"[We're] like the Gilmore girls, but with bigger boobs," one-time teen mum Georgia (Brianne Howey) declares to her 15-year-old daughter Ginny (Antonia Gentry) in the first episode of Netflix's Ginny & Georgia. Sure, both series have uncannily similar titles and feature young moms who are extraordinarily close with their teenage daughters, all while living in quaint New England towns. But suggesting that Ginny & Georgia is just new Gilmore Girls (as even Refinery29 has done) is a far too limiting comparison. On a base level, Gilmore Girls wasn’t about murder or sneaky private investigators or a charming suburban mom who’s a grifter in her spare time. (Lorelai wishes.) One another level, the Lauren Graham-starrer also never delved into issues like race and sex the way Ginny & Georgia does.
"I think pretty quickly the audience is going to be able to tell and feel this is a different beast," Howey told Refinery29 during the series' January junket. "It has a different tone. It has a different vibe, different messaging."
Gilmore Girls followed Rory (Alexis Bledel) and Lorelai's (Graham) relatively charmed life in a small Connecticut town as they dealt with typical school problems, guy problems, and family problems (including guilt over accepting money from Lorelai’s wealthy parents), all while eating massive amounts of junk food. Ginny & Georgia is about a woman on the run from a violent past, who's keeping dark secrets from her own kids, and who’ll do just about anything to keep her head above water — she’s without the safety net provided by rich parents.
Ginny & Georgia also takes the idea of a codependent mother-daughter relationship to task; Ginny often finds herself in the parental role because Georgia is being irresponsible. As much as Georgia thinks she's doing her best, she's trying so hard to be Ginny's best friend that she sometimes misses the mothering parts. "It's me and you against the world, kid," Georgia tells Ginny in the opening episode, seemingly forgetting that she also has a young son — Ginny reminds her.
This type of mother-daughter relationship was glamorised in Gilmore Girls, wherein Lorelai was often portrayed as a super mom who managed to raise Rory while maintaining a nice house, good job, and enough money to eat takeout every day of their lives. In Ginny & Georgia, we see how Georgia’s reliance on Ginny and constant meddling (see: creating a fake Instagram account to spy on Ginny and her friends) severely and negatively affects Ginny, whose hidden struggles appear to viewers — and not Georgia — as the season progresses.
"With Georgia, there's a little bit of 'be careful what you wish for,' because she wanted this lifestyle for Ginny, because it's everything that she never got to have," Howey says, referring to their quaint new life in the fictional Wellsbury, Massachusetts. But as Ginny gains her own friend group and a boyfriend, Georgia begins to resent her daughter's newfound independence. "Georgia is gutted," Howey says. "Like, 'Wait a minute. I used to fill in all of those blanks for you and I don't any more.' … It's the first time Georgia has to grow up and realise that what's best for Ginny isn’t always what's always best for Georgia."
Ginny & Georgia also delves into a few topics that Gilmore Girls simply wasn’t equipped to handle. The Amy Sherman-Palladino series is often criticised for its nearly all-white cast and its setting in a quaint, nearly all-white small town. Ginny and Georgia is set in a town that’s not all that different from Stars Hollow, Connecticut, but the audience gets to see Wellsbury's flaws — and they run deeper than antics like the Stars Hollow mayor fighting to keep the historical street name, "Sores & Boils Alley."
"This town — it's very liberal and it's very progressive, but there's an asterisk," says Gentry. "Sometimes it's performative and we don't even know it."
Case and point: Ginny often experiences microaggressions from her friends who ask her questions like, "Which of your parents is white?" And one of her teachers repeatedly uses racist rhetoric with Ginny, like telling her that she's "being aggressive" when she speaks passionately during his class. When Ginny works up the nerve to call out his racism, he's aghast because he voted for Obama twice.
"A lot of the microaggressions that Ginny experiences are direct pulls from my life," Gentry says, explaining that she and the show's creator Sarah Lampert worked together to make Ginny's experience more realistic. "I had a chance to sit down with her and share my story and what it was like growing up being biracial and having mostly white friends. The things that they would say to me, not realising that they're tokenising me, or the things that they just don't understand are hurtful."
And the fact that Ginny had to work up the courage, for multiple episodes, to call her teacher out isn’t just a plot device — it’s a way of making yet another point. "That is unfortunately how most people, especially women of colour, deal with microaggressions. Sometimes it happens so quickly that you don't know how to respond in the moment," Gentry says. "And you don't even realise what microaggressions have affected you until much later."
The realism of Ginny's teenage experience radiates through the series, especially when it comes to how Ginny experiences sex. While Gilmore Girls did have storylines about Rory’s sex life and that of her best friend Lane Kim (Keiko Agena), it was often discussed in a more shameful way. When Lorelai learned that Rory's friend Paris (Liza Weil) had sex her senior year of high school but that Rory hadn't, Lorelai whispered to herself, "I've got the good kid." When Lane Kim (Keiko Agena) had sex for the first time after waiting until marriage, it was a very negative experience for her and she immediately got pregnant with twins. It was enough to make her give up sex forever. "Can we just not admit it? Sex is not sexy. Sex is horrible," she told Rory. In contrast, Ginny & Georgia addresses the importance of female pleasure, be it with a partner or on your own — a conversation that never even reared its head on Gilmore Girls.
"I think that is a great example for not just young women, but young boys as well, across any sort of sexual relationship," Gentry says. "The more we prioritise being open about what we are okay with and what we want, the more bridges we will build between people's experiences."
Despite a few crossovers in subject matter, thanks only to some of the boxes checked by its two main characters, Ginny & Georgia is no Gilmore Girls rehash. It's a neat marketing trick for the show to bill itself as similar to one of Netflix’s most-watched properties, but that also undermines everything that’s special about Ginny & Georgia. Could this new show have existed without Gilmore Girls forging a similar path first? Maybe not, but we don't need a new Gilmore Girls when we already have the (admittedly flawed) original. We need shows that challenge what we think we know and storylines that advance the genre. That's what Ginny & Georgia aims to do, and while Gilmore Girls fans may like Ginny & Georgia, so will Pretty Little Liars fans and Shondaland devotees.
The series is ultimately its own thing — and that’s just peachy.