LOS ANGELES – The Minnesotan behind "Good Girls," NBC's gun-toting contribution to the #MeToo movement, came very close to playing one of literature's spunkiest good girls.
Jenna Bans, a regular audience member at the Guthrie and Children's Theatre while growing up in Mendota Heights, was once in the running to headline a national tour of "Pippi Longstocking."
But her attorney parents objected.
"I pleaded, 'You're ruining my entire life!' " Bans said last month during an interview peppered with words you're not supposed to say on network TV, or in front of your folks. "I really wanted to be Pippi. Now I'm glad I stayed in school."
So is another famous redhead, Christina Hendricks, who stars in the new series as one of three suburban moms who break bad after one too many pats to the rumps.
"Jenna's writing is incredibly genuine and natural," said Hendricks, best known for playing "Mad Men's" savvy secretary Joan Holloway. "We go from very, very serious stuff to the over-the-top, hysterical and bizarre. But we make sure to honor what Jenna has written and play every moment as real."
Bans, 42, once had aspirations of being an actress herself, starting in high school and continuing through her years at Northwestern University in Illinois. Mom even let her skip classes one day as a teenager so she could be an extra in "Untamed Heart." (That's her for all of two seconds, coming down the escalator in the IDS Center!)
But after moving to New York and finding she was spending more time waiting tables than securing roles, she altered her plans.
"I wasn't that good an actor, to tell you the truth," she said. "I liked the control of writing my own parts."
Bans quickly established herself behind the scenes, starting with "Desperate Housewives" in 2004, and later as a member of the Shonda Rhimes team, earning accolades for her contributions to "Grey's Anatomy" and "Scandal." Bans also created two ABC series of her own, the medical drama "Off the Map" and a political soap, "The Family," starring Joan Allen.
Neither lasted more than a season. But at least they got on the air.
"I had a pilot that didn't go anywhere called 'Minnesota Nice,' " she said. "It was kind of a love letter to Minnesota. ABC thought it was too specific. And then 'Fargo' became a giant thing."
The success of that Emmy-winning FX series kept Bans from setting "Good Girls" in her home state. "There might have been the expectation, at least from the network, that everything be like 'Fargo,' " she said.
Instead, this dramedy — which starts off with the three protagonists robbing a supermarket, triggering retaliation from the mob — was shot in Atlanta and set in suburban Detroit.
Fed up with being treated like second-class citizens, these women may speak to the masses enlisting in the #MeToo movement, but their rebellious streak seems to have more in common with two characters driven to the edge of a cliff 27 years ago.
"It's women taking their power back, and that, to me, is what 'Thelma & Louise' is about," said actress Mae Whitman, the "Parenthood" veteran who plays Hendricks' sister. "It's that feeling of getting backed into a corner, feeling stuck in the world, and you're actually able to make a change in your life."
While Minnesota may not be referenced in the series, its creator's roots are reflected in her no-nonsense philosophy to being the boss.
Bans displays "a practicality that's refreshing," said co-executive producer Jeannine Renshaw. "With Jenna, there's not a lot of bells and whistles. 'Let's just do the job.' "
Staff writer Marc Halsey, a fellow Minnesotan, said Bans' grounded approach to wacky plot twists is the main reason he's always wanted to work on one of her shows.
"As showrunners go, they don't get more inspiring. She really pushes you to pull from your own life, to pitch ideas that are personal and honest," said Halsey, whose résumé includes stints at "Brothers & Sisters" and "Rosewood."
Parents aren't star-struck
If that is true, someday Bans' characters might wind up hiding out at the Minnesota State Fair, an event she returns to almost every year with her daughter and husband, Justin Spitzer, who created the NBC sitcom "Superstore."
In fact, the couple has often discussed setting up shop in Minnesota. "It's our secret dream," she said.
The move would let her spend more time with her parents. They enjoy their visits to L.A. but aren't particularly dazzled by having one daughter who runs her own show and another, Lauren, who works in the writers' room for ABC's "The Goldbergs."
"My youngest sister is an astrophysicist professor at Emory University and they're probably the most proud of her, which I love," Bans said. "They think what I do is cool, but they're not star-struck."
For the record, mother Sally Bans insists that she loves her three daughters equally.
"It's not that I favor what the youngest is doing," said Mom, who laughed heartily when told that her oldest is still steamed by the Pippi Incident. "Maybe I'm just more in awe of it because it's way over my head."
Jenna Bans says she and her husband probably talk too much about showbiz at home.
"My oldest daughter has a little fake computer," she said. "I'll never forget the day I asked her what she was working on. She said, 'I'm working on my pilot' and she was like 3. So we have to stop talking work. It's gross."