To some, it would be blasphemous to compare MARC CHERRY's Desperate Housewives to the enjoyable but undeniably schlocky Melrose, but this I do freely and with confidence. For in my role as critical investigator, here of a series that has been doggedly examined, praised and awarded, I feel it necessary to uncover a home truth worthy of Susan, Bree, Lynette, and Gabrielle: Desperate Housewives is a phenomenal soap opera, but little more. This is not meant in any way as derision, merely clarification. Desperate Housewives has become an industry, something greater than a mere television series. But the zeppelin began as a balloon, and in watching the series en masse as the DVD format demands, one realizes the clever intrigue of writer Cherry's creation and the various actresses' characterizations, but fails to see perhaps why the Housewives industry has become so inflated.
A very slight satire of American suburbia, Desperate Housewives chronicles the lives of Susan (Teri Hatcher), a single mother with a penchant for neighborhood embarrassment; Lynette (Felicity Huffman), a stay-at-home mom struggling with a litter of little Lucifers; Bree (Marcia Cross), Martha Stewart and Rush Limbaugh's unclaimed child; and of course, Gabrielle (Eva Longoria), the one screwing the gardener. All four women are drawn into a Hitchcockian mystery (think Rear Picket Fence) when their fifth musketeer, Mary Alice (Brenda Strong), commits suicide. Why would one of them do something like that? This question drives the main narrative arc of season one, with the four women collecting clues, from a threatening letter hinting at untold secrets in episode one, to guns and blood sightings as the mystery unravels. Throw into this mysterious mix sexy plumber Mike Delfino (James Denton) and widower Paul Young (Mark Moses), who comes fully equipped with an arsenal of suspicious stares, and Cherry has clearly packed his Housewives full of titillating ingredients. The result is as titillating as one might expect.
In fact, so drawn into the mystery of Wisteria Lane are we that it is often at our peril to neglect the other elements operating so smoothly in this gem of a show. Sugar coating the darker crevices of Cherry's suburbia is a sprightly and colorful comedic tone. Cherry, who wrote for four equally (in my small opinion, more) vivacious women in The Golden Girls, has a talent for the female tongue. Susan is the pitch-perfect neurotic, Lynette amazingly blunt, but it is Bree, embodied by Cross, who is offered the choicest lines. When told that her son is gay, Bree responds, "I'd love you even if you were a murderer." Such sugar may seem sour but that is as biting as Cherry's script ever gets. Housewives' strength is its bounce. From the energetic performances of its leads to its theme and score, Wisteria Lane is an amazingly fun and sunny place in which to host a murder... I mean suicide.
However, this tone, and a certain neatness, works also to hem the program in. Though its charm is its juxtaposition of merriment and murder, suburbia and suspicion, a desperate need to somehow make bright and bubbly the work of sociopaths and adulterers lessens the impact of these very works. At times, as when Bree breaks down in the bathroom of her husband's hospital room, the show excels in darkening its mood; nevertheless it rarely gets deep enough under the grimy pavement of Wisteria to be as shocking or as involving as it ought to be. Silly criticism though it may seem, the elements are almost too good. The script is too punchy to be reflective of reality, the voice over of a sometimes irritatingly smug Mary Alice is too perfectly placed, and the overall aesthetic too glossy. It is perhaps a bird's eye view of suburbia and a man's eye view of womanly desperation.
I only criticize Desperate Housewives for being what it isn't (a darker, leaner and more shocking account) because of what it has become. A juggernaut, lauded by many as the best show on television, Housewives is certainly worth the purchase and the viewing. But at its core it is a Melrose-esque opera of the soapiest kind: good-looking women, dashing men, murders and mayhem, and a crazed and legless lack of reality. It is great fluff, but fluff nonetheless, and after a whole season of it, its sugary luster leaves one sweetened if not entirely satisfied.
The DVD collection is stuffed with a great supply of extras. Commentaries are interesting, as are other extras such as an odd multi-language sequence, even if you have to suffer through Oprah and Meredith Viera to get them.
Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5
Director: Marc Cherry
Screenwriter: Marc Cherry