Sunday, April 8, 2012

GCB (ABC, Sundays 9 pm)


When one conjures up images of Texas then cowboy boots, George W. Bush and the honky-tonk dance come to mind. ABC’s new Sunday night show, GCB adds an important element to the mix: women. The series is based on Kim Gatlin’s 2008 novel, Good Christian Bitches, and while such a title obviously couldn’t work for television without controversy, the implied bitchiness remains full throttle.

The target of the titular GCBs is Amanda Vaughn (Leslie Bibb, in literally a reprisal of her Popular heyday) a former high school cheerleader type whose husband has recently died spectacularly in a car crash while getting head from another woman. His accident brings a fraud scandal upon Amanda and her two kids, forcing her into bankruptcy and, more distressing for her, to head back home to Texas and, alas, to her mother Gigi (the wonderful Annie Potts).

Gigi is of course stereotypically fabulous: rich from her dead husband, in a big empty mansion and wears loud, expensive clothes. She welcomes back Amanda as one would a stray sheep…with the knowledge that such a reunion was always going to occur. What neither predicted though was the effect the coming home story would have on everyone else. So far—and I must stress the series is only three episodes—the only ones really distraught are Sharon (Jennifer Aspen), Cricket (Miriam Shor) and the new queen of the Austin suburbs Carlene (Kristen Chenoweth). These three women form the highest levels of social life in the town, all strikingly rich, blonde and devoutly Christian.

Their resentment of Amanda stems from the bad treatment she doled out to them in school but GCB is very much concerned with the present, not the past. The pilot, with all the irrelevant and patchy detail, clearly set to inform us not to expect too many surprises however. By overplaying its bejeweled hand so immediately, the show now sets us up for nothing more than a weekly exercise of penance and slow torture. Luckily, episode two (Hell Hath No Fury) fanned out more juicy detail, more in line with what we’re used to from executive producer Darren Star (Sex & the City ).

Amanda does have her eureka moment of regret but it’s too late. She realizes this once Carlene gets up to sing for her in church for the first time: past sins will be dealt with present actions. That see-saw battle of fitting punishment for the crime dogs GCB so far however. Amanda may have turned up changed from her bad girl past but it doesn’t erase the hell she made their lives. At a time where we’re focused keenly on bullying in schools, especially girl-on-girl intimidation, the series hasn’t yet found a realistic way to portray the issue. Instead, GCB holds up a flimsy status quo and runs with it, risking viewership now for a life-changing twist down the line.

It is a risk, especially as the characters aren’t exactly engaging or much fun. Potts is wasted as the mother hen and even Chenoweth—with the juiciest plot—has reached a dead end, limited by the very Christianity she champions at every opportunity. GCB makes these powerful women into basic extensions of their high school selves, with cosmetic surgery the only difference. All their focus goes into Amanda to the point where one wonders what they did with their time before she returned. We see proliferation of their wealth and scheming success but not the hard work and dedication. We can’t see their humanity either. Naturally there’ll be comparisons to Star’s most famous quartet (Miranda, Carrie, Samantha & Charlotte) but that’d be unfortunate. This Texan bunch aren’t concerned with equal footing with men but just to prove to Amanda that they’re her equal or even better.

Therein lies the rub for Carlene and Cricket though: besties because they had a united enemy but remove the common factor and all they’re left with is each other’s fierce ambition. As episode three (Love is Patient) showed, GCB’s real battle is between these two and both actresses are delightful in pockets. For now, the battle is being framed through their devotion to husbands—one suddenly impotent, the other gay but content for companionship—but soon I think the fake fur will be let loose. For GCB, the sooner the better because as enticing as Amanda in her tight Boobylicious work attire (Carlene’s business), that milkshake isn’t looking to bring the boys to the yard nor be a rival to these MILFs anymore.

RATING: 5/10