by Erin Wathen
I love the new show GCB. And it bugs me. And I love to let it bug me.
Lots of people don’t love it, and I kind of get why. For one thing, it is not super well-written. The main character is sort of flat. I don’t think she’s a bad actress, really…they just aren’t writing her very good lines. Also, if you are a Christian, it feels (ALOT) like the show is making fun. Because it is.
However, if you are a Christian who does not take yourself too seriously, it is pretty spot-on funny. Or if you are what we might call a progressive Christian, and view the show through the lens of truth-telling-about-all-that-is-wrong-with-the-church, it is challenging. And also spot-on funny.
Meanwhile, the poorly-written Amanda serves as a foil for some pretty great, more developed characters. If you are not familiar, a quick synopsis–Amanda was your textbook ‘mean girl’ in high school; homecoming queen, etc, made other girls miserable for the crime of not being her… Now, she is grown, mother of teenagers, and recently widowed. Her philandering husband was skipping town with her bff and millions in ill-gotten investor money, and he dies in a car crash (in a compromising position). Penniless and humiliated, Amanda moves back to the oil-rich epicenter of her Dallas childhood. She is a changed woman since her high school days–kind, broken, and seeking a simple life for she and her children. But that doesn’t stop her high school femeses (female nemesis, plural) from taking advantage of her recent, public downfall.
Her story alone could be told in a single episode–hell, i just told it in a single paragraph–but the stories evolving around her have potential. Her mother is played by the ever fabulous Annie Potts. In case you were wondering, she is still a designing woman, through and through. Everything that was fabulous about the Sugarbakers comes through in Annie’s character, Gigi. It’s just been moved from Atlanta to Dallas. Gigi and Amanda have a very Lorelei and Emily Gilmore dynamic at times. But whereas the elder Gilmore and her daughter might have a cathartic/healing/bonding moment once every season or 2, Gigi and Amanda seem to have one…oh, about once an episode. This is one of the reasons the show, ultimately, is just ok, and may die young. These fictional relationships need to build to points of deeper tension so that they can by-God evolve. Not spin themselves into a Hallmark card every single episode.
The easy resolution bugs me. So do the red paraments hanging in the sanctuary when it is clearly–clearly–not Pentecost. Just one of many little signs that the writers are half-assing it in all the ways that make the difference between an ok show and a really great one. The congregation–the church itself–should be a character in its own right. Kind of like the town in Gilmore Girls, or the van in Little Miss Sunshine. Instead, it is just a building. And an improperly clothed one, at that.
So I guess what I’d like to tell the writers is this: if you’re going to make fun of the Church, you should get to know it first.
It would be like you writing a comedy about my crazy aunt Delilah* based on a glance through a family photo album, without ever actually meeting her in person. Without hearing her stories of riding in a clown car with ferrets or telling how she cured her arthritis by eating sauerkraut and grape jelly during a hurricane. If you REALLY wanted a crazy Aunt Delilah story, you’d spend the day with her. You’d at the very least have a member of my family on the writing staff.
Why do I care? After all, it’s only a show. Well, a couple reasons: I care because, on the one hand, the show is working to reinforce every negative stereotype of Christianity in the post-modern world. The Church is my crazy aunt, and i love her dearly. If you’re going to laugh at her, at least know why you’re laughing.
I also care because, just beneath the surface, I think there is a freakin fabulous–and strangely prophetic– show waiting to break through, and I don’t want to see it get cancelled because of half-assed writing and set-design.
I want to see more of what life is like with Kristin Chenoweth as lead soprano in the church choir. I want more of Annie Potts looking fifty-something-fabulous, plowing crazy-rich and gun-wielding through the church lady forest. I want more of the great episode titles reflected on the church’s old-school letter sign out front. I want more Cricket and Blake: the beautiful, wealthy power couple whose only little secret is that Blake likes men on the DL, and their ‘arrangement’ has been working for years to make them the most happily-married couple on the show.
And yes, I’d like to see more from Pastor Tudor. He is a great deal too pretty for my taste. In fact, the phrase “carved out of cream cheese” comes to mind. But I’m impressed with his adept handling of meddlesome, toxic church ladies, and his refusal to become a silent, sexless entity in the background of their scheming. If they let him out of the box a little bit, he might become a real boy.
Like the church itself–which, by the way, is painfully, ho-hum non-denominational–this fictional pastor has some great narrative potential. Let him skip a few shaves, take the bambi-fied look off his face, and maybe let him get laid once in awhile…now THAT is prime-time television. And, for the Pastor and the church alike–do some research on the liturgical wardrobe already! It cannot be Easter on the clergy robes, Pentecost in the narthex, and Common Time in the sanctuary. I mean, I know it is pretend. Fiction. But, as we say in the world of biblical literacy: Just because it didn’t happen, doesn’t mean it isn’t true.
This show, after all, does have a significant truth to reveal: that the Body of Christ, for all it may be broken, backward, and stuck in 1950′s Texas, has the power to break through all the most hilarious charicatures of itself and transform communities for good. Here’s hoping the series lives long enough to tell that story. And here’s hoping that, if they decide it might behoove them to have clergy on the writing team, someone will give them my number.
As Cricket would say: “I’m not sure of the exact verse, but the Bible is just FULL of that kind of whoopass!”
*aunt Delilah is purely hypothetical
Rev. Erin Wathen is the Senior Pastor of Foothills Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in north Phoenix. A native of Kentucky, she continues to find faith in the desert, and blogs about the journey of ministry, marriage, and parenting. Her husband, Jeremy, is a stay-home dad, and drummer in the Foothills Worship Band. He and Erin enjoy music, National Parks, good food, West Wing reruns, and taking adventures with their two young children. Erin was the 2010 recipient of the Fred Craddock Award for Excellence in Preaching, and she thinks that Jesus is pretty much ok with women who speak out loud. And gay people. And children. And the poor…