie Douglas as Abby, and Chelsea Clark as Norah) are their own little engine of solidly firing school drama. They hang out and fall out and make up and betray one another with a rhythm that’s more regular and plausible than most other parts of the series. There are mesmerizing little snatches where Ginny just sits in her bedroom texting all her friends. The screen is a flood of incoming messages into the group chat and then a simultaneous onslaught of texts where Ginny tries to analyze what’s going on in one-on-one sidebar conversations. The group partying scenes and inevitable precursor and follow-up group argument scenes are the show’s most reliably compelling writing, especially when it folds in Ginny’s discomfort with being the one Black kid in the group, or one of the other girls’ anxieties about their home lives.

Ginny & Georgia’s “everything all the time” impulse works best in the high school context, where it makes sense for a passel of teenagers to be overwhelmed by a dozen different sources of sexual, emotional, and social tension, and to feel highly attuned to them at all times. The series also puts the most loving energy into its high school tropes — the big school sleepover event, college-application anxiety, the terrible racist teacher, the cliques. I was grateful to see the revival of one of my personal favorites, Hot Neighbor With Floppy Dark Hair Who’s Not Your Boyfriend But Climbs Into Your Bedroom Window to Make Banter Sometimes. It’s also easiest to feel for Ginny. She makes some terrible decisions and she’s sometimes cruel, but she has the most compelling motives for her behavior, and she’s at the center of the show’s best stories about friendship, sex, class, and race.

The Georgia side of the equation is much wobblier. She is a character who’s constantly fending off accusations that she is a bad mother, either explicit ones from the fellow town mothers, or implicit ones from some of her love interests, her children, figures from her past. And the thing is … she is, often, a bad mother. For instance, she does quite a bit of crime. There’s a whole arc with Austin that involves him stabbing a classmate, and Georgia barely notices. She hides things from Ginny in the name of protecting her, and that backfires about seven different ways. But the show can’t decide whether it’s on Georgia’s side or not, or whether she’s supposed to be a Breaking Bad–type villain who we sympathize with even when we shouldn’t. The feeling changes dramatically depending what mode the show is in, and who Georgia’s harming in the name of saving her family. By the end of the season, it’s fairly obvious that Georgia’s got some real problems. It’s much less obvious whether Ginny & Georgia wants us to hold them against her.

Mr. Fieri made those Trash Can Nachos because there was a market for them, and even for someone who doesn’t love the entire presentation, there’s probably going to be at least some part of those nachos that tastes good. That’s true for Ginny & Georgia, too. The whole package may be dubiously conceived and overstuffed, but there’s enough going on that some of it can’t help but work.

Ginny & Georgia Is So, So Much. Truly, So Much.