ABC's one-hour comedy "GCB" (10 p.m. Sunday, WTAE) is a holy hoot.
Set among uppercrusters in a tony Dallas neighborhood, the series is a welcome heir to "Desperate Housewives," which ends its run in May. ABC executives have high hopes "GCB" will be just that: a hit this spring that can move into the "Desperate" time slot come fall.
"GCB" follows Amanda Vaughn (Leslie Bibb, "Popular"), who moves back home from California to live with her wealthy mom, Gigi (Annie Potts, "Any Day Now"), following the scandalous death of her cheating, thieving husband. But when Amanda gets back to Texas, bringing her two kids in tow, she finds her past as a high school mean girl catches up with her.
Former classmates whom she wronged, led by Carlene Cockburn (Kristin Chenoweth, "Pushing Daisies"), attempt to thwart Amanda's plans at every opportunity. They are fearful of history repeating. "Ladies, it is not appropriate to speak of such things on the phone," Carlene says while plotting on a conference call. "I'll see you in church."
There's a tangled backstory for all the characters and their relationships with Amanda, including Cricket (Miriam Shor), who lost her boyfriend to Amanda and is now married to Blake (Pleasant Hills native Mark Deklin, "Lone Star").
Amanda's entanglements with Carlene and friends are fun, but it's Gigi who frequently gets the best dialogue. She questions why Amanda would ever leave Dallas for California ("We've got the same weather without the liberals") and has no need for wireless Internet in her house ("Why would I? I don't watch porn").
When it comes to whether her daughter and grandkids will attend church, Gigi stands firm after Amanda says she wants her children to find their own spiritual path. "Cut the commie crap," Gigi says. "My grandchildren are going to church so they can go to heaven, amen, end of story."
Because "GCB" is based on the novel "Good Christian Bitches" by Kim Gatlin, there will undoubtedly be a segment of the audience that's offended by what the TV show's title implicitly stands for (ABC initially called the TV show "Good Christian Belles" but then shortened it to "GCB"). The humor-impaired and those who are blind to hypocrisy should probably stay away. But for everyone else, "GCB" offers surprisingly clever dialogue and winning comedic performances.
Ms. Potts is clearly having a blast, and so is Ms. Chenoweth, who is also a Broadway musical star; she gets to sing as soloist in the church choir in Sunday's premiere.
"GCB" doesn't do itself any favors by beginning with a carnal car crash -- opening with death by oral sex smacks of trying too hard to be outrageous -- but viewers who stick around for the full hour will see "GCB" does not slam Christianity, rather, it pokes fun at hypocritical churchgoers who preach one set of values but live by a different set of moral rules altogether.
Robert Harling, writer of "Steel Magnolias," adapted "GCB" for TV and wrote the pilot. Franklin Park native Gretchen Berg ("Pushing Daisies," "Off the Map") and her writing partner, Aaron Harberts, serve as executive producers on the series. All three, along with Ms. Chenoweth, have a church background. ("GCB" never specifies a denomination for the church the characters attend but it appears to be mainline Protestant.)
Mr. Harberts' father and grandfather have served as Presbyterian ministers, and Ms. Berg grew up attending Heritage Presbyterian on Rochester Road and today attends Beverly Hills Presbyterian. She and Mr. Harberts named their production company Two Presbyterians Productions.
"You always have your parents in the back of your head when you write anything," Ms. Berg said during a January interview at the Television Critics Association winter press tour in Pasadena, Calif. "With this it's almost like you have the whole church community in the back of your head when you write."
Ms. Berg said characters on "GCB" might get biblical precepts wrong and think they're speaking from the authority of God when they are not.
"That's where some of the humor comes from," she said. "But we always have to make sure [as writers] our moral compass is correct and we have a lot of people who would say, 'I don't think that's right,' who are involved in the show."
"GCB" star Mark Deklin grew up attending Pleasant Hills Community Presbyterian Church, where he says he first cut his chops acting and singing and was active in the church youth group.
"The show is very respectful toward religion and Christianity," he said. "[From the book title] some people might think it's an attack on Christianity and Jesus, but if anything the message is pro-Christ: Jesus was great; his teachings were great; the problem is people who claim to follow him but they do all these un-Christ-like things. At the end of the day, that's what's being made fun of."
Last week MTV canceled animated comedy "Good Vibes."
CBS has renewed its annual special "The Kennedy Center Honors" through 2018. FX has renewed animated comedy "Archer" for a fourth season.
National Geographic Channel has ordered new seasons of "Rocket City Rednecks," and CMT has ordered more episodes of "Bayou Billionaires" and "My Big Redneck Vacation," which will air in June.
Deadline.com reports ABC Family has ordered an additional eight episodes of freshman series "Jane by Design."
The Oscar telecast Sunday night drew 39.3 million viewers, up 4 percent from last year, but it tied 2011's broadcast as the lowest-rated in key demos since 2008, according to Broadcasting & Cable. ... Oscar-winning documentary "Saving Face," about Pakistani survivors of acid attacks, will debut at 8:30 p.m. Thursday on HBO. ... In memory of the late Davy Jones, cable's Biography will air "Biography: The Monkees" tonight at 8 followed by "Bio Remembers: Davy Jones" tonight at 9. ... FX announced a summer comedy programming block that kicks off with Charlie Sheen's return to TV starring in back-to-back episodes of "Anger Management" at 9 p.m. June 28, followed by season two of "Wilfred" (10 p.m.), season three of "Louie" (10:30 p.m.) and the debut of Russell Brand's "Strangely Uplifting" (11 p.m.). ... I'm loathe to write much about pilots because most of them will never see the light of day, but this one is worth noting because of its lineage: The CW is making a "Sex and the City" prequel pilot, "The Carrie Diaries," and has cast actress AnnaSophia Robb ("Bridge to Terabithia") as the young Carrie Bradshaw, the role originated by Sarah Jessica Parker in the HBO comedy. ... Comedy Central's "South Park" returns for its 16th season at 10 p.m. March 14. ... TLC's "Long Island Medium" returns for season two at 9 p.m. March 25. ... Jonah Hill will host NBC's "Saturday Night Live" on March 10 with musical guests The Shins. ... On March 16, USA's "Fairly Legal" (9 p.m.) and "In Plain Sight" (10 p.m.) return for new seasons. ... Lifetime ordered 10 half-hour episodes of a new docu-series, "Bristol Palin: Life's a Tripp," starring the daughter of former Alaska governor and vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin. ... HGTV's "Showhouse Showdown" (2:30 p.m. Saturday) will feature local designer Alisha Gwen competing against design veteran Joe Berkowitz to decorate two new Cranberry homes with identical floor plans. The episode was taped in August in Mystic Ridge. ... Chris Fennimore hosts the 100th episode of "QED Cooks" at 10 a.m. Saturday on WQED-TV.
Today's TV Q&A column responds to questions about "Harry's Law," "Dancing With the Stars" and "Meteorite Men." This week's Tuned In Journal includes posts on PBS's "The Amish," NBC's "Awake," Bravo's "Shahs of Sunset" and A&E's "Breakout Kings." Read online-only TV content at post-gazette.com/tv.
This week's podcast includes conversation about the Oscars telecast, "White Collar" and "Being Human." Subscribe or listen at post-gazette.com/podcast.
TV writer Rob Owen: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-2582. Follow RobOwenTV on Twitter or Facebook for breaking TV news. First Published March 2, 2012 5:00 AM