March 5th, 2012
02:35 PM ET
By Margaret Feinberg, Special to CNN
Originally dubbed “Good Christian Bitches” after the book by Kim Gatlin, a television series that debuted on ABC on Sunday night had its name changed to “Good Christian Belles” before being shortened to “GCB.” Whatever meaning you assign to those three letters, the show portrays Christians as caricatures and feels a little desperate.
The show serves up predictable night-time soapy-ness that’s lured audiences for years. The only difference is that instead of an emergency room, GCB serves it up Texas-style, in the buckle of the Bible Belt, complete with more Scripture ripped out of context than most churchgoers can keep count.
“GCB” tracks the adventures of Amanda (Leslie Bibb), who lives a perfect Southern California life until her husband, Bill, embezzles billions through a Ponzi scheme, then suddenly dies. Amanda’s life falls apart.
Despite her promise that she’ll never go back to Dallas, Amanda finds herself packing up and returning to the land of bedazzled Bibles and “Amazing Grace” ringtones. She moves back in with her mother, Gigi (Annie Potts), who welcomes her with arms wide open but forces her to go to church.
Amanda, a mean girl in high school transformed through adulthood and tough times, receives an icy homecoming. Those she picked on years before – Carlene (Kristin Chenoweth), the queen of the belles, Sharon (Jennifer Aspen), rarely seen without food in hand, and Cricket (Miraim Shor), one of the most powerful women in Dallas – have become the new mean girls, all grown up.
Their pastimes include gossip and cruelty, which form the perfect opportunity for all the characters to learn “You reap what you sow.” That’s Texan for “karma.”
“GCB” suggests that everything – from Botox to boobs – really is bigger in Texas. But keeping a show on the air these days requires more than a name-change publicity stunt and a Southern drawl. Viewers still want clever dialogue, compelling characters and a rock star storyline.
That’s where “GCB” starts feeling desperate (and a little too reminiscent of “Desperate Housewives” – a show that just happens to be in its final season, also on ABC).
Overall, “GCB” portrays Bible Belt, Texified Christians as shallow caricatures of churchgoers, people who maintain a designer veneer of purity and piety, but act on carnal impulses at almost every turn.
Some characters on the show are full of hypocrisy and are prone to gossip, one-upping and gross consumerism. But instead of being embarrassed or repentant for their words and actions, they leverage religion to justify their behavior. The open prayer time during church becomes an opportunity to showcase petty and vindictive attitudes instead of finding transformation through Christ.
“GCB” acts as a mirror as to how Christians are often perceived, which is to say none-too-positively. But the “GCB” caricature doesn't represent the vast majority of Christians, who find themselves in generous, kindhearted congregations that serve their communities, from providing food and shelter for those displaced by recent natural disasters to providing clean water and much-needed aid around the world.
Still, “GCB” challenges every Christian – including me – to consider our own faith journey and if our talk really matches our walk. When do we fall prey to petty, gossipy, vindictive attitudes and actions? In our own lives, when do we allow “GCB” to get the best of us?
The show has the potential to showcase themes such as forgiveness and redemption. For everyone’s sake, I hope it does.
If the writers choose instead to follow the well-trodden path of Wisteria Lane, at the very least they’re going to need to strengthen the plot, develop the characters and sharpen the dialogue. Otherwise, the the series will have its own come-to-Jesus moment sooner rather than later.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Margaret Feinberg.
From around the web
About this blog
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team and frequent posts from religion scholar and author Stephen Prothero.