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'GCB' Review: Screechy Texas Stereotypes Are So Much Fun!

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It's hard to say what's most irritating about "GCB" (10 p.m. EST Sunday, ABC) aside from that dumb title.

It could be the fact that the show is chock-full of predictable stereotypes, such as: Texans like big hair, short skirts and big jewels; no matter what age they are, women are catty beyotches to each other; if a person is Southern and religious, well, of course they must be a cartoonish hypocrite, etc. It could be the fact that "GCB" seems to have as much contempt for its characters as most of the characters have for each other. It could be the vaguely creepy story lines in which characters calmly discuss the breast augmentations of their teen daughters or in which the heroine of the story fights to keep the the costumes skimpy at the wings-and-beer joint where she works (of course it's a bar called Boobylicious).

No, the most annoying thing about "GCB" is that it more or less ignores the most interesting aspects of its premise. In this show, which was based on the book "Good Christian Bitches" by Kim Gatlin, Leslie Bibb plays Amanda, a former mean girl who is forced by her reduced circumstances to move in with her mother, Gigi (Annie Potts), a formidable Southern belle who never thought much of her daughter's taste in men. Amanda and the man who became her husband ruled their tony high school back in the day, but when Mark dies in disgrace, Amanda and her kids have to move back to Dallas and start over, and the reception isn't warm when they arrive.

Waiting for Amanda is a clutch of former high school classmates who hated her when she was queen of the scene; they're thrilled that she's been brought low and sweetly tell her so at every church coffee hour. And therein lies a fairly interesting idea: How does a woman rebuild her life among a group of people she wronged in the past? How do you weave the idea of redemption into a soap about God-fearing folks who are all flawed? There's a reasonable amount of comedic and dramatic potential contained in that premise (and certainly "Revenge" has mined its reverse for a lot of juicy melodrama), but "GCB" spurns almost every part of that setup and instead supplies a tedious array of shrieky moments, dumb stereotypes and unearned sentiment.

There's no juice in the "Amanda learns humility" concept, because she's one of the very few characters on "GCB" who is allowed to seem remotely human. The rest of the characters are such grasping, insecure harpies that Amanda is bound to look better by comparison, even though, in the first two episodes, she never actually becomes interesting. Potts has a few decent moments as Gigi, but Kristin Chenoweth and Miriam Shor, who are both skilled in different ways, are wasted as two of Amanda's former high school enemies. I get that their characters are supposed to be cartoons, but almost every single thing these people do and say is either unpleasant or predictable (though I must admit I wasn't expecting dialogue clunkers on the level of "This is my gunfight at the not-OK Corral!"). Each character has her own set of problems, but it's almost impossible to feel anything but dislike for them, given how vindictive and uncharitable they are most of the time.

Of all the actors in the cast, however, Jennifer Aspen fares worst. Her character, Sharon, is depicted as an insecure, needy woman who eats all the time (and "GCB" assumes we'd never remember she has food issues if we didn't see her shoveling treats into her mouth in all of her scenes). At one point in the second episode, Sharon actually shoves food into her cleavage in an effort to tempt her indifferent husband, and I actually felt bad for the actress. Like the similarly shrill and ungenerous "I Hate My Teenage Daughter," this program seems to revel in finding ways to have its attractive characters humiliate themselves, and not in ways that supply any comedic payoffs.

Things like the cleavage scene make it all the more jarring when "GCB" tries to create warm, human moments, which the scattered show doesn't do anything to earn. The show can't really decide on a tone -- is it a cartoonish, silly soap with undertones of dislike for women, Christians and Texans, or a mildly absurd, comedic drama about a formerly rich person seeking forgiveness? Either way, Amanda is continually shown to be nicer and better than the nasty people around her, so there isn't really anywhere for her to go as a character.

For a while there, ABC couldn't seem to decide on a title for this show, which started out as "Good Christian Bitches," morphed into "Good Christian Belles" and eventually settled on the anemic "GCB." I nominate the following as a new name: "DWT." "Don't Watch This."

Note: Ryan McGee and I talked about "GCB," along with "Awake," "Breaking In" and a few other shows in this week's Talking TV with Ryan and Ryan podcast. You can find the podcast on iTunes, here or here.