Finding themselves before the truth finds them: Thoughts on Ginny & Georgia

(image courtesy IMP Awards)

MILD SPOILERS AHEAD … AND MUCH ANGST AND HEIGHTENED LIFE STUFF

Ginny & Georgia is, in many salient ways, the anti-Gilmore Girls.

This may sound like the obvious comparison to draw since the show is about a mother and daughter who are close in age – Georgia (Brianne Howey) had Ginny aka Virginia (Antonia Gentry) when she was a homeless 15-year-old, the result of one night stand that became a lifelong every-now-and-then love affair with Zion Miller (Nathan Mitchell) – but the show calls out the thematic elephant in the 10-episode drama series room when Georgia refers to her daughter and herself as being “… like the Gilmore Girls but with bigger boobs.”

But that is about where the like-for-like elements pretty much come to a dead halt.

Where the Gilmore Girls offers trials and tribulations, all wrapped up, for the most part, in the warmth, love and emotional big hug of friends and family in Stars Hollow, Connecticut, Ginny and Georgia, set in the upmarket fictional town of Wellsbury, Massachusetts, takes a hard core deep dive into gritty, unrelenting reality.

Well, to a point.

For all its admissions that life can be tough, damn tough, especially if you’re at the bottom of the ladder and have neither the emotional support nor the financial resources to climb further on up, the show is also quite happily predisposed to lather up the soap and get all sudsy melodrama in a narrative that veers between confronting honesty and truthfulness and a predilection to throw every issue possible into the mix.

Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t; for instance, at one point we are give a fairly harrowing glimpse into Georgia’s past life, one which involves sexual abuse and morally-challenged strategies for survival but while this is undeniably emotionally impacting, it is accompanied by all kinds of melodramatic twists and turns that signal a pulpy shift in tone from the arresting revelations.

It’s not that Ginny and Georgia isn’t highly enjoyable in certain respects, and certainly the on-again, off-again relationship between the two titular characters is compelling enough to keep watching, but the show doesn’t seem to know if it wants to be all CW-teen melodrama or a serious exploration of what it means to be poor and without many options in the dog-eat-dog capitalist society of the United States.

When Ginny and Georgia focuses on the latter, it can make for some really impactful television.

Georgia, with a hard scrabble background, one which has necessitated, in her mind at least, a series of dubious moral choices, some of which are criminally liable, is a survivor, a devoted mother (and that is key here; Georgia is never less than a mum committed to the very best for her two kids, which include Ginny’s half-brother 9-year-old Austin played by Diesel La Torraca) who will do what it takes to give the room to breathe and forge a meaningful, safe life for her and her kids.

It’s that need to fix her broken life and make sure her children never come close to the same kind of blighted existence that impels her every move, many selflessly loving, others primally self-protective, and which makes her a brilliantly absorbing character to watch.

Similarly Ginny makes for great watching because much of what drives her is a counterpoint to what her mother has done to her all her life.

The move to Wellsbury is the latest in a LONG line of uprootings, and so when Ginny finally makes friends with the kids at her new high school – bestie Maxine (Sara Waisglass), who is a ton of hyperactive though boundary-crossing fun, Abby (Katie Douglas) and Norah (Chelsea Clark) known collectively as M.A.N.G. – and finds love with both brooding Hunter (Felix Mallard), who is Maxine’s twin and sweet band member/nerd Hunter (Mason Temple), she is understandably disinclined to give it up.

Not that Georgia wants to leave Wellsbury but with all her past poor decisions coming home to roost, including her just-dead ex-husband’s death and will being contested by his ex-wife and some serious cash flow issues impacting the realising of her rich suburban dream (which includes working for and romancing the town’s mayor, Paul Randolph, played by Scott Porter), Ginny, rather realistically fears that Georgia will invoke her usual M.O. and make a run for it, leaving her multitudinous problems behind.

It’s this tension that informs much of the storyline in Ginny and Georgia which thrives off the fact that the two protagonists are as likely to be besties as mortal enemies depending on the situation and the moment.

The way both characters act make sense with Georgia’s tenacious though immature obsession to shore up her life and Ginny’s teen perspectives informing how they respond to a host of difficult situations or exciting opportunities.

To a great extent, with Ginny and Georgia informing just the right amount of time in backstory expositions, this part of the show rings true and feels compelling enough to keep selecting the “next episode” option.

But it’s when the show veers into steaming, angsty melodrama that it begins to feel tonally off.

That’s not because the melodrama is badly done; it is, in many ways, exactly what a lot of modern shows trade in – big reveal after big reveal, emotional tornados and whirlwinds that come so thick and fast the characters have no choice but to whip around and do their best to respond.

It often feels like narrative roulette, with every episode a mix of affecting character-driven storylines and so much soapiness that if you’re figuratively washed clean by the end of the episode, you’re not doing it right.

It’s like tonal whiplash a lot of the time, and there’s a sense of exhaustion watching the show since you know any happiness will last only minutes, if it is given that long to luxuriate in the break from Things Going Terribly Darkly Wrong.

And sure, it’s a drama so you can’t have people too happy for too long but the Ginny and Georgia seems unwilling to let the dust settle for any time at all, which means that it’s often hard to feel any real connection to the characters who are no sooner feeling real and identifiable with when a sudden narrative swerve sends them on another great curve and we’re back in the thick of melodramatic madness where it’s the shocking event or reveal that matters and not the people in the thick of it all.

Ginny and Georgia is fun to watch and because there is enough investment in what compels the two leads to act the way they do, you are tempted to stick around for the ten episodes; having said that, if the show gets a second season, and the door is wide open for that to happen as the final episode rides off into the night, it needs to ask itself what it wants to be and what will best serve two characters who deserve a chance to catch their narrative breath and show us what is really driving their pell-mell dash through the unpredictable madness of life.

Ginny and Georgia is currently streaming on Netflix.

Posted In TV

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