Initially, GCB (* * ½ out of four, ABC, Sunday, 10 ET/PT) is better on paper than in practice.
We can start with that initialized name — which, depending on how you look at it, is either an abbreviation for "Good Christian Belles" or for "Good Christian Bitches," the name of the book on which this big-as-Texas comedy soap is based. ABC would say "belles," but in typically hypocritical, have-it-both-ways network fashion, it's running ads that imply otherwise.
Still, if you can look past the off-putting games ABC is playing with the title, there is much about GCB that holds promise. That starts with a by-and-large terrific cast, led by Annie Potts, Kristin Chenoweth and Miriam Shor, and includes the TV series debut of well-respected writer Robert Harling, best known for Steel Magnolias.
Harling has built his show around Amanda Vaughn (Leslie Bibb), a wife and mother whose marriage and wealth vanish in a well-publicized scandal. Now homeless, this former high school mean girl is forced to move with her children back to Dallas — and in with her mom, Gigi (Potts).
Amanda has not just given up her mean-girl ways; she's conveniently forgotten how mean they were. Unfortunately for her, the girls she tortured — Carlene (Chenoweth), Cricket (Shor) and Sharon (Jennifer Aspen) — haven't, and they're not quite ready to forgive and move on.
What follows is a broadly farcical battle, as Carlene tries to short-circuit Amanda's return while Amanda wavers between winning the women over and beating them at their own game. And above it all floats Gigi, whose goal is to make sure Amanda's children get the same kind of Dallas high-life upbringing Amanda did.
Beds are hopped, guns are drawn, secrets are revealed, and there's bigger hair and bigger jewels than TV's seen in years. And yet somehow, it all still falls just a tiny bit flat.
Part of the problem is Bibb, who too often exudes a mean-girl hardness that runs counter to her reformed ways. But a larger problem is simply that the show pushes so hard to be wacky and fun, you end up feeling more bruised than entertained.
Still, there is reason to hope some of the show's tonal issues may even out. GCB has a handful of TV pros behind it, led by Sex and the City's Darren Star and Pushing Daisies veterans Gretchen Berg and Aaron Harberts, and if viewers are lucky, they'll help Harling shape the best of what he's created while weeding out the rest.
At least that's what should happen on paper. Whether it happens in practice remains to be seen.