Tuesday, March 6, 2012

GCB: Pilot (1.1)

With Desperate Housewives imminently checking out, ABC is eager to find its next hit soap -- a show that can hopefully break out unexpectedly and both satirize as well as pay homage to grand soap opera tradition. Good Christian Bitches, with that similarly arresting title, could have easily fit into the DH wheelhouse. But arriving mid-season under the hideously watered-down moniker 'GCB' (the B not even standing for 'bitches' anymore), Robert Harling's primetime sudser is quickly exposed as a pretty mundane comedy series, sacrificing most of the juicy potential of its premise and becoming something that's frustratingly forgettable.

Don't get me wrong, there's definitely an interesting show in here somewhere. Religious hypocrisy has always been ripe with comic potential, and there are some intriguing elements throughout the pilot revolving around guilt and the pursuit of redemption. Our hero Amanda is a former high school mean girl forced to return to her garish Dallas hometown after a messy marriage breakdown, and quickly finds herself at the center of a church-fueled witch-hunt, the victim of suspicion and sabotage as her one-time enemies and cohorts resurface. The biblical quotes and the 'you reap what you sow' warnings come thick and fast, and those particular ideas are all presented pretty well. Kristin Chenoweth's arch queen bee Carlene Cockburn is also pulled into this balancing act, as she preaches against Amanda's sinful qualities while insisting on being bitchy and obnoxious at every opportunity. With all of this, there's a definite sense that the script is trying to explore religion's position in modern-day values, and how it is bent and manipulated by those who preach it.

But GCB's pilot always seems to back away from anything truly controversial just as we see little hints of social intrigue. It's most evident in the broad sitcom tone of the entire episode, the script far more interested in zeroing in on obvious comedy and annoying stereotypes rather than portray anything truly deep.

There's also little 'hook' present. A broad, comedic one-hour series isn't automatically horrible, but you do need some underlying drama lingering beneath the surface, or at least characters that you can latch onto on an emotional level. Once the end credits roll, few attempts are made at setting up any long-term arcs, forcing you to assume that the rest of GCB's ten-episode season will be more of the same religious sniping that isn't even particularly funny here. It's almost shocking to see so little effort has been put into laying groundwork for bigger things to come, giving GCB the air of a series that ABC has slowly sucked the life out of with network notes and a real desire to satisfy conservative family groups and prevent them from initiating a major backlash.

Of the cast, Kristin Chenoweth naturally impresses as Carlene, but she's clearly doing her 'Kristin Chenoweth thang', being brash and abrasive and just as cute as she is scary. It's easy to adore her, but it's not anything particularly fresh from a performance angle. Elsewhere, I've adored Leslie Bibb since her Popular days, but she's very much a comedic straight-woman, and seems miscast as a scatter-brained Susan Mayer clone with two teenage kids and a drinking problem. The supporting cast admittedly give off a low-rent vibe, the ensemble made up of faces you sort of recognize from various TV guest spots over the years, but don't exactly scream 'primetime leads'.

Generally, GCB isn't much of anything right now. It isn't campy enough to hit even Ugly Betty levels of comic absurdity, lacks any of the scandalous edge of Revenge, and fails to have even a dash of the Twin Peaks-ish intrigue of first season Desperate Housewives. I'll stick with GCB for a while purely out of my love for Bibb and Chenoweth, even if their bland characters need more than a little divine intervention at this point. C-

Guest stars Lauran Irion (Laura Vaughn); Colton Shires (Will Vaughn); Jenni Baird (Mikki); Greg Vaughan (Bill Vaughn)
Teleplay Robert Harling Director Alan Poul


  1. What a wonderful review Max. You touched on several interesting points that I failed to mention and you really inspire me to write better and more thorough reviews.

    First off, you're right; it felt a little too much like the network meddled with the show and neutered it in the process. There's a lot of potential to tackle religion and hypocrisy in today's world that felt like it could have been taken much farther.

    Moreover, it truly is surprising how little effort was put into planting the seeds for long-term arcs in the future. ABC had gotten proficient at producing pilots that stood well on their alone, but with just enough intrigue to hook you for future episodes. I'm not so sure GCB did that which is a shame.

    Your fantastically-written final paragraph hit the nail on the head: GCB tried to integrate elements from Ugly Betty, to Revenge, to Desperate Housewives and simply couldn't manage to piece together a cohesive identity that was a worthy success of either of them. It's unfortunate as it was undoubtedly entertaining in a guilty pleasure sort of way.

    Nevertheless, a few charming faces definitely encourage me to stick with the show for a while at least with hopes that something more sustainable and engrossing could arise.

    Oh and Leslie Bibb's role definitely felt a little too much like Susan Mayer for me!

  2. I haven't watched this yet, and I was quite intrigued by the religious premise, but your review doesn't exactly set my interests alight! Maybe off-season, or something...

  3. It's nonetheless undeniably fun to watch Panda. Give the pilot a go and decide!

  4. By the way guys I just realized we can click on the subscribe button when replying to posts and you get emailed follow-up comments! Much better than constantly checking back to see if you guys replied!

  5. Nadim Some really flattering comments you made there, so thank you so much for that. Agreed with everything you wrote, particularly about the general sense of 'meh' that radiated off the pilot. And the 'subscribe by email' thing is interesting, but I always dislike the clutter in my email, so I'll probably stick with just going to the Comments tab on my dashboard.

    Panda Check it out, Panda. It's always good to get a flavor of it yourself.