TV Review: ‘Good Girls’ Steals Little More Than Your Time

A grand heist remains a staple of modern film and TV. “Good Girls” imagines a grocery store heist by three suburban housewives, rather than your classic bank robber tale. The hour long episodes cover a good bit of ground. However, the show can’t seem to figure out whether its a comedy or drama. The comedy bits never amount to more than “isn’t it funny women can rob too.” The dramatic elements deserve further examination. The show veers quickly into cheap sentimentality. However, there’s more narrative juice in that route.

What drives these three suburban Moms to rob a grocery store? The reasons vary. Our lead Mom, Beth (Christina Hendricks) seems to have it all together. What she doesn’t realize is her pig-dressed car-salesman husband (Matthew Lillard) is cheating on her and has put the family in severe debt. Her sister Annie (Mae Whitman) works a dead-end grocery store cashier job with a creepy, condescending boss, Boomer (David Hornsby). She wants to support her daughter, Sadie (Izzy Stannard), who gets bullied at school for her gender neutral clothing. Finally, Ruby (Retta) and her husband Stan (Reno Wilson) work non-stop to pay for treatment for their sick daughter. As the three friends find them up against the ropes, they turn to a life of crime.

The central trio tries their best, and succeeds quite frequently as well. However, “Parks and Recreation’s” Retta emerges as the standout talent. Her past work illustrates that she knows how to deliver a punchline like no one else. Yet, her dramatic work stands out in a show that struggles to function as a comedy. Upon visiting a more expensive doctor with her daughter, Retta’s character Ruby powers through all the research she has done on her daughter’s condition. Upon being informed she’s not going to be rushed out of the office due to an overcrowded workload, she tears up as she sighs. There’s a relatable quality to her that transcends the frustratingly high concept nature of the premise.

Mae Whitman and Christina Hendricks are talented performers, no doubt. Their supporting work on “Parenthood” and “Mad Men,” respectively, has netted them much deserved acclaim. Both actresses show up to work. Yet, they aren’t able to salvage the material. Hendricks gets top billing as Beth. For such a smart character, it’s hard to see how passive she was in her marriage. At her most angry, Hendricks recalls some of her best moments as Joan in “Mad Men.” The rest of the time, she feels constrained by the stale network material.

What makes Mae Whitman’s Annie work is her relationship with her daughter, Sadie. There’s a really cool acceptance of Sadie’s expression of her gender identity through fashion. With Sadie getting bullied at school, there exists plenty of opportunities for her character to explore the challenges youths face when they deviate from the norm. Having her husband (Zach Gilford) threaten to take custody of Sadie provides some strong stakes. Other than that, the show saddles Whitman with some of the more tonally jarring moments. Her work relationship with the dim-witted Boomer escalates into something exceedingly distressing throughout the pilot. The show both characterizes Sadie as irresponsible but also wants to argue that there is more than meets the eye. It wants to have it both ways, but doesn’t come up with interesting ways to dramatize it.

The pilot depicts both the lead up and the actual robbery. With all that out of the way, where is the series to go? In short, it seems the show is about to scrape the bottom of the barrel of “Weeds” episodes. Rather than revel in female Robin Hood types, we get a more rote tale of women from different privileged backgrounds dealing with a life of crime. In order to succeed, the show must delve further into these women’s lives, rather than dwell on the trite crime threats they have begun to set up.

“Good Girls” airs Mondays at 10/9c on NBC.

GRADE: (★★)

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