'Good Girls' series premiere react: 'Pilot'
Christina Hendricks, Mae Whitman, and Retta get theirs and then some
If 2017 was the year women were finally — finally — heard, then according to NBC’s Good Girls, 2018 is the year we come for retribution, by ski mask and bourbon bottle if necessary.
The female-driven Good Girls cast is the antitheses of the female-led dramedy vehicles we’ve come to expect; there isn’t a central narcissist, a brilliant bimbo, or a sharp-tongued cynic in sight. These women aren’t born of clichés from writers’ rooms, but rather, each seems drawn from women you’ve likely known.
Fans of Parenthood will recognize shades of Amber in Mae Whitman’s Annie Marks, the well-intentioned perpetual screw-up who just wants to get ahead in life despite its deck being persistently stacked against her. A single mom with a gender non-conforming daughter named Sadie (“she’s an atheist who enjoys a jaunty bow tie”), Annie drives a beater and works for minimum wage at the Fine & Frugal, the neighborhood grocery. Adorned with a lower back tattoo that tells the world that all you need is love, Annie soon learns that she also needs money if she wants to keep custody of Sadie, whose mere representation warms the LGBTQ cockles of my big, lesbian heart.
Christina Hendricks plays Beth Boland, devoted mom of four and wife to car dealer Dean (Matthew Lillard). She packs her children paper bag lunches and cuts their chicken fingers into stars. Her kitchen backsplash is made of marble, and she spends almost the entire pilot being referenced to as Mrs. Boland. While she comes the closest to bordering on a trope, there’s something about Hendricks’ incredible ability to be simultaneously doe eyed and acerbic in delivery that rescues her character from the brink of single-dimension Stepford-dom.
The biggest surprise is comedian Retta’s performance as Ruby Hill, fiercely proud mom to Sara, a pint-sized feminist with failing kidneys, an oxygen tank, a lighter, and a strong desire to “burn the patriarchy down.” Ruby works as a waitress and is married to Stan (Reno Wilson), a mall rent-a-cop. Any parent who’s had to advocate in any way for their child can see themselves in Ruby’s protests and frustrating cries for help in the dingy, hopeless Medicare clinic, and they likely teared up with her when she reached the medical promised land overflowing with cucumber-infused water.
Aside from being friends (and sisters, in the case of Annie and Beth), each of these women finds herself desperately in need of money very quickly: Ruby needs $10,000 a month for an experimental drug for Sara until she can get her transplant; Annie needs to hire an attorney to stop Greg (Zach Gilford) from getting custody of Sadie; and Mrs. Boland needs to save her family and home from her pathetic pig of a husband. Luckily, Annie’s been daydreaming of revenge on Boomer (David Hornsby), her Weinstein-esque manager, even concocting an imaginary plan involving automatics with filed-off serial numbers. She knows the real money is kept in a vault in the back, and that it’s best to park your getaway car by the loading dock. Of course this is all hypothetical until one by one, each woman realizes that robbing the Fine & Frugal just once could be the Breaking Bad answer to their prayers.
So they do all the reconnaissance work you would expect of moms-turned-Bonnies-sans-Clydes: They surreptitiously take note of the Fine & Frugal’s cameras; they make a Home Alone-looking blueprint of the store; and they wear bright yellow rubber cleaning gloves as they pull off the heist armed with their kids’ toy pistols. Turns out, this is your mom’s robbery.
Still, watching them strut confidently into the store with their fake guns drawn while yelling for “everyone to be cool so that no one gets hurt” made me feel as empowered as I do when I stare down people who gawk at me, my wife, and our daughter, focusing on the how instead of the why of our family. And though I’ve seen it in the promos more times than I can remember, the moment during the robbery where Beth momentarily forgets she’s in the middle of holding up a store and asks a cowering little girl how old she is still makes me laugh every time, especially when she follows up with, “Do you watch Doc McStuffins?” (Recap continues on page 2)
At first, life is great for our newly minted Walter Whites. Turns out that Annie’s estimate of $30,000 “give or take” was grossly inaccurate and, instead, they made off with half a million dollars. Ruby takes Sara to see a fancy expensive doctor, the best money can buy. Annie goes Oprah and buys a Porsche and half the Apple store for Sadie. And, in what is perhaps the saddest scene next to seeing Ruby cry tears of joy in the doctor’s office, Beth buys off her husband’s mistress with $5,000 and unrecognized derision.
Such is the only potential kryptonite of this network show: For as funny and endearing as it is, it isn’t — as the promos would have you believe — a comedy. After the doomed stick-up, the pilot quickly turns dark, though fortunately that sharp turn toward drama is aided and abetted by the acting talent of the three principals.
The fruits of the ladies’ criminal labor don’t last long. Seizing an opportunity to get what he’s long hounded Annie for, Boomer shows up at her front door, telling her that he saw her back tat during the robbery. He threatens to turn her in to the police unless she has sex with him “until he’s satisfied.” And suddenly we’re no longer high off the fantasy of women getting ours, but rather, we’re thrust right back to the reality of adding more monsters to our #MeToo closets.
Thankfully Sadie unwittingly interrupts before Annie is forced to “romance” Boomer on her knees, but the idea of a child seeing her mom in that literal position in the first place altered the tone of the entire pilot for me. Annie pitifully tells Sadie that Boomer lost his change in the couch and she was merely helping him find it. When Boomer says to Annie that since he has all this bus fare, he’ll “probably be back real soon,” I almost wanted to stop watching. But in the spirit of the #MeToo narrative, I forged ahead, if only because this trio of women is so relatable and so poignant in their performances that I’m compelled to see them through.
It turns out this suburban grocery store had a half a million dollars on hand because it’s a money-laundering front, and our heroines have inadvertently stolen from a local gang who make themselves known by surprising Beth in her home. Rio (Manny Montana), the leader, tells them they’re going to repay his money with interest “right quick” as he waves his gold-plated gun in their faces.
Having kicked out Dean, Beth drops the kids off at his motel and tells him to keep her babies safe. Annie returns the Porsche. Ruby finds out that Stan secretly applied (and got accepted) to the Detroit Police Academy, which will undoubtedly make things more complicated as the series moves forward.
But it’s the final scene that sends our leads right over the proverbial edge and Annie’s antagonist right into a literal coffee table. The palpable tension between Hendricks, Whitman, and Hornsby is enough to make me only able to watch the last few minutes from behind my hands — too many realistic nuances of the attempted rape striking nerves that I worry may alienate a network audience who arrived expecting a softer female-led dramedy.
This is 2018, though, and like I said, we’ve come for retribution.
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