The workplace is a fertile ground for television. The forced interaction of dissimilar people, the built-in hierarchies, and the soul-deadening florescent lighting all make for a potent playground for screenwriters and showrunners. "The Office," in both its U.K. and U.S. iterations, captured the ennui -- and the secret heart -- of dreary middle management. "Party Down" gave us delightful slackers made to don bow ties in the name of making rent. "Mad Men" gave us, well, "Mad Men," and all its delectable period costuming and quiet drama.
One new workplace-driven show picks up, in a sense, just as the aforementioned AMC drama leaves us with Don Draper and a bottle of Coke. The pilot episode of "Good Girls Revolt," an Amazon Prime original, follows the grind of a '70s-era newsroom. There, the celebrated -- and all male -- reporters get praise from the public and higher-ups, while the female "researchers" do the dirty work of journalism without ever seeing their bylines grace a page.
The show takes its name from the nonfiction work that inspired it, The Good Girls Revolt, a 2013 telling of how Newsweek’s female staff sued their company, citing gender-based discrimination in hiring and promotion. Aside from a name, both the U.S. covers and the promo card on Amazon feature hot pink, handwritten-style text, which feels gimmicky. Can the ladies only revolt if they do it with furiously scrawled lipstick?
Despite the packaging, though, the pilot shows us an intriguing setup. A young Nora Ephron (who seems to be one of the few characters with a real-life counterpart and is played by Grace Gummer, who is likeable even in a questionable wig) starts her first day at the fictional News of the Week magazine in New York, giving the audience a fresh look at the environment in a way only a newbie can. She meets the embodiment of free love counterculture in Patti (Genevieve Angelson), the rulebook-following Jane (Anna Camp) and the quieter, married Cindy (Erin Darke), who’s facing a pregnancy scare. All the women, despite their differences in temperament, are shown as having journalistic chops, but their hard work is overshadowed by the men in the bullpen -- the focus of the news magazine, both literally and culturally.
From the #millennial perspective, what strikes most in the pilot is just how overt -- and largely unquestioned -- the sexism in the News of the Week offices is. There’s a moment in which Nora points out the uselessness of Jane and Patti fighting over a story: "It’s like you guys are fighting over the lower bunk bed in jail." Regardless of which story makes the cover, neither of their names will be attached to it. The episode ends (spoiler alerts ahead) with Patti and Cindy at a meeting of feminists. They listen to a group member’s sordid confession that she’s been sleeping with her boss. "He says if I break up with him, it will be too distracting for him at work." It's worth noting the group's leader (Joy Bryant, playing real-life badass Eleanor Holmes Norton) is a woman of color, but we don't see many others in the pilot, notably on the News of the Week staff. It will be interesting to see this dynamic play out -- if the writers address the additional hardships faced by nonwhite women in the workplace, it would be timely: issues of intersectional feminism are as relevant in 2015 as they must have been in 1970.
Today’s media landscape certainly isn’t perfect in terms of gender parity, but it’s easy to forget the strides made in areas too often taken for granted now. Being able to work while pregnant, for example.
Despite its pilot showing on Amazon, the future of "Good Girls Revolt" is uncertain -- it's part of a host of shows vying for a full-season treatment on the streaming network. It's an interesting premise we haven't seen from Hulu or Netflix, both of which give us full seasons to like or to pan instead of just one episode. The pilot of "Good Girls Revolt" had a few blips -- this isn’t going to be as nuanced as, say, "Mad Men," or as artful as Amazon’s prize-winning "Transparent" -- but overall showed promise, and set up characters and tension that I’d like to see played out over a full season. Here’s hoping Amazon will give voice to the unheard women of the newsrooms.
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