NBC’s Good Girls is Peak TV at its best


The women of Good Girls are possessed by a fantastic fury that’s electric to watch.

Good Girls wants you to know that women can do anything. There’s even a child-like voice over at the beginning of the first episode that says so. But even though women can do anything, women on TV often don’t. For generations, television portrayed females either as nurturing mother figures or crazy outliers. Over decades of scripted TV, comedies and dramas alike almost always sent the message that women are expected to follow through with the rules, play nice, and always be agreeable.

And then Peak TV came along.

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At first, Peak TV mostly provided break-out roles for white male anti-heroes. Tony Soprano, Don Draper, and Walter White graced our screens and we delighted in embracing them them despite all their flaws. No matter how badly they were behaving, these awful men still felt somehow redeemable. The rich tapestry of shifting motivation paired with a darkening morality imbued the stories with a thrilling sense of danger by allowing viewers to consider what they would do given the same situation.

Of course the first great anti-heroes of TV were men. And, as per the status quo for women’s progress, it took quite some time before the entertainment world embraced females as potential anti-heroines as well. Untreated mental health provided a convenient jumping off point for several characters, with Always Sunny delivering hefty doses of the sharp and uncompromising Dee Reynolds (Kaitlin Olson, a comedy goddess), You’re the Worst giving us the complex Gretchen Cutler (a magnificent Aya Cash), and UnREAL introducing us to the unhinged Rachel Goldberg (Shiri Appleby, taking devastating to a whole new level). In fact, Joanna Robinson of Vanity Fair claimed that Rachel was TV’s very first anti-heroine. And that was less than three years ago.

The progression of women into messy, complex roles isn’t anything new, but the idea that women can behave just as badly – or worse – than their male counterparts is something that the medium is finally beginning to explore in a big way. NBC’s Good Girls makes full use of the idea that women, given the opportunity, can and will break bad all on their own.

Created by Jenna Bans (Desperate Housewives), Good Girls focuses on three female friends, Beth Boland (Christina Hendricks), Ruby Hill (Retta), and Annie Marks (Mae Whitman). Beth and Annie are sisters, and Ruby is a kind of an honorary third sister. The three have a tight relationship that exemplifies the unbreakable bonds of female friendship. They can communicate with nothing but a raised eyebrow, but also enjoy a good dish sesh about The Bachelorette. The women are living their lives as mothers and wives when they collectively decide that they’re not going to take it anymore.

GOOD GIRLS — “Pilot” Episode 101 — Pictured: (l-r) Christina Hendricks as Beth Boland, Mae Whitman as Annie Marks, Retta as Ruby Hill — (Photo by Steve Dietl/NBC)
GOOD GIRLS — “Pilot” Episode 101 — Pictured: (l-r) Christina Hendricks as Beth Boland, Mae Whitman as Annie Marks, Retta as Ruby Hill — (Photo by Steve Dietl/NBC) /

Annie works at a grocery store and thinks she knows how to effectively rob it. The robbery is the focal point of the very first episode, and the girls get away with it. This does involve some suspension of disbelief, but Breaking Bad had a half-exploded man walking out of a room to adjust his tie, so I’d say robbing a bank with minimal complication is fair game on any TV show.

Their motivation? Money, honey. Beth’s husband Dean (Matthew Lillard) has been hiding serious financial problems from her as he has an affair with his secretary, Annie is stuck in a custody battle for her daughter Sadie (Izzy Standard), and Ruby’s daughter Sarah (Lidya Jewett) has a lung disorder and needs expensive medical treatment that’s not covered by her low-income insurance.

The robbery ends up just being a jumping off point for the women. The store they burgled ends up being a front for some sort of shady operation, and the gangster in charge, Rio (Manny Montana) comes looking for what’s his. Rio is a caricature of the typical hardened criminal. He’s got an expansive neck tattoo and threats for days, but Montana is charming in a sexy and dangerous way, and his push and pull with the oft defiant Beth is definitely compelling.

As the good girls shift into doing bad things, it’s clear that there’s a mountain of rage bubbling up within each one of them. It’s an anger that’s been contained by decades of surviving within the confines that society has set up for them. All three women are mothers, and the ferocity of protective motherhood is on full display here. For Beth and Ruby in particular, the motivation to succeed in order to protect their children is almost primal.

GOOD GIRLS — “Mo Money Mo Problems” Episode 102 — Pictured: (l-r) Mae Whitman as Annie Marks, Retta as Ruby Hill, Christina Hendricks as Beth Boland — (Photo by: Josh Stringer/NBC)
GOOD GIRLS — “Mo Money Mo Problems” Episode 102 — Pictured: (l-r) Mae Whitman as Annie Marks, Retta as Ruby Hill, Christina Hendricks as Beth Boland — (Photo by: Josh Stringer/NBC) /

Retta, who NBC viewers will likely recognize as the no-nonsense Donna Meagle from Parks and Recreation, internalizes much of her rage. Her character Ruth is a woman of color who has little in the way of financial stability, and so she’s been conditioned to play it safe and follow a set of unspoken rules as to how she outwardly presents herself. But a well of unbridled and unexpressed anger is there, teeming under the surface, and at times it spikes out so powerfully that it’s electric to watch. Retta is a powerhouse of emotion, and her range seems to know no bounds.

As Beth, a white, upper class woman, Christina Hendricks has more latitude to be big and brazen with her anger. At the advent of Peak TV, Hendricks played the firebrand secretary Joan Holloway on Mad Men, a woman who coyly used her sexuality to get what she wanted. Since Good Girls takes place decades after Mad Men, here Hendricks finally gets to rail against misogyny and injustice with a fierce agency that poor Joan was never afforded.

And boy does she rail. Hendricks gets a chance to deliver some of the most thrilling monologues I’ve seen on network TV in awhile. In particular, an intense speech she gives toward the conclusion of the pilot had my hair literally standing on end. In addressing the horrific injustices still tolerated against women, Good Girls frequently feels so topical its scary.

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Whereas the anti-hero pioneers were mostly white males, Good Girls illustrates what happens when marginalized members of society choose to eschew the ordinary. And while direct comparisons to Breaking Bad are certainly tempting to make, I’d argue that the two are not exactly on equal footing. Walter White was a man with everything. That series was ultimately the story of a guy who chose to abandon his resources in order to exercise his pride. In contrast, Good Girls is a story of women who have no resources rebelling against a system that so often sets them up to fail. Watching them succeed with furious glee is not only entertaining, it’s damn inspiring.

‘Good Girls’ premieres Monday, February 26th at 10/9c on NBC.