If the English language were on Facebook, my relationship with the word “bitch” would best be described as “It’s complicated”. I’m okay with it when it’s thrown at me in a playful kind of way by people I know and trust. I’m definitely okay with it when it’s used in a reclaiming sense. I was a regular reader of Bitch Magazine in the past, and once I have the disposable cash to spend on magazine subscriptions, I definitely will be again. At the same time, it is a slur, and when it’s used in that sense, I’m not really a fan.
On the other hand, I also believe this: if you want to use a certain word, just fucking use it. Oh, yes, that use of the f-bomb was quite deliberate. I really think that everyone is entirely too anxious about the use of profanity on television, the FCC most of all, and while I certainly don’t think Bert and Ernie should be cussing like sailors, I also think we should really just relax and take a cue from British TV. If you want to say ass, or bitch, or fuck, then you should just say it. Maybe set up a system where those words are only used after the watershed, to borrow another concept from our friends across the pond, but for fuck’s sake, just say the words you want to say. Don’t get cute about it.
So when I hear titles like GCB (originally Good Christian Bitches, then Good Christian Belles, now an abbreviation that everyone’s just going to look up on the Internet anyway) or Don’t Trust the B- in Apt. 23, I can’t help rolling my eyes. Oh, to some degree, the words as used in the titles of these shows are definitely meant as slurs, and I can appreciate ABC‘s decision not to expose America’s sensitive eyes to such mind-scouring filth. (Okay, maybe I can’t appreciate that decision without a little bit of snark.) But we’re talking about a word that’s used frequently, including, yes, on network TV, and I think it’s frankly ridiculous that they can’t and won’t just say what they mean.
It doesn’t help that the shows themselves – especially GCB – are just as ridiculous.
And on that note, let’s take a closer look at these shows, starting with GCB. You know what that means: a barrage of catty puns. It’s no secret that ABC is desperate to replace Housewives, its Sunday night juggernaut of the last few years. Since Pan Am didn’t really pan out, they’ve turned to a show that’s much closer to the series they’re trying to emulate, a program all about sex, lies, family and women being completely horrible to each other in the middle of a small, tightly-knit community.
When I first heard of this series, I actually had high hopes. There were rumors of central gay content (and that storyline actually is one of the best parts – read: only good parts – of the show), and of course I’ve adored Kristin Chenoweth for ages and ages. The basic premise of the show – a woman who was the Queen Bee and chief bully in high school returning to her hometown to find the women she’d tormented ready and waiting to make her life a living hell – really intrigued me. I absolutely adored Mean Girls (to the point of quoting it at the drop of a hat, and using it as a major inspiration for a project I’m working on and not quite ready to discuss yet) and this sounded like it could very well be Mean Girls: The Series. Except, you know, in that fresh hell we call adulthood, and right smack dab in the middle of that hell we call Texas.
That hope has carried me through a lot of GCB, but it’s been a few weeks now, and it’s time to admit the hard, sad truth: I’m watching this series for the show I want it to be, not the show it is. The show as it stands is, frankly, not all that great. It’s not even amusing in a trainwreck sense. And that’s a real shame, because each and every actor on it is giving it their all, and there are a hell of a lot of individual things to like. Kristin Chenoweth can play a smiling, backstabbing HBIC (look it up on the Internet, kids) with the best of them, and she is just full of energy and seemingly effortless grace as always. Leslie Bibb does a great job as Amanda Vaughn, formerly the Queen Bee of her high school and now a widow and a single mother forced to return to her hometown in disgrace. The relationship between Cricket Caruth-Reilly (played by Miriam Shor) with her openly closeted husband Blake (played by Mark Deklin) is actually incredibly sweet and interesting – she knows he’s gay, and romantically involved with the man managing his ranch, and she’s okay with it. They’ve chosen to stay together because they do love each other, just not romantically, and because they make such amazing partners in business and in life. Of all the relationships on the show, theirs is perhaps the strongest, the most powerful, and the most free from judgment.
But you have to take the bad with the good, and there’s a lot of bad. It doesn’t really feel like any of the characters are evolving. Any time it looks like the status quo might change, like Amanda might actually find some forgiveness from the ladies she tormented in high school and might actually be accepted into the community once more, those hopes are dashed. And maybe I shouldn’t expect these characters to evolve. You know what, I went through a lot of shit in school (although I was homeschooled during my adolescence), including some physical and emotional abuse that actually does cause me a hell of a lot of pain when I think about it, even now. But I also recognize that that time of my life is over, and thank God for it. I don’t want to go back to that place. Not even for the purpose of gaining some petty vengeance against my tormentors. Honestly, I’d like to think that my tormentors grew up, got over themselves, and became better people as well. And if they didn’t – that’s not my problem. I don’t know if I can forgive. I tend to think forgiveness has to be asked for, and no one’s ever asked for mine. But I can move on with my life. The ladies of GCB clearly can’t.
I may keep watching through the end of the season, but it’s dropped off my must-see list, especially now that Mad Men is back and occupying the same time slot. Like I said: I wasn’t watching it for the show it is. I was watching it for the show I wanted it to be. And I don’t think it’s going to become that show.
Don’t Trust the B- in Apt. 23, on the other hand, shows every sign of becoming the show I want it to be, though it’s certainly not there yet. Unlike GCB, I didn’t really have high folks for this show. It sounded like it was going to be patently, gleefully ridiculous and probably misogynistic and horrible, and I was totally expecting it to be the next Work It. My interest was piqued when I realized that Krysten Ritter and Dreama Walker were the leads – they’ve both spent their careers playing a lot of solid supporting characters, and it was about time someone let them take point – but I honestly figured this show would be awful, and it would almost immediately flop, and they’d move on to better things.
To borrow from someone on Twitter whose name escapes me, though: even if the show isn’t surprisingly good (it really isn’t), it is at least surprisingly not horrible. Chloe, the Krysten Ritter character and titular bitch, is an awful person, yes – but she’s not irredeemably awful. There are hints of something deeper, something better, in her character. She seems to genuinely care about the people she calls friends, even if she has a decidedly funny way of showing it. She doesn’t seem to like it when other people mess with said friends. There are tantalizing hints of complexity to her character that might – if they’re followed up on – actually contribute to a decent series.
And Dreama Walker’s June isn’t the wide-eyed farm girl I was expecting, either. That should have been obvious from the moment she was introduced, fresh out of grad school and ready to take her place at a powerful financial company. She was, from the outset, clearly intelligent, and if perhaps she was a little innocent, that could easily be forgiven. Still, it was easy to underestimate her, as Chloe obviously did – but then, victimized by her roommate, June turned around and got even in a truly spectacular fashion. By the end of the episode, she’d clearly earned Chloe’s respect. And mine.
The most eye-rolling aspect of the show, even now, is James Van Der Beek pulling a Neil Patrick Harris and playing James Van Der Beek. It’s pretty gimmicky. But he’s actually kind of funny, and the Dawson’s Creek jokes do not get old. The show is pretty uneven, but it shows a lot of promise. The relationship between June and Chloe is already changing, and they’re already smart, strong, complicated characters. I’m willing to give the show a season to work the kinks out and find its voice. If it’s done well, it could turn into a genuinely amazing series about a complicated but genuine friendship between two very different women. If it’s done poorly, well…hopefully its death will be swift and painless.
But seriously, people: as complicated as my feelings toward the word bitch can be, can we all just agree to say what we mean? It doesn’t matter how good or bad your show is – when I have to use stupid abbreviations just to talk about it, I just feel silly. Get over yourselves, America. The world will not come to an end just because you said the word bitch. In fact, on show after show, you’re already using that word. It turns out you actually can say that on television. So just say it.
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