Good Girls, like Breaking Bad, explores how apparently good people somehow get thrust into a life of crime for what are well-intentioned reasons. Sisters Beth (Christina Hendricks) and Annie (Mae Whitman) and their friend Ruby (Retta) all hit financial and domestic hardship at the same time, their desperation leading them to rob the grocery store where Annie works. Naturally, the women soon find that they’re in over their heads, with an eyewitness to the crime and the fact that the money they stole was for drug laundering, getting them in trouble with a gang. The women slide downward from one scrape to the next, always with a “robbing Peter to pay Paul” mentality. By the end of the first episode, they’re in so deep there’s no glimpse as to how they’ll ever be able to escape this darkness.
Which makes sense, since the whole series revolves around these good girls doing bad things. By pulling off a crime a week, Beth, Annie, and Ruby are like Gilligan and his friends: They’re never going to get off the island, because that would be the end of the show. No matter how many times they say, “That’s it. It’s over,” it’s never really going to be over. By the end of the third episode, it no longer seems they want to break clean, and that’s with one making bonehead errors a teenage felon would know to avoid, like programming their phone into a stolen car or buying a fancy sports car right after a robbery; another meets up with the gang they’ve just barely managed to escape.
It’s unfortunate, because the leads are all compelling, with Christina Hendricks back in one of her first series after Mad Men, Mae Whitman post-Parenthood, and Retta of Parks And Rec and Girlfriends’ Guide To Divorce. They even have some decent backup, with Matthew Lillard pulling off the role of a believably repentant adulterous husband. The show’s timing seems opportune, as there’s a definite #MeTo correlation. Each woman is fed up because “every man in the world thinks that he can do whatever he wants whenever he wants.” But there has to be less fatalistic way to deal with the patriarchy than a life of crime and violence.
Show creator Jenna Bans was formerly a Shondaland writer at Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal, and Good Girls is her second solo showrunning attempt after The Family on ABC last year. She hits a better balance between comedy and drama here than she did with The Family’s bleakness (Annie and Ruby ask an insensible Beth who the secretary of state is, then realize they’re not sure themselves). And there’s lots of fodder available about women who feel like they have to take care of everything for themselves, their spouses, and their offspring—so much so that they have to turn to illegal methods to do it. Hendricks’ Beth is certainly the picture of angelic maternity when she’s not meeting with counterfeiters, and the formidable Ruby gets an admirer of her husband’s to back down with only a few select phrases at a church service. Whitman’s hazard-prone Annie would be annoying if Whitman wasn’t so winning, able to deflect a would-be blackmailer with an almost-ingenious threat.
These characters are so charismatic, it makes the horrifying situations they’re stuck in even more depressing, so much so that you long to see them on any other type of show—like an office comedy, or a hospital drama. Beth, Annie, and Ruby may be trying to protect their families or enact revenge against those who have wronged them, but they’re only hurting themselves, week after week. There’s little incentive to keep watching, as a depressing suspicion gives way to knowledge that none of this is going to end well. These women deserve better, and so does the viewer.