'GCB' premiere review: The new 'Desperate Housewives,' or too over-the-top to survive?

gcb

Image Credit: Bill Matlock/ABC

To say that GCB takes the Desperate Housewives template and cranks up the crazy is understating the brisk looniness of this enterprise, which launched Sunday night. The new series, starring Kristen Chenoweth, Annie Potts, and a host of high-haired, chest-raised costars, tries to cross the final-season Housewives with Dallas, tossing in a degree of cam that makes La Cage aux Folles look like a model of restraint.

The ostensible star of GCB is Leslie Bibb, who plays Amanda, a newly single mom who returns home from Los Angeles to her hometown Dallas suburb. Bibb has always come off, on camera, as a tad too high-strung and strident to become either a movie or TV star, though not for a lack of many producers trying. (I’m talking about the image she projects — I’m sure she’s as warm and soothing as a kitten lapping from a bowl of milk in real life.) Her Amanda is a brittle protagonist, so it’s fortunate that she’s surrounded by other characters so much more brittle, they look as though they’d snap in half if you applied modest pressure to any one of their toned tummies.

Chief among these is the marvelous Kristen Chenoweth, who, despite her diminutive stature, has one of those talents that seems too big for even the widest-screen TV. Chenoweth has made some memorable TV appearances on shows ranging from The West Wing to Glee, but there was a reason why her biggest TV showcase thus far, Pushing Daisies, failed: Its candy-colored whimsy clashed with one of Chenoweth’s greatest strengths, the projection of witty shrewdness.

Chenoweth plays part of a gaggle of “good Christian bitches” — to use the title phrase of the book upon which this show is based, and which ABC foresaw had to be abbreviated in the current cultural climate to avoid corporate grief — who want revenge upon Amanda, who, you see, used to be, in her own phrase, the “queen bitch,” is no longer one, but who still instills intense dislike among those with long memories. Chenoweth is superb on her own terms in interpreting her character as a sincere Christian who thinks part of that faith can include exacting revenge, and can revel in material prosperousness. (Her wardrobe is pretty fab.)

Congrats, too, to Swingtown‘s Miriam Shor as Cricket. Shor, like Chenoweth, knows how to exaggerate the portrayal of a woman who thinks she’s good, Christian, and not a b—- to fine effect, and her story line — married as she is to Blake, a pretty much closeted gay man played by Mark Deklin, is a standout among brassy standouts.

The organizing idea behind GCB is that, while Amanda has sinned and sought forgiveness by being a better person, she’s surrounded by impeccably manicured and Botoxed hypocrites. And a terrific Annie Potts, as Amanda’s feisty mom, who still marvels that her daughter could ever have moved to L.A. when she could have stayed in Dallas: “same weather without the liberals.”

If that line, and the notion of a Hooters-like bar called Boobylicious strike you as funny — and if you’re willing to buy the idea that Amanda would opt to work as a flesh-baring waitress at that boob-populated establishment even though she’s trying to project a better image — then you probably bought into GCB.

The series has Sex and the City‘s Darren Star plus a couple of Pushing Daisies producers behind it, with producer-writer Robert Harling (Steel Magnolias, Soapdish) working hard to mix Southern charm and cattiness yield laughs. I think viewers may well have chuckled at some of the one-liners, but it was next to impossible for me to become interested in any of the characters here. I respect all the talent that’s both on screen and behind it, but I think I’ll be opting out of GCB as regular weekly viewing.

How about you?

Twitter: @kentucker

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