Once upon a time, there was a girl named Amanda Stopper Vaughn (played by Leslie Bibb) who was a mean girl back in the day while attending high school in Dallas. She wasn’t a Regina George/Claire Standish/Jessica Wakefield kind of mean girl exactly. (I know. I’m pushing 40. I’m still very excited about Diablo Cody’s upcoming take on Sweet Valley High.) Amanda was more of a sociopath. In lieu of slam books, she spread false rumors about a friend having herpes. She sabotaged another friend’s chances of becoming a pageant queen by telling a judge that the contestant wasn’t a virgin. She stole boyfriends. She dashed dreams. But then a funny thing happened. She moved to LA and became a better person—like people do.
But then one day Amanda’s husband dies in a car accident while receiving an oral exam from Amanda’s best friend. (Amanda says of the incident, “I spent 18 years with a man who drove me to drink. And then he drove off a cliff. With my best friend.”) It’s only then that she realizes that in addition to being a philanderer, her husband is also a business cheat. With everything—including the very teacup she is sipping from!—being repossessed and her funds frozen, she realizes she has no choice but to return to the town from whence she came. Welcome to ABC’s GCB, the show based on the book Good Christian Bitches by Kim Gatlin. (Read D Magazine‘s speculation about the real women behind Gatlin’s book.)
Cut to an oil rig! Show me some DFW Airport! I’d like a little Cotton Bowl, please! We get it all, including a nice little montage of Swiss Avenue, where Amanda’s mom, Gigi Stopper (Annie Potts), lives. (In an interesting turn of events, the former Designing Women star is essentially playing Suzanne Sugarbaker on this show.) Amanda and her two kids travel light. Their belongings seem to consist of three bikes, a couple of backpacks, and a dog. (Boxes do magically appear in the house a few moments later, so maybe the U-Haul broke down on Central Expressway and had to be towed in later. Not sure. This plot point was never fully explained, and it’s perfectly possible that I may be the only person bothered by it.)
Although Amanda would prefer to keep a low profile, her return to Dallas does not go unnoticed. For across the street, her unfortunately named nemesis Carlene Cockburn (Kristin Chenoweth) is watching with interest. Carlene is a very, very, very, very, very, very tiny woman who dresses like another very, very, very, very tiny woman named Kim Kardashian. She is bilingual—she speaks cliche and Bible verse. (Seriously. I went to Baylor. I get the jokes. Hypocrisy is funny! But stop beating me over the head.) Carlene hates Amanda because of a horrible cheerleading incident. And even though she’s very rich, she has a weird little phone, which she uses to call her friends—all former victims of Amanda’s cruelty—to report on the happenings across the street.
So, speaking of church, it’s time to go! Gigi demands it! Unfortunately for Amanda, everyone in town goes to the same church. It’s there that Amanda and Carlene have their first encounter, and guys, I don’t know what happened because the height difference between the two—between Chenowith and everyone in the cast, really—was unsettling. I mean, honestly, Amanda could have shut down all the drama by simply picking up Carlene and putting her in her pocket. But instead of giving Carlene the Pat Kramer treatment (give it up for The Incredible Shrinking Woman reference!), she engages.
Once everyone has been introduced, it’s time to get the story under way. The premise here is that Amanda has changed. She’s sober and repentant. She’s a good mom. And she’s broke. But Amanda is also the most attractive woman in the world. Men—including married men—see her and immediately fall in love. So it’s little wonder that she has a secret admirer who has gifted her with a new Mercedes and $28,000 worth of clothing.
This does not sit well with the fearsome foursome (Carlene, along with Sharon, Crickett, and Heather). Together they spend the episode scheming to find out the identity of the secret admirer, come up with ways to incorporate “sweet tea” and Christian puns in conversation, and figure out who is married to whom. (Seriously. I think they hired one actor to play most of the parts.)
Too proud to keep the admirer’s lavish gifts, Amanda insists that everything be returned and begins the hunt for a job. Unfortunately, it does not go well. It seems Crickett (Miriam Shor), now a very connected socialite married to a closeted gay man (of course!), was the victim of Amanda’s STD rumor back in the day. She is not in a forgiving mood. She makes it her business to call every single upstanding person in Dallas to warn them that if they hire Amanda, they will face her wrath. Luckily, Crickett neglected to call the folks at Boobylicious—a Hooters-like establishment that employs flat-chested women on the verge of 40 to wait tables–because they hire Amanda on the spot.
What about the secret admirer? It’s a mystery wrapped in an enigma, guys! As mentioned, every man in town is in love with Amanda—so it could be anyone. The fearsome foursome invade privacy, commit theft, and surely break some traffic laws in their quest to unmask the identity, but it’s all for naught. So they decide to slut shame Amanda about the Boobylicious job at the big ball—the Cattle Baron’s-esque Longhorn Ball. Poor Amanda, dressed in but a silver tank top covered in tassels, is already having a bad night seeing as how she forgot her pants. Really. Why didn’t the girls hassle her about that horrible dress? Even more of a mystery: how come no one asked her about the call to bring her kids to a society event? These women need some serious pointers on how to make people cry.
That’s kind of the problem with the show, I think. I know it’s a comedy, but if this woman were that evil in high school, I think it would kick back in pretty quickly. If this show is looking to become Real or Desperate Housewives-ish, it needs to kick up the clever and mean. Carlene isn’t scary. She’s a cartoon. At one point, she tells her husband that she’ll be home late because she’s having body work and something went wrong with her colon. She’s having John 3:16 decalled on her car, and the dude put the colon in the wrong place because he’s “not a Christian.” And on the way out of church, Amanda’s son sees that the church sign says, “You reap what you sow,” and has no idea what it means. “It’s Texan for karma,” Gigi informs him. Those kinds of jokes, paired with a predictable story line, aren’t going to cut it. Even if you’re going to have the standard characters (the beauty queen who can’t stop eating, the closeted husband, the Christian lady who isn’t a Christian), you can put some lines in their mouths that are unexpected. But there’s time—and it’s not terrible. I’m not giving up.
To wrap things up: Amanda’s secret admirer was her mother, and Carlene’s company owns Boobylicious. But you knew that already.
Until next week, to quote Carlene and a hymnal, “Onward, Christian soldiers.”