The only thing bigger than their hair is their love for the Lord.
G.C.B. brings viewers deep into the heart of white, wealthy, evangelical Plano, Texas. Amanda Vaughn (Leslie Bibb) is slinking back to town after her husband careered off a cliff with his dick in his mistress’ mouth, and not one of the GCBs—Good Christian Bitches—is going to let her forget it. In true catty tradition of always kicking a bitch while she’s down, Carlene Cockburn (Kristin Chenowith), no angel herself although she does have a formidable knowledge of Bible verses, is determined to get revenge for Amanda’s high school sins, large and small.
Based on Kim Gatlin’s Good Christian Bitches (the show originally bore this title as well, presumably before prudes at ABC headquarters nixed it), G.C.B. is playing with tropes as familiar as America and apple pie—gay cowboys, bitter young widows, and spoiled trophy wives with too much time on their hands. It’s trying to hit that fine line between so true it hurts, and so outrageous that viewers can’t help but laugh. Critically, it’s not afraid to make fun of itself.
The wealthy enclave of Plano’s got neatly trimmed lawns, McMansions, folksy fairs with Ferris wheels and cotton candy, and a whole lot of secrets. Everyone’s watching everyone else to see who makes the first move, and who’s in the best position to take advantage of it. It has a lot of parallels with Desperate Housewives, which has proved to be a major ABC hit; perhaps the most obvious similarity is that in both shows, women wear the pants and make sure no one forgets it. ABC has been playing this up with a joke ad campaign pitting the two shows against each other.
So much scheming goes on that at least one of the GCBs must have a doctorate in foreign relations, or possibly an MBA. Thanks to cell phones, the gossip network can move at the speed of 4G, and it does. With a vengeance.
G.C.B. skewers ‘Christian morality’ as presented by some members of evangelical sects. Everyone goes to church and sits through the sermon and prays, throws around Bible verses, and professes their deep love for the Lord…when they’re not running around stabbing each other in the back, spying on each other, and developing nefarious political plots.
As the original book title suggested, these women present themselves as ‘Good Christians,’ but there’s more than a bit of the bitch in them as well. The hypocrisy is played for humour here, but there’s an unavoidable note of truth to it as well, especially with a tide of evangelical Christianity dominating US politics and seeming mighty contradictory in the process. Sweetfaced, perfectly coiffed ‘belles’ (ABC’s second attempt at a title before setting on initials only) are holding the reins in real life just like they are on the television screen.
Perhaps the best moments of the show take place in church and on the church grounds, as Amanda and her enemies encounter each other on supposedly neutral ground—how neutral is up for debate, when the minister keeps inserting pointed messages on the church bulletin board. They may wear pearls and their Sunday best, but the women view each other through slitted eyes, claws ready for action; in the final moments of the pilot, Amanda sweetly nailed the GCBs, foiling their move to expose her new job as a waitress in the local equivalent of Hooters.
Like butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth, she stands, moved by the spirit to testify, and looks Carlene right in the eye while she does it. The previously imperturbable Carlene is so rocked that a fellow choir member has to poke her to get her back on track, and the war is on. The women, and viewers, are off to the races.
While the pilot slightly lacked sparkle, it showed promise, and suggested that the show could end up being another smash hit for ABC if it can hit the right mixture of elements. Chenowith has got the talent to back the show, as long as she doesn’t end up underutilised, and the premise has a lot of potential. US audiences love to see wealthy women behaving badly, and the Texan setting adds an element of spice to the formula, accents and all.
The show may have missed the mark, though, because G.C.B. requires a certain level of cultural knowledge that isn’t available to all viewers. For some of those not familiar with evangelical culture or the Texas climate of G.C.B., the show may not be quite as accessible, or as funny. It got mixed reviews from critics, some of whom clearly connected with the subject, while others definitely did not.
This may be what sinks G.C.B. in the long term. Either it will need to water down to appeal to general audiences, which will irritate the viewers who are loving it now, or it will need to stay true to the pilot, and remain a beloved, but ultimately niche, show. As a parody of a United States some people know all too well, G.C.B. appears to succeed brilliantly, but whether it has the broad appeal it would need remains to be seen.