There's an old Texas phrase my mother uses a lot: "I'm going to slap you to sleep, and slap you for sleepin'!" (Rest assured, she's never done either of those things.) I hate to do that to GCB—to spend a lot of time criticizing the show's cartoonish characters and then also criticize the show for its attempts to invest them with emotional depth. But that's just what I'm going to do, because last night we saw the show attempt to give its characters figurative heart implants, forcing each major player to rattle through her motivations for the improbable plot the way a car salesman speeds through specs as he talks you into a second-hand car. And I was not sold.
The pastor set up the premise: Families have left the church for a congregation led by his rival. So Amanda got the first heart transplant of the night, telling the Realtor she wanted to put on a play at the church to publicly "wipe her karma slate clean." We needed that explanation, because GCB morphing for an episode into Glee, while not a bad idea, should NOT have been Amanda's idea. Isn't her character a poor, proud single mother who's hell-bent on finding a haven for her kids? Also, WHERE ARE HER KIDS?
This is the show I really want to watch: What the children of Amanda, Carlene, and Cricket get up to in the deserted wings of their Dallas mansions as their mothers fume about old high school drama. What those kids are doing off-screen is no doubt just a Texas version of Skins, the criminally neglected kids apathetically hooking up with each other and doing expensive drugs in the dim, over-decorated caverns of their Western manses as their mothers yell at the housekeeper downstairs to "hot-glue that rhinestone on straight!"
Not every show can be a teen drama, I get that, but right now GCB is essentially a teen drama acted out by grown women. Wouldn't it have made sense to explore last night's themes of rivalry and high school insecurities if the Belles’ children had been cast in the church musical? Wouldn't that've been more realistic, anyway, for the youth group to perform and be directed by an adult?
Cricket and Carlene could still have gotten angry at Amanda, and been a lot more justified in fearing she would traumatize their daughters the way she traumatized them. Carlene and Cricket could also have clashed in trying to make sure their kid was the one who starred in the play, and then realized they were trying to vicariously live out their own fantasies. They could even have had standalone moments to sing with or for the teen cast. All the same themes could have been explored, and it would have rung true because that's how adults often operate (playing out their interior insecurities and desires through their kids) and our main characters wouldn't have had to spend the hour yelling at each other and taking pratfalls like, well, cartoons.
All the humor last night centered on how petty and vain the women are, and the suspense centered on who would star in a one-night live performance at a local church. That is a no-stakes situation. No member of the audience was going to care if Cricket didn't get to sing as Holy Ghost, and Amanda wouldn't be materially effected even if her play was a fiasco. It was just another chance to laugh at silly rich women. Women! They are so silly and vain and hateful!
Sharon, the only character with real stakes—her husband is going broke—got her own long speech about that, which Gigi answered with a fervent speech that sounded like an overwrought therapy-couch confessional about her pageant-coaching days. Sure, I'll take it, at least these are problems with actual emotional resonance. But why take the one storyline with a do-or-die moment and bury it under a stupid joke about her slipping into a bizarre deep voice? Where did that even come from? Was that supposed to be an Annie Potts impression? And they know "Losing It With Jesus" is a single entendre, right? There's no established phrase for them to wink at with that, I've never heard of a diet plan called "Losing It With Grapefruits" or anything similar. Whatevs.
The episode reached its low when Amanda lured all the women to a parking lot so they could throw mud on her while she wore her cheerleader uniform.
Okay, you know what? I don't expect every show to be Breaking Bad, but when you find yourself sitting through the fourth or fifth overwrought monologue about why a character NEEDS to do something super wacky, it's because the motivations aren't arriving naturally in the story. And that's usually a direct result of there not being enough stakes. Amanda needed to be covered in mud so the musical would be a success because...? It's quite a leap to say "people are no longer coming to this church = not enough jazz hands." Whether the musical had tanked or delivered (and I'd argue it tanked) would not have had any serious implications for Amanda, and therefore the entire plot felt uncomfortably weak. And then they finished things with a horror show:
Carlene hit a massive stained-glass window, breaking it to pieces and falling abruptly to the floor in a shower of broken, colored glass, in a moment filmed like something out of Hell Raiser. And she was FINE! Um, she would be dead. That was a nightmarish moment of negligent manslaughter. And even if we just all agree that cartoonish behavior imbues the body with cartoonish abilities to escape serious injury, a stained-glass window is not cheap. That's easily hundreds if not thousands of dollars in damage to the church. And the pastor just brushed it off? WHAT ARE WE WATCHING?!
According to the pastor, a success! That's how this show operates: Blank out every unreal disaster and focus on what it tells you to think. The caricature characters are emotionally deep, the baseless story is important, and a shower of broken glass is not a big deal.
– Is it more common for church "musicals" to be performed by adult members of the congregation or by a youth group?
– Would you watch a Texas version of Skins?
– What do you think the prop dept. made that mud out of? Chocolate pudding and chili?
– Where did Gigi's love story go?
– What were your reactions to this episode?