Warning to the reader: mild spoilers for “Good Girls” ahead.
Due to a botched move to Netflix, “Good Girls” is reaching its untimely end after four seasons. The show stars Christina Hendricks (“Mad Men”) as Beth Boland, Retta (“Parks and Recreation”) as Ruby Hill and Mae Whitman (“The DUFF,” “Arrested Development” and “Avatar: The Last Airbender”) as Annie Marks. The show will certainly leave its mark on television, but will it be a good one?
It’s difficult not to set “Good Girls” alongside other “suburban average Joe/Jill turns to a life of crime due to the American health care system/general problems present in late-stage capitalism” shows, a genre that is highly specific yet well-established within the world of television. Of course, prior to “Good Girls,” both “Weeds” and “Breaking Bad” had explored some of this material, with varying success. But “Good Girls” is unique in some very special ways, ones that will hopefully reflect onto future media.
The most revolutionary and exciting thing about “Good Girls” was Isaiah Stannard’s portrayal of Ben. The character, who is Annie’s son, comes out as trans in the show’s second season. The actual coming-out moment is so swift that you could be away from the screen for a second and miss it. Ben is immediately accepted by his mother, and the show doesn’t use his identity to fuel drama or trauma.
The only times it is mentioned are in line with how many trans individuals experience roadblocks as they transition. These roadblocks manifest as Annie struggles to afford hormone replacement therapy for Ben and he is misgendered once shortly after coming out, something the main cast helps him brush off. Instead, the storylines that involve Ben focus on his popularity after coming out and entering a more supportive school environment. He plays lacrosse, has parties and lies to his parents, but only in little, normal ways. Stannard’s portrayal of Ben is thrilling in its mundanity; with the growing representation of trans youth in media, it is still far too difficult to find characters that enjoy supportive, loving families and normal teenage activities.
Shows like “Pose” and “Euphoria” have been amazing in their visibility, but it should be just as crucial to showcase representation for trans youth that is divorced from problematic sexual relationships or traumatic backstories. It doesn’t hurt that Stannard is playing his age, as well as what seems to be his story. Now 16, Stannard discussed his relationship to gender and coming out with People: “It was a very accepting environment. I wasn’t really worried, especially because I had kind of already come out to [my mom] before. I was just like, ‘Ah, well I hope this is cool.’ Because it was happening. And [my mom was] just really good about it.”
The show has also been exciting because of its treatment of its leads, specifically Hendricks and Retta. Both actresses have figures that fall outside the usual for leading ladies, with Hendricks perching at a size 12-14 and Retta a size 22. Currently, the average American woman falls around a 16-18 misses size or a 20 plus size, but it is virtually impossible to find actresses who represent that demographic and even more difficult to find ones that tell stories without weight as a punchline or obsession.
Even shows that revolutionized television with fat female leads like “Shrill” or “My Mad Fat Diary” had to overplay the trauma that comes from being plus size in a world built for thinner people, a technique that can be helpful for those just learning about body positivity or fat acceptance but is often just as re-traumatizing as validating for plus-size people. “Good Girls” avoids this.
Hendricks’ character Beth oozes sex appeal even in the frumpiest outfits, something that is not terribly surprising for those familiar with Hendricks’ modeling career. Retta’s Ruby exudes confidence and her husband, played by the dashing Reno Wilson, is smitten by her, even as her criminal activity drives a wedge between them. The characters are allowed to simply exist, never the butt of the joke or objects to be pitied.
Where the show is less exciting is in its choice to cast primarily Latino and/or Hispanic actors to portray the criminals that Hendricks, Retta and Whitman form alliances with. Manny Montana is of particular note in his role as Rio, a mysterious figure who seems to head an organized crime ring, and his acting is phenomenal. As wonderful as Montana’s and others like Carlos Aviles’ performances are, they do evoke the unfortunately common trope in Hollywood of characters with Latin American backgrounds being involved in criminal groups or gangs.
That’s not to suggest that one should write off “Good Girls” entirely though, as the show itself seems to be interested in the complexities of criminality and morality, as well as stereotypes, but it is certainly something to keep in mind. The show does choose to add important embellishments to the characters in this group, so even if the core casting is questionable, characters do possess individual, likable and humanizing traits and backstories.
In the end, “Good Girls” isn’t perfect TV, but very little is. In the time it’s been on the air, it’s made some really exciting headway along with some unfortunate stalls. The main cast saves the show in its weaker moments and definitely reminds viewers of why so many of the leading names are recognizable. As it wraps, past viewers might find it worth tuning in for closure and new viewers will be excited to hear that, yes, the earlier seasons are available on Netflix.