‘G.C.B.’ not as terrible as you’d expect, but unpromising

Soon after I relocated from the bay area to Washington D.C. in summer 2010, I discovered the pervasive southern influence in the nation’s capital, particularly in Georgetown. I bumped into tons of young men in Lacoste polos, noticed fried chicken on practically every restaurant menu, and heard “y’all” or “all y’all” left and right. At first, I embraced the southern presence in D.C., which would be a dull place without such charm, but quickly found myself distrustful of the southerners I encountered — from a new friend who would be kind to my face but gossip with her family that my disdain for cooking was unbecoming and a major flaw among contemporary-minded Californians — to friends of friends who would shower me with “bless your heart”s every time we’d interact but critique my wardrobe and label me naive as soon as I was out of sight. I remember thinking there couldn’t possibly be a more insincere, manipulative pool of people, and in some ways, I still do believe that southerners are more talented than any other group in the country at veiling judgment with feigned warmth and compassion, but they’re not the only ones capable of deception.

Amanda in "G.C.B."

And that’s why I find fault with ABC’s new dramedy “G.C.B.,” which places southern women in a highly negative light. They’re at their worst in this show: False, hypocritical, nosy, and vengeful. Worst of all, they use their Christian faith to excuse their cattiness. I’ve seen plenty of people hide behind religion to hurt others, and they didn’t need to be from the south to do it. That’s the issue with “G.C.B.”: People are rude everywhere in different ways, so why can’t we just have another show about crazy Californians, elitist east coast residents, or materialistic Midwesterners who act like they’re above superficiality simply because they grew up on a farm? If there’s anything to be said about “G.C.B.”, it’s that people are impolite and fake everywhere, and pointing fingers at southern women is just a cheap shot.

That said, the “G.C.B.” pilot is highly entertaining. Within the first minute and a half of the episode, there’s a theft, an affair, an instance of road head gone wrong, a major car accident, and two deaths. We quickly learn that the late man behind the wheel was Bill Vaughn, a Ponzi-mastermind whose two kids and wife, Amanda (Leslie Bibb) are left with nothing in his scandalous death and bombarded by paparazzi. Amanda reluctantly moves her children out of southern California and back to her Texas hometown, where everyone knows the whole story but pretends to be sympathetic. To make matters worse, Amanda finds herself in the crosshairs of the girls she bullied in high school. They appear to be over the past and concerned with helping her through a rough time, but conspire against her behind her back and set out to tarnish her reputation in Texas. Kristin Chenoweth shines as Carlene, a former ugly duckling turned Queen Bee who improved her looks upon undergoing plastic surgery of all kinds.

Carlene in "G.C.B."
Carlene of "G.C.B."

“She tried to destroy our lives in high school. I will not allow history to repeat itself,” Carlene tells her friends, who order everyone in town not to hire Amanda. One of Carlene’s buddies is a realtor and gives Amanda the false impression that she can only afford to buy a house in a dumpy neighborhood. Amanda finds herself resorting to a Hooters-esque restaurant to make ends meet. The women do all they can to make her life miserable, and while she was nasty to them in youth, it’s pretty heartless to treat a person this way in the aftermath of her husband’s sudden passing. You wouldn’t know Amanda is grieving though, as she seems pretty unaffected by her spouse’s death. Granted it has been three months since he was killed, but Amanda and her two teenagers don’t appear to have endured a tumultuous loss of any kind. You’d also never peg Amanda as a real southern girl, as her accent is completely forced and only comes out around her mother and former classmates. I can almost visualize the exact areas of the script that instruct Leslie Bibb to talk like a Texan. Chenoweth also includes one too many Biblical references in conversation, so the Jesus comments tire quickly and really have no humor value at all. She also seems to be the only one who does this, so I’m led to believe that she’s the only Christian belle in this show and that her friends really aren’t all that relevant to the program.

The episode reveals a little bit about how Amanda sabotaged the girls in high school, so we gain some insight on her new harassers. Back in the day, she cut one of the ladies from the cheer squad for being overweight, spread a rumor that another had herpies, and got another woman kicked out of a beauty pageant for losing her V-card. As a kid, you’d look at Amanda’s adult life and say Karma came back to bite her for all her teenage wrongdoings, but she’s not framed as someone the audience wants to dislike. The others are immature for sticking around the neighborhood and stewing in their own bitterness twenty years after the fact. The moment Amanda returns to Dallas, they’re watching her like a hawk and acting as if nothing has changed in two decades, and that’s just sad. They’re the ones who aren’t over the past, so although Amanda was a mean girl in high school. you don’t exactly side with these women for repeating her behavior as grown-ups.

Though “G.C.B.” has received some negative reviews and even lost an advertiser, it paints an accurate portrait of adult bullying and cliques in small suburban towns. This exists everywhere though, so I’d be interested in watching sitcoms that highlight the hostility of New Yorkers or neuroses of Californians. Oh wait, “Entourage” serves that purpose, but it also follows complete douchebags and is viewed by many as the good life. We need something like “The O.C.” again, only it cannot center on high school students for obvious reasons. “The O.C.” did a solid job at exploring the insecurities and problems that are all too common among Californians without insulting Golden State viewers during episodes. I don’t think “G.C.B.” has the same effect on southern audience members, as it makes fun of them at every opportunity. There are just too many digs at southerners and overblown stereotypes, which are presented through passive aggressive church speeches.

I doubt “G.C.B.” will be a success in the long-run, especially since its main character just isn’t a leading lady (others are in accordance with this assessment), but it has the cultural charm that “Desperate Housewives” lacks. That can sustain for at least a season.

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