At some point in the pilot of Good Girls, NBC’s new crime caper with an identity crisis, Beth (Christina Hendricks) delivers a cri de coeur that is so terrifically obvious from what you’ve just watched that it really does not need stating: “We don’t sit back and let everything be taken away from us,” she says to Annie (Mae Whitman) and Ruby (Retta), her two accomplices in a series of extremely stupid crimes. “We get to fix this ourselves.”
This sentiment of vague oppression runs throughout the first three episodes, which is a very Breaking Bad-adjacent heist series that so far cannot seem to make up its mind about whether it’s a comedy, a drama, or neither. Good Girls is another entry in the canon of good people doing bad things, drawing much of its (obvious) inspiration from Breaking Bad, but moving at a dizzying pace, sprinting to set up a very risky plot that might be too big for its britches.
Beth, Annie, and Ruby are three friends dealing with very real American anxieties: Beth’s life is perfect, but her husband (an appropriately sad-dad Matthew Lillard) is cheating on her with his secretary; Annie’s ex (Zach Gilford, aka Matt Saracen of Friday Night Lights, who has aged quite well) is wealthy, thriving, and wants custody of their child; and Ruby’s daughter Sarah is beset with expensive medical problems. The easiest way out of these issues is a fantasy that many harbor but rarely act upon: robbery. They target the grocery store where Annie works, managed by Boomer (David Hornby), a lecherous creep who clocks Annie’s large lower back tattoo during said robbery, and eventually attempts to rape Annie in exchange for his own silence. Oh, and there’s Rio (Manny Montana), the representative of a crime organization who would very much like back the money—his money—that the women stole. There is very little time to catch one’s breath.
Watching the three episodes provided for review back to back was alternatively exhilarating and stressful—when a show dispenses with languid plot development in favor of stacking risk upon risk, it can sometimes pay off, but that trick is harder to pull off for drama. Any tension is there because of the plot device, and not because of our connection to the characters. The pace sacrifices motivation; while the reasons each woman wants to rob the grocery store are laid clear at the beginning, dispensing with the time required to develop those intentions sells the show—and these women’s talents—short.
Like many shows of this nature, every decision lands the leads in quicksand. It’d be so easy for them not to choose to do the wrong thing, but they continue to subvert even their own expectations at a frenetic, dizzying pace. The notion of choice is one that Beth grapples with throughout; each woman felt as if they had no choice but to embark upon a life of dumb criminal activity, but Beth is somehow the most deliberate about these choices—interesting but not unexpected. As a stay-at-home mom, one gets the impression that her life with her husband has been the result of a series of choices made behind her back, leaving her forced to deal with the consequences. It makes sense, then, that she is the de facto leader of the group—a more well-heeled Nancy Botwin getting into something bad for a thrill, for necessity, and as a means of reclaiming one’s destiny from those that would take it away.
Their crimes are presented at first as an overtly feminist act, breaking the glass in case of emergency and pulling the alarm, in an attempt to smash the patriarchy. Interspersed between these scenes of increasingly high stakes and way too much action are small #feminist sound bites, delivered with conviction by Beth; GIF-able moments to be attached to tweets and sent in group texts, even if this show doesn’t take off. Each plot twist and new development toes the line of plausibility, which can only work for so long before it becomes hackneyed and uninteresting. There’s still room for improvement, but Good Girls hasn’t found its footing by its first few episodes; a crime drama of this ambition needs time to percolate.