On paper, NBC’s “Good Girls” sounds like a real good time. It promises to be a blend of “Big Little Lies,” as three women take control of their lives, and “Desperate Housewives,” a network black comedy with suburban soap operatic stylings. To pull themselves out of financial troubles, our trio of heroines empower themselves through crime; they break bad, funny bad.
On screen, though, “Good Girls” is just a meh time. It’s a wan attempt to make points — good points — about sexism, inequality, patriarchy, and health care, stitched together with a story line that is seriously underdeveloped. The show, from Jenna Bans, is remarkably shallow, from the plot details to, more importantly, the central characters. You’re rarely sure of the mechanics of these women’s lives and the logic of their activities, but then ultimately you might not care because the characters are so stubbornly stock.
With some shows these days, you can talk about the characters as if they’re autonomously human. I’ve had more analytical conversations about the motivations of the fictional people on HBO and FX dramas than I should probably admit. But talking about the whys of the characters on “Good Girls” would be about as stimulating as analyzing a game of checkers.
Annie (Mae Whitman) is fighting her ex for custody of their daughter. She’s meant to be like Shailene Woodley’s character on “Big Little Lies,” a single mother with a tight relationship to her young son. Her sister, Beth (Christina Hendricks), is in a rage after learning about her husband’s infidelity and his financial lies. A car salesman played by Matthew Lillard, he is a brainless boob who manages not to be amusing. And Ruby (Retta), who’s in a solid marriage, is desperate to pay for her sick daughter’s medical care. She’ll do anything to get the money, including brandishing a gun.
It’s a shame, partly because the three actresses have so much potential. Whitman only gets to have fun occasionally, as in a scene where she gets lost singing to the Indigo Girls in the car. Retta, too, doesn’t have many opportunities to use her formidable comic chops. And Hendricks is all anger and impatience, without much variety. And it’s a shame partly because the story could be timely and rich, instead of merely silly.
Starring: Christina Hendricks, Mae Whitman, Retta, Reno Wilson, Matthew Lillard. On: NBC, Monday at 10 p.m.Matthew Gilbert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewGilbert.