I attempted to watch Sex and the City at the height of its popularity, because I like to keep up with pop culture, and because I enjoy good writing. Beyond all the fornication and strange manifestations of self-discovery that most Christians would chafe at, one main thing kept me from being fan: what I’ll call the Friends Phenomenon. Like Friends, the writers of Sex and the City managed to reduce the city’s teeming sea of various cultures, races, religions, and classes to a diluted monolithic wading pool. I didn’t recognize my hometown; I didn’t see myself in any of the faces of the characters, and the women were reduced to martinis and Manolo Blahniks. Yawn.
I had hoped for something different while watching GCB (Darren Star, who produced Sex and the City, also produced this show). This time, the city is Dallas, and the women are good, Christian…well…you know, B’s. Like Sex and the City, a group of women are the focus of the ensemble cast, and they seem to have large sums of disposable income. That’s where the similarities end.
The trailers promise a show that parodies the hypocrisy of people who call themselves “good Christian,” all the while modeling themselves more after Pontius Pilate than the humble Carpenter they claim to love so dearly.
It’s about time. Parody away, I say. Poke fun at the ridiculous excess and completely false righteousness.
I popped the popcorn. I nestled into a comfy chair and sat with wide-eyed anticipation.
The premise has great fodder for both comedy and drama. A former mean girl, Amanda Vaughn (played by Leslie Bibb), lived in the lap of luxury with her high-school sweetheart. This sweetheart turns out to be Bernie Madoff’s good-looking and still evil twin, bilking away billions in an elaborate Ponzi scheme. He drives off with his mistress after liquidating the bank accounts and emptying the family safe. They end up driving off a cliff, because, well, let’s just say that the activity they were engaged in shortly before their death is not well-suited for high-speed driving.
Amanda, now destitute, is forced to return to her mother’s house in Dallas. Back in her hometown she’s confronted with the people she snubbed and stepped on throughout high school, who are now pillars of Dallas society. Specifically, the Good Christian, ahem, Belles—Heather, Sharon, Cricket, and holy-rolling ringleader Carlene—who never forgot how badly Amanda mistreated them. And now they intend to make her pay.
Will Amanda be contrite? Will the people she spurned forgive her? How will she rebuild her life, and what will she do to make amends? Good stuff.
Well, heck. GCB might as well stand for Goofy, Constipated, and Boring. As in, the characters are cardboard stereotypes. The Friends Phenom, this time with a Southern drawl. Blahniks and Manhattans are replaced with Stetsons and spiked iced tea. Football, Neiman Marcus, and the state fairgrounds feature prominently. Yes, yes, enough already. I know the show’s in Texas.
There is no tension; Amanda’s character has changed from mean to serene, but we never witness how or why. She’s just presumed good (am I to believe that living high on the hog in Los Angeles grounded her? Really?), and her emotional response is the plumb line for the show. The people she’s hurt seem to have deserved it. For example, Carlene (played by Kristin Chenoweth), the former fat girl turned bombshell, spews Scriptural rhetoric in order to undermine Amanda and manipulate her friends, and spends time watching Amanda through a telescope (literally) and gossiping. When the characters’ dispositions are firmly set in stone, there’s no place for emotional development. In fact, Amanda, at the end of the episode, stands up and prays in the middle of church in order to give what amounts to a verbal middle finger to her high school rivals. She’s no more mature than they.
Adding to the Friends Phenom, there were only three people of color on the show. One black woman worked at a Hooters-type establishment, and one Latina works as a maid and only speaks Spanish. The last, another Latina who is part of the core group of women, is a real estate mogul and not a maid. Hooray! Oh, wait--but her mother was the janitor when they were in high school. Sigh.
I had wished for what I popped the popcorn for: the cross-section of faith and life, the tension of redemption, and a fiery indictment of hypocrisy. In short, I expected to see human drama. Instead, there were the usual suspects of excess, cattiness, and overall shallowness. It was a song that played one note, badly. Repeatedly. It may have been 18 years, but apparently no one ever left high school.
Pilots can be weak, so I am giving GCB the benefit of the doubt. I wonder how they will develop the character of Blake Reilly (played by Mark Delkin), the in-the-closet husband of Cricket. Also, Heather, the Latina real estate executive, showed mercy and care for Amanda, even as she was goaded on by the rest of the pack to be mean to the former mean girl. There’s a potential for audiences to see grace modeled through her.
This show needs saving bad. The script is so trite and thin that veteran actors such as Annie Potts (who plays Gigi Stopper, Amanda’s mother) and Chenoweth are straining to convey three-dimensional, depth-filled characters. I hope that they decide to balance the “B” of GCB, which the writers have hit with nauseating accuracy, with the “GC.” The tension of feeling like a B and remaining a good Christian even when faced with your old demons and present trials is what will take the program out of Friends/Sex and the City purgatory and into ratings heaven.
Sharifa Stevens is a wife and mother, singer, and writer. She earned a B.A. from Columbia University in New York and a Master of Theology degree from Dallas Theological Seminary. She lives in Dallas. More articles from Sharifa Stevens: Harold Camping stole my parents, Controversial Mega-preacher Mark Driscoll..., Courageous and the Kendrick brothers, From hellipads to eternity, What would Jesus eat?