Political misfires in 'Ginny & Georgia' and 'Riverdale'

Scott Porter and Brianne Howey in Ginny & Georgia
(Image credit: Netflix)

This post contains spoilers for Ginny & Georgia and Riverdale.

Is it better to draw more attention or simply stay silent when obvious parallels are apparent? In Ginny & Georgia, the big move to a sleepy New England town doesn’t require too much effort to spot the Gilmore Girls single mom similarities, and the script by creator Sarah Lampert makes no attempt to ignore this. The titular characters live in a world in which Lorelai and Rory Gilmore exist and the self-referential pop culture nod — “We’re like the Gilmore Girls, but with bigger boobs” —  is indicative of the kind of quips sprinkled throughout. These range from mentioning Vanessa Hudgens in Grease: Live to silver screen legend Vivien Leigh. A twist on the Friday Night Lights “Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose!” rallying cry is far from the first show to draw on this signature motivational phrase, but the presence of former-FNL cast member Scott Porter as the Wellsbury mayor makes this nod more of a brain-wrinkling in-joke. Local politics is a cornerstone of the Netflix dramedy and while civics is a valid and vital arena, it also falls into the same quagmire as Riverdale’s battle for public office. In a bid to stir up tension amid the adult characters, the position of mayor becomes a cudgel for control and these narratives have a habit of sucking the air out of the high school shenanigans. 

Similar to Riverdale’s penchant for delivering a broad spectrum of nods to entertainment, the new Netflix series is fond of wide-ranging movie and celebrity mentions — including the one making headlines. The two series share a lot more than first appearances would suggest, which includes Ginny & Georgia playing hot and loose with the kind of show it desires to be. One moment it is tamer Euphoria before switching to Hart of Dixie (see also Scott Porter), the next it is serving Pretty Little Liars meets a How to Get Away with Murder mystery complete with flashback clues. It is a carnival of your TV favorites that never feels confident enough to stick to one particular genre. It could slot into any number of the broad Netflix categories and this narrative mash-up is geared toward an unfussy algorithm. Blurring the boundaries isn’t rare or revolutionary, but the first season feels like everything is being thrown at the wall and only a few things are sticking. The desire to make us care about who is mayor is something both Riverdale and Ginny & Georgia have failed to do and it is time to rethink this source of conflict.

Hiram and Hermione in Riverdale

(Image credit: The CW)

In Season 2 of Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa’s Archie Comics adaptation, the Black Hood serial killer arc ran parallel to the fight for the position previously held by Sierra McCoy (Robin Givens). Riverdale is at its strongest when tapping into true crime and horror-based storylines with the Black Hood borrowing from the unsolved Zodiac murders — later, he is revealed to be Betty’s (Lili Reinhart) father. Whereas the creepy angle tends to be a Riverdale highlight, episodes get bogged down when evil political machinations come into play. Since the Black Hood was unmasked, several more serial killers have stalked this town with another killer lingering in the Season 5 shadows. While murders continue to thrive within the town borders, one title that no longer exists is mayor because Hiram Lodge’s (Mark Consuelos) plan to dissolve Riverdale has come into fruition — although the doors to the high school remain open.  

A string of crimes also follow Georgia (Brianne Howey) but her sights are on survival rather than bringing down the picture-perfect Massachusetts town she has moved to with teenage daughter Ginny (Antonia Gentry) and nine-year-old son Austin (Diesel La Torraca). Gaining favor with Mayor Paul Randolph (Porter), Georgia quickly annoys the Wellsbury moms who assert their dominance over all educational matters — including the lunch menu. Subverting and playing into the “cool” mom trope in equal measure, Georgia’s personal and professional relationship with the mayor leads to Queen Bee mom Cynthia (Sabrina Grdevich) announcing her candidacy on Halloween (hence Paul’s Clark Kent get-up). It is a classic small-town narrative that raises the stakes of this role while pushing Georgia’s relationship forward — Paul proposes in part to highlight his desire to be a family man to voters. Meanwhile, in desperate need of money, Georgia cooks some books and puts her new beau’s dreams of being governor one day in jeopardy.    

Halloween episode of Ginny & Georgia

(Image credit: Netflix)

Hitting the hour-long runtime means episodes of Ginny & Georgia succumb to the overstuffed sag that is a Netflix trademark. Just because you can fill 60 minutes of television doesn’t mean you should and there is something to be said about the tight 42 minutes offered to network showrunners. However, even Riverdale makes similar missteps and these are far from the first two dramas to think an election storyline makes compelling TV. Even shows with a stronger political narrative can’t always turn a bid for office into an enticing set-up. The Good Wife made a similar error when Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies) ran for State’s Attorney in the penultimate season, showing signs the legal series was running out of steam.

Local politics is important, but on both Riverdale and Ginny & Georgia this avenue isn’t actually about civic duty. Rather, it props a character up as an antagonist and is rarely satisfactory — either through victory or loss. One major difference between these two teen shows is Riverdale is under no qualms that it is the real world. The retro aesthetics coupled with the wide-ranging references (not to mention the many out-there storylines) means that even its political set-up is perfectly implausible. Pitting Hermione against Fred Andrews (Luke Perry) with Hiram pulling the strings is a ridiculous scenario bogged down in personal history and ulterior motives. However, the biggest crime the mayoral race committed was being boring and in Riverdale’s scattershot storytelling there is nothing worse than taking up screen time with a dull multi-episode arc. Also, justice for the McCoy family who were never served well on this show.

Meanwhile, the flashbacks that slowly peel back Georgia’s origin story — complete with a Lost-adjacent whoosh noise — suggest this drama packs a meatier punch, but the gritty visuals and events feel out of place with the quip-heavy Wellsbury setting. Sure, humor is a defense mechanism and the present-day scenes aren’t all puppies and rainbows, but the shift between these threads is enough to give the viewer tonal whiplash. The political battle is an extension of this and for a woman who has spent her entire adult life fleeing from somewhere or someone, Georgia sure lets her guard down when the relationship with Paul heats up. And considering how much she is temporarily scamming from her workplace, you would think the illicit trip to the bank would be more discrete. Alternatively, if you are going to flash that much cash, make sure your fiancé’s political opponent isn’t standing conveniently outside when this transaction goes down. Cynthia needs a reason to go snooping in Georgia’s desk but this clunky coincidence is indicative of some larger leaps and plot holes weighing this series down. There is plenty to like across the 10 episodes, but the later season mayoral election is further proof that teen dramas can (and should) abstain from this vote. 

Emma Fraser

Emma Fraser spends most of her time writing about TV, fashion, and costume design; Dana Scully is the reason she loves a pantsuit. Words can also be found at Vulture, Elle, Primetimer, Collider, Little White Lies, Observer, and Girls on Tops. Emma has a Master’s in Film and Television, started a (defunct) blog that mainly focused on Mad Men in 2010, and has been getting paid to write about TV since 2015. It goes back way further as she got her big start making observations in her diary about My So-Called Life’s Angela Chase (and her style) at 14.