The "normal" suburban life for a group of close-knit housewives takes a dark turn when one of their closest friends mysteriously commits suicide. Now while trying to deal with their own hectic problems and romantic lives, each year brings on a new mystery and more dark and twisted events to come. Life behind closed doors is about to be revealed as suburban life takes a funny and dark turn. Written by
The most entertaining mass-appeal series in quite a while. Marcia Cross is a force of nature.
Network: ABC; Genre: Guilty Pleasure, Comedy, Drama, Crime & Mystery; Rating: TV-14 (for suggested sex and sexual content, language and violence); Available: DVD; Classification: Contemporary (star range: 1 - 4);
Seasons Reviewed: Season 1
When neighbor Mary Alice Young (Brenda Strong) unexpectedly commits suicide it brings murder, mystery and scandal to the already desperate lives of the suburbanites of Wysteria Lane; including Susan (Teri Hatcher, "Lois & Clark") who competes for the heart of mysterious new neighbor Mike Delfino (James Denton), Lynette (Felicity Huffman, the overlooked "Sports Night") dealing with her own rambunctious young boys and workaholic husband, Gabrielle (Eva Langoria) a philandering trophy wife to her domineering husband Carlos (Ricardo Antonio Chavira, "Six Feet Under") and Bree Van De Kamp (Marcia Cross, "Melrose Place") whose picture perfect outward image will be shattered by the indiscretions of her family.
"Desperate Housewives" is a wild show that lifts up the rock of suburbia to find the muck underneath and mines its absurd scenarios for all they are worth. It is also cause for a lot gloating for everyone, like myself, who said back when the networks weren't listening (putting all their eggs in fad reality series and ultimately collapsing because of it) that the way to make a long-lasting hit was through scripted TV. Vindication came when wives and mothers across the country made this quirky live-action cartoon a monster hit - ABC only won back it's audience with, yes, a scripted show and it now appears to mark the beginning of the end of the gluttonous "reality" show nightmare. With it all bringing hype that "Housewives" probably doesn't deserve, but criticism it doesn't either. Don't take it too seriously and you will have a blast.
One of the nasty realities of network TV is that the networks are insist your show appeal to an entire family of demographics. That desire to be everything to everybody is usually a deathblow to any vision-less series, but creator Marc Cherry ("The Golden Girls", still popular) pulls it off striking just the right cords with every oscillating tone in "Housewives". The show is like a holographic picture that becomes something else when you shift it in the light. It is equal parts a serious soap opera, soap opera parody (perfect soap names like Mike Delfino and Dr. Rex Van De Kamp crack me up every time), a comedy and a murder mystery, a sympathy card to the pressures of raising a family and a satirical jab at suburbia and women who can always find something to gossip and complain about. Undeniably, these tonal shifts make for more than a few imbalances and awkward mixes between the campy and the serious. It isn't quite clear if the show itself knows what it is. If you asked, I'm sure Cherry wouldn't care what our reaction was as long as there was one.
Cherry does this all with just enough skimpy clothing to please the network, a narration (by Strong) that speaks a lot over the images but really says nothing and a gang-busters intro scored by Danny Elfman that brings down the house and sets these schizophrenic tones perfectly. What you wouldn't know at first glance is that "Houswives" writes both sides in the battle of the sexes with equal thought, intelligence and culpability. Any perceived male-bashing gets swept under the rug as every character on the show is fleshed out to 3 dimensions wonderfully. There aren't any caricatures here, but real people put up to a fun house mirror. The show's willingness to cut the cord and kill them off ("24"-lite), is bold and truly shocking. When the season's murder mystery is wrapped up, it won't knock you down, but it does appear to have been meticulously planned from the beginning. All the T's are crossed and I's dotted.
The ladies really make it work though. Huffman's story lines are always the sharpest and most grounded (an episode where she leaves her kids on the side of the road is extremely gratifying). Newcomer Langoria starts out weak in a meaty and controversial double-standard exploring story that boldly asks us to root for her not to get caught sleeping with the gardener (Jesse Metcalf). Both evolve to a point where an ensuing cat-and-mouse game with Carlos becomes the most fun dynamic. Conversly, Nicollette Sheriden's overblown appearance as street hussy Edie Britt gives her nary a page of dialog an episode and young Andrea Bowen plays Susan's daughter as if she is a higher-up's daughter who never had a day of acting class in her life.
But special attention must be paid to Marcia Cross who approaches a level of understated brilliance as tightly-wound, tough-as-nails, misplaced 50s housewife Bree Van De Kamp. Bree is a classic character and Cross nails all of her complexities so peerlessly she about brings a tear to the eye. Cross is not just Emmy-worthy (deserving every award Teri Hatcher won instead), but belongs in the hallowed hall of TV fame for this work. "Housewives" is worth a watch for her alone.
"Desperate Housewives" may be a big hit for ABC, but don't be fooled - this isn't the type of show that usually is a hit. It is too quirky, too wacky and too open to interpretation. Just when you think it has fallen off the wagon and into stupidity it reclaims face with good performances, nasty surprise twists and dead-on writing.
"Desperate Housewives" is a first-rate guilty pleasure. Sharp, trashy, funny, socially conscious and a little twisted behind it's shallow exterior. Only Cherry's fertile comic mind knows what the future holds for the ladies of Wysteria Lane and where this large-scale, genre-bending domestic comedy goes. Even better, "Desperate Housewives" is a blast of cold air blown across the TV landscape knocking over the piles of reality show garbage. It is the most richly entertaining piece of shallow, mass-pleasing TV in quite a while.
* * * / 4
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