“Ginny & Georgia” Is Yet Another Netflix Algorithm Triumph

Yes, it brought us that controversial Taylor Swift joke. Still, it’s as watchable as you’d expect.

I’d never heard of the Netflix show Ginny & Georgia until earlier this month, when Taylor Swift slammed it for a “lazy, deeply sexist” joke in a tweet to her 88 million-plus followers. During the season finale, teenager Ginny (Antonia Gentry) argues with her mother Georgia (Brianne Howey), accusing her of going through men “faster than Taylor Swift.”

“How about we stop degrading hard working women by defining this horse shit as FuNnY,” Swift tweeted, criticizing the joke for its staleness (fair). She also called out Netflix itself for daring to host both her documentary, Miss Americana, and Ginny & Georgia, with its blink-and-you-miss-it quip about her (uh, a reach). Swift polished off the tweet, which was retweeted over 220 thousand times, with “Happy Women’s History Month I guess.” Swift, who I otherwise love in spite of myself, has an annoying habit of characterizing any criticisms lobbed her way, no matter how mild, as some major feminist crisis. Still, her point stood: The line was crappy.

With only this one joke to go by, I figured that Ginny & Georgia suffered from lazy writing, if anything, rather than all-out sexist malice. Intrigued either way, I queued the show up on Netflix, where it had been hovering in my trending bar for a while. I quickly discovered that, yes, sometimes the writing is painfully tryhard, and its hyper-specific references head-scratching — yet, like the good little consumer I am, I just couldn’t stop watching it.

Ginny & Georgia is a wannabe Gilmore Girlsmeets–murder mystery, the kind of Netflix mashup that feels like it’s been ground through an eyeball-optimized algorithm. I’m loath to reward the algo, but the comfortingly familiar premise of a good-time gal single mother and her grouchy, sensible teenage daughter sucked me in. Throw in some wild first-episode flashbacks of Georgia seemingly poisoning her husband’s smoothie with wolfsbane, and I was fully on board.

Georgia, impressively eyebrowed and full of secrets, has spent most of her life on the go, but now she’s hoping to settle at last in well-to-do Wellsbury, Massachusetts. She was only 15 when she had her oldest child, Ginny, who’s biracial and struggling to adjust to the world of Wellsbury’s affluent whiteness. While she’ll call out her English teacher for a white- and male-dominated curriculum, Ginny has a much harder time standing up to her new friends when they pepper her with racist microaggressions. The show’s attempts to do justice to the particularities of Ginny’s experience are well intentioned but cringingly executed. In one emblematic conversation, which went viral on Twitter (in the bad way), she and good guy Hunter (Mason Temple), who’s also biracial, argue about their respective failures to live up to racist stereotypes. An excerpt:

Ginny: “Your favorite food is cheeseburgers and I know more Mandarin than you do — you’re barely even Asian.”

Hunter: “Sorry I’m not Chinese enough for you, but I’ve never seen you pound back jerk chicken. Last time I checked, [one of our white friends] twerks better than you. And I liked your poem, but your bars could use a little more work, homie. So really, how Black are you then?”

The show does a better job when it sticks to well-trodden territory. In true small-town TV show fashion, Ginny’s next-door neighbors become the two most important people in her world: her new best friend, Max (Sara Waisglass), a less-than-convincing lesbian whose personality I would describe as way too much, and her twin brother, Marcus (Felix Mallard), a broody stoner cliché (who, by the way, seems suspiciously like a bad rip-off of Marcus Flutie from Megan McCafferty’s iconic Jessica Darling series — right down to the ironic day-of-the-week T-shirts). But hey, none of us went into this expecting much originality, did we? Ginny & Georgia knows we’re all missing the homey feel of Gilmore Girls, much like Emily in Paris cashed in on our nostalgia for Sex and the City.

While most of Ginny’s friend group is kind of intolerable, Ginny herself is a lovely anchor: smart, headstrong, charming when she wants to be. The ways she tries to ingratiate herself with peers who mostly don’t deserve her or understand her unique place in the world feel very true to teenagehood, when belonging in any kind of group at all can matter more than who those people are. And the show does understand the digital world she lives in. Of the many shows that have tackled texting and social media to varying degrees of success, Ginny & Georgia handles them quite well; the scenes of Georgia alone in her room and scrolling through a group chat while back-channeling with friends in other threads are strangely mesmerizing in quick cuts and close-ups; watching, I felt that familiar little jolt of dopamine that accompanies a good iMessage gossip session.

While our protagonists are winning enough to tug us along through the series, the show’s tone and tenor are all over the place. As the season progresses, it becomes clear that Ginny is self-harming, and such a dark thread felt out of sync with what was otherwise coming together as a peppy teen dramedy. We’ve got some Parks and Recreation–like aspects of small-town political theater, Desperate Housewives–y mariticide, and Freeform teen drama plus some attempts at Euphoria edginess. Even though I probably watched the entire season within a 24-hour period, after a few cutesy gossip scenes, I’d completely forget about the crime and murder-y subplots.

If anything ties the multiple genres and strange selection of pop culture references together in this unhinged medley of a show, it’s the romances. Ginny & Georgia satisfies the most elemental of rom-com pleasures: getting to root for a winner among competing love interests. Ginny has to decide if she should be with Hunter, a friend-approved, kindhearted musician and the more wholesome choice (Dean, if this were actually Gilmore Girls), or Marcus, the beautiful bad boy with a cruel streak (he’s the Jess). Georgia, meanwhile, has always had a turbulent on-again, off-again thing with Ginny’s dad, Zion (Nathan Mitchell), a dreamy, motorcycle-riding photographer, but now she’s drawn in by Wellsbury’s most eligible bachelor, Mayor Paul (Scott Porter, aka Friday Night Lights’ Jason Street). Meanwhile, I’m rooting for the cutie who runs the farm-to-table café, Joe (Raymond Ablack).

A lot of trash on Netflix is just that — irredeemable garbage that shouldn’t be renewed just because we all hate-watched it — but I’d be happy with a second season of Ginny & Georgia (which hasn’t yet been announced but is pretty likely), having missed it more than I thought I would when it was gone. Not only do we need to get to the bottom of all this murder business, but I care about the characters, especially our two leading ladies, bad Alabama accent and all. There’s something bizarrely satisfying about this maximalist mashup — I want to know what happens next! And in a time of so much incredibly bad TV, perhaps that’s good enough. ●

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