Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Good Girls is trapped in familiar, messy territory in season 4

Christina Hendricks in Good Girls
Christina Hendricks in Good Girls
Photo: Jordin Althaus/NBC

With its solid first two seasons, NBC’s crime dramedy Good Girls established itself as enjoyably escapist TV. The main plot—three suburban women rob a grocery store to make ends meet but end up working for a wanted criminal as their personal lives crumble—was elevated by the show’s dark humor and commentary about society’s expectations of women and the struggles of the working class. The lead trio of Christina Hendricks, Mae Whitman, and Retta delivered remarkable performances as Beth Boland, Annie Marks, and Ruby Hill, respectively. A middling third season couldn’t take the luster off the ensemble, and they continue to shine in season four, even as the newest episodes rehash similar arcs without much character development.

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Good Girls is now stuck in repetitive storytelling when it needs a fresh start. This could’ve come from the apparent death of crime boss Rio (Manny Montana) in the season-two finale. Instead, Rio continues to live on in season four, and the women are still figuring out how to get rid of him for good and survive on their own. They just keep coming back to season square one.

For the first couple of episodes, Good Girls hovers in a comfortable narrative pattern. Beth is still working for Rio, using the hot tub store she runs with her husband, Dean (Matthew Lillard), as a front to launder money, as opposed to their now shut-down car dealership. She is also confronted by the hitman she previously hired to kill Rio, Mr. Fitzpatrick (Andrew McCarthy), in a storyline that is reminiscent of Leslie, a.k.a. Boomer, from season one. Ruby and Stan (Reno Wilson) deal with more financial woes as they help out their daughter Sarah’s kidney donor family. Agent Phoebe (Lauren Lapkus) has gone undercover with Beth instead of Ruby, hoping to uncover the details of her scheme, even though her higher-ups don’t believe a soccer mom could be involved in such crimes.

However, it’s Annie who gets the short end of the stick yet again. Whitman delves into Annie’s emotions with a lot of heart, much like she did with her character in Parenthood, but the scripts don’t give Annie the opportunity to evolve. While she spent most of the third season trying to hook up with her therapist and failing her GED test, this season mostly tests her abilities as a mother. Her relationship with teenage son Ben begins to falter, and Annie just refuses to grow up. It was fun to see this carefree Annie in earlier seasons because it aligned with the plot. After all, it was her initial idea to rob the place where she worked that started everything. But in its fourth year, it is tiresome to watch Good Girls not give Annie (and Whitman) worthy material. The episode “Fall Guy” does finally kick things into gear, as it expands Ruby and Stan’s arc, hopefully giving them more to do together, because Retta and Wilson share delightful on-screen chemistry. It also lends some maturity to Annie’s parenting style and delves into the Beth and Dean romance, giving much-needed insight into their relationship as the show continues its attempts to redeem Dean’s character. But it’s the third episode of the season, so you’ll have to be patient.

While these are promising storylines, the biggest issue remains the same: The main trio somehow still make the same glaringly stupid decisions they did when they were rookie criminals. All that time spent transforming Beth into a badass boss feels wasted if she’s still just going to play cat-and-mouse with Rio. He’s a formidable, charming villain—and Montana excels in the role—but one of the biggest problems with season four is that it doesn’t offer anything new to his fraught, hot-and-cold relationship with Beth. Perhaps getting rid of him (as much as it would hurt) and introducing a fresher, stronger enemy is the jolt Good Girls needs. What hasn’t slowed down this season, though, are the performances. Hendricks, Whitman, Lillard, and Hill have all perfected their characters. Retta is the MVP, making the most of the softer notes and continuing to show her range after Parks & Recreation.

Good Girls creator Jenna Bans’ previous series include Desperate Housewives, Grey’s Anatomy, and Scandal. The former kept reinventing itself every season with new mysteries without losing momentum for its protagonists, while the latter two are ideal examples of blowing up what audiences thought about the narrative and then rebuilding (see: Derek Shepherd’s arrival, Rowan Pope’s villainy, etc.). Perhaps this crime drama works better as a binge-watch, which is why the show picked up steam when it dropped on Netflix almost a year after its premiere on NBC in 2018. But for now Good Girls needs a creative lift.

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