“The women struggle to come up with the money they owe the gang—which, in this case, means robbing yet again.” - Good Girls 1x02 (synopsis)
It’s such a matter-of-fact way to approach the concept of this series, a concept that’s structured in a way where its lead characters commit a different crime each week. This week, it isn’t just another robbery. Instead, it’s an attempted ransom-turned-robbery. It’s just like Ruby tells Beth and Annie: “Y’all are already getting charged for kidnapping. We might as well ransom his ass too.” However, it’s a crime-of-the-week that doesn’t go even half as smoothly as the grocery store heist in the pilot, due in large part to them not having a ransom plan half as good as their heist plan. But there are also cheating husbands mowing lawns and sick children who need soccer uniforms and messy custody battles to deal with, after all. On top of all the gang stuff.
There are glimpses of it in the pilot—like during the heist or even when she confronts people like Amber and Boomer—but “Mo Money, Mo Problems” makes it pretty clear that, of its three “good girls,” Beth is the one to really watch out for as the series continues. That’s not even necessarily in terms of Christina Hendricks’ casting and performance, so much as it is the character’s actual behavior. This goes far past her desire to remain SuperMom in the face of marital and financial (and mortality) crisis. Beth is an exceptionally good liar (whether it’s threatening Boomer or coming up with a cover for Grandma Marion), and she’s the one who gets Rio off their backs (sort of). She’s feeling the pressure the same way her sister and her best friend are, but she’s also able to confront certain situations here in ways they just can’t.
Actually, maybe Beth is feeling the pressure differently: We see her simply zone out multiple times in this episode, almost as if she’s able to disassociate from all of this. If only for a moment.
Beth would seem practiced at being this stone cold character if not for the fact that it just appears to come surprisingly and scarily easy to her. In reading up on the recasting situation for the character, I read that they chose to replace Kathleen Rose Perkins with Christina Hendricks after changing the character from a frazzled, timid housewife to what she is now. It’s a decision that makes sense—though I hope there’s a chance to see Perkins here or as the lead of her own series soon—outside of just going with a bigger name for the role. With this particular characterization, when you squint while watching this show in order to make Breaking Bad comparisons, Beth is clearly the Walter White in this lead trio. For Weeds comparisons, she’s the Nancy Botwin. Annie is simply too rash and Ruby is too well-adjusted. Beth’s own Type A behavior and issues stemming from her presumed lack of power (as “just” a housewife) come out with this newfound life of crime.
There are of course moments like the one at Marion’s (the always great, but too often underused June Squibb) home, where Beth’s unable to steal the money because she sees Marion’s “full life” and doesn’t want to ruin that. (Keep in mind, she’s already lived said “full life” and is a racist with a monster for a beloved grandson.) Beth literally looks herself in the mirror and questions what she’s doing. Now, as clichéd as that specific beat is, it’s a necessary one this early in the story. Because the way things are progressing even two episodes in, it’s a moment that probably won’t happen so easily in the future. Sooner or later, when Beth looks in the mirror again, she won’t have those second thoughts or ask if this is who they are now—because the answer will be obvious. At least, that’s where it looks like things will go with the character who drinks bourbon out of a sippy cup and already plays dark, scary things almost way too cool.
Speaking of the darkness of this series, Rio actually comes across as kind of scary this week. See: the diner scene, where his idea of giving them “more time” to get is money is barely 24 hours. (Retta plays the scene well, as Ruby tries to be brave for her friends but is paralyzed with fear.) But—especially two episodes in—real stakes still don’t exist all that much with this character, thanks again to the network television approach to things. Like I wrote about the pilot, Boomer’s attempted rape and entire attack there is a proper example of genuinely built tension and fear; because once the show proves it’s even willing to suggest it’ll go there, anything is possible with that character and story. None of the scenes in this episode (which leans in more to both the humor and emotional beats) are that dark, but it’s not like that darkness is exactly the type of thing one needs or even wants in every episode. That’s what scenes like Beth rifling through an old woman’s bedroom for a secret money stash as Toto’s “Africa” blasts on the soundtrack are for: They’re the kind of twisted that you should regularly expect from the show.
But so far, Rio’s existence as a character is all about threatening to kill the show’s lead characters and talking about food while doing so. The problem with the former is that there is absolutely no fear (on the audience’s part) or chance of that ever happening. (Unless the show goes on for years and one of the actresses has a contract dispute, that is.) You could hypothetically have Rio threaten the women’s loved ones for some added conflict, but assuming children are off the table, Ruby is the only lead character who has someone (Stan) whose suffering or demise could provide an actual emotional reaction from the audience this early in the series. Dean and Gregg are treated more as antagonistic characters to Beth and Annie, respectively, and while the women would react accordingly to any threat to those men, the audience couldn’t be asked to do the same. At least, not yet. Though, in the case of Gregg, there would be a mild case of emotional cheating in the form of something bad possibly happening to “Matt Saracen.”
Beth is also right to call Rio an “idiot,” as the ladies are actually on to something financially when it comes to the figurines Annie lifted from Marion’s home. The way they present the figurines and their idea to Rio proves that they legitimately think they’ve solved their problem, and the fact that he doesn’t even see that—and thinks they’re messing with him—shows he’s really not approaching this the right way at all. While the trio might be naive to think they can just give Rio access to their eBay accounts with proper auctioning tips, Beth is right to open his eyes to the fact that they’re “normal” suburban women who aren’t (technically) in or from the same world as him. Especially when she brings up the PF Chang’s of it all, finally speaking his language—food-based terms—to explain to him that people will care and look for answers if they’re brutally murdered.
