Sex. Scandals. Betrayal. Murder. Kidnap. Affairs. A tornado. In four seasons, ABC’s soapy extravaganza, Desperate Housewives, has brought together all of the aforementioned elements, wrapped them in a truly addictive and enthralling dressing and served them with dollops of delicious soapy goodness.
As I cross the halfway point in the eight season run of Desperate Housewives, I will look back at what I consider to have worked so far, failed and my highlights/lowlights. That’s if I can peel myself away from its allure for as long as it takes to write this, of course, and that’s easier said than done.
It all started back in 2004 when the show first hit the air and started on its journey to becoming a worldwide hit. Billed as a primetime soap, Desperate Housewives promised all the outlandish plots of a typical soap opera but refined and controlled. And it worked. Wisteria Lane has seen many a far-fetched series of coincidences, affair and catfight-in-the-street over the course of its life and the first four seasons never failed to feature them in frequent batches. If you wanted simple escapist fun for an hour on a Sunday evening, Desperate Housewives was your friend.
One of the things I noticed straight away and still consider one of the show’s strongest points is how it utilises its main cast with as much focus and concentration as all of the others. For instance, each character typically gets as much screen-time as the rest, and even in episodes where one story takes precedence over the others, the focus is shifted back into alignment for the next. The show knows it has a fantastic set of characters and it does its absolute best to not make any of them feel redundant and under-used.
One such example would be season three. Much of the first half of the season was dominated by Bree and Orson’s turbulent marriage but all while that was occurring, the remainder of the cast experienced considerable screen-time. And when Bree’s storyline eventually came to an end, they were not seen again until the finale, which allowed the rest of the characters to move back into the forefront and make up what time remained. It allowed for a sense of balance that still remained in place even when one story rose above the others, and it’s something the show generally does well, or has so far.
On the subject of an excellent cast, Desperate Housewives really does have an exceptional one: Bree, the model housewife with her obsessive need to have everything the way it’s supposed to be; Gabrielle, the selfish and often shallow one that puts her own needs above others; Lynette, the one with the intelligence yet unstable home environment; Edie and her generally trampish nature; and Susan, the clumsy one that tries too hard and mostly fails. Separately, they all work wonderfully with their own stories and personality traits but together, when they’re weaving in and out of each other’s stories, they are a solid, unbreakable unit that the show benefits hugely from.
There is also the fact that they are so relatable that helps as well. I’m sure if we all sifted through our memories we could probably think of somebody similar to any of the housewives in the show, and in the unlikely event that we can’t, we’re sure to experience somebody like them in the future. It helps to ground the show in reality somewhat and make the characters believable and familiar, which in a show that deals with stories like Desperate Housewives, is a welcome addition.
Who is my favourite character on the show? Honestly, I’m not sure if I could give a definitive answer to that question as I don’t dislike anybody. I am, however, especially fond of Kathryn Joosten, who played Mrs McCluskey (sadly the actress died last year). Desperate Housewives deals with the drama and the comedy in equal measure and occasionally it intertwines them both, but regardless of which side it’s dealing with, Joosten’s comedic timing is nothing short of exceptional. The show has many assets and she is amongst one of the best, and she’s not even a part of the main cast.
If pushed for an answer to the question asked previously, I would probably have to go with Bree as my favourite character on the show. Her need to look perfect at all times usually lands her in humiliating predicaments that truly bring the amusement, and Marcia Cross is a sublime actress who, similar to Kathryn Joosten, handles both serious and comedic scenes like a seasoned professional. I will never forget Bree hurrying to the hospital after experiencing an orgasm for as long as I continue to watch television, as it was one of the most hilarious scenes I’ve seen in a long time, mainly because it was just so ‘Bree’.
In terms of my favourite season so far, I would probably have to go with season four. Not only did it have strong stories with Lynette’s cancer, Gabrielle’s Victor problem, the irritating-yet-interesting Kayla storyline and the mystery surrounding new neighbour Katherine’s murky past, but also the tornado episode – aka one of my favourite episodes of the show so far. Desperate Housewives is a show that simply cannot be watched one episode at a time when all are on offer at once and season four increased that addictive and compelling nature to stratospheric heights. I completed the whole seventeen episodes in a few days so that is a testament to how it succeeded.
That’s not to say that the other three seasons weren’t good, however. In particular, I enjoyed the Bree/Orson storyline during season three (though it probably would’ve been better ending a few episodes sooner), the whole story involving creepy George Williams, the beginning of the Youngs’ saga (just the beginning!), generally anything involving Edie and many more. Most of my favourite stories, however, took place in season four.
Although I have mostly enjoyed what Desperate Housewives has offered so far, it’s not all been perfect. Unfortunately, despite starting out with promise and intrigue, the storyline involving Mary Alice’s suicide and the subsequent troubles involving her husband, Paul, and son, Zach, dragged on for far too long and became increasingly frustrating the longer it went on. Ending it when season one ended would’ve been good; extending it was not.
On top of that problematic storyline, I heavily disliked Zach’s ridiculous return in season three. Not only was it pointless but trying to have me believe that he would suddenly have a romantic interest in Gabrielle, even though there had been no prior indications beforehand, felt incredibly forced and awkward. Fortunately his stint didn’t last long and appeared to have been nothing more than a convenient plot device to spring Mike from prison. And his hair was horrible, and horrible hair is never excusable.
Also, after having recently finished season four, I am unsure about the five year time jump that was used to finish the season. Obviously I will reserve judgement for when I’ve actually seen how it ultimately affects the show but for the moment, such a significant leap ahead feels like too drastic a change introduced too suddenly. On the other hand, it could pave the way for many interesting storylines but that remains to be seen for now.
Desperate Housewives is a unique kind of show, in that it knows it’s dealing with hilariously outrageous situations that would be highly unlikely to happen in real life, and yet it embraces what it has and makes it fantastic fun. The first half of the series has been packed full of genuine laugh-out-loud moments and outlandish storylines that push the ‘soap’ label to its absolute maximum, topped with serious and compelling drama. I sincerely hope the latter half of this excellent show doesn’t lose its stride because from what I’ve seen so far, Desperate Housewives is a rare kind of gem that doesn’t appear too often but when it does, you know it instantly.