“I Will Never Go Back to Dallas!”

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March 2 2012 7:15 AM

“I Will Never Go Back to Dallas!”

ABC’s GCB is a gaudy, tacky, frosted-pink delight.

Good Christain Bitches.
Kristin Chenoweth in GCB

Photograph by Bill Matlock. © 2011 American Broadcasting Companies, Inc.

Because the quick-witted soap opera GCB (ABC, Sundays at 10 p.m. ET)—short for Good Christian Bitches—takes place in the Big D, it necessarily invites comparison to Dallas. Clever with its gaudiness, the new soap opera proceeds as if that invitation is gilt-edged, tackily engraved, and sealed inside an oversized envelope with a kiss of frosted-pink lipstick. Adapted by Robert Harling from a novel I will never read, it scans as a high-camp amorality play addressing vanity and venality and chicks' inhumanity to chicks, and it works some of the same terrain as Dr. T. and the Women, the 2000 Robert Altman film about unreal housewives alienated under the Lone Star. And the set-dressing? The costumes? Wow! I have not seen such an invigorating display of opulent vulgarity since the last time I went to Nieman Marcus.

Troy Patterson Troy Patterson

Troy Patterson is Slate's writer at large and writes the Gentleman Scholar column.

In the beginning, we get a reference to yet a different entertainment that touches down in Dallas, Bonnie and Clyde. GCB opens in California, where a married Ponzi-schemer and his mistress are motoring toward the Mexican border. The convertible is heavy with cash, and the lovers say that they feel like the famous bank robbers. In her excitement, would-be Ms. Parker begins to fellate the ersatz Barrow while he's at the wheel, a caress unsafe at their speed. The car goes through the guardrail, and money falls like confetti celebrating its fatal crash.

The crook has left behind a widow (named Amanda Vaughn and played by Leslie Bibb) and two children, a Bieber-haired boy and an incongruously well-adjusted girl, none of whom grieve, because the show only deals with darkness in tones manufactured by the DayGlo Color Corp. Broke and disgraced, Amanda vows that she won't go back home again: "I don't care how bad things are, I will never go back to Dallas." Cut to you know what.

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Amanda retreats to the manicured clutches of her socialite mother, Gigi (Annie Potts). Gigi is wonderfully awful—a bad lush, a dexterous hypocrite, a lazy wench, a total nag. Naturally, she gives her maid Lupe (Carla Jiminez) an awful time when the poor woman is just trying to do her job and keep the McMansion sparkling. But also you can tell that Gigi is simply being fair—maybe even restrained, just this once—when answering Amanda's question about whether she, Amanda, was, as a teenager, the tremendous mean girl that all her old frenemies remember. "Oh, darling, you were a bitch with teeth," says Gigi, matter-of-factly.

The candied apple had not fallen far from the tree, you see. Back in high school, before being mellowed by parenthood and the Golden State, Amanda backstabbed and undermined and boyfriend-stole. Now her victims are all grown up and they exist on the same network that airs Revenge. All the pretty chickens are coming home to roost. Avid churchgoers, they are well schooled in Old Testament vengeance. The clique of glossy biddies is like a sorority chartered solely for the purpose of hazing.

Its leader is one Carlene Cockburn, played by Kristin Chenoweth, whose every pout rhymes malicious with delicious. Slick and sinewy, she looks good enough to eat, like teriyaki-flavored beef jerky. The premise is that Carlene was an ugly ducking who surgically metamorphosed into a swan. Her mouth inflated into something resembling a beak adapted for purposes of killing prey and manipulating objects. Her fake tan is beyond Snooki orange or classic bimbo bronze; it's a kind of metallic taupe, and so the character takes on an aspect of a luxury sedan. There is every indication that she has a leather interior.

Bibb is ideally cast as the object of Chenowith's antagonism. If you have any sense, you will remember her fondly as the exalted pit lizard of Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby and know her talent for pun-intended broad comedy. It cannot hurt her readiness for the role that she grew up as a prep-school girl in Richmond, Va.—a Dirty Gertie—and must instinctively understand the tenor of life among provincial elites, the nuances of Southern charmlessness, and how to force a smile more cloying than sweet tea. Existing on the same network that airs Suburgatory—likewise a silly walk down a Social-Critique Lane—her Amanda is a pleasure beyond guilt.

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