Viewers wistful over “Mad Men’s” exit may find satisfaction in another rich and authentic period drama that essentially picks up where the 1960s series left off.
However, the focus of “Good Girls Revolt,” set primarily in the early ’70s, is mad women: aspiring female journalists who are more than a little ticked off and discouraged by cringe-worthy sexist notions at a New York news magazine.
Star Anna Camp (“Pitch Perfect”), who played a short-lived love interest of Don Draper in “Mad Men,” described her new Amazon Prime show as a kind of continuation of the struggles of women such as Peggy and Joan, who finally started coming into their own in the final episodes of the advertising drama.
“At the end of the last season of ‘Mad Men,’ Joan was starting off her own company and starting to really assert herself as a woman in the industry and business,” Camp told TV critics at a recent press session. “I feel like our show does pick up pretty much right on that, and what happens to the women, who then have to come forward and take a stand and assert their rights. I feel like it’s a continuation of that in a way.”
The nine episodes of “Good Girls Revolt” stream on Amazon Prime starting Friday.
The drama, which is helmed by three female executive produers, Dana Calvo, Darlene Hunt and Linda Obst, is inspired by Lynn Povich’s non-fiction book with the same title. It chronicled the landmark 1970 case in which Povich and 45 other women sued Newsweek for gender discrimination.
Here, the magazine is retitled News of the Week and features mainly fictionalized characters with a few real figures thrown in here and there. These include the late Nora Ephron (Grace Gummer) — who got her start as a “mail girl” at Newsweek before becoming a successful journalist, novelist and screenwriter — and Eleanor Holmes Norton (Joy Bryant), the American Civil Liberties Union attorney who led the real Newsweek discrimination case and who’s currently a D.C. congresswoman.
Similar to “Mad Men,” this show effectively sets the stage with nostalgic music from the time — Iron Butterfly, Buffalo Springfield and more — and attire that reflects the era as well: boots, miniskirts, hippie headbands.
The vivid drama and characterizations, also like “Mad Men,” are set against a backdrop of real news stories: the Manson murders, the violence that erupted at the Altamont music festival, the rise of the Black Panthers, the Vietnam War, the U.S. postal strike of 1970.
Meanwhile, the drama drives home newsroom practices sure to make viewers wince. For instance, the women may do the work of reporters but are called “researchers.” Their job is to gather quotes and information to assist the male reporters on stories. They get no credit on stories they help put together — even when large sections are written by them — and are paid a sliver of the reporters’ salaries.
Women are discussed by office males in terms of their bust and waist measurements, and they’re relegated to the lower area of the newsroom, several steps under the males’ work space — referred to as “the pit.”
Ephron, who has some of the juiciest lines and moments in the series opener, shakes her head when a couple of researchers squabble over whose team will get a prized story. “It’s like you guys are fighting over the lower bunk bed in jail — who gets to make the guys who are writing the story look better.”
It’s not just her talk that inspires, as we see when she locks horns with the magazine’s relic of an editor, played convincingly by a bow-tied Jim Belushi.
For a TV series to flower and thrive, however, it needs to go beyond workplace politics. “Good Girls Revolt” does just that, fleshing out other areas of the characters’ lives while highlighting changing attitudes that also reflect the revolutionary ’70s.
Patti Robinson (Genevieve Angelson) is the most progressive of the three female leads — wearing her long hair Janis Joplin-style, being the first to don pants in a skirts-encouraged workplace, trying drugs that go way beyond alcohol and the regulation party joint and getting naked at a wild New Year’s Eve bash in the Chelsea Hotel. Patti may be crazy about her boyfriend, News of the Week writer Doug Rhodes (Hunter Parrish), but she’s more passionate about wanting the career he has.
Jane Hollander (Camp), a fellow researcher, initially comes through as the opposite of Patti. Hailing from a wealthy, conservative family, she is the picture of social propriety in dress and manners. Still, her drive at the magazine comes blazing through. She works into the wee hours researching stories and encouraging her male teammate. However, when the men in her life let her down, she, too, begins fighting, albeit politely, for a fairer system at the magazine.
Cindy Reston (Erin Darke), soft-spoken, awkward and the only married member of the central trio, views her job at News of the Week as a stepping stone to becoming a novelist. Her conventional husband does everything he can to stand in her way, however, even taking secretive steps to assure she becomes pregnant. Cindy eventually start spreading her wings — at work and at play — with both positive and negative results.
Don’t get the impression, however, that all men in the series are written off as ogres. Finn Woodhouse (Chris Diamantopoulos), the editor at large of the magazine, struggles as he straddles the fence between the past and present. While forward-thinking in his job, embracing counterculture stories as a way to stay competitive — and seeking Patti’s input at every turn — he also remains resistant to promoting a woman to reporter.
How is “Good Girls Revolt” different from “Mad Men”? Tonally, it’s less dark, more playful.
“There’s nothing morose or sullen about this show,” Diamantopoulous said. “You know, 1969, 1970 was such a vibrant era, and … it’s highly reflected in the way that the shots are framed, in the wardrobe, in the lighting.”
Co-star Darke agreed: “While our show is definitely serious,” we’re also not afraid to have fun.”
Jeanne Jakle’s column appears Wednesdays and Sundays in mySA, and she writes online at mySA.com/Jakle. Email her at [email protected]
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