Each fall, most of the broadcast and cable networks debut a ton of new shows in the span of a few months, making it difficult to sort out which ones to make time for and which to skip. So we’re starting the WIRED Pilot Program, where we highlight what you should continue watching, and what you can just let sit on your DVR until it automatically deletes. Today’s entry: Good Girls Revolt.
The Show: Good Girls Revolt (Streaming now on Amazon)
The Premise: It’s December 1969, and the staffers at News of the Week—a big-audience, big-credibility, big-money national magazine—are scrambling to cover Altamont, one of the last major headline-grabbing events of the decade. But an even bigger story seems to be unfolding in the magazine’s offices, where the Week‘s underappreciated female researchers are learning that the male colleagues who take their work for granted (while also often taking all the credit) could be guilty of more than just sexism—they might also be breaking the law.
The Pilot Program Take: Normally, Pilot Program adheres to a strict guideline of only reviewing a new series’ first installment. But since the pilot of Good Girls Revolt technically debuted last fall—when it was part of Amazon’s you-rate-it, we-make-it voting program—we decided to check out the first two installments, just to get a better sense of where the show was headed. And it’s a good thing we did, because Revolt makes some much-needed improvements between episodes one and two, turning a crucial corner from a sixties-slavish reference-o-‘rama to a noticeably more invigorated workplace drama.
WIRED Pilot Program: Good Girls Revolt
Not that Revolt‘s core elements needed too much tinkering. The set-up is irresistible: Based on Lynn Povich’s 2012 book The Good Girls Revolt, the series is a fictionalized account of a 1970 anti-discrimination suit filed against Newsweek by nearly 50 of its female employees—a crucial white-collar uprising, not to mention a timely one. And the cast’s central trio is swell: Patti (Genevieve Angelson), an aspiring rabble-rouser with flower-power leanings; Jane (Anna Camp), the well-heeled scoop-seeker; and Cindy (Erin Drake), a wannabe novelist who’s saddled with a dinky husband. Real-life lawyer-activist Eleanor Holmes Norton (Joy Bryant) is only glimpsed briefly in the first two installments; Nora Ephron (Grace Gummer) also pops in sporadically, often with just enough time to steal the best lines.
So it’s a drag when the first episode of Revolt—which begins as news of the Altamont fiasco hits the East Coast—soon gets stuck in its own sixties daydream, as the talk in the News of the Week newsroom quickly becomes an over-chatty haze of pointlessly invoked Nixon-era flashpoints. Plaster Casters! Ken Kesey! Easy Rider! They’re all crammed into the conversations here, often with the graceless speed of a “We Didn’t Start the Fire” verse, and almost always at the expense of the characters, who deserve to be defined as a bit deeper than Cool Girl Who Really Digs Santana or Old Square Who Doesn’t Get Iron Butterfly. It’s impossible for a show set in the past to avoid referencing it, of course, but Revolt‘s pilot spends way too much energy rehashing the decade, and not enough time inhabiting it.
By the second episode, though, things are progressing, both in terms of history and narrative: The mystery of what went down at Altamont—which felt like a diversionary tactic in the pilot—is now in the rearview, allowing the women of Good Girls to focus instead on the crummy hierarchy that rules News of the Week: The female staffers are mere “researchers” who make the calls and do much of the heavy lifting, and yet are never granted the bylines so easily handed over to their male colleagues. It’s a backwards attitude that’s reflected in the relationships between Patti, Cindy, and Jane, all of whom are in romances with, or in awe of, men who are clinging to the the traditions of the past (thankfully, one of these dreary dudes gets dumped by the end of episode two—a wise choice not just for the dumper, but for the showrunners, too). When the three of them start taking steps, even small ones, to declare their independence, the juicy cultural conflicts at the heart of the show begin to rev up—and Good Girls starts to feel close-to-great.
The Verdict: Revolt has a worthy cast, a promising premise, and a unique vantage point with which to view the struggles of the ’00s through the lens of the past. It just needs to keep its nostalgia-tripping in check and make sure its characters—and its storytelling—maintain a forward momentum.
TL;DR: Hey, we didn’t mention Mad Men even once in our entire review!