GCB: (Please) Grow (Some) Comedy Balls
I'm not gonna lie: I got real mad at GCB last night. It was really fingernails on a chalkboard by the end there. I had kind of been looking forward to the double-feature, but I went to bed, like, angry after finishing both episodes.
GCB is a fantastic comedy for people with no sense of humor. If you're not sure when or why you are supposed to laugh, if you find yourself baffled by shows like Curb your Enthusiasm or the British Office, GCB is your show. It will take your hand and lead you from joke to joke, shouting "LAUGH" in your face or directing the elfin Kristin Chenoweth to frantically mug so you know exactly when the writing is supposed to be funny.
It took seeing two episodes in a row for me to really get a handle on GCB. For a while I was trying to review it as objectively as possible, realizing it wasn't exactly my cup of tea but respecting the performers and glossy production and the often clever writing. There are good actors, there is good television structure, and there are bouts of clever dialogue, but the sum of the show is less than its parts. The characters, now a month in, are still two-dimensional, hateful cartoons and their imaginary problems have no stakes. A story about characters whose happiness hinges on their Gone With the Wind-themed vow-renewal ceremony does not resonate emotionally or rationally. And the fact they found out their license hadn't been filed and they weren't technically married? Sigh. Not only was this a plot on like, The Jetsons, but it had NO stakes. If I want to see mean, frivolous women argue over dumb, expensive parties, I'd turn to Real Housewives, because at least those ladies are funny.
So after weeks of Sharon's marriage almost dissolving, she was totally invested in being the Matron of Honor for a vow renewal ceremony? And heartbroken when the role went to Amanda? Like, shouldn't she be grateful to have the extra time to invest in her own tenuous relationship? It turned out she really wanted to carry a parasol, I guess, which is a great goal for a grown woman to have. Definitely worth a huge fight with your best friend, though I'm glad she and Carlene patched things up, I mean, THANK GOODNESS. I was so invested in these two self-centered, two-dimensional Punch and Judy dolls, I'm glad they'll continue being hateful frenemies. You know who else I worry about? That big floppy balloon guy outside my car wash. He stands there and waves at people while flapping back and forth in the wind and no one ever waves back at him! Things that are supposed to represent people—even in loose, theoretical ways—should be invested with emotions and truth by the audience, that's the audience's job, not the writers', right? Ugh.
I also think it was horrible that Amanda was driven to fulfill this role of Matron of Honor and go on expensive hunting trips and organize bridal showers to impress Carlene's brother. Because men: They love a party planner. Um, remember when Amanda used to have kids and was just trying to scrape together a life for her son and daughter? Are their lifeless bodies in a heap on the floor of Gigi's gun closet by now?
When the ladies went deer hunting, it occurred to me that this show could, with an entirely different filming style, be 300 percent funnier. Like, imagine if the scene had been filmed Friday Night Lights-style and instead of wearing weird camouflage cosplay costumes, the ladies just wore actual hunter's clothes and treated the expedition really seriously? Like a bunch of fancy ladies putting their frippery aside and having an honest hunting trip would have been kind of hilarious. Instead Amanda accidentally shot Carlene in the ass (paging Parks and Recreation! We found your hunting retreat plot, beat for beat, Parks and Recreation!) and Carlene was like, "NO not my PRECIOUS ASS! MUG FOR CAMERA MUG FOR CAMERA."
Carlene entered a room on crutches in a silk robe looking like she was doing her best Mink Stole impression and vamped around awkwardly and it was like, "You are not on a stage, Kristin Chenoweth, we are all 12 inches away from our TV sets." I love Chenoweth but they might as well just slap some paint and a red nose on her and let her shoot people with seltzer water. Are laughs the healing magic that is keeping her face so eerily wrinkle-free? Is that why she craves them so desperately? A very wise screenwriter once told me, your main character in a comedy should never try to be funny or think their problems are funny. They take everything that happens to them seriously, and that is what makes the humor work.
And this advice is even more relevant for GCB, which is trying to be a comedy-cum-soap, so it throws on an emotional hat once in a while and asks us to treat these hateful caricatures as real people. To have a character vamp like a clown while you fill her mouth with hypocritical, ignorant blather ("Carmelita! Take that trash to the poor people!") and then flip a switch and ask us to care about her relationships is unfair. The writers think they're entitled to us caring about these characters when they crank on the "touching" music, but emotional resonance has to be earned, not applied. So poo on this vow renewal. Also, remember how Gone With the Wind had a part of the book (AND movie) that represented the Klu Klux Klan as a dashing and important group of young heroes, and one of the main characters almost got killed "cleaning up" a shanty town of African Americans? Oh well, nevermind, let's just enjoy the pretty dresses!
Here I was with the best of all sorrow cures, a supply of Cadbury eggs, and I could not crack a smile throughout the second hour/episode. GCB is just such a hateful show, but I don't want to drench this site in negativity so I will whittle down the pages of rants that I scribbled during commercial breaks to two important points:
1. Having a gay man and his wife attempt to have sex is only titillating to people with zero sense of empathy. I would expect a gay guy to be about as interested in having sex with a woman as I would be interested in having sex with a cat (no disrespect, cats, but I am NOT INTERESTED). It was ludicrous that two people considering a surrogate, who have a JET that is decorated like a house, would not lay down the $10,000 or so for in vitro fertilization or the $2 for a turkey baster to sidestep having to bump uglies. Their clownish attempts to sex each other up were truly awkward and completely unnecessary.
2. This show wants so badly to be a satire but it does not have the brains or the courage necessary to satirize anything. It's afraid of alienating its Christian viewers, so it swings between depicting Christians as bigoted exclusionists (Carlene trying to create a condo complex that will only rent to Christians) and portraying them as unrealistically progressive (the pastor giving a sermon challenging all couples, married or not, to have sex every day for a week). In place of saying anything meaningful about the politics or religion of Texas, it just sticks in an Obama reference or a jab about Christianity into a conversation apropos of nothing.
You can almost see the writing room laughing with glee at the "chances" they're taking in seeding this candy-colored "soap" with nasty gibes. Characters we're supposed to like routinely drop provocative statements that the show quickly passes by without addressing or fleshing out, and it comes across as the dirty thumbprints of creators who want to be edgy, but not if it costs them a paycheck. Writing a toothless episode about unrealistic, inhuman reactions to themes as universal as sex and babies and then weaving in a few statements about how Christians don't believe in science is not satire, it's cowardice. Either have the integrity to let your "we think Christians are crazy" flag fly, or find another subject, because trying to grab the ratings of a Christian majority while spitting in their faces makes this show look incredibly mean-spirited and also muddles the basic storytelling.
Anyway, Carlene started a purity group to counteract the "have sex for a week" edict of her pastor and even put together a "heck house" to scare the young'uns, because back in her day she was a MAJOR SLUT and she's afraid her son is going to have sex with Amanda's daughter (Amanda's daughter is alive! No word on the brother, though). Amanda started working for the pastor. We learned the Eater has regular sex with her husband, who seems to hate sex about as much as he hates her, but luckily it was only his flagging business causing the marital ennui, and they turned it around when they decided to start selling her baskets of Biblically inspired diet food as a diet program called "Losing It with Jesus." Happy Easter y'all!
GCB needs to figure out what it wants to be and effing focus. If it wants to be a comedy, it needs to start being funny. If it wants to be an escapist,soapy delight, like the amazing Revenge, it needs to stop mugging for the audience and focus on drama and building an interconnected web of personal relationships. If it wants to be a satire of politics and religion in Texas, it needs to do some damn homework and then grow some balls and make those statements. But right now it's a puzzling mix of half-baked elements that together are awful, like a hot dog and cherry pie. It took all of last night's two new episodes to make me realize some of my displeasure with this show, but like a kid who was forced to smoke a whole box of cigarettes, there's a terrible taste left in my mouth.
– Did you enjoy the GCB marathon and do you think I am just sooo stupid because I don't get how amaaaazing this show is?
– Have you ever been to Texas?
– Define "satire" and give two good examples.
– What are the differences and similarities between GCB and Dallas?
– Is GCB just "wealth porn"?
– Does GCB assume Christians are too stupid to pick up on the contempt the show has for them?
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