Good Girls Revolt: The Mad Men of the News Room Setting

Though Good Girls Revolt didn’t manage to make it past the hurdle of getting a season two renewal on Amazon, it nonetheless triumphed in capturing the hearts of its loyal viewers (mostly female, naturally) in spite of its distinctly familiar Mad Men feel. And while some might say that comparing any post-Mad Men show set in the 60s (and 70s, mind you) is cliche, it’s about more than just the time period the show takes place in. Good Girls Revolt conjures remembrances of Matthew Weiner’s masterpiece for the very distinct war of the sexes relationship between each of its protagonists (which often double as antagonists).

Created by Dana Calvo, who got her start writing for Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, the narrative is based on journalist Lynn Povich’s The Good Girls Revolt: How the Women of Newsweek Sued their Bosses and Changed the Workplace–or, simply The Good Girls Revolt. Told from her firsthand perspective in the involvement of the landmark civil liberties case accusing Newsweek of flagrant gender discrimination, Povich’s tale translates quite nicely into a one-hour drama–featuring plenty of love triangles thrown in for good measure. With a sea change brewing long before 1969, the year the show begins, one supposes the first taste of a shared yearning for freedom women really got was with Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique, released in 1963 (the same year the Equal Pay Act was passed). In fact, this very book is referred to in the prologue, with especial attention to the quote, “As she made the beds, shopped for groceries, matched slipcover material, ate peanut butter sandwiches with her children, chauffeured Cub Scouts and Brownies, lay beside her husband at night–she was afraid to ask even of herself–‘Is this all?'” But for the working woman in the late 1960s, the question was entirely different, demanding instead, “Why them and not me?” with regard to the constant advancement of men based on nothing more than genitalia.

Incidentally, going back to that Mad Men comparison, Chapter 7 of the book is titled “Mad Men: The Boys Fight Back,” speaking to the equivalent of the final part of the season–and series–when the case is finally made public to their male co-workers and superiors. But before that, there is the simplicity of the pilot episode, featuring Grace Gummer in the role of Nora Ephron, the woman responsible for making the show’s lead characters, researchers Patti Robinson (Genevieve Angelson), Jane Hollander (Anna Camp) and Cindy Reston (Erin Darke), see that they’re all just “fighting for the bottom bunk in a prison.” Otherwise known as: it’s impossible to make any headway when none of their talents or efforts will ever be recognized. It’s what Friedan would call a “comfortable concentration camp.” Ephron proves that she’s willing to use action to back up her words when the magazine’s, called News of the Week, senior editor, Wick McFadden (Jim Belushi), informs her, “Girls don’t do rewrites.” Even though she was praised for her writing before Wick found out it came from the hand of a woman, it didn’t matter. Her vagina usurped all factors. Hence, she walks out, quitting publicly for all to witness her bravery.

Unfortunately, this is the last we’ll see of Ephron in the series, leaving the role of rebel girl primarily to Cindy, the only married woman of the bunch whose husband, Lenny (Andy Kelso), has given her a year to work at News of the Week and get started on a book before expecting her to focus solely on her wifely duties (read: churning out a baby). Something of the Peggy Olson of the bunch (and not just because of her natural dowdiness), Cindy is especially under appreciated at the outset of the show. Unlike Patti and Jane, who have their two male co-workers that double as romantic interests, Doug Rhodes (Hunter Parrish) and Sam Rosenberg (Daniel Eric Gold), respectively, Cindy has no one to pay attention to her–to serve as her partner in crime. That is, until one of the photographers, Ned (Michael Oberholtzer), takes a shine to her–a very noticeable shine that manifests into a full-blown affair à la Joan Holloway and Roger Sterling–though Cindy and Ned are neither half as attractive or influential in the workplace.

As Patti comes to terms with the fact that Doug will probably never accept or understand her aspirations to become a real reporter, it harkens back to Don (and pretty much everyone else) balking at Betty for pursuing psychology, or Pete balking at Peggy for pursuing copywriting or Joan being bought as a prostitute in order to land a valuable client for the agency. And as Jane, channeling the Joan role as well, convinces herself that working is just a temporary detour on her way to getting engaged–she’s saved her virginity and everything for him–she is soon forced to realize that she’s perhaps the most feministic of them all, joining in at full force on lead lawyer Eleanor Holmes Norton’s (Joy Bryant) rapidly mounting, ACLU-backed case.

It is also in this manner, with characters that started out expressing a staunch view on one extreme shifting to the other, that makes Good Girls Revolt very much akin to the trajectory of the Mad Men plot, which is given an adequate amount of time to display the dramatic arcs of Don, Joan, Peggy, Betty, Roger and Sally, among others.

With primary issues of the day–including Altamont, the U.S. Postal Service strike and the Black Panther movement–explored in every episode via the painstaking research each woman must do for less pay than their male counterparts, we’re given both historical and emotional context that lends a winsome quality to even the least likable of the bunch (which is probably Cindy’s husband, Lenny–then followed closely by Ned, after the way he treats Cindy in the wake of her marriage abandonment).

Though the sexual harassment and prejudice of the era is supposed to feel like a thing of the past that we’ve moved on from, it, in actuality, feels more pertinent than ever, what with our “president-elect” now famed for saying, “Grab her by the pussy” with regard to how to “get” a woman. This is just one of the many reasons it’s a near-tragedy that Good Girls Revolt has been cancelled by Amazon, the vote of which was made without the input of any women. It begs the question, have we come as far as we think since the time of Newsweek‘s discrimination?