We've reached the end of the season for NBC's freshman dramedy Good Girls, and we really hope it doesn't wind up being its last.
Although the series started off strong as Monday's most-watched scripted program (6 million live viewers and a 1.5 rating in adults 18-49), over the course of the season it's slipped to an average of 4.5 million viewers and a 1.04 rating. It still very often retains the title for most-watched new scripted program and remains competitive in its timeslot against ABC's The Crossing, but Good Girls continues to lose nearly half the audience of lead-in The Voice and gets handily beat by reruns of both The Big Bang Theory and Young Sheldon.
The bump Good Girls gets from time-shifted viewing helps, with the most recent episode adding 1.7 million viewers and rising to a 1.5 in Live+7 ratings, and the show could see a nice audience expansion if it gets added to Netflix over the summer hiatus. But while these numbers aren't dire for the Jenna Bans-created series (Chicago P.D. is averaging a 1.2 in the demo and the already-renewed The Good Place's second season only scored an average viewership of 3.9 million), they don't exactly inspire confidence in the show's future.
Although we wouldn't be shocked if NBC opted not to renew the dark comedy for a second season, we would be terribly disappointed. This female-fronted series, both on-camera and off, has been repeatedly praised for the timeliness of its subject matter. Without ever saying the phrase #MeToo onscreen, the themes Good Girls explores embody the best parts of the movement, from women raising each other up to fighting back against the system that previously held them down.
Starring the all-star team of Christina Hendricks, Mae Whitman and Retta, Good Girls is about three suburban mothers who decide the only way to secure the best futures for their families is to turn to crime. They don't come to this decision lightly, but they feel as though the actions of various men in their lives have given them no other choice. Hendrick's Beth, the seemingly picture-perfect stay-at-home mom, needs the money to save her house after learning her philandering husband (the excellent Matthew Lillard) lost their savings and landed them in a mountain of debt. Whitman's Annie would do just about anything to fight her ex-husband (Friday Night Lights alum Zach Gilford) for custody of their gender non-conforming child Sadie (Izzy Stannard). And for Retta's Ruby, the decision to rob the grocery store where Annie works is literally a matter of life and death for her terminally ill daughter who needs pricey healthcare. The male doctor Ruby's meager diner salary affords is too self-involved to even bother to learn their names, let alone provide even the basic level of considerate care.
But what was supposed to be a one-time robbery soon spirals out of control when the women learn that the store they robbed is part of a gang-run money laundering scheme led by the deliciously watchable Manny Montana. As the women are forced to continue their foray into crime in order to pay back Montana's Rio, they begin to enjoy the work. Beth in particular finds herself intoxicated by the power this new lifestyle offers and begins seeking out ways to continue exploring this dark new avenue.
Balanced out by Annie's recklessness and Ruby's rationality, Beth rises to become the leader of the trio, often convincing the others that the best thing they could do is to continue their criminal activity under the naive belief that they are in control. But because they are, at the end of the day, still sheltered suburbanites and not criminal masterminds, this facade of control is predictably stripped away piece by piece until the women are forced to confront the reality that they've not only put themselves in a dangerous (and potentially deadly) situation, but also their families as well, thus forcing them to take an even closer look at truly how far they are willing to go to protect the ones they love. We know they're willing to rob a grocery chain, but what about innocent old ladies? How much are they willing to lie? Who are they willing to betray? And if it comes down to it, would they really be willing to kill to save their own skin?
The line between good and bad is continually up for negotiation in Good Girls as the women find an array of flimsy excuses to justify their increasingly troubling actions. Too often the bar for "bad" women on TV means women who don't conform to typical gender norms — they curse, they're slovenly, they drink too much and eat too much. And with all the strides forward regarding representation on TV, it's still so rare to see an ensemble of women, particularly on network TV, do things that are genuinely bad. This is why it's so thrilling to see Beth, Annie and Ruby breaking bad together, albeit at various rates of corruption. But unlike Walter White, Tony Soprano or Don Draper, this bad behavior isn't driven by ego, but by independence. For Annie, Beth and Ruby, what they want is to find ways to ensure that they never have to be reliant on a man — or anyone else — again.
Good Girls is at its best when it plays with the benefits and consequences of the women's choices, particularly when it reminds viewers that choosing to become a criminal as an easy way to help one's financial situation doesn't make that person a hero, nor does it make them special. Once the show introduces Mary Pat (Fargo's Allison Tolman), a widowed mother of four who catches on to the women's criminal activities and extorts them for cash, it's clear that there are millions of women just as in need of financial help and just as desperate to do whatever it takes to get it. So while Mary Pat is a formidable foil to the women, she really isn't any different from them. This push-pull between Mary Pat's justifications of her crimes and Beth, Annie and Ruby's justifications of their own provides some of the best material in the season and forces viewers to take a more critical look at the three supposed "heroes" of the show.
Further highlighting the moral lapses in Beth, Annie and Ruby's criminal enterprises is Ruby's teddy bear of a husband Stan (Mike & Molly's Reno Wilson). A shining beacon of adoration, Stan is above and beyond what anyone could hope for in a husband and a father to the couple's two children. But when he begins training to become a police officer — one who is working closely on the case against Rio, no less — it's clear that despite all of his overwhelming trust in Ruby, the show is gearing up for Stan to bear the brunt of a major betrayal. This inevitable fracture wouldn't sting nearly as much if Good Girls didn't do such an excellent job at building up Ruby and Stan into the ultimate dream team, what with their dorky dances, inside jokes and unwavering support of each other's emotions, aspirations and needs. And so while the lingering threat of murder begins to pose an increasing threat to the women, what really raises the stakes in these last few episodes is the threat of an irreparable rift in Ruby and Stan's relationship, because if Stan's heart gets broken, our's will be as well.
Thanks to the development of complex character dynamics like this, the series really found its groove in its second half. Over the course of the season, Good Girls evolved from a pseudo-slapstick crime-of-the-week series that saw the women make some seriously boneheaded errors (Annie programming her phone into a stolen car) to a show that allows the events to build off one another, raising the stakes to a constant near-boil. As a result, the later episodes naturally lean more into the show's dramatic elements, thus refining the tonal balance that plagued the early part of the season. There are still the beats of stupidity that inspire an unquenchable rage — allowing themselves to be blackmailed by Mary Pat without also coming up with an exit strategy feels insane this late in the game — but the show does a much better job exploring the conflicted motivations for these lapses in judgment and uses these moments to explore character development rather than just drive the plot forward.
Monday's finale continues this evolution, acting as a turning point in the series as all the lingering threads from the season came together in 44 minutes of pure heartbreak and suspense with a little sweetness thrown in. It would be such a shame for this to be the last we see of Beth, Annie and Ruby, who have become three of our favorite characters on TV. But with NBC's pilot slate, which includes some buzzy new projects like a potential Bad Boys spin-off and some high-concept thrillers and procedurals, it's hard to feel too optimistic about Good Girls finding a home on the network's 2018-19 schedule.
Still, we would have learned nothing from Good Girls if we didn't take this opportunity to advocate for — nay, demand — the change we want to see in our own lives. So NBC, if you're listening, give Good Girls another season. It's a gem of a show that hasn't yet fulfilled its own potential, but we have no doubt that if given the opportunity it will more than rise to the occasion.
Plus, have you seen how good Hendricks, Whitman and Retta are together? You'd have to be insane to want to split them up.
Good Girls' season finale airs Monday at 10/9c on NBC. The first season is available to stream in its entirety on NBC's website. You can also purchase episodes through Amazon Prime or check out the five most recent episodes on Hulu.