Of course, apparently only one figurine lasts from the poorly thought-out ransacking, so the women are back at square one (as the Three Broke Good Girls) when it comes to their financial issues. It’s another story reset to keep things going, even though part of the “going” should arguably be them getting slightly ahead on this front. While the point of Good Girls is to watch these women who belong nowhere near the crime world keep getting deeper into the crime world—until or unless something changes—that’s a point that will always be connected to the fact that these same women also need to stay more than afloat, financially-speaking. Beth needs big money to get herself and her children out from under the weight of Dean’s crippling debt; Annie needs big money to secure a “badass custody lawyer;” Ruby needs big money so her daughter can have the $10,000/month medicine she needs, until Stan becomes a police officer (in six more months) and gets them health insurance.
However, the episode certainly succeeds in acknowledging that all of their crimes won’t go as smoothly as the grocery store heist. While the aftermath of that heist was a clusterfuck, the job itself was nearly perfect. That “nearly” was due to Annie’s tattoo, obviously.
Both “Pilot” and “Mo Money, Mo Problems” make a solid one-two punch as a pilot and a “pilot junior,” but the real test will be how things progress once the training wheels are off. The girls are in it now, as they can’t possibly just say no to whatever Rio has in store. Well, they could, but Beth’s “normal people” speech really only works once in terms of changing Rio’s mind about murdering them. The ladies now being under Rio’s thumb in this way gives more of a structure to their criminal behavior, while also explaining why they still have to deal with him. And again, the power of Christina Hendricks, Mae Whitman, and Retta compels this series, as we’re given an even better glimpse into the dynamic of the trio—a lived-in relationship, just two episodes in—as well as how their characters handle the pressure this life now has on their individual family lives. There is a lot happening in this episode, which appears to be Good Girls’ speed. And while it’s still undecided if that’s a good or a bad thing overall, it currently suits the show.
- Annie: “Must’ve been really scary.”
Baby Tyler: “In my job, the key is to think of yourself as already dead. So then there’s nothing left to be afraid of.” Words to live by. Also, the security guard is apparently named “Baby Tyler.”
- Annie’s obsession with Nancy’s (Sally Pressman, who’s been killing it on The Detour this season) pronunciation of “pico de gallo” is the type of pettiness I can get behind. Even better is Gregg’s frustration with it, as he probably pretends it doesn’t annoy him when Nancy does it. Speaking of the Gregg/Nancy dynamic, when Annie later tells Gregg not to make Sadie take off her shoes in her own home (because she’s a kid!), it’s the rare time he appears to actually agree with her.
- With the “We are winning.” scene especially and the lasagna/island scene, I just want to acknowledge that Stan’s positivity is nice... but also very stressful. It surprising Ruby isn’t the one drinking bourbon out of a sippy cup.
- Ruby: “You know what? This is some bull right here.” This is a line begging for the show to be on cable.
- I avoid watching previews for shows I cover, so I’ll just ask: Is the scene of them in the elevator with their heist attire and sunglasses (alongside the old woman with her cataracts glasses) used in every promo for this episode and show? Because it should be. The lock-picking scene also deserves this treatment.
- Ruby (to Beth): “You are an incredible liar.”
Annie (same): “I know, right?”
Beth: “Thank you!”
- Marion (re: Boomer’s “fiancé,” Jessica Alba): “I know what you’re thinking, but she’s only half.” To that, I’ll make another Arrested Development reference: “Okay, we’ll just tell you now: She’s the one who dies.” Only, she actually makes it through this episode alive too. Good Girls is 0-2 on the expected body count front.
- Ruby: “They have to have Indian food. I need to go someplace where they have Indian food.”
Ruby: “God no.” I am a big fan of how pedantic Annie and Ruby’s debate about China (and where to run away to, in general) is, all things considered.
- I still don’t believe Boomer has any actual connection to Rio, but now he knows the ladies have a connection to some shady guys. Again, all of this could have been avoided... (I assume that Rio will kill him by the end of the season, absolving our good girls of any truly horrendous wrongdoing.) The “hostage peen” dick pic is smart thinking on Annie’s part, but it’s so clearly a temporary fix for a guy like him.
- The comedy in this show works for what it’s trying to accomplish, which is a lot of stranger (suburban, working class moms) in a strange land crime) humor. Except for in the case of Dean. The Celica/Mustang scene tries very hard to pull levity out of his regret for cheating on his wife, but we’re only a week detached from him going down on Amber in his office. As I mentioned in my review of the pilot, I believe Dean’s guilt is real and not just a result of being caught, but I don’t think the character’s clicking yet as a humorous punching bag. At least, not this soon. Boomer does (see: him running with his hands tied behind his back, eventually falling into a ditch), but that’s humor based on a truly bad person’s embarrassment.
- Did Stan really throw out the other lasagnas? Because if so, that is television food wasting of the highest offense. Worse than ordering takeout and trashing it all when someone’s late for dinner. It’s supposed to be cute here, but… That’s a waste of both food and money.