There’s obviously controversy and a bit of inaccuracy built into the title ABC is abbreviating as “GCB” — but “Just Sort-of OK Christian Bitches” would have looked unwieldy on a billboard. If the name represents a deliberate provocation, a way to enlist the Parents Television Council as an unwitting promotional partner, the actual series is really just another ABC dramedy in the “Desperate Housewives” wannabe tradition, using “everything’s bigger in Texas” Dallas as the backdrop for its soapy (or oily) irreverence. The actual series is well cast but only mildly entertaining, and as cartoonishly constructed, nothing over which to hoot ‘n holler.
Adapted by Robert Harling (“Steel Magnolias,” appropriately) from Kim Gatlin’s book, the series focuses on Amanda (Leslie Bibb), whose idyllic life in California abruptly crumbles due to her husband’s involvement in a Madoff-like Ponzi scheme (a device, not incidentally, also used to set CBS’ “2 Broke Girls” in motion).
So after an eight-year absence, she grudgingly retreats to Dallas — home of big hair and even bigger churches — to move in with her mom, Gigi (Annie Potts), who greets Amanda and her kids with a pair of snarling Dobermans named Tony and Romo.
Alas, that’s just the start of the growling. A mean girl in her high-school heyday, Amanda left a trail of hurt feelings and broken hearts in her wake, and her return is viewed none too warmly by reigning “queen bitch” Carlene (Kristin Chenoweth), who immediately starts scheming to shun her. So when a desperate Amanda finally finds work at a Hooters-like restaurant, a come-to-Jesus moment seems inevitable.
There’s no question “GCB” slathers on the Southern stereotypes, from Gigi’s heavily armed rec room to the colorful colloquialisms (Gigi calls Amanda’s younger self “a bitch with teeth”), to a “Longhorn Ball” event rife with “Urban Cowboy” cliches.
Although Amanda helpfully declares that “stupidity and hypocrisy” can be found everywhere, “GCB” traffics in a very specific brand of both, sure to elicit howls of indignation from those who fund-raise off the notion of a downtrodden Christian majority. Throw in philandering or closeted husbands, and there’s something here for (or to offend) everybody.
“Cleavage helps your cross hang straight,” Carlene says in the second hour that, encouragingly, is at least as good as the first.
Harling obviously knows the world of Southern belles, and fellow producer Darren Star has been around the block with soaps as well as the Manhattan version of high-maintenance women.
For all that, the show’s strongest asset is the cast, particularly Bibb, Potts and Chenoweth, who — thanks to the amount of time the show spends in church — gets a chance in the first two episodes to demonstrate her renowned singing pipes. Watching them sink their teeth into these roles (and occasionally chew into the scenery) is a modest treat, though the series could use a stronger throughline than just Amanda’s fish-out-of-water struggles.
With “Housewives” in its final season, ABC is clearly hungry to execute a clean baton pass to a new soap, and these gals (and to a lesser extent, their beaus) aren’t bad company. Moreover, the series was launched to maximize a 10-gallon hat’s worth of Oscar promotion, the last chance to corral such a sizable herd of females before the “American Idol” finale.
Even so, and whatever ABC chooses to call it, “GCB” will need a lot more meat on its bones if these ‘horns are going to hook ’em.