Becky Kukla reviews the first season of new Netflix comedy drama series Good Girls
Good Girls, Netflix’s new comedy-drama, follows the journey of three suburban women who take to a life of crime to try and right the wrongs in their own lives. Christina Hendricks stars as Beth, a housewife who has just discovered her husband’s infidelities with his secretary. Retta returns to our screens as Ruby, a hard-working wife and mother struggling to make ends meet whilst also trying to save money for her daughter’s much needed kidney transplant. The third and final part of the trio is Mae Whitman’s Annie, Beth’s younger sister, a single mother trying to give her teenage daughter the best life possible.
Each of them have clearly defined desires and needs, and (more importantly) each of them have a catalyst for needing a large amount of money as soon as possible. The idea of robbing the store that Annie works at begins as a joke, but soon enough the three of them are in deeper than they ever imagined they would be. In robbing the store, they’ve unwittingly stolen thousands of fake notes from local criminal and resident bad boy Rio (Manny Montana). The 10 episode series follows the trio as they clamber over moral decisions, push their own limits and attempt find their own much needed financial freedom.
The comparisons to Breaking Bad will undoubtedly come thick and fast, but Good Girls is cut from a completely different cloth. In terms of subject matter (good, upstanding people turning to crime to aid their families in times of crisis), Beth, Annie and Ruby’s journey is similar to Walt’s. They both also showcase the importance of having a national health service – though arguably there wouldn’t be much in terms of plot for either if the US did introduce one. In terms of execution, genre and tone though – comparing the two is akin to comparing chalk and cheese. There’s little to be gained from it as the two are radically different in these areas.
Good Girls is first and foremost a comedy, but one that does hit the highs and lows of a well executed drama. There are moments of jeopardy, fear and sadness, but the vast majority of these are punctured with a well timed joke or punch line to release the tension. Whitman and Retta are both from comedy backgrounds and absolutely shine together onscreen. Hendricks, probably most known for her role as Joan in Mad Men, also gives a nuanced performance as Beth – balancing the comedic elements with the darker material really well. The three of them have an insatiable chemistry and are truly believable as a group of friends who are embarking on a life of crime together.
The male characters are all quite periphery, turning up as obstacles or enablers as and when needed. Matthew Lillard is brilliant as Beth’s husband Dean, constantly pained and pathetic as he attempts to win Beth back. Reno Wilson, who plays Ruby’s police-office in training husband Stan, also brings a brilliant performance. Ruby and Stan have wonderful onscreen chemistry, which makes Ruby’s deceit it all the more heartbreaking. On the other hand, Wayward criminal Rio is a fairly one dimensional character, complete with flat one liners, which is quite disappointing. As Beth and Rio get closer, there’s a slight change in Rio’s character, but this doesn’t last long. Manny Montana appears to be a pretty capable actor, but the generic dialogue doesn’t give him a chance to excel.
Both Ruby and Annie feel like failures for being unable to properly provide for their children, and although both Ruby’s husband and Annie’s ex-husband feel responsible, motherhood dictates that Ruby and Annie must go above and beyond. They resort to breaking the law because they see no other way to provide for their families – a desperation bourne out of their circumstances. Ruby’s storyline is particularly poignant – she’s the most reluctant member of the group when it comes to breaking the law, yet she has the most to lose in terms of both her daughter’s life and potentially being found out by her cop-in-training husband. Even when things start working out for Ruby, there’s a sense of dread that things will never be the same for her. Ruby and Stan have the most promising relationship in the series, and Ruby’s lies (lies to save her daughters life) threaten that entirely.
There is also an element of the trio attempting to break out from the stereotypes that society has enforced on them, none more so than Beth. Her trajectory throughout the series is probably the most complex – Ruby and Annie keep coming back to their illegal activities due (mostly) to economic necessity, but Beth continues because the money laundering/cleaning gives her a sense of identity outside of just a housewife and mother. It gives her a purpose.
Likewise, Good Girls succeeds in cleverly reversing gendered expectations – not only is there a group of women (mothers no less) succeeding in laundering money, they use one of the most feminised past-times to do this – shopping. It’s also quite telling that, at one point, their downfall could be due to another woman, a seemingly innocent mother (Allison Tolman’s perfectly irritating Mary), rather than due to Rio or the cops.
Despite everything that Good Girls has going for it (and it has a lot), season one does take a while to find its feet. The first few episodes feel quite rushed as the trio take to their initial crime a lot quicker than expected. There’s a lot of build up which is very quickly dispersed and it feels like this could have been spread across the series a little more.
There’s also a great deal of back and forth between Beth, Retta and Annie as they seem to constantly be having conversations (at least one per episode) about the morality of what they are doing, or their concerns about getting caught. Whilst valid, it begins to feel quite circular and the repetition of these arguments stops the narrative moving forward in the later episodes.
Regardless of its flaws, Good Girls provides entertaining and complex female protagonists who are neither good nor bad. They are perfectly human. This shouldn’t be refreshing in 2018, but it is and Good Girls is a unique show because of this.
Happily, Good Girls has already been renewed for a second season so at least there will be answer to the ultimate gun-pointing cliffhanger that season one left us with. Bring it on!