I have to begin this review with a spoiler alert for those planning on watching this show in the future. The last episodes had one of the characters, Karen McCluskey, battling cancer and finally succumbing in the series finale. At the time, it seemed like a dignified but contrived way to end Karen’s life, since her illness sprang out of nowhere just in time to save the life of another character on the show. Then, a few weeks later, I learned that Kathryn Joosten who played Karen had also died – she too suffered from cancer. It all seemed rather absurd. But then that was life on Wisteria Lane, for good and bad.
Four best friends sharing a street
Wisteria Lane was a suburban street in a fictional town called Fairview. Audiences were introduced to four best friends – the clumsy but lovable Susan Mayer (Teri Hatcher), the entrepreneurial Lynette Scavo (Felicity Huffman) who had four kids, former model-turned-spoilt-housewife Gabrielle Solis (Eva Longoria) and conservative in-the-flesh Stepford wife Bree Van De Kamp (Marcia Cross). Over the years, the ladies juggled various crises on Wisteria Lane along with the different challenges that were part of their love lives. Susan fell in love with a plumber, Mike (James Denton), but it would take years until they were finally married. Gabrielle had an affair with a teenager who was mowing her lawn; her relationship with Carlos (Ricardo Chavira) survived, but remained anything but frictionless. Neither did Lynette’s marriage to Tom (Doug Savant).
As for Bree, her husband died from poisoning before the end of season one, and her subsequent relationships often had a (for her) uncharacteristic tinge of the bizarre. Every episode was narrated by the ghost of Mary Alice Young (Brenda Strong), a former neighbor who had killed herself and now appeared only to give the show a dark streak.
Hard to pigeonhole
Along with Lost, Desperate Housewives revived ABC’s fortunes more or less single-handedly in 2004. A huge hit, the show made stars out of its female lineup and even reunited two old Melrose Place favorites (Savant and Cross) for another soapy hit. Still, this one was different. Unlike many of its predecessors, Desperate Housewives was hard to pigeonhole. Was it a drama series or comedy? Fans loved how Marc Cherry’s creation fit both categories – my sister, for instance, laughed out loud at its often wickedly funny dialogue and shed tears whenever a beloved character was departing. The four women remained front and center; Hatcher, Huffman, Longoria and Cross made their weaknesses and strengths seem palpable and even touching, especially when compared to some of the other women who moved in and out of Wisteria Lane.
One of the problems the show’s writers struggled with was avoiding turning other characters into cartoonish creatures, not least the ones played by Nicollette Sheridan, Dana Delany and Vanessa Williams who never seemed right enough.
Desperate Housewives never bothered to do anything beyond entertain – but that it did expertly, especially in its first seasons. The fifth one moved five years into the future, which certainly revived one’s interest, but the last seasons were on autopilot. Always amusing, rarely relevant.
Desperate Housewives 2004-2012:U.S. Made for TV. 180 episodes. Color. Created by Marc Cherry. Theme: Danny Elfman. Cast: Teri Hatcher (Susan Mayer), Felicity Huffman (Lynette Scavo), Eva Longoria (Gabrielle Solis), Marcia Cross (Bree Van De Kamp), James Denton, Doug Savant, Ricardo Chavira, Nicollette Sheridan (04-09), Dana Delany (07-10), Vanessa Williams (10-12), Kyle MacLachlan (06-11), Mark Moses (04-06, 10-11), Kathryn Joosten, Drea de Matteo (09-10), Jeffrey Nordling (09-10), Alfre Woodard (05-06), Steven Culp (04-05), Shawn Pyfrom, Andrea Bowen (04-10, 11-12), Jesse Metcalfe (04-05), Joy Lauren (04-08), Cody Kasch (04-06), Charles Mesure (11-12). Narrated by Brenda Strong.
Emmys: Outstanding Directing 04-05; Actress (Huffman) 04-05; Guest Actress (Kathryn Joosten) 04-05, 07-08. Golden Globe: Best Comedy Series 05, 06; Actress (Hatcher) 05.