“Girls today can be anything… CEO, Olympic gold medallist, even a Supreme Court Justice.” Those are the first words we hear in Good Girls, spoken by a lead character’s daughter in a school presentation. The sentiment may be true, but it doesn’t apply to the lives of the three women at the centre of the show, all struggling to make ends meet, while depending on an unreliable husband or a dead-end job.
Beth (Christina Hendricks) is a housewife with four children, whose world comes crashing down when she discovers that not only is her husband (Matthew Lillard) having an affair, but he has also landed the family in debt and missed their last three mortgage payments. Her younger sister, Annie (Mae Whitman), a single mum with a minimum wage job, is being sued by her ex (Zach Gilford) for custody of their daughter. Meanwhile, their friend, Ruby (Retta), has a seriously ill daughter whose kidneys are failing. A pricey new drug could help while they’re on the waiting list for a transplant, but as a diner waitress and a mall security guard, there’s no way that Ruby and her husband (Reno Wilson) can afford it.
Faced with these urgent financial problems and no quick solutions, the three women come up with a drastic plan and decide to rob the grocery store where Annie works. Thanks to insider knowledge of the store, their plan goes off without a hitch… until they get home and find that rather than the $30,000 they were expecting to get from the safe, they’ve ended up with more like half a million.
It turns out that the store is part of a money laundering operation, and the criminal gang behind it soon tracks the women down and demands they return the money. By this time, however, some of it has already been spent (impulsive Annie just couldn’t resist buying a Porsche), so they need to figure out a way to come up with the cash fast.
This all plays out in Episode 1, and throughout the rest of Good Girls, the women get drawn further and further into a life of crime. To repay the money and then earn it back, they start doing all sorts of jobs for the gang, from smuggling things across the Canadian border to getting involved in money laundering. On top of all this, Beth’s husband is desperate to save their marriage, Ruby’s husband becomes a police officer, and due to a distinctive tattoo, Annie’s creepy boss quickly works out that she was involved in the robbery. Every time the friends believe they have tied up all of the loose ends, another problem arises – meaning they are constantly in way over their heads, walking a fine line between upsetting the gang and getting caught by their families or the cops.
In this story of law-abiding citizens turning to crime, Beth is recognisably the Walter White or the Nancy Botwin of the central trio. No matter how much she claims that she has only become a criminal for the sake of her family, it soon becomes apparent that she is getting a personal kick out of it. During the initial grocery store robbery, she seems to relish yelling commands at people, and she also proves herself to be adept at lying and talking herself out of difficult situations. There’s a moment later in the series when the criminal activities are abruptly put on hold and Beth looks bored out of her mind, while listening to other mums chatting about school-related issues. It’s clear that once she has felt the thrill of breaking the law, there’s no going back for her, and Christina Hendricks (Mad Men) plays that transformation very well.
Beth’s sister, Annie, is the wildchild of the group and makes a lot of stupid decisions, such as splurging money in a reckless way and connecting her phone to a stolen car in order to play music. In fact, she could easily become a frustrating character, if it weren’t for such a winning performance from Mae Whitman (Parenthood), who manages to make Annie both hilarious and sympathetic. Retta (Parks and Recreation) is also great as Ruby, often serving as the moral centre of the trio, since, despite her need for money being the most desperate due to her daughter’s health depending on it, she is more reluctant than her two friends to commit crimes.
The cast of Good Girls is its main strength, and the show is generally at its best when the three lead characters are together. The plot is a bit more of a mixed bag, with some elements working a lot better than others. For instance, Manny Montana smoulders on screen as gang leader Rio and has good chemistry with Christina Hendricks, but he doesn’t get much to work with and we end the series knowing barely anything more about his character than we did at the start. There are also some noticeable flaws in logic, as we’re left wondering exactly how the gang managed to find out who committed the grocery store robbery in the first place.
Good Girls probably isn’t going to top anyone’s list of the year’s must-see TV, but it’s an easy, breezy watch. With a charismatic cast plus plenty of twists and turns to keep you hooked, the 10-part series is lots of fun to binge – and NBC has already announced that a second season is on its way.
Good Girls Season 1 is available on Netflix UK, as part of a £7.99 monthly subscription.