Good Girls Will Give You Whiplash

Photo: Courtesy of NBC.
Good Girls, premiering Monday, February 26, is exactly the kind of series I should be able to call My New Favorite Show. The upcoming NBC dramedy is created by Shondaland production alum Jenna Bans, involves women behaving badly, and puts together the killer cast of Mad Men powerhouse Christina Hendricks, Parks And Recreation scene-stealer Retta, and the ridiculously lovable Mae Whitman of Parenthood and Arrested Development fame. This should all be a recipe be for success — and, yet, it’s not exactly. The problem here is that Good Girls doesn’t know what kind of series it wants to be.
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From the conversations I’ve had about the Hendricks-Retta-Whitman-starrer, I’ve learned many a TV viewer believes Good Girls is a fun, loose comedy about average, everyday women on a crime spree. That show sounds awesome. Unfortunately, Good Girls is not at all that show.
Rather, it’s a traditional network drama filled with splashes of comedy to keep viewers from slipping into a depressive episode over how bleak its characters' lives are. Ruby Hill (Retta) has the saddest circumstances of all as a mom gravely worried about her ailing young daughter Sara’s (Lidya Jewett) failing kidneys. When we first meet tiny Sara, she’s giving an impassioned speech while hooked up to an oxygen tank. Despite the fact Ruby and her joyously wonderful husband Stan (forever funny best friend Reno Wilson) are picking up endless double shifts, they still can’t afford the expensive medicine that will give Sara her life back.
It’s a shockingly dark reminder of just how important good health insurance is at a time when the dominant political party consistently attempts to torpedo millions of Americans’ access to affordable care.
Although Ruby clearly has the worst situation, sisters Beth Boland (Hendricks) and Annie Marks (Whitman) aren’t doing much better. Beth, who has been married to husband Dean (Shaggy Rogers, I mean, Matthew Lillard) for decades, comes to find out her spouse is both cheating on her and has sunk their family into massive amounts of debt. There is no money in their bank account, the mortgage hasn’t been paid, and it’s up to Beth to figure everything out. It’s an uncomfortable portrait of what happens when a woman fully gives up her financial autonomy for a man… and that man is not up for the task.
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Annie gives us an updated spin on the Lorelai Gilmore story, which makes sense as Whitman will always be known as Lauren Graham’s other TV daughter. Annie is the reckless-but-well-meaning young single mom of another preternaturally responsible daughter, gender-flouting tween Sadie Marks (Izzy Stannard). Unlike Gilmore Girls’ Christopher Hayden (David Sutcliffe), Sadie’s obviously wealthy dad (Zach Gilford) is ready to fight for custody of his child. Grocery store employee Annie doesn’t have the kind of cash necessary to defend herself.
So, all of these truly, realistically dark paths lead our heroines to rob a grocery store. What a gloomy way to enter a crime preceded by Selena Gomez’s jaunty head-bopper of a hit “Bad Liar.”
Good Girls decision to pair a dancey, earworm of a pop track with three women’s most desperate, ill-advised life decision is the dramedy’s problem in a nutshell. It’s legitimately difficult to know whether you should be laughing or crying from one minute to the next, which owed to the NBC show's highwire of a premise. These are three hard working moms who likely never had a brush with the law more dire than a speeding ticket. The fact these women are donning comically ridiculous ski masks and brandishing fake guns to hold up a grocery store is funny. The actresses who bring the trio to life are famously funny, including the supposedly serious Hendricks, who was actually one of the best parts of Comedy Central’s Another Period for two seasons. Even the kids with meaty roles are funny.
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But, Good Girls also goes to great efforts to give Beth, Annie, and Ruby’s actions terrifying, weighty stakes. Although the women hope their robbery is a one-and-done brush with the bad girl lifestyle, they quickly find themselves dragged deeper into the dangerous world of crime thanks to a twist. The problem, as shown in the trailer, is the trio didn’t merely steal from a grocery store chain. No, they accidentally stole from a gang kingpin who isn’t afraid to threaten women with actual guns. This puts everyone’s loved ones in jeopardy, moving Good from a Women Behaving Badly romp to the kind of show where children’s lives are threatened on the regular. Viewers are forced to imagine what everyone’s lives would look like if any of its leads were murdered by a gang banger, which is scary for anyone with a mother or a child.
Remember when I said this show — which also includes an attempted rape scene within its first episodes — was dark?
Thankfully, Good Girls starts to find good footing with its third episode, “Borderline.” The installment illustrates the kind of appropriate hijinks that arise when women who have never been a shade of bad are forced into the underworld of crime. It gives off just the right amount of humor, anxiety, and pathos without a single pistol being held to anyone’s head.
So, if you want to support a woman-led network drama like Good Girls, maybe dive in with episode 3? Just remember to pay extra close attention to the “Previously on” segment.
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