Good Girls Revolt is nostalgic for the bad old days.
Sure, the Amazon drama about midcentury career gals is very much against sexism in its most blatant and unsavory forms, but it’s easy to detect a hint of wistfulness in its Technicolor costumes and you-go-girl platitudes. “Remember when sexism was as easy to spot as ‘No Girls Allowed’?” it asks. “And remember when solving it was as easy as ‘Yes, They Are’?” Good Girls Revolt doesn’t bother or care to note that things were never actually this easy. But it’s happy to ask us to reminisce alongside it just the same.
The titular girls are researchers at a magazine — News of the Week, modeled after Newsweek, where 46 women filed a class-action lawsuit against their employers in March 1970 — who do half the work for the male reporters they assist for none of the byline. Conveniently, they form a perfect trinity of archetypes: Patti (Genevieve Angelson), the free spirit fond of meticulously tousled braids and a good bathtub joint; Cindy (Erin Darke), the mouse in a loveless marriage just waiting to have her consciousness raised; and Jane (Anna Camp), the preppy princess whose two kids and picket fence aren’t arriving as quickly as she’d hoped. After they file suit to fight that reporter-researcher divide, the battle lines are drawn, as black and white as the characters’ own publication. Spunk good, gender discrimination bad! The good girls have revolted — and they’re going to win.
A nuanced exploration of shifting social mores will have to be found elsewhere. (One glaring example: The show’s entire discussion of race at News of the Week is confined to a single black character.) But exploring women’s shifting status in the 1960s workplace in a world where equally noxious but more resilient sexism dominates the news constitutes its own form of useful escapism. With that in mind, it’s hard to fault Good Girls Revolt for its 2-D rendering of the same material other period pieces choose to reexamine and complicate. Instead, the show is best enjoyed not for the overambitious mark it misses than for what it accidentally becomes along the way: a fantasy for the Lean In era.
Today’s office misogyny is something more intangible and less straightforward than Good Girls’ Jim Belushi, patriarchy incarnate, sternly intoning “THAT’S NOT THE WAY THINGS ARE DONE AROUND HERE.” (Yes, really.) Now, we have less obvious, more pernicious problems: the steep cost of childcare that encourages mothers to drop out of the workplace; male bosses’ tendency to “see themselves” in … other men; stereotypes that are still gendered, but less explicitly. We can’t litigate most of these problems away, so we have the “Ban Bossy” campaign instead. It’s insufficient, but it’s all we have.
Compare this to “Girls can’t be reporters,” an easily identifiable problem with an easily identifiable solution: get mad, get a lawyer, and get through it on the combined power of gumption and female friendship. Good Girls Revolt can’t resist something so cut-and-dried, nor the urge to simplify everything else about the time period along with the gender politics. (When asked for her insta-thoughts on the chaos at Altamont, token counterculturite Patti is immediately able to divine the concert’s broader significance, telling her editor mere hours after that the violence had forever disrupted the trust on which free love was built.) Good Girls’ first draft of history is also dead accurate, gifting its characters with hindsight that’s more than just 20/20, but positively superpowered. It’s The Newsroom if Will McAvoy lived in the time he clearly belonged in.
Good Girls Revolt even has the finishing touch every fantasy needs: a fairy godmother. How else to describe the show’s take on Nora Ephron, who makes an appearance in the pilot in the form of Grace Gummer? Gummer is woefully miscast, as almost anyone would be, but the real problem is the dialogue; Ephron wrote better dialogue for herself (and others) than anyone else ever could. But Ephron’s role in the show isn’t to act as her actual self, even though she really did work at Newsweek — she’s there to be an enlightened emissary from the Feminism Gods, sent to sprinkle her woke fairy dust on the complacent researchers so they may break free of their shackles. In just an hourlong episode, Ephron inspires Cindy to stand up to her husband, introduces Patti to a women’s liberation group, and quits over News of the Week’s working conditions in spectacularly public fashion. Office disrupted.
Along with now-Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton, Ephron’s one of a few founding mothers to make lionized cameos in Good Girls Revolt. It’s an odd choice, given that the viewers dedicated enough to recognize these women will almost certainly take offense at their propagandized portraits. Yet it’s a fitting one: Nora Ephron is not Betsy Ross, the kind of figure who’s been mythologized to the point where showing up to preach in someone else’s story on behalf of the ideals she stands for is just part of the job description. But Good Girls Revolt would very much like her to get there.