Monday, March 5, 2012

Pilot Review: GCB

GCB (Sundays at 10:00 on ABC)

Whenever someone protests a series, you can bet easy money that the outrage is unwarranted. It happened once already this season with The Playboy Club on NBC, which turned out to be nothing but a semi-dull mafia show with less bare skin than most commercials. Now you have the overly sensitive fundamental Christians who were offended by this show's original title, Good Christian Bitches (which, by the way, is the title of the book on which this series is based); so the title was shortened to the horrendous GCB. But apparently there are still large groups of Southern Christians boycotting GCB, despite its title change, because it portrays Christians in a negative light. But if you're offended by the content of this show, it's likely because it applies to you. At its heart, GCB is a commentary on hypocrisy and the ability (or inability) of people to change, whether it be for better or worse.

Amanda Vaughn (Leslie Bibb) has recently become a widow after her husband drove his car over a cliff while cheating on her. She is left penniless following her husband's demise, so Amanda has no choice but to move herself and her two children back home to a suburb of Dallas to stay with her mother, Gigi (Annie Potts). In no time at all, memories of Amanda's past as a "mean girl" in high school start flooding back as the girls whom she tormented back then reappear in her life: Heather (Marisol Nichols), a single real estate agent; Sharon (Jennifer Aspen), an overweight former beauty queen whose current husband (Brad Beyer) always loved Amanda; Cricket (Miriam Shor), a business woman whose husband (Mark Deklin) is secretly gay; and the queen bee, Carlene (Kristin Chenoweth), a devout Christian who has had a complete plastic surgery makeover since high school. With Amanda back in town, the other women revert to high school behavior in trying to make her pay for what she did all those years ago.

The charm of GCB comes from its utterly hysterical one-liners, written by Robert Harling (Steel Magnolias, The First Wives Club), and the catty-but-perfect performances from the entire cast, particularly Chenoweth and Aspen. But the script alone is enough to keep viewers in stitches while at the same time caring about these people. Thus far, no one is totally unlikeable and every character has definition. The success of this can be shared by the actresses. Chenoweth (Pushing Daisies) leads the ensemble in a deliciously over-the-top performance as a hypocritical Christian, one moment spouting "love thy neighbor" and the next spying on her through a telescope and publicly humiliating her. Her Carlene, as the primary antagonist, sets the stage for how the series will shake out, and it could not have come across better. Aspen (Glee) has some great physical moments, including one of the pilot's scene-stealers at Neiman Marcus. Annie Potts has a quick tongue and a biting wit, as well as some of the best one-liners of the entire episode. The only weak link in the cast is Bibb (Popular) as the protagonist. Her character is a bit more reserved, having spent many years away from her Dallas roots, so she doesn't get to be as outrageous as the other ladies do. It comes across as flat and boring next to her castmates. Her final scene, however, is well played and very funny, so hopefully she will get a chance to stretch a little bit in the coming episodes.

Overall, GCB is just funny. Gigi has twin dogs named "Tony" and "Romo;" Carlene gets John 3:16 put on the trunk of her car as a decal; Amanda gets a job at a Hooters-like restaurant called Boobylicious. The quick-witted quips are fired back-and-forth in a repartee the likes of which I haven't seen since Will & Grace went off the air six years ago. But it does actually have something to say as well about societal hypocrisy. Carlene claims to be a Christian but altered her image drastically through plastic surgery, plots the downfall of her neighbor, and pretends to be Amanda's friend while scheming behind her back. Despite her devotion to church-going and ability to quote the Bible, that doesn't sound very Christian to me. Amanda even points this out in the last minutes of the pilot by stating, "There are more churches per capita in Dallas than anywhere else in the country. There are also more strip clubs per capita in Dallas than anywhere else in the country." GCB seems determined to expose this hypocrisy, and I'm all for it if it's going to be done as humorously as it was in this first episode. There's also the question raised of how much people can change; are we all inherently the same as we were in high school? Despite how much Amanda has changed since marrying, having children, becoming a widow, and moving back home, she easily slips back into the role of "mean girl" at the pilot's end. Carlene may have become more physically attractive, but she doesn't have the purest intentions. Sharon may have married her high school sweetheart, but she still struggles with insecurity. And everyone is willing to fall back into the high school mindset of petty revenge and practical jokes at the drop of a hat (the hat being Amanda's return).

GCB has the makings of a cult classic. It's very much in the vain of Harling's successful play and film Steel Magnolias, with the same type of quick witted one-liners and memorable female characters. It may not be terribly deep at the moment, aside from some subtle musings I mentioned in the previous paragraph, but it's a ton of fun and left me wanting more. You can't really ask for much more from a pilot than to make you laugh and crave another episode immediately.

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