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Losing Their Religion


In praise of a new breed of church ladies.

GCB, ABC's new hour-long comedy, stands for Good Christian Bitches, a title snipped by the network after accusations of bigotry in the press. But judging by the pilot -- especially its first scene, where a Ponzi schemer escaping to Mexico with his mistress and heaps of laundered cash accidentally drives his sports car off a cliff while getting a blowjob -- the show's punches are delivered with a glorious dose of camp.

This death-by-road-head opener sets the scene for the embezzler's disgraced wife, Amanda Vaughn (Leslie Bibb), to leave Southern California and move her family back in with her estranged, acerbic mother (Annie Potts) in a mansion-strewn enclave of Dallas. The move is also symbolic for ABC, which, in its final year of chronicling the prim, wintry housewitches of Wisteria Lane on Desperate Housewives, will pass the torch of scintillating suburban scandal to GCB.

"The great thing about Dallas is they get the joke," says the show's co-creator, Robert Harling, who also wrote Steel Magnolias. "They embrace their largesse."

This brand of self-mocking grandiosity is most apparent in the zealously devout Carlene (Kristin Chenoweth), a prominent church figure who uses her sermons to take passive-aggressive shots at members of the community. Carlene also leads a foursome of women seeking retribution for being spurned in school by Amanda (a former "bitch with teeth," according to her mother). And church is where -- amid a sea of high heels, big hair, and double-strand pearl necklaces -- the ladies let their thinly veiled barbs fly.

"The show is not in any way an attack on Christianity," says Mark Deklin, who plays Blake Reilly, a closeted cowboy in a marriage of convenience. "It's a light-hearted comedic jab at hypocrisy."

While the somewhat antiquated nature of Blake's relationship may initially be off-putting to liberal viewers, it represents a real phenomenon. Deklin maintains, however, that GCB will give the issue a fair, if somewhat jocular, treatment. "With the show, we're not necessarily condoning that choice, but we're not condemning it either," he says. "We're just looking at it and having fun."

GCBpremieres March 4 and airs Sundays on ABC at 10 p.m. EST.

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Mike Berlin