In the first scene of NBC’s Good Girls, three suburban moms charge into a grocery store, toy guns blazing, faces covered in ski masks that resemble the iconic Pussy Riot headwear. The women—played by television vets Christina Hendricks (Mad Men), Retta (Parks and Recreation) and Mae Whitman (Parenthood)—need quick cash to pay for their cheating husband’s debt, child’s life-saving medication and custody case, respectively.
They’re broke, dismissed by the men in their lives, and want to take back their power. Everything goes smoothly until it doesn’t: The grocery store they rob turns out to be a front for a criminal organization, and some heavily armed men want their cash back. Chaos ensues.
But it turns out these women thrive in chaos. After years of baking last-minute cupcakes for bake sales and navigating unruly, misogynist customers at work, they have a knack for solving difficult problems—and long to break the rules.
For years, difficult men have dominated the small screen. In 2018, it’s refreshing to consider how difficult women could reinvigorate that tired trope. Inevitable parallels will be drawn between Good Girls and Breaking Bad, another show about a mild-mannered suburbanite who needs cash and eventually finds strength in criminality. But Walter White never had to worry that if a woman found out his secret identity she would try to blackmail him for sex or, failing that, rape him.
Despite a cutesy promotional campaign with the three women soaking their feet in a kiddie pool full of cash, Good Girls does not shy away from the realities of being a woman in the criminal underworld—or just a woman in the world in general. The characters have to rely on their wits to outsmart the firepower and social power of the men around them. To quote Margaret Atwood, “Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.”
The closer television parallel to Good Girls would actually be Weeds, a series about a widowed housewife who begins a small marijuana business. Just a few season in, she’s manipulating cartel bosses. Like Weeds’ Nancy Botwin, the women of Good Girls often find themselves in over their heads but always figure out a way to get out of a scrape. Unlike Nancy, they do not seduce their enemies to survive. That’s a happy development: Television writers long assumed that a woman’s sexuality was her best—and sometimes only—asset.
Since Weeds, few female anti-heroes have graced the small screen. Often evil women play supporting roles—the wives of murderous presidents or antagonists to would-be rulers of Westeros. Sometimes they get to be the main character, as with How to Get Away With Murder or Scandal. But they are lonely leads with male love interests by their sides and female friends at the periphery. Good Girls has three female protagonists, possibly a first on network television since Desperate Housewives. Shows where multiple women get top billing, like Broad City, Big Little Lies or Orange Is the New Black, tend to land on cable networks or streaming platforms.
The Time’s Up movement has promised more women’s stories, told by women, in film and television. We won’t see the fruits of that campaign for some time. But Good Girls is a first taste. And it’s sweet.
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