I watched the entire first season of NBC’s Good Girls, which concluded on Monday night. I did so for three reasons: Mae Whitman, Christina Hendricks, and Retta (also, Alison Tolman, who joined the series as a recurring character in the final few episodes). It’s not a good show, and the reasons that I stuck with it make that fact all the more infuriating. The cast made it intermittently watchable, but imagine what kind of series it could have been with that cast plus a decent writers’ room, some deliberate thought, and an idea bigger than the premise.
That premise? Three average moms turn to a life of crime in order to deal with their individual family’s debt problems. In the pilot episode, they rob a grocery store where it turns out a gang is laundering money, which leads the mothers to a money-laundering scheme; another mother, played by Tolman, finds out about their scheme and extorts them; a co-worker, who attempts to rape Whitman’s character, also lords their crimes over them; and the mothers make various efforts to keep their other family members from finding out about their secret lives of crime.
As a first-season outline, there are the makings of a decent series here, but creator Jenna Bans and the writers make very little effort to fill in that outline. I know that this is just a network drama and that I’ve also been spoiled by Vince Gilligan, but if the premise invites comparisons to Breaking Bad, it at least needs to make more than a half-hearted effort to live up to that show.
Did you know that Vince Gilligan’s writers’ rooms on Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul spend six months writing 10 episodes before a single frame is even shot? Good Girls feels like it was written on bar napkins in between scenes. In the finale, for instance, the mothers decide — in an effort to dig out of the criminal hole that they’ve put themselves in — to return to the grocery store from the pilot and rob it again. There’s a big Ocean’s 11 scene where they look over the store’s blueprints and outline all the pitfalls, and then, in the very next scene, they rob the store. There’s very little planning; they ignore the dangers, and the conflict in the robbery arises when Retta and Mae Whitman’s characters struggle over a key to a safe and drop it down an air vent.
It’s one of many examples in this series of things just happening. There’s next to no foundational work; the women sit around a table and stumble upon a plan; the show largely leaps over the execution of that plan; and the women deal with the repercussions of their mistakes. It’s like a caper movie if the caper itself only lasted 5 minutes and was slapped into the middle of the film. The crimes themselves are contrivances to tell stories about these families, which might be OK if the storylines about their families were remotely compelling.
They are not.
The end result is a giant shrug of a series that begins with some potential but that makes little effort to live up to that promise. Whitman, Retta, Hendricks, and Tolman deserve better. They deserve a proper vehicle for their talents, but Good Girls is little more than a shiny Mercedes with no motor under the hood.