Posted Thursday, February 22, 2018 by RODNEY HOemail@example.com on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog
Beth, a seemingly mild-mannered mother of four played by "Mad Men" vet Christina Hendricks on the new NBC series "Good Girls," is robbing a grocery store, a ski mask covering her face, gun in her hand.
She can't get a manager to pipe up so she begins growling: "I better get a manager right now or I'll start capping people and I'm not joking!" She then karate kicks a display.
Moments later, Beth spies a scared six-year-old girl hugging her mom. Momentarily forgetting she is committing a felony, Beth sweetly asks her, "Do you watch 'Doc McStuffins?' "
That's the absurd dichotomy of NBC's new dramedy "Good Girls," shot in metro Atlanta but set in a Detroit suburb and debuting after season 14 debut of "The Voice" at 10 p.m.. It's about three seemingly normal women in desperate financial straits who decide to do something outrageous. The rest of the series focuses on the consequences of that robbery.
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Hendricks, who came from an edgy, prestige cable drama in "Mad Men," said she'd jump aboard this broadcast network show only if the series maintained the spirit of the pilot. "I wanted a promise that they would keep an interesting, quirky, dark tone, that it wasn't going to shy away from things," said the actress during a break in shooting last month at Third Rail Studios in Doraville.
The creator Jenna Bans has learned from two masterful TV producers: Marc Cherry ("Desperate Housewives") and Shonda Rhimes ("Grey's Anatomy," "Scandal"). She said the idea of "Good Girls" stemmed from talking to her mom during the 2016 election when Donald Trump's sexual assault allegations were making headlines and opponents of Hillary Clinton were chanting, "Lock her up!"
"There was all this overt sexism," she said. "My mom is from Minnesota, very practical. As I was venting, she said, 'Where have you been?' She was salty and frustrated, really sort of angry at the way women were being treated. So this show comes from a little place of anger. I wanted to write something a little fun and empowering and make my mom laugh. It's a love letter to her."
At the start of the show, Beth lives in a super efficient"mommy" bubble raising four kids, blindly allowing her philandering car salesman husband to bungle their finances. Annie, played by "Parenthood" vet Mae Whitman, is Beth's younger, far more adventurous sister, a sassy, cynical single mom struggling as a cashier at the local market with a lecherous boss while her ex husband seeks custody of her daughter. "It's a symbiotic, yin-yang situation" between the two sisters, Whitman said.
Ruby, played by "Parks & Rec" alum Retta, is Beth's childhood friend, married to a sweet mall cop husband and feeling helpless as her feminist daughter suffers from kidney failure.
They make an unlikely, seemingly "good girl" trio who each find themselves in need of money pronto. Their solution? Steal $30,000 or so from the vault at the supermarket Annie works at. "We just do it once and get some money!" Beth reasons before getting inspired: "We don't sit back and let everything be taken away from us! Nobody is going to fix this. We have to do it ourselves!"
As Bans said, "A guy in a mid-life crisis goes buys a Ferrari. She has a mid-life crisis and robs a grocery store!"
Naturally, the heist doesn't go as planned and they end up getting caught up with a crime syndicate.
But this doesn't go down "Breaking Bad" territory. The women aren't in this for the power. "We don't want them to become female Walter Whites," Bans said.
The show title provides some context.
"My mom always said to be a good girl," Bans said, "but what does that mean? For a lot of people, this means don't rock the boat, follow the rules, don't make too much noise. The characters on the show feel like they have played the game, followed the rules but wake up and realize life hasn't panned out the way they were supposed to."
She also likes how the women try to justify their illegal actions and position themselves as good people making one bad move for the greater good. But naturally, this first robbery doesn't mean it's their last.
The humor on the show is less about witty repartee but simple, funny situations, sometimes just tiny moments that could easily happen in real life. During episode two, Mae's character Annie enters the diner to complain about her ex and grabs a fry on a plate and sticks it in her mouth. "These are cold," she complains.
Her sister Beth says, without any particular concern, "They're not mine."
Annie spits the fry out. "Eww."
Later, Annie tries to jimmy a lock using a YouTube video tutorial on Beth's smartphone that keeps buffering. "That unlimited data plan sounds really nice right about now, doesn't it? Annie says sarcastically.
The series does not malign guys to push the female empowerment thematic. Even Beth's cheating husband, played with an oddly charming, child-like air by Matthew Lillard ("Scooby-Doo"), quickly realizes the error of his ways and works hard to get back into her good graces, however misguided.
Early reviews have been positive, if not effusive, as critics wonder how sustainable the premise really is.
"It feels like there’s a built-in shelf life for 'Good Girls,' " writes Kristen Baldwin of Entertainment Weekly, "but watching these frazzled moms use their hard-won problem-solving skills to get out of scrapes is a fun caper while it lasts."
The trio's natural chemistry helps make it go down easy as well. "We ended up spending a lot of time together outside of work," Retta said. "That could be the side effect of being in Atlanta and not having a lot of friends here." She said Hendricks is the natural hostess so they spent a lot of time at her pad as well as restaurants such as Kimball House and bartaco.
"Good Girls," 10 p.m. Mondays, NBC