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Published: Saturday, 3/10/2012 - Updated: 2 years ago

COMMENTARY

Listen up, y'all: Texas cliches have native hotter than a burnin' stump

BY KIRK BAIRD
BLADE STAFF WRITER
The cast of "GBC," an ABC television series set in Texas. The cast of "GBC," an ABC television series set in Texas.
ABC Enlarge

Nearly 15 minutes into the new ABC series GCB I shook my head in disbelief.

A half hour into the comedy-drama I gagged.

And by show's end I wanted to hurl a remote at my TV.

I attribute this Sunday night venom to a rodeo of Texas cliches in the script.

GCB revolves around a prodigal daughter, Amanda Vaughn (Leslie Bibb), who moves with two teenagers back to Dallas to live with her wealthy mother, Gigi (Annie Potts). Amanda is a reformed high school bad girl who still has enemies. Naturally, all of them are rich and have nothing better to do than continue to hate on Amanda more than a decade later.

There's plenty of "big" in this show, from the hair and jewelry to the plastic surgery enhancements and homes. As prime-time entertainment, of course, it's all meant in good fun, with a heaping dose of satire. But when Gigi tells Amanda she's giving her granddaughter some "Texas-fying," -- meaning big hair and a halter top -- as a Texan born and raised in Dallas I felt ill.

For the record, big hair in Texas vanished about the same time as Urkel.

With a state so vast and its residents so varied, I'm nauseated by Hollywood's long-standing misrepresentation of Texas. It's a movie and TV requisite that all Texas men wear cowboy hats, boots, and creased western-wear shirts, and all Texas women are Lone Star State versions of Jersey Shore, sporting two-story hairdos and novelty-size jewelry, with accents as thick as Texas Toast. Oh, and naturally everyone in Texas is filthy rich from their oil wells.

This depiction is hardly original. The country reveled in these oversized caricatures of y'all-talking oil barons and their trophy wives decades ago in cartoons and with movie characters, and, of course, the long-running prime-time soap Dallas. The show, by the way, is returning to TV with much of its original cast, including J.R. Ewing (Larry Hagman). And I thought GCB would have the Texas cliche all too itself on network television.

Hollywood mangles accurate portrayals of almost every state in the name of good entertainment. In mathematics the formula would be: good story > accuracy.

But the errors are especially glaring when it comes to my home state, where I lived for more than two decades.

The Buddy Holly Story is a heart-pumping film about old-time rock-and-roll pioneer Buddy Holly, a Lubbock, Texas, native. The movie is reasonably accurate, as biopics go, but I can never ignore the scenic mountains in the background of Lubbock as Holly motors through town. If you've never been to Lubbock, I'll tell you that there are as many mountains in the Texas Panhandle as there are in northwest Ohio. In fact, most of West Texas is as flat as an airport runway.

The first X-Files movie, Fight the Future, made the same mistake of putting California mountains where they don't belong, this time near Dallas, a land so flat that on a clear day you can see the back of your head.

Exaggerated accents

More glaring than the topographical mistakes are the spoken ones.

Former president George W. Bush has an accent. Will Ferrell mocked it with vicious glee on Saturday Night Live, and Josh Brolin was surprisingly true to life in his mimicked speech of the president in Oliver Stone's W. You probably noticed that Texas governor and now former presidential candidate Rick Perry has an even thicker accent as well. Texas politicians love to play up their Texas-speak as a way to connect with voters: "I have an accent. I'm one of you." But truth is, most Texans raised in any of the major cities -- Houston, Dallas, Austin, San Antonio, even Fort Worth -- have a mild, generic twang in their speech, if they have one at all.

It's when you leave the urban pockets and head east or west that you encounter the thick drawl most associated with Texans. Think Jan Hooks' character Tina, the Alamo tour guide, in Pee-wee's Big Adventure ("There's no basement in the Al-a-mooooe").

If you want to hear some honest Texas twang, check out the cast of The Last Picture Show, which is set in the fictional and dying West Texas town of Arlene, and Robert Duvall from The Apostle, about a Texas preacher who starts a new life and ministry in Louisiana. The latter film, incidentally, features fire-and-brimstone sermons, thus combining two of the state's trademarks: accents and religion.

GCB tries its hand at both as well, and mucks 'em up.

The women's accents were outrageous and the show treats religion as an ironic punch line. The women all attend a Dallas mega-church where it's about being seen as much as receiving divine inspiration. OK, I'll concede there's some truth to that.

But after the success of Friday Night Lights -- a critically praised film-turned-TV drama that perfectly captured the essence of the state -- I thought things might be different for Texas.

I thought Hollywood finally gets it, and sees past the stereotypes of cowboys and cowgirls, oil wells, and Cadillacs.

And then GCB arrived and dashed my hopes.

Texas is back to where it started in popular culture. And there's nothing y'all can do about it.

Contact Kirk Baird at: kbaird@theblade.com or 419-724-6734.



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