Thursday, August 11, 2011


I've just been sorting through some of the recent "Desperate Housewives," news clippings on All of them based around some kind of possible/proposed storyline for next season, which actors will appear, what characters, etc. etc. Other such things. I'm not quite sure why now, maybe I thought I would be more inspired to either write this blog, or possibly start-up watching the show again, one last time.

For those who might not have heard, ABC announced the other day that this next season of "Desperate Housewives," will be its last, cancelling the show after eight years. There's wild speculation out there now, ranging from the theoretical "Is this the end of serialized storytelling on basic TV?" to the ridiculous, "How much did the "Real Housewives..." series 'cause an end to "Desperate Housewives?". I think it's well-past time for the show to end, although I find it somewhat bittersweet. No TV show in my lifetime exploded on the air the way "...Housewives," did. The show had that rare combination of being creative, inventive, risk-taking and good, while simultaneously being the biggest cultural phenomenon of the time. It was also an adult show. Filled with soap opera melodrama to be sure, but not as salaciously produced on network TV until then. Filled with sex, violence, mystery, adultery, mischief, and all the great outrageous behavior we expect from the most audacious of soap operas, revolving around four strong female lead characters (Okay, 3 1/2, I'm counting Susan as half a strong female character. You want to count Edie, then 4 1/2). Oh, and it's a comedy! That part seems to be the most overlooked in these speculations, analysis and wikipedia articles and such. This show was not a drama. While it uses the storytelling techniques and references of dramas such as "Knots Landing," "Twin Peaks," and "American Beauty," (the latter could be contrived as a dark comedy as well), the show was comedy. A satire of the primetime soap opera genre that had actually at that time, been long dead on TV. All of TV. That was also part of the appeal and the shock of the show.

The Marc Cherry script had been rejected by every basic network and every cable network. He didn't have the best TV show reputation going in, having last been a successful writer on "The Golden Girls," and had nothing but failed shows and pilots since. But ABC was a dead last 4th in the ratings, and didn't have a single scripted TV show that was a hit. It was a desperation play by the Disney network, which was even then contemplating getting rid of it's longtime cash cow, "Monday Night Football." Yet, Marc Cherry had to fight just to keep the original title of the show. (The phrase was common before the show, but usually used on the, eh,  lets just say, its was an options on the less reputable internet sites, and since the show went on the air, those sites have replaced it with the anachronism, "MILFs".) This contributed to the original appeal of the show. It was benefited by also being good. It was controversial, and it had everyone talking. I think I watched more entertainment magazine shows during 2004 than I have in my whole, all of them talked about "Desperate Housewives," for at minimum, a good ten-minutes of their 30-minute running time. The ladies of the show made the cover of Time Magazine, a feat that took the cast of "Friends," nine years to accomplish. Maybe the most absurd thing I remember about that first season, was seeing the "Desperate Housewives," trivia game on the shelves at Walgreen's, while I was playing with that little 20 Questions ball that they always had there. (How that ball figured out I was thinking about the "Desperate Housewives boardgame," I will never know) The show hadn't even finished it's first season, yet there was a trivia game already. It basically must've only consisted of events that occurred in the show's first 13 episodes, at most. Didn't exactly sound like much of a trivia game, but it was that big a show at that time.

Yet, the more I think about it, the less and less likely I feel that I'm even going to be able to sit through a single episode of the show in it's final season. In fact, I haven't seen an episode since season five. It was the episode Edie was in the car accident and ran into the electrical pole. Come to think of it, while I know her character was killed off, I don't actually know if that's what did it. I have a hard time imagining she survived it, but after getting run over by Susan in Season two, I'm pretty sure Edie could've. I'm a little surprised Gabby didn't just choke her to death in season four for sleeping with Carlos. The show had continually waned in its quality since the first season, but it had to. A phenomenon that big can't possibly live up to the standard that was thrust upon it, and coming up with new storylines after the resolution of the mystery behind Mary Alice's suicide, must've been a dreadful task for any writer. The show was basically set-up for the one season, the one great long-running storyline. Naturally, others would have to pale in comparison. They continually brought in new characters with new secrets. Some we liked, others that we didn't care that much for. Characters continually died, especially if Bree ended up marrying them. Others died for many other reasons. Poisoning, falling off a house, shot by a crazy-ass Laurie Metcalf in a supermarket. I kept watching. I don't know why now, I think I had hoped it would be one of those long-running shows like "Dallas," or "Dynasty," that you knew was clearly way past it's prime, but you kinda wanted to keep up with whatever crazy thing they were doing next. How's Bree gonna drive another man crazy? How Susan gonna completely screwup a relationship doing something stupid, crazy and incompetent  that we hadn't really seen since Lucille Ball last tried it? Will Lynette ever break down, and simply start drowning all her kids one day, or whatever. It was a soap opera after all, a comedic one, but they were also the most interesting characters on TV. I rank Marcia Cross's Bree Van de Kampf, as one of the most original of TV characters. She reminded me of the Laura Linney character in "The Truman Show," pretending to be the perfect June Cleaver housewife, and finally that character had people who absolutely hated her for it. Barbara Billingsley, with yellow rubber cleaning gloves, a shotgun and a whip, and usually she still just tried to outsmart everyone, which either ended successfully, or ended with somebody in the hospital. You know its funny, while there were a few attempts at copying or replicating the appeal of the show by the other networks, there really isn't a show out there quite like "...Housewives," on TV. No successful show has borrowed any of the aspects of that show that made it fresh and unique. TV dramas have mostly come in some form of a cop/detective/hospital show (Or a combination of some of those shows), and cable shows have remained dark as well. Even a show like "True Blood," which has many of the aspects of "Housewives," including a plotline that's serial in its nature filled with violence, lust, and a constant refreshing of characters with secrets, has absolute nothing in common with the tone of "Housewives." Other than the aforementioned reality shows, that are really not worthy of being mentioned in the same conversation as "Desperate Housewives," are the only things that have survived with even the most miniscule of influence from the show. I think it's that unique quality that's got me somewhat more in mourning of it's impending end. There's not gonna be another show like it or even influenced from it in the near future.  It was a mini-miracle that it ever made the air to begin with, especially on basic TV.

So, why can't I watch it one last time? Well, the show jumped the shark at the end of the fourth season. After the revelation of Katherine's daughter and ex-husband were resolved, the show did something unusual. It literally jumped, five years into the future. It presented a world that had suddenly, drastically shifted from the world we just left. Children were grown up and moved out, others had been born, others had been taken away, careers and partnerships, professionally and personally had changed completely, frankly, it was the sloppiest of storytelling the show had ever done, and they had committed to it, with no possible way of backing out of it. It's not that it wasn't understandable. The show, had issues with it's storytelling to begin with. It relied heavily on characters with secrets that had to be found out and/or eventually revealed, and that meant continually bringing in new, mysterious characters that we're in some way, up to no good. We didn't quite know or understand how, but the effect was basically the same as on "Star Trek," when somebody who clearly wasn't a regular in the cast, was going on a mission, particularly if he chose to wear a red uniform, he was gonna die. I didn't particularly mind, it was part of the charm of the show, and it went along well with the satirizing of the soap opera genre, which also uses that storytelling technique. Hell, that is the storytelling technique of soap operas. The jumping ahead might have seemed like a way to keep the show fresh and alive. Something that wouldn't have simply given us a new dimension on the characters and a way to refresh a storyline, or two that had become stagnant. Once Susan and Mike had gotten married, there entire storyline was basically done and finished. They needed a way to keep those characters apart because their struggle to get together and remain together was the entire crutch of their storyline.

In that way, they failed. Instead of progressing that storyline five years down the road, they in fact, went backwards. Forcing that storyline to remain and continue at what was obviously considered the most comfortable place to keep those characters, they actually did the opposite of what they should have done. They didn't evolve when they had the opportunity. That wasn't the worst part of that time jump. Some aspects of it were good, I think Bree's storyline as a famous cook book author, with her son positioned as her key supporter was a good jump into the future that progressed her storyline for instance. However, Gabby's storyline completely betrayed her character up to that point.  She had been in a constant struggle over whether or not to have kids for most of the series. She was pregnant at one point in season two, but lost the kid after an accident, and the timing was bad with her husband Carlos in jail at the time. And frankly their marriage was enough of a struggle to keep together. She went from sleeping with the teenage gardener to marrying the Mayor, all the while, she was in love with Carlos, who had had his flings himself in between jail, career changes, and a bout of blindness. Suddenly, without any explanation, Gabby is then simply handed two kids. Of course, in later flashbacks, we know that she just had the kids, the normal way, with Carlos, but that knowledge came later. The initial effect  completely undercut her entire persona up 'til that point. Frankly, that specific decision was the jumping the shark moment for me. The going forward in time has it's advantages and disadvantages in of itself, granted it's bad storytelling, but the worst part about it was that it was unnecessary. (Unlike for instance, the essential need for the infamous "Dallas," season that became Pam's dream, which was predicated from the original producer/creator/showrunner of the show returning after a year off where the storylines got over