March 4, 2012


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Written by: Mitch Salem
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>Disclaimer:  Network pilots now in circulation are not necessarily in the form that will air in the Fall.  Pilots are often reedited and rescored, and in some cases even recast or reshot.  So these critiques shouldn’t be taken as full TV pilot reviews, but rather as a guide to the general style and content of the new shows coming your way.

GOOD CHRISTIAN BELLES –  Midseason on ABC:   Change the Channel

In comparison to ABC’s GOOD CHRISTIAN BELLES, Glee is as macho as The Expendables–if Vin Diesel and The Rock had joined the cast.  There’s female-skewing, and then there’s having the remote send an electric shock up the arm of any guy who tries to tune in.  If they did an episode of this series and replaced the actresses with the cast of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, it’s not clear that anyone would notice.  I’m surprised they haven’t already announced that the show’s repeats will be airing on Bravo.  Oh, I could keep going… but you get the point. 

And there’s nothing wrong with a show that skews narrowly, something I say as a devoted fan of Fringe, Treme and Friday Night Lights.  I’m in the group that thinks The Wire may have been the best series that’s ever aired anywhere, and for all its acclaim, no one ever watched it.   The audience for extreme campiness may be delighted with Good Christian Belles, and if there are enough of them, ABC will have a hit–in which case, they’ll be more than happy to ignore those of us who find the show hard to endure. 
Based on the novel by Kim Gatlin (entitled “Good Christian Bitches,” which was the series title until morals groups found out about it), Good Christian Belles tells the story of Amanda Vaughn (Leslie Bibb), a rich mean girl when she grew up in Dallas, who then moved with her high school quarterback husband to LA.  There she had 2 kids and a more peaceful life, which abruptly comes to an end when her husband dies scandalously, having lost all their money, among other things.  Penniless, Amanda and her children move back home, where they have no choice but to live with her mother (Annie Potts), and Amanda has to get a job.  Worse, Amanda has to reacquaint herself with the girls she terrorized in high school:  Carlene (Kristen Chenoweth), a shining example of the plastic surgery road to success; Cricket (Miriam Shor), a tightly-wound businesswoman who doesn’t know her husband’s secrets; Sharon (Jennifer Aspen), who’s put on a few pounds; and the only semi-bearable one, Heather (Marisol Nichols), a real estate agent who believes in the possibiilty that Amanda’s changed over the years. 
The pilot is basically a succession of scenes where the girls clownishly and repeatedly attempt to drive Amanda and her family out of Dallas (while adopting butter-wouldn’t-melt-in-their-mouths attitudes to her face), while Amanda shows her pluck and gumption in refusing to be intimidated.  As the title indicates, there are endless displays of the ladies’ hypocrisy in being churchgoing Christians while relentlessly scheming to ruin her life.  Writer Robert Harling was previously known as the author of Steel Magnolias, Soapdish and the script for The First Wives Club, so it’s not like there’s any surprise at the broad, unsubtle tone of the humor here, interspersed with occasional “heart.”  (The show is also produced by Darren Star, of Beverly Hills 90210 and Melrose Place fame.)  
Bibb is the only one in the cast who gets to play a human, and she’s an appealing actress.  But givng Chenoweth a role like this is basically like handing over a fifth of bourbon and the keys to the family car; Chenoweth can be wonderful when she stays under control (as on West Wing and–sometimes–Pushing Daisies), but clearly she was cast here for her willingness to go over the top, which she does.  The rest of the cast mostly joins her; Alan Poul, who’s directed episodes of Six Feet Under and Swingtown, is capable of eliciting nuance from his actors, but that wasn’t the idea on this one.
Good Christian Belles is reminiscent of other extravagant ABC comedy-soaps like Big Shots and Dirty Sexy Money, neither of which found audiences.  Although the show’s midseason scheduling hasn’t been announced, certainly the network has any number of places to launch it, behind Desperate Housewives, Dancing With the Stars, the Modern Family/Happy Endings hour, or Grey’s Anatomy.  Whether people will choose to stick with it is another question, but to be fair, Good Christian Belles isn’t a mess or a failure, exactly–it seems to be exactly the show the network and producers wanted to make.  I guarantee this:  within 15 minutes you’ll know if you’re in love or can’t escape fast enough.

Read more about TV’s new shows at THE SKED PILOT REPORT.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."