I loved the first season of Desperate Housewives. When certain prissy types were criticizing the show for having the shapely stars parade around in revealing lingerie too often, I defended them. I even did so once on a TV cable news show, against some woman who said the women of Wisteria Lane were leading us straight to hell. I didn’t think so. In fact, since the show was launched during the campaign of 2004, I was sure that at least three of the four leading characters were typical “Security Moms,” the kind who would have voted for George W. Bush.
(Looking back, weren’t those innocent days, and innocent housewives? Certainly the reality shows about the real housewives of Beverly Hills, Manhattan, and Atlanta portray a far more unsavory bunch than the characters played by Marcia Cross, Teri Hatcher, Felicity Huffman, and Eva Longoria.)
But sometime, in season two or three, Housewives lost me along with a good segment of its audience. The show just wasn’t very good any more. It seemed like an over-complicated and kind of dumb soap opera, hard to follow and not worth trying to. The real subtext of the show, about the friendships of women and the concern mothers have raising kids in challenging times, seemed to disappear in the Byzantine plot lines.
But I have wandered back. Maybe because Housewives’s nine-to-ten time slot is a perfect lead-in to Mad Men, the only show I have considered “appointment TV” for the last couple of seasons. Unfortunately, Mad Men was a lot weaker this season than last, but it turns out Housewives has come roaring back. Its ratings have zoomed up. Heck, even my husband has started watching.
The show has moved ahead five years. The women are dealing with teenage and adult children, which — take it from one who knows — are much more complex than younger kids, no matter how bratty the little ones can be.
The biggest change is in the character Gabrielle, played by the super-attractive Eva Longoria. Originally, she was gorgeous and greedy. Now, without makeup and with padding — though red-carpet rumor has it she has really packed on a few pounds — she is a dumpy, bedraggled mom, saddled with two kids, a disabled husband, and a lot of money worries. In a way, she was always the most interesting character on the show, as she reflected those shop-a-holic times. Now, scrounging for cash for the grocery bills, she reflects these times. Rather prescient of writer and Housewives creator Marc Cherry, who conceived this season’s episodes last spring when the economy still seemed OK.
All the actresses are better than ever, and each has a more interesting storyline. The show has also added some supporting characters, including the very appealing Dana Delaney and Lily Tomlin.
It’s still a soap opera, but it is again a top-notch one. This year, Edy, the witchy girl next door played by Nicolette Sheridan, was the divorcee among the housewives. She’s always been on the lookout for a guy, even a neighbor’s husband, but now she’s far more victimized than victimizing. She has returned to town with a new husband, an absolute sociopath. Through this season’s first episodes he has stalked the housewives’ elderly neighbor, the crotchety Karen McCluskey, a personal favorite. Heavens knows what he will do next.
Americans have always needed a Sunday-night show to end the weekend, and to talk about at the office on Monday morning. During these stress-filled times, don’t we want something to distract us? So we’re back to watching Desperate Housewives, and this is sweeps month. I am glad the women of Wisteria Lane are again giving us something to talk about.
– Myrna Blyth, long-time editor of Ladies Home Journal and founding editor of More, is author of Spin Sisters: How the Women of the Media Sell Unhappiness – and Liberalism – to the Women of America. Blyth is also an NRO contributor.