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‘Ginny & Georgia’ and When You Can Feel the Netflix Algorithm Working

Overall, the new series is nothing like ‘Gilmore Girls,’ even if it does seem like it was made to be a suggestion if you liked ‘Gilmore Girls’

Netflix/Ringer illustration

A mother and daughter, fleeing their problems, settle down in a picturesque New England town. The mother had the daughter when she was a teenager; now the daughter is a teenager herself. Sometimes, the two feel more like sisters than parent and child, a dynamic as charming as it is codependent. Their rapport is fast-paced and peppered with pop culture references, from Grease to Gone With the Wind, that only underscore the idea they’re working from the same shared pool of knowledge.

Ginny & Georgia is not Gilmore Girls, but it’s all too aware you’ll make the connection. (See the trailer, where Georgia actually says “We’re like the Gilmore Girls, but with bigger boobs.”) A simple Google search of the new Netflix drama yields scores of headlines that draw the all-too-short line between A and B. Those headlines are the result of search engine optimization, a common practice to game the algorithms that help organize the infinite chaos of the internet into something more manageable. Which fits, because Ginny & Georgia itself feels like the result of a more targeted form of SEO: the way a streaming service built on volume and universal appeal organizes its vast catalog under arcane principles like “taste clusters” and hyper-specific genres like “Critically Acclaimed Feel-Good TV Shows” and “Movies Based on Real Life.”

Gilmore Girls proper has been a part of Netflix’s catalog since the fall of 2014. Through a licensing deal forged to stock Netflix’s digital shelves, the service introduced a new generation of fans to Rory and Lorelai. Two years later, Netflix capitalized on the show’s popularity in the most literal way possible: producing and hosting a sequel, the four-part miniseries A Year in the Life. Now, the service had a way to keep fans safely within its walled garden even after they had completed their binge—and make Gilmore Girls a permanent part of the Netflix brand, not one entirely contingent on contracts. (As the product of Warner Bros. Television, don’t be surprised if Gilmore Girls gets repatriated to its home turf of HBO Max the next time the lease is up.)

Since A Year in the Life, Gilmore Girls creator Amy Sherman-Palladino and her husband and creative partner, Daniel Palladino, have migrated over to Amazon Prime, where The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel offers a turbocharged showcase of their strengths and weaknesses alike. Netflix is not exactly hurting in the Palladinos’ absence, continuing to dominate the zeitgeist with such hits as Bridgerton and The Queen’s Gambit. But after hooking fans a half-decade ago, it still has to cater to the same “cluster” that has passionate thoughts on the relative merits of Jess, Logan, and Dean. So why not just make a show with a near-identical synopsis?

Once the viewer presses play, however, Ginny & Georgia doesn’t feel anything like Gilmore Girls. With their caffeinated pace, throwback vibe, and dancer’s sense of space, Sherman-Palladino shows have a unique sensibility that’s hard to duplicate, although Ginny & Georgia doesn’t really try. Ironically, the differences in substance only drive home the similarity of the two shows’ packaging. After all, Ginny & Georgia wasn’t actually made by an algorithm; it’s created by Sarah Lampert, features two lively performances by Antonia Gentry and Brianne Howey as the titular leads, and like all TV shows, required the contributions of a prodigious cast and crew to even make it to the screen. Nevertheless, it feels targeted in its presentation toward an audience more familiar with the concept than this specific execution.

So if Ginny & Georgia is more of a Gilmore Girls descendant than an outright clone, what’s it actually like? The answer is “a lot,” and not just because of how many tones and subplots the show takes on as the story snowballs. Georgia (Howey) is an over-the-top Southern belle prone to animal metaphors and allusions to Gone With the Wind. After growing up poor in an abusive home, she had Ginny (Gentry) at 15 with a high school boyfriend, then Austin (Diesel La Torraca) six years later with a white-collar criminal now in prison. Finally, Georgia married a wealthy, older yoga magnate whose untimely demise gives her the resources to start over in the Northeast.

To be clear, all this is just background information—the show doesn’t even start until the unconventional family settles into their new home. (At least their palatial real estate comes with a thorough explanation, however far-fetched.) Once there, they embark on a series of adventures that quickly escalate to the absurd. Stars Hollow may have been quirky, but Gilmore Girls stakes were fundamentally grounded, rooted in life-sized dilemmas like where to go to college or how to navigate tensions between generations. The plot of Ginny & Georgia, by contrast, quickly expands to include sex, drugs, murder, credit card fraud, and crucially, the school play. If there was ever a shark to be jumped, it’s cleared halfway through the pilot.

Ginny & Georgia has Gilmore-esque flourishes: the cute café owner who gives Ginny an after-school job; the small-town mayor who becomes Georgia’s boss and potential love interest. (In another bit of high-school-drama-with-a-second-life-on-Netflix synergy, said mayor is played by Scott Porter of Friday Night Lights fame.) But in its high melodrama and of-the-moment politics, the show ends up closer to Netflix teen fare of a more recent vintage like 13 Reasons Why. Within the space of a single episode, Ginny goes from never so much as kissing to having unprotected sex; plot devices like a “sophomore sleepover” feel like a relic from the John Hughes era, but they’re populated with queer romances and flirty zingers like “check your privilege.” The result feels less like a carbon copy of Gilmore Girls than a show made for Gen Zers who only know about Gilmore Girls from their parents.

Whether Ginny & Georgia is good, at least in the eyes of this solidly millennial critic, is irrelevant. It’s the kind of show actual teens will immediately buy into, and non-teens will giddily screenshot to jeer on social media. But even after bingeing the season, the most singular aspect of Ginny & Georgia is how blatantly not singular it is. Netflix has long operated on an incentive structure that rewards similarity, creating mini-networks of genres either broad (mid-budget romantic comedies) or bizarrely specific (reality shows where cast members can’t touch each other). Yet it’s hard to recall a duplicate as striking in its broad strokes, especially when what it’s duplicating isn’t another Netflix original, but a leased title that’s nonetheless known as a Netflix property to much of its fan base. Watching Ginny & Georgia can feel uncanny, even grating. You always know those all-seeing algorithms are hard at work, but it’s another thing entirely to see the gears grinding out in the open.