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God, mean girls and Dior mix in new comedy GCB

People are wondering how the Christian right will react to the new ABC comedy GCB, based on a novel called Good Christian Bitches, but it’s a silly question. Long before there was a Bible Belt, this kind of woman was in the Bible — Jezebel was the first true mean girl (Revelation 2:20).

GCB, which begins tonight, is a fried-green Desperate Housewives, with a little bit of Carrie Bradshaw tossed in, which is to say that one of the executive producers is Robert Harling (Steel Magnolias), and another is Darren Star (Sex and the City). The result is a network comedy that sends up sex, sin and Southern Baptists, or at least the pious parvenus of Dallas.

In short, there are some funny lines and a lot of designer shoes, decolletage and choir practice. Or as the show’s Alpha mean girl, Carlene, played by Kristin Chenoweth, puts it, “Cleavage makes your cross hang straight.”

There’s also a homage to the sitcom Designing Women, including a shallow former ex-beauty queen like the one played by Delta Burke. Only in this iteration all the women are like Delta Burke, or worse. Annie Potts, who played the nice Mary Jo in Designing Women, is cast here as Gigi, a wealthy society matron who loves clothes and Jesus.

“I feel confident the good Lord would like me to have a new fur coat,” she says. “God often speaks to me through Christian Dior.”

When Gigi tells her grandchildren that their mother was a mean girl in high school, she makes it sound like she was a National Merit scholar.

“Mean girl” is a term a little like “identity crisis”; it caught on because it framed female competition much the way Erik Erikson’s phrase distilled a certain form of confusion. And ever since Desperate Housewives became a hit, ABC has tried to corner the mean girl market with ever bolder versions of woman’s cruelty to woman, most recently with the soapy drama Revenge.

But ABC is part of the Walt Disney Co., so it sometimes has to eat its bad words. GCB was originally titled Good Christian Bitches, then switched to Good Christian Belles before retreating to initials that are confusingly like the fashion label BCBG. The same thing happened with the title of another mean-girl show on ABC, a sitcom set in New York that begins next month and is now coyly titled Don’t Trust the B— in Apt 23.

The plot of GCB revolves around Gigi’s prodigal daughter, Amanda (Leslie Bibb), a former homecoming queen who has to flee to Dallas, Texas from Santa Barbara, Calif., after her husband’s Ponzi scheme unravels and he dies in a car accident with his mistress. Most of the jokes are about sex or Christians, but sometimes multiculturalism gets tweaked: In the pilot an African-American reporter covering the embezzlement scandal is named Bridget Sanchez-Fong.

Amanda wants to get a job and start a new life, but instead finds herself sucked back into the catty clique she thought she had outgrown. All the women she once dominated and tormented are determined to seek revenge, led by the queen bee, Carlene, a former loser turned Scripture-quoting business mogul who wears eight-inch heels and pink Chanel rompers. Amanda doesn’t recognize the blond, Botoxed Carlene as her former classmate with bad skin and few friends.

“Carlene’s had a little work done,” Gigi whispers to her daughter in church Sunday. “That’s a tear-down,” her daughter replies.

Carlene’s wing woman is Cricket (Miriam Shor), who runs a country-western fashion line with her designer husband, Blake (Mark Deklin), and is tense and imperious. She snaps at an assistant to book an appointment with her Pilates instructor, Jorge, which she pronounces, “hoar-HAY.”

Heather (Marisol Nichols) is a real estate agent, and Sharon (Jennifer Aspen) is the binge-eating former pageant contestant; they too scheme to bring Amanda down a peg and also to keep her away from the husbands.

Chenoweth, who is a practising Christian in real life, plays the part with arch aplomb that may not mollify viewers sensitive about religion.

“I had to get some body work done, and they messed up my colon,” Carlene says sorrowfully over the phone to her husband. The camera pulls back and it turns out she is in an auto repair shop, upset because the mechanic incorrectly stencilled a Bible citation onto the rear of her Bentley — John:316 instead of John 3:16. Carlene whispers into the phone, “I don’t think he’s Christian.”

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