“Ginny & Georgia” correctly depicts mental illness

Illustration of Ginny and Georgia
Emma Ford / The Mossy Log

Hit show’s first season glossed over serious challenges, second season focuses on realistic portrayals

Despite its flaws, “Ginny & Georgia” is one of very few shows to correctly portray mental illness in its second season.

The Netflix original centers around Georgia, a 30-year-old mother of two with a storied past, and Ginny, her 15 year-old daughter, who explores her independence while learning about her mother’s youth. While the show immediately sounds like a darker Gilmore Girls, it embraces this. Just seconds into the first trailer, Georgia declares that they are “like the Gilmore Girls but with bigger boobs.”

Season one  was met with mixed reviews. Despite achieving enough success to be renewed within a month of its debut, it was perhaps more notorious than beloved. The show quickly went viral on social media. A tasteless Taylor Swift joke incurred the wrath of Swifties, and a scene dubbed the “Oppression Olympics” was the butt of jokes everywhere from Twitter to Teen Vogue.

Beyond the controversy, the first season was not particularly notable. It was a soapy drama-comedy with plenty of uncomfortable moments, which leaned so heavily into being “Gilmore-Girls-but-edgy” that it struggled to have an identity of its own. It had its saving graces, though, from top-tier acting to the genuinely compelling cast of characters they portrayed. Overall, the show was entertaining if not groundbreaking.

The highly anticipated second season came out Jan. 5, and has been wildly popular. According to views during the first 28 days on Netflix, it was globally the second most-watched TV show for the week of Feb. 6 (behind “You” Season four, starring Lewis & Clark’s own Penn Badgely), and the 10th most watched of all time. 

This season immediately  felt very different than the earlier installment. The first season ends with Ginny running away to her father’s house, leaving tensions high with Georgia. In a long, scoreless scene, Ginny admits to her father that she has been self-harming. He promises that they will find Ginny a therapist and get her help, but insists they tell her mother. She resists this condition, and her refusal fuels a conflict that carries through the first half of the second season.

Ginny’s therapy sessions become a recurring event, with multiple scenes in the therapist’s office, discussion of her mental health with her boyfriend and moments when she uses the coping mechanisms discussed in therapy.

Importantly, therapy is not portrayed as a quick-fix, and it is neither dramatized or trivialized. The scenes are written with the care, realism and tact that was missing from the first season, and is missing in TV mental health plotlines overall. 

Season one included Ginny’s self harm, but glossed over it as an unhealthy coping mechanism that she would eventually deal with. It was not a big deal to her, her loved ones or the writers. Season two corrects these mistakes. The show is not about mental health, but rather about complex characters who are experiencing mental health struggles, among other things.

The nuance seeps into various plot points throughout the show. Georgia demonstrates a deep aversion to therapy due to her difficult past, which has also left her struggling with panic attacks she has never addressed. Ginny’s boyfriend, Marcus, falls into a deep depression and starts abusing alcohol, earning an episode centered around him that is one of the most impressive of the season.

This season’s accomplishments were twofold. First, a lackluster, overdramatized show completely turned around, maintaining its positive qualities, but injecting substance and authenticity. Second, it gets mental health right in a way few shows ever really have.

We have come to expect very little of mental health in media, from OCD on “Glee” to suicide on “13 Reasons Why,” viewers have been scorned too many times. This show rose to the challenge, bringing complex and empathetic treatment to a difficult topic that never gets it.

“Ginny & Georgia” serves as a model for what realism-based TV drama can become, and may move the genre in a direction it has desperately needed for some time. The show will likely be renewed for a third season, and I cannot wait to see where its potential takes it.

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