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Welcome once again to our annual "first look" at the broadcast networks' offerings for the 2011-2012 season, now in its sixth year! Each day we'll walk you through one of the new series set to premiere next season (or one that didn't make the cut) and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot. Keep in mind that a lot can change from what's being screened right now - recasting, reshooting, etc. - but we still want to give you a heads up on what you should (and shouldn't) keep on your radar in the coming months. So enough of our rambling, on with the show!
[IMPORTANT NOTE: The following is based on the original sales presentation which was screened to us privately or supplied by a third party NOT an informational, not-for-review screener provided by the network in question.]
GOOD CHRISTIAN BELLES (ABC)
(written by Robert Harling; directed by Alan Poul; TRT: 42:43)
The network's description: "The soap returns to Dallas in this wicked new drama that shows that you can go home again... but only if you're ready to face the sins of your past. Amanda Vaughn (Leslie Bibb), once the ultimate high school "mean girl," is forced to return home in disgrace after her marriage ends in scandal. Amanda is nothing like the girl she was 20 years ago, but as her old classmates reacquaint themselves with the new Amanda, will her home town welcome her with open arms or seek revenge? No one in this town is a saint, but that doesn't mean they can't have a heart. As Amanda and her teenage kids try to adjust to their new lives, the ladies from her past alternate between sympathy and scheming.
"Good Christian Belles" stars Leslie Bibb ("Iron Man") as Amanda Vaughn, Kristin Chenoweth ("Pushing Daisies") as Carlene Cockburn, Annie Potts ("Law and Order: Special Victims Unit," "Joan of Arcadia") as Gigi Stopper, Jennifer Aspen ("Rodney") as Sharon Peacham, Miriam Shor ("Swingtown" "Damages") as Cricket Caruth-Reilly, Marisol Nichols ("24") as Heather Cruz, Brad Beyer ("Jericho") as Zack Peacham, Mark Deklin ("Lone Star") as Blake Reilly and David James Elliott ("JAG") as Ripp Cockburn. Based on Kim Gatlin's hit book, Good Christian Bitches, "Good Christian Belles" is executive-produced by Darren Star ("Sex and the City"), Robert Harling ("Steel Magnolias") and Aaron Kaplan. The pilot is written by Robert Harling and executive-produced and directed by Alan Poul. "Good Christian Belles" is produced by ABC Studios."
What did they leave out? There seems to be a movement to call this show simply "GCB."
The plot in a nutshell: As if having your fortune seized by the government and your Ponzi-scheme hatching husband die under sensational circumstances wasn't humiliating enough, recovering alcoholic Amanda Vaughn (Leslie Bibb) finds returning home to Texas the hardest of all the pills to swallow. You see, Amanda and Bill blazed quite a trail in her youth, leaving an indelible mark on her classmates most wish they could forget. And so Amanda - alongside her two kids (Colton Shires, Lauran Irion) - arrives in Dallas, her tail firmly planted between her legs. Her larger-than-life mother Gigi (Annie Potts) of course welcomes her with open arms but the wolves nevertheless assemble around her doorstep. Leading the pack is Carlene Cockburn (the always great Kristin Chenoweth), who's more than willing to remind Amanda she's assumed the mantle of queen bee.
She's joined by Cricket (Miriam Shor), a clothing mogul who's still bitter over Amanda stealing Bill from her in high school and is overly protective of her current beau Blake (Mark Deklin); Sharon (Jennifer Aspen), a trophy wife who's let herself go over the years and whose husband Zack (Brad Beyer) always pined after Amanda; and Heather (Marisol Nichols), a successful realtor who's just flat out afraid to go against Carlene. Amanda however insists it's a temporary arrangement: as soon as she finds a job she'll be out the door, her kids no longer under the influence of Gigi - who's already teaching them how to mix drinks and giving them big hair makeovers. That however proves to be easier said than done as Carlene and company manage to undercut Amanda at every turn. It ultimately forces Amanda to dust off her old bag of mean girl tricks as she learns some secrets of her own and isn't afraid to use them - all with a big Dallas smile on her face.
What works: It's every bit the show you think it's going to be - and I mean that in the best way possible. If the image of Kristin Chenoweth in six inch heels and a diamond-encrusted cross using her son's telescope to spy on Amanda while conferenced in with her fellow co-conspirators doesn't make you smile, you best stop reading here. If anything "GCB" wins the award for the most zingers per minute: Cricket: "Speaking of spitting - you heard how Bill died didn't you?"; Carlene: "Ladies, it is not appropriate to speak of such things on the phone. I'll see you in church."; Gigi: "Carlene's had a little work done." Amanda: "A little work? That's a tear down."; Heather, on her bench ads: "It's nice to know someone somewhere is always sitting on my face."; Will, Amanda's son: "What does ['you reap what you sow'] mean?" Amanda: "That's Texan for karma." I could fill this entire piece with them.
It helps that the show burns through story just as fast: each act seems to hatch a new scheme, ensuring things are always fresh and lively. For all its "Real Housewives of Dallas"-ness though (did I mention Gigi's dogs are named Tony and Romo?), the series endeavors to give everyone a heart - Carlene, for instance, bashfully asks her husband Ripp (David James Elliott in an amusing turn) not to stare at Amanda like the other husbands ("Look at the men," she quips. "They're all over her like flies on sh...sugar.") - not to mention a sense of humor about themselves (Amanda: "If memory serves even Jesus hung out with whores and thieves." Carlene: "Not in my neighbor he didn't."). As I said, it's exactly what you're expecting complete an opening needle drop from Cory Morrow's "Texas Time Travelin.'"
What doesn't: Things can get a little heavy handed at times - after her latest humiliation not only does Amanda break a heel but it also starts to rain, the hallmarks of every shitty day ever in movies and television - while Amanda's history of alcoholism feels tacked on to make her seem more sympathetic. For someone presumably to have such demons and taken the steps to overcome them, her "it was a lifetime ago" attitude about her high school antics rings a little hollow. Thankfully, Amanda gets a wake up call by the pilot's end and in fighting back we get to see the real her. All in all, "GCB" accomplishes the one thing great pilots do:
The bottom line: Make you want to see the next episode.