On 'GCB,' Mean Girls Never Grow Up

The new ABC show has sparked controversy for portraying Christians negatively, but the real problem is how it wastes a talented cast.

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ABC

GCB arrives on television this weekend on a wave of controversy. The ABC soap about a former high-school mean girl who returns home after her Ponzi-schemer husband dies was initially called Good Christian Bitches, after the self-published novel from which it is adapted. Then the network retreated to Good Christian Belles, and finally to the nigh-incomprehensible GCB. Some conservatives have peremptorily slammed the show as a slander on Christian womanhood. Ultimately, however, GCB is neither an act of piety nor heresy. Mostly a waste of its stars, Leslie Bibb and Kristin Chenoweth, the series turns the clever concept of setting a show in a church into an utterly routine round of mean-girl slagging.

Both the novel and the show follow the misadventures of Amanda Vaughn when she retreats to Dallas after her marriage ends. In the book, Amanda is a blameless caricature rather than an actual person: rich, gorgeous, nice, and back home after divorcing her cheating husband. Her tormenters are portrayed as bitter, husbandless sluts. ABC's improved on that dynamic and slapped on a gloss of relevance by making Amanda's husband a swindler, and dead, and more importantly, making it clear that Amanda was, once upon a time, a vicious bully. When she arrives in Dallas, her assets are frozen and she's forced to work in an off-brand Hooters owned by one of her former tormentees, Carlene Cockburn (Chenoweth). Before Amanda has time to make amends, Carlene and her friends go to war. The rest is nastiness and designer clothing.

The commentators at the conservative website Big Hollywood have slammed GCB as an attack on evangelical Christians. And while they might still be dismayed by the show's portrait of ostensibly Christian women as conniving backstabbers who rely on Google rather than their pastors for spiritual counsel, the show takes Christianity and conservative ideas more seriously than perhaps any other show currently airing on network television. When Amanda tells her mother that she and her late husband wanted their children to find their own spiritual paths, her mother dismisses the sentiment as "Commie crap," a blast from the '50s that's played as straight as anything else we see on-screen—the family ends up regular churchgoers.

Similarly, Amanda's saved from some of Carlene's machinations in the second episode when Carlene's husband reminds her that the Bible counsels women to submit to their husbands. That may not be the way I want to live my life, but it's notable that the show takes it in stride. GCB's characters have their own decision-making criteria, and the show tries to be consistent to them. And watching Amanda fortify herself for battle with scripture, or Carlene look for a Bible verse that would justify her desire to spread a piece of juicy gossip are among the more entertaining parts of the show. It's always interesting to see people struggle with the rules that govern their lives, especially when those rules are in tension with the temptations of modern life.

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Alyssa Rosenberg is a culture writer with The Washington Post.

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