Updated: Jun 11, 2021
Ginny & Georgia accentuates class and race largely through its representation--and send-up--of gender norms, limning the realities of how girls/women without economic resources have to negotiate their lives via alternate ‘transactions’ to survive.
Early into the first episode of the Netflix series Ginny & Georgia, Alabama-born, single mother Georgia Miller--traumatic past, pregnant at 15, statuesque blonde with a lethal quip--teases her daughter by cracking, “we’re like the Gilmore Girls, but with bigger boobs.” Ginny is 15, mixed-race (Black father), petite. Both are terrifically smart. They’re emotionally joined at the hip but a definitive study in contrasting appearances and temperaments. While media reviews love to tout the Gilmore Girls influence, along with the series’ (occasionally frantic) pastiche of television genre formats (comedy, drama, mystery, ‘trash’--the “Netflix algorithm” [Weiss, PrimeTimer]), G & G at best has a tentative connection to that iconic single mother and daughter narrative. The fictional town Wellsbury, MA may on the surface appear ‘ideal,’ with more than a touch of Star Hollow, but the series’ writers excel at mocking both the upper-middle-class White mothers and their teenage children who profess liberal values yet clearly practice their own brand of narcissistic gatekeeping and racism. This series accentuates class and race largely through its representation--and send-up--of gender norms.
Its inclusiveness of what one Entertainment Weekly critic deems “some truly bleak undertones” is conveyed through abrupt flashbacks into Georgia’s past: poverty, sexual and emotional violence, abandonment…and murder. Ginnie & Georgia could have become a 21st-century version of the Beverly Hillbillies--in fact, Georgia’s sassy gay colleague often affectionately calls her “Ellie May Clampett.” Instead, it tries to limn the realities of how girls/women without economic resources have to negotiate their lives via alternate ‘transactions’ to survive. Georgia can certainly sound and occasionally look like a HeeHaw “honey,” but as a thirty-year-old mother of a fifteen-year-old daughter and nine-year-old son, she’s a brilliant performer seeking to give her two children (from different fathers) a “better” life--determined that nothing can get in her way. The series purposefully engages with these past televisual depictions of “white trash”/country vs. city/’working girl’ with a ‘heart of gold’ storylines. One example: Georgia enters a Wellsbury boutique shop to buy a “lovely bag,” but after her credit card is declined, she says “I can pay--for a second there, I thought we were going to have a Pretty Woman moment.” It turns out that she scams the sales clerk as Roy Orbison’s song “Pretty Woman” plays in the background. While Georgia is clearly a seasoned con artist, this scene reveals her self-awareness of such caricatures, positioning both her and her daughter as far more complex figures.
Ordinarily, such women are predominately cast as “bad mothers” who were too young to rear their children ‘appropriately,’ and at times Georgia certainly fits that bill: she moves as soon as a marriage or relationship sours and sets her sights on the next prospect, though “love” isn’t the goal--economic stability is her golden ticket. She gives Ginny the “sex talk” at age seven: “Men want sex… But you should never give anything unless you’re gettin’ something in return. … There are two things you can get from a man: passion or power.” Her ex’s mother had cautioned, “a woman ill-prepared is a woman set up for failure.” She is so focused on becoming a ‘winner’ that she can fail to see her children’s own hurts and needs as they attend a blur of different schools. She tells them their grandparents are dead (both apparently alive opioid addicts). She steals from her new beau and boss, the current town mayor. Did I mention that she’s also under investigation for killing several men? But the routine flashbacks provide some context for these crimes (rape; fondling her tween-aged daughter).
Ginny certainly sees her mother’s more transparent flaws, and her perspective receives equal weight in each episode as she narrates her side of the relationship: “I’m nothing like my mom” (physically or emotionally). At times, she functions as her younger brother’s substitute mother. While Ginny cringes at her mother’s exceptional White beauty, which male classmates and her friend group can’t stop talking about, she can count on Georgia to intervene in racist encounters, such as a gas station stop where a police officer gives Ginny a deprecating look: “That’s racist--guess we’re not leaving that bullshit in the south.” Or when her friends (mostly White) try to straighten her hair when they all decide to imitate Arianna Grande, and Georgia responds with both exasperation and empathy. Ginny also routinely takes down her new AP English teacher for condescendingly suggesting that she’s probably not “prepared” for the rigor of his course and insists that they read the “Great White men”--and she gets that fighting spirit from her mother.
Actress Brianne Howey (Georgia) offers one of the best readings of these intertwining narratives as “a mother-daughter coming-of-age story, and they’re both coming of age at the same time” (Entertainment Weekly). It’s highly unusual for a streaming series to reveal, empathetically, the myriad challenges that teen mothers confront and continue to reckon with into adulthood. Ginny & Georgia’s feminist slant emerges from its “female-centric” team, featuring executive producer, Sarah Lampert, and showrunner Debra J. Fisher, who sought to showcase up-to-the-moment teen cultures, issues, and problems alongside Georgia’s concerns, including, of course, sex and mental health. Mother and daughter each have their secrets. Ginny practices self-harm when she is frustrated or depressed; she tells us, “pain is empowering … When you don’t have a voice, you have to scream somehow.” She has a ‘nice’ boyfriend, who is also mixed race, yet the disaffected teen neighbor, Marcus, who is wealthy and White, stirs her more deeply. Georgia smokes some weed and nightly hits the wine bottle (the latter transparent to all). Ginny desperately wishes to excavate the truth about her family’s past, while her mother’s mantra remains, “the past needs to stay in the past.”
Reviewers often see that fixation as one sign of Georgia’s immaturity, but I find it interesting that Jack Kerouac’s On the Road pointedly appears in the first episode (a book on Ginny’s shelf) as a symbol of freedom that men in the narrative unapologetically embrace. Ginny’s father Zion, for example, pops in and out of her life at his own desire and pace, conducting research for his book on West Nepal’s “nomadic people” or simply being one himself. He’s an autodidact who lives an alternative lifestyle (and who helped train Georgia in survival tactics), which Ginny finds fascinating. Yet her mother’s constant roadtripping as a form of escape is perceived as narcissistic, emotionally flighty. When Zion takes Ginny to a Boston jazz club presentation of spoken word artists, he performs a poem about fatherhood, gesturing toward his daughter in the crowd. Ginny crows about it when they return home, but Georgia is not to be outdone, creating her own spontaneous poem about motherhood: “Anger. Fury. Motherhood!” Zion is a wildly attractive figure, but Georgia exposes his privileges in becoming a father when the moment suits him (though he does urge Ginny to respect Georgia as a mother and person). The final episode of Season One ratchets up the drama. Ginny learns more about Georgia’s transgressions and, due to a massive misunderstanding, is ostracized by her friends. She takes her younger brother and, like her father, hits the road with Marcus’s motorcycle. But ironically, she also emulates her mother, who “never lets her guard down” and “flees into the night” when her schemes fail.
Premiering in February 2021, Ginny & Georgia swiftly attained the #1 Netflix slot for nearly a month, and by late March, it could boast about its stunning ratings: 52 million households watched the series within that time span. I suspect that many of those viewers were high school and college students who rooted for Ginny as she negotiated her new school friendships, crushes, confused identities, and, as always, her love-hate relationship with her mother. But I’m also hoping that adult women in their thirties and beyond are also tuning in to cheer on Georgia because of her painful history and genuine, if many times misguided, approach to motherhood.
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