NBC’s Good Girls can be sold on the cast alone. Boasting an impressive trio of leading ladies with Christina Hendricks, Retta, and Mae Whitman, the series should immediately pique the interest of even the most casual television watcher. Throw in a plot line in which the three women all turn to crime in order to take back some semblance of power in their lives and, on paper, anyway, the darkly comic series seems like a surefire win for everyone involved. The only problem is, for all that the series has going for it, and all that it aspires to be, after the first few episodes, Good Girls feels a lot like a broadcast network’s imitation of Breaking Bad.
Good Girls concerns Beth (Hendricks), her sister Annie (Whitman), and a mutual friend Ruby (Retta), as three middle-class women struggling to provide for their families, thanks to their respective circumstances. Beth’s husband Dean, played by the always-welcome Matthew Lillard, owns a used car dealership and, in addition to cheating on his wife with a ditzy secretary who has dreams of making it big in Hollywood, has whittled away the couple’s savings on a series of bad investments that have left their mortgage in arrears. Annie is a single mother who works as a cashier at a supermarket and is raising a gender non-conforming child Sadie (Izzy Stannard). Sadie’s father is pressing for custody, while Annie’s boss, Boomer (David Hornsby) is pressing her for some off-the-clock attention and can’t take a hint. Ruby, meanwhile, has a sick daughter with escalating medical bills that her and her husbands wages can’t cover.
The three are in dire straits, but it’s not until Beth discovers her husband’s infidelity that she decides to move forward with Annie’s semi-joking plan to rob the grocery store where she works. That likely made for a terrific elevator pitch and it’s a strong conceit for a pilot, but once Good Girls has to move beyond the idea of suburban women making the extreme decision to commit a felony, things start to become derivative. It’s one of those ideas that would have worked better as a short film or if the creators had devised a better angle than to perpetuate an open-and-shut plot by inexplicably dragging in the cartel.
The charm of Good Girls is in the relative constraints of its setting and how the disruptive and potentially destructive actions of the main characters stand in such dramatic contrast to the idea of middle-class suburbia. So when Beth, Annie, and Ruby wind up with a much larger pile of cash than they anticipated, and its revealed that the town’s supermarket is laundering money for the cartel, that charm and distinctiveness goes right out the window. The series’ world becomes too big too fast, like if Miami Vice suddenly moved in on Parenthood halfway through the pilot episode.
Mashing up seemingly contradictory elements, like a family drama on a broadcast network and a gritty crime story, could potentially result in something new and strange and exciting, especially with these women leading the way. But in the first few episodes, Good Girls isn’t terribly interested in exploring the alchemy of such discordant ingredients, and instead choses to just be one thing: a story about three unlikely criminals who get in way over their heads. There’s nothing inherently wrong with going down that path, but it would be nice if the show did it better.
In an effort to explain just how unlikely a trio of criminals Beth, Annie, and Ruby are, the pilot devotes a good portion of its time to watching them dig their respective hole deeper — well, one of them, anyway. While Beth and Ruby use their ill-gotten gains to pay off bills and stabilize domestic situations in free-fall, Annie goes on a spending spree, arriving to pick Sadie up from school in a brand new Porsche with a new laptop waiting under the passenger seat. Good Girls is predicated on the idea that a litany of unintended consequences will result from one very bad decision made in a collective moment of anger and desperation. For the series to then forcibly complicate the situation through the foolish decisions of one character undermines a solid idea and makes you question the plausibility of the plot that much more.
At times Good Girls is caught between simply trying to have fun by focusing on its three leads. lightening up what is a fairly dark concept, and toying with the idea that maybe there’s an edgier drama hidden somewhere in the stacks of stolen cash. That’s never more apparent than when Rio (Manny Montana), the drug dealer whose money the women took, makes his appearance. Rio is very much the network television equivalent of Tuco Salamanca. Everything about him, from the neck tattoos to the gold-plated handgun, is window dressing for an oversimplified image of a dangerous cartel member. That he’s also approachable and reasonable enough to let the women pay the money back suggests the name Rio is actually short for Convenient Device to Sustain the Plot.
Still, it’s hard to imagine a world where a lot of people don’t tune in for Good Girls. And why wouldn’t they? The cast is absolutely fantastic; Hendricks, Whitman, and Retta enjoy an easy, compelling chemistry with one another and elevates a show with some early shortcomings. Good Girls may be derivative at the start, but the level of talent it has on hand should give hope that later episodes will put them to better use and give these woman a story that’s more befitting of them.
Good Girls continues next Monday with ‘Mo Money, Mo Problems’ @10pm on NBC.