How can a series that isn't allowed to keep the original, um, "racy" title of the book upon which it is based deliver a scandalously delicious edge?
It can't, and as much as ABC would like to make us believe, "GCB" (9 p.m. March 4, ABC; 2.5 stars out of 4) doesn’t. I'm not suggesting the new comedy bores, but it isn't consistently funny—and it definitely isn't as daring or groundbreaking as advertised.
First, let's talk about the title. "GCB" is based on Kim Gatlin's 2008 novel about Bible-thumping Dallas socialites called "Good Christian Bitches." The show's producers, including Darren Starr and Robert Harling, preferred that name, but ABC was afraid of offending viewers. So the show became “Good Christian Belles." Apparently the "Christian" was still a sticking point, so now it's called "GCB."
As the title implies, ABC is playing it fairly safe. It wants to present sharp commentary about the hypocrisy of those folks who hide behind their religious values while dishing out something quite different. It delivers a few good moments to that affect in the first two episodes, but overall it feels more like a Dallas-set version of "Desperate Housewives:" same bitchiness, different bitches.
The hour-long comedy tells the story of Amanda Vaughn (Leslie Bibb), a former high-school mean girl whose marriage ends in scandal and a busted bank account—not to mention her husband’s death. She reluctantly returns home to Dallas and, with her two kids, moves in with her mother, Gigi (Annie Potts), a socialite who embraces her religion and uses it to justify certain behaviors.
"Jesus drank wine," she tells her daughter. She’s a proud, gun-toting Conservative 1-percenter.
Thankfully she’s Amanda’s ally. When Amanda steps back into Dallas society, most of her former classmates whom she terrorized in high school only see a target. Her former victims are now prominent, church-going wives who just can’t forget or forgive.
There’s Cricket Caruth-Reilly (Miriam Shor), whose boyfriend Amanda stole and later married, and Sharon Peacham (Jennifer Aspen), whom Amanda ruined with a horrible rumor. Real estate agent Heather (Marisol Nichols) wants to welcome Amanda, but the Queen Bee of the group, Carlene Cockburn (Kristin Chenoweth), frowns on the idea. That’s because Carlene suffered most from Amanda’s taunts.
“Because of your unspeakable cruelty,” Carlene tells Amanda in the second episode, called “Hell Hath No Fury, “I transformed myself ... into the beautiful, powerful Christian woman you see before you today.”
Apparently plastic surgery can do wonders on the outside. Not so much on the inside. Thanks to Chenoweth, though, Carlene doesn’t come off as cartoonish. You see the pain and anger she still feels. Potts, too, delivers. True, she’s given the best lines, but she’s delightful as Gigi, stealing every scene she’s in.
I’m hoping that the rest of the characters become more fully realized and not so one-dimensional. The pilot favors snappy one-liners over more earned laughs like those in the Episode 2 scene I describe above. So I have hope that “GCB” does settle into a more wickedly funny satire on the religious and cultural divide.
I’ll just have to enjoy Chenoweth and Potts in the meantime.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times