It’s a good time to be the Netflix algorithm. With everyone sitting home, watching episode after episode of true crime docuseries and comfort food comedies, every day must be a veritable feast of data. From precisely whence “Ginny & Georgia” springs, this writer cannot say—it was created by newcomer Sarah Lampert, the showrunner is “Criminal Minds” vet Debra J. Fisher—but it has the feeling of a series that was regurgitated by that very hungry algorithm, a show designed to get as many bites at the “Because You Watched” apple as possible. The influence of Amy Sherman-Palladino’s “Gilmore Girls” isn’t so much clear as it is deliberately underlined, up to and including name-checking the WB/CW series early in the proceedings. (There’s also a handsome curmudgeonly local restauranteur whose growing devotion to the scrappy, gorgeous single mom seems to be obvious to everyone but said mom, so it’s not just the name-dropping.) But the issue with “Ginny & Georgia” isn’t its largely superficial resemblance to “Gilmore Girls.” It’s that it’s trying to be a little bit “Gilmore,” a little bit “Mad Men,” a little bit “Dead To Me,” a little bit “Little Fires Everywhere,” a little bit “Weeds,” a little bit “Euphoria” … you get the idea.
In short, “Ginny & Georgia” is a lot, and that’s true long before we start peering into the mysterious box under the floorboards in one character’s closet. It’s a shame, because the core of the series—the bit that owes the most to Hulu’s “Little Fires Everywhere,” rather than “Gilmore”—is the one that’s most interesting. 15-year-old Ginny (the wonderful Antonia Gentry) is starting at what’s merely the latest in a long line of new schools, dealing with teachers who assume she’ll underachieve and classmates who have no problem telling her about the cute little “mixed babies” they want to have one day. Georgia (Brianne Howey), her 30-year-old mother, is the reason for the all the relocation; Ginny tells us that it’s always about leaving to get away from a man or to a new man, but Georgia’s closet is full, not just of impossibly chic high-waisted pants and secret boxes, but also of metaphorical skeletons. Ginny also has a little brother, but as the show’s title suggests, he’s less a character than a plot device; more important are her new friends, notably her chaotic-good next-door neighbor Max (Sara Waisglass, charming enough to make Max only a little exhausting) and Max’s brooding twin brother Marcus (Felix Mallard). There’s also Hunter, a dreamboat high school boyfriend (promising newcomer Mason Temple), so likable that not even his choice to lead a tap-dancing flashmob can diminish him in the eyes of his peers.
That’s the Ginny half of “Ginny & Georgia”—the story of a smart, driven young woman whose desire for stability and normalcy is often at war with some more reckless teenage impulses and not a small amount of confusion and self-loathing. (Among the issues confronted by Ginny and her friends are those of race, class, sexuality, self-harm, and disordered eating.) Lampert, Fisher, and company are at their best when writing for Ginny, and Gentry doesn’t miss a beat; it’s a performance that manages to be earnest without ever becoming saccharine, and wanders into fraught territory without crossing the line into self-indulgence. The writers and Gentry together do an especially nice job of capturing the endless conflicting impulses that make being 15 such a nightmare and thrill; Ginny often struggles to understand herself, but it’s clear that Gentry knows her intimately.
In the Georgia half of the proceedings, things are considerably rockier. It’s tough to address directly without giving away much of the plot, but imagine Lorelai Gilmore’s backstory were a Don Draper-style front and you’ll have the right idea. It’s in Georgia’s character development that you most feel the algorithm at work; it’s so divorced in tone, pace, style, and depth from the Ginny story that it’s hard to imagine the two threads began in the same place. Howey’s engaging presence makes the scenes between Georgia and Ginny and Georgia and neighbor Ellen (Jennifer Robertson of “Schitt’s Creek”) relatively compelling, but there’s just so much going on that almost any actor would struggle to make something textured yet cohesive out of the mess. By the time the sixth episode rolls around, things start to gel, and Howey is never anything less than game (and gloriously costumed). I’m glad I stuck around to get there, so if the rest of the series appeals to you, just know you’ll need to ride it out for about half a season.
For some, that’ll be entirely too long to simply ride something out. Still, it’s better to do too much with such a character than too little. Ginny’s great, Georgia’s a mess, and the tiny kid brother wears Harry Potter glasses and knows how to throw a punch. If you can be patient with them, then “Ginny & Georgia” is worth a try. If not, never fear: the algorithm will get you eventually.
Eight episodes screened for review. Now available.