'GCB': Why You Need To Watch ABC's Texas Housewives

If there was ever anything to make you wish to God (with a capital G) that Molly Ivins were alive and sitting right next to you with a glass of Maker's, providing a running commentary, it is ABC's new series "GCB" (premiering March 4, 10/9c). I will not be as good at reviewing this fictional Texas scenarios as Ivins was at critiquing things that actually happened in Texas. Have you ever read her take on the Texas legislature? It was a beautiful thing to behold, but I am not there yet. Additional handicaps: 1) I am from the South and grew up visiting relatives in Texas, but I am not a Lone Star native. 2) My taste in television tends toward "The Bachelor" and "Criminal Minds." Consider your source.

Here's what I do know: Generally speaking, it's not terribly effective to give a film or series that you want people to remember a name that is an acronym -- especially an acronym easily confused with CBGB or BCBG. Fortunately, there's an easy way to remember this one -- just remind yourself what the series was going to be called before a lot of people got very upset: "Good Christian Bitches." (For a while after that, the title was going to be "Good Christian Belles," which would have been no fun at all.)

Billed as a Texas version of "Desperate Housewives," the show is based on the book "Good Christian Bitches" by Kim Gatlin, who also co-wrote the series. The premise is this: Recently widowed former mean girl Amanda Vaughn (Leslie Bibb) is forced to move back to her hometown of Dallas with her two kids to live with her socialite mother, played by Annie Potts. The women Amanda terrorized in high school, who in her absence have grown up to control the Dallas society machine, are less than thrilled by Ms. Vaughn's return, especially since their husbands definitely are thrilled. The GCBs, led by Carlene Cockburn (Broadway veteran Kristin Chenoweth), thus conspire to make Amanda's life hell. A lot of the conspiring and hell-raising happens to take place in church.

As Brooks Barnes noted in the New York Times, "If the first episode is any guide, the series ... will be way, way (way) over the top."

I'd say so. The entire thing begins with a failed Ponzi scheme and oral sex that proves fatal to both parties.

It's understandable that some Christians feel that this show misrepresents them: God here is made an accessory to the GCBs outfits and their antics. Some have argued that naming any show "______ Bitches" is demeaning to women in general. That's probably true, and if so, an acronym hardly fixes the problem. And I suppose it threatens to misrepresent Texas women, specifically, to the larger world.

Here's the thing: Shows like this don't just buy into clichés and stereotypes, they call out and revel in them, and invite the audience to do the same. Nothing that happens at Hillside Park Memorial resembles what goes on at a real church (if Kristin Chenoweth regularly gets up at your church and belts out "Jesus Take the Wheel," I'm your newest parishioner). Women generally do not like to be called bitches, but most of us also know women who jokingly apply the B word to themselves and their friends from time to time. And I just don't buy that viewers will come away from this thinking that every woman in Texas drives a Bentley, wears couture and has private Pilates lessons with a man named Jorge. One of the show's writers is Robert Harling, the man behind "Steel Magnolias," "Soapdish," "Sister Act," and "First Wives Club," and its producer is Darren Starr, the man who brought the world "Sex and the City." These guys are tuned in to female audiences' willingness to recognize and laugh at caricatures -- especially of themselves.

I'm not saying "GCB" is perfect. For one thing, it's nearly impossible to feel sympathy for Amanda -- or any woman born with the type of genes that have every married cowboy in twenty miles trying to take her on the desk of his car dealership (for example). Annie Potts should be more Over The Top -- she's at her best that way, and this is certainly the place to let loose. Also, it would be nice if one of the employed GCBs wasn't a real estate agent (that's not stereotype -- that's just lack of imagination).

But this show is so much fun that the weaknesses aren't all that important. Here, I submit, are just a few reasons you should sit back and enjoy "GCB":

  • My only real wish for this series was that it would, at some point, show a person making her end-of-life arrangements asking if she might be buried in the Neiman Marcus parking lot (my Texas family used to speak of women from Fort Worth who had requested this). That is not quite what happens in the first episode -- what happens is better. As Carlene puts it as she spies from her oil-money palace across the street, "Half of Neiman's was just delivered to Amanda's house." I nearly died.
  • The power walking in episode 2. With hand weights.
  • Rhinestones, hats, belt buckles -- it's all there, just like it should be.
  • Carlene's indoor hospitality tent at the Hillside High's first pep rally of the year.
  • The fact that a blogger is giving away a beauty kit that promises to "Texify" you. Hey, it's cheaper than David Yurman bangles.
  • "Cleavage makes your cross hang straight."
  • The relationship between GCB Cricket (Miriam Shor) and her husband, which gets closer to the way things sometimes work in the South than you'd expect.

I think Molly Ivins would approve.

PHOTOS: Scenes From "GCB"