Even allowing room for the forgiving properties of irony, there are at least two mistakes in the title of suburban crime comedy, Good Girls (Netflix, now streaming). To address them in no particular order, this is a story of three grown women, all mothers, who turn abruptly to armed robbery to solve their problems.
“You get to help your little girl, you get to win your custody battle, and I get to save my family,” argues Beth (Christina Hendricks) to her sister and their friend, with the brisk moral persuasion of a “previously on” recap.
The second error in the title is that Good Girls is not good.
In one revealing bit of domestic detail, Beth, who has recently uncovered her husband’s infidelity and immense hidden debts, struggles to work a streaming service on her television set, a labyrinth of buttons. That unease may colour the show itself: aired earlier in the year on NBC, a mainstream US broadcaster hemmed in by the demands of mass-market, advertising-friendly fare, it now reaches us via the broad church of Netflix, a riddle of buttons beholden to no-one, whose own comedies skew sharper and dramas swerve darker.
This show, by Jenna Bans, has a similar impetus as Breaking Bad, say, or the rising temperatures of Ozark, but all the gravity of Barney the Dinosaur.
That there should be some escapist glee in the hot-and-cold-running sass of it all – smashing your no-good husband’s office with a baseball bat, taking your boss hostage, or finding instantly better medical treatment when you’re flush – I can buy.
But when everything from school bullying and sexual assault to revenge are breezily glossed over, and the “girls” undertake their heist with less thought and preparation than reasonably intelligent sheep, it’s hard to invest anything in their dilemmas.
Particularly when Beth talks them out of certain death by asserting their status, to the hoodlum they owe big, as “normal people. We pay our taxes.” (Abnormal poor people are fair game, you see.)
This, however, is meant to be Beth’s superpower: her fast talk. “You’re an incredible liar,” she is commended at one point. “Thank you,” she says, appreciatively.
Maybe this makes Good Girls a truly contemporary American story after all; to deny the scale of the problem, to live in delusion, to regress from the anxiety of burdened womanhood into the wild adventures of girlhood. But it's only conning itself.