To call the characters of “GCB,” ABC’s Dallas-set dramedy featuring privileged and often hypocritical church-goers, stereotypical isn’t unfair — they are. But to say the stereotypes are unfair is a lie. Look at their nonfiction counterparts on one of the many reality shows set in the Texas city, especially Style’s dreadful “Big Rich Texas.” Or look at shows set in other cities, no matter the region, to see others like them. Plastic women and men like this exist, big hair, caked-on makeup, bedazzled clothing and all, whether there’s a camera on them or not. The question isn’t how fake “GCB’s” inhabitants are; it’s why we need a show based on them in the first place. (We don’t.) The network can’t just let its long-forgotten-about “Desperate Housewives” fizzle out this season without a replacement, the equally soapy “Revenge” not having quite the same neighborhood dynamic. But stretching the schtick of too-tan 1 percenters gossiping their way through life into a series may be a challenge for creator Robert Harling, long past his Steel Magnolias glory days. In fact, “GCB” should have been a film. At least at feature-length, the story likely could have kept its original title from Kim Gatlin’s book, “Good Christian Bitches,” or even its second title, “Good Christian Belles,” instead of having one that gives off a narcotic or venereal disease vibe. The pilot itself was almost plotted like a film, and we were given most of the highs and lows required of a silly chick flick, minus the requisite love interest and a few more cat fights. Think Hope Floats meets Mean Girls. But a breezy, 90-minute comedy would just make too much sense. The melodrama of the rich and useless must be mined for all it is worth.
The original Mean Girl of this Dallas bunch is Amanda Vaughn (Leslie Bibb), but she left that life behind 18 years ago to move to California with husband Bill. After his Ponzi-scheme-induced fall from grace (and this Earth, after he accidentally drives his car over a cliff), Amanda packs up kids Laura (Lauran Irion) and Will (Colton Shires) and heads back to her upscale Dallas home and her boozed up mother Gigi (Annie Potts). Her lack of money, thanks to Bill’s actions, ties her to Gigi and the area, not her desire to return to her old ways. Amanda has changed for the better, but the girls she terrorized in high school are still around and mostly still the same (save for various injections and procedures). Carlene Cockburn (Kristin Chenoweth) now leads the pack and immediately guns for Amanda and encourages the others — Cricket Caruth-Reilly (Miriam Shor), Heather Cruz (Marisol Nichols) and Sharon Peacham (Jennifer Aspen) — to do the same. Some, notably Heather; Zack (Brad Beyer), Sharon’s husband who still has the hots for Amanda; and Blake (Mark Deklin), Cricket’s secretly-gay husband, see that Amanda has left behind her evil ways, but that reality doesn’t seem to matter.
Unable to find work in her chosen field of interior design thanks to the other women using connections to block her from landing a job, Amanda takes one as a booty pants-wearing waitress at the bar Boobylicious. She’s willing to do what she needs to to make money and get her own place, and she isn’t fazed when Carlene reveals the gals know she works there. Amanda also doesn’t hesitate to call Carlene, who is quick to quote Bible verses in between her bouts of back-stabbing, a hypocrite, leading to the shocking revelation that not everyone who calls him or herself a Christian actually leads a Christ-centered life. There are just as many strip clubs in Dallas as there are churches, Amanda says, adding “2 plus 2 equals a double standard!” Well, yes. But is that really the point of the show — to remind viewers that there are two-faced people in this world? The Christian bits actually negate what I initially said about “GCB” not being unfair; taking at aim at ridiculous religious red-staters is just too easy. Amanda sticking one to Carlene at the end of the pilot — thanking Carlene and her husband Ripp (David James Elliott) in a prayer at church for giving her a job at Boobylicious, which they happen to own — only made her as sanctimonious as the rest of them.
The second episode continued the revenge plots, this time bringing in the second generation of daughters pulling mean stunts. Apparently, the way to flesh out the “GCB” premise is to keep Carline and crew finding ways to make Amanda pay for her past sins. Cricket and Susan’s girls are manipulated into the mix, encouraged to embrace Laura so the moms can keep tabs on Amanda. “Hell hath no fury like a bunch of women you scorned in high school,” Amanda says, which I suppose is true when it’s petty women involved. Not having seen Amanda back in her mean stage, however, and only knowing her as the woman who escaped the insanity only to be thrust back into it, “GCB” is taxing to watch. If Amanda already is tired of Carlene’s obsession with the past and insistence on making her life miserable, imagine how weary viewers will soon get. Shor and Aspen, at least, play their roles to perfection, and Potts is dependable for delivering funny lines; she’s like a Botoxed version of “Downton Abbey’s” Dowager Countess — “I don’t get furious. I’m too well-bred for that.” Gigi also is there to remind Amanda how cruel people can get. “Nobody can stay exactly like they were in high school,” Amanda says to her in the pilot. “Oh yes they can,” Gigi replies. Watching “GCB,” in turn, is just like going back to high school. And who wants to do that?
Sarah Carlson is a TV Critic for Pajiba. She lives in Texas.