Of course, Newt Gingrich is overstating the case for pandering effect when he says that The Show Formerly Known as Good Christian Bitches is “anti-Christian bigotry.” But he’s not entirely wrong that the show isn’t exactly fulfilling the potential Robert Harling laid out for it at the Television Critics Association press tour in January, to turn the institution of the church into as compelling a setting as a police station or a hospital emergency room.
So far, we’ve seen three church traditions come into play: a call to prayer, the choir’s song selection, and social hour afterwards. And all three of those institutions have been used for evil: Carlene’s used “Jesus Take the Wheel” to remind Amanda that her husband died in a fellatio-induced car crash; she’s called Amanda out for special prayers for the congregation and had Amanda do the same in retaliation; and the social hour after services is an occasion for sniping so thinly veiled it hardly counts. Nobody’s talked to the pastor. We haven’t seen any members of the church’s board of directors, or what must be manifold committees. We haven’t even met a gay choir director! All of those elements could be generators of broader social drama about Amanda’s efforts to reintegrate herself into Dallas society, something that the book did rather well. And it could broaden the show beyond the war between Amanda and her high school tormentees.
This is not hard to do well: Keeping the Faith set the model for both Catholic churches (which, admittedly have the all-time great religious comedy device of the confessional) and synagogues. That movie is rich with spiritual directors, pre-teens in need of counseling, retiring lead rabbis and upcoming assistant rabbis, seniors in need of interfaith community centers with awesome karaoke machines, cranky board members, and the world’s best Ein Keloheinu. In other words, it trusts its viewers to know something about theology, and to appreciate the humor in the details of religious practice. And it showed that doctrine can be alternately nourishing and unnecessarily restrictive. GCB could take a lesson.