The “Claws” Effect“Good Girls” Is More Than a Guilty Pleasure

Retta as Ruby Hill, left, Christina Hendricks as Beth Boland, middle, and Mae Whitman as Annie Marks in Good Girls (NBC)

It has been quite a while since a mass audience has assembled to tweet about complex mothers and wives who keep their stilettos and wigs on and are on a show without “Real Housewives” in its title. Seeing Good Girls—NBC’s hit drama about suburban women ensnared in a crime syndicate—trending each week is a surefire sign that the show is resonating with large audiences. There’s no doubt that its storylines are outrageous, but the show has managed to balance far-fetched scenarios with rich characters and real-world issues, including rape culture and gender roles. This careful balancing act has elevated Good Girls from a “guilty pleasure” to mandatory viewing. 

Call it the Claws effect: TNT’s popular dramedy about nail technicians who get caught up in Palmetto, Florida’s, criminal underworld, also puts its female heroines in wild scenarios offset by their commitment to friendship and a shared desire to stick it to crooked men. Claws and Good Girls are both scandalous, laugh-out-loud funny, and rooted in an urgency that’s familiar for working-class, multiracial women who have multiple odds stacked against them. Both shows are also popular—garnering more than 2 million viewers each week between them.

Good Girls’ squad of mothers and wives resort to desperate measures when their relationships and finances are upended. Beth Boland (Christina Hendricks), a housewife who’s seemingly content making cookies for her children’s school bake sale, is sent into a tailspin when she discovers that her car salesman husband Dean (Matthew Lillard) has been cheating, neglecting to pay the mortgage, and tanking the dealership. She goes from cheerily packing a nice sandwich for her husband in the series premiere (she tells him, “tuna fish, keep it in the fridge,” with a warm smile) to leaving him whimpering and tied up on the floor while she checks on the laundered money that thugs barged into their home and stole. 

Beth’s friend Ruby Hill (Retta) has a faithful and loving husband in Stan (Reno Wilson), but the meager wages she makes as a diner waitress won’t cover the cost of her daughter Sara’s (Lidya Jewett) life-saving kidney surgery. After all, Stan and Ruby can only afford their home because they inherited it from her late mom. Sara’s mounting medical bills transform Ruby from a can-do employee into the woman who goes off on an entitled white teen in the diner when his mom demands an apology for not warning him that the plate she served was hot. “I’m sorry you’re too stupid to understand basic human decency and how to treat anyone, especially service people,” she tells him. That exchange costs Ruby her job and pushes her into crime.

And finally, there’s Annie Marks (Mae Whitman), Beth’s sister and a a single mom living paycheck to paycheck. Her well-to-do ex Gregg (Zach Gilford), who’s now remarried with a baby on the way, is suing her for full custody of their son Sadie (Isaiah Stannard) and she doesn’t even have a dime to pay a lawyer. Annie is also being sexually harassed by her supervisor Boomer (David Hornsby), who finds out about her crimes and tries to blackmail her into sleeping with him. Annie’s spiraling crime spree not only get her out of debt but removes Boomer from the picture.

Beth, Annie, and Ruby’s dire circumstances push them to the brink. Though Beth’s heartbroken, she’s uninterested in waiting for Dean to fix their financial woes or being his subservient partner as he fumbles for a solution. Instead, she covertly enlists Ruby and Annie—all one paycheck away from bankruptcy—to help stickup the supermarket where Annie works. Though it’s a risky and illegal AF move, the $100,000 they steal allows each woman to determine her own fate without a man pulling her strings. Sure, their plan is messy but their motivations are pure.

The trio’s plans are corrupted by Beth’s shocking new situationship with Rio (Manny Montana), the hot crime boss whose laundered money they stole from the supermarket. He’s initially intimidating because he’s a seasoned criminal who shows up in Beth’s kitchen with guns and henchman and they’re, well, not. But that turns into a thrill for Beth who, along with the other women, has to work closely with Rio to reimburse him—with interest—for the money they’ve spent on life-saving medication, legal fees, and Beth’s unpaid mortgage. Unlike Ruby and Annie who just want to fix their money problems and bounce, Beth is now running up on gangsters in their homes and demanding due diligence.

Good Girls raises the stakes by placing its female heroines in a male-dominated crime world by men where their motivations are blurred by new desires for power, sexual pleasure, and a little bit of chaos.

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She likes the feeling of power she gets when she accomplishes a task; it gives her a confidence she hasn’t felt in years and ignites her sexual thirst for Rio. Soon he’s pushing her against the wall of a bar restroom while her husband waits for her at their dinner table. Beth and Rio’s forbidden relationship is kinky and immoral, but oh-so-entertaining to watch because it gives the suburban mom a swagger. She’s not your average Susie Homemaker but a Down-ass Bitch who unapologetically craves an afternoon tryst. Good Girls allows women like Beth to release their inhibitions—even though it’s short-lived, highly dangerous, and may only be experienced vicariously through this series.

Robbing the grocery store also empowers Ruby. Unlike Beth and Dean, Ruby and Stan love each other, take care of their kids together, and split the bills. But the robbery gives Ruby the opportunity to save her child. It’s a subtle subversion of the superman complex, allowing the woman to wear the cape. Of course it comes back to bite her because Stan now knows about her accruing string of crimes and has used his power as a police officer to help her bury evidence. The stakes are far higher for Ruby and she’s beginning to sweat. But the risk is what makes Good Girls so fun to watch. 

And let’s not forget the sex: While Beth’s sizzling side-piece scenario is must-see TV, Annie also has her share of raunchy sex. Gregg considers Annie an immature and unfit parent but that doesn’t stop him from sliding back into her bed. Gregg isn’t the only man who Annie eats up and spits out; she detaches sex from emotion and has sex with whomever she pleases, whenever she likes. Annie’s approach to sex might also be her downfall. Noah (Sam Huntington)—Annie’s latest conquest—is an undercover detective who’s been hired to take her, Ruby, and Beth down.

These women are more concerned about paying their mortgages, caring for their children, and fighting complicated custody battles than facing consequences. Their motivations are relatable for many women and the show’s primary female audience is rooting for them to get away with their alarmingly escalating crimes. Good Girls raises the stakes by placing its female heroines in a male-dominated crime world by men where their motivations are blurred by new desires for power, sexual pleasure, and a little bit of chaos. But it doesn’t ever separate them from the fact that they’re moms and committed to all the responsibilities that come with that. Things are just deliciously complicated.

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to add a “r” to the word “dire.” April 29, 2019, 10:32 a.m. 


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by Candice Frederick
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Candice Frederick is an award-winning journalist (ESSENCE), founder of the film blog Reel Talk Online, co-host of the pop culture show “Real Live” on ABC News Live, and a freelance TV/film critic living in New York City. Follow her on Twitter @ReelTalker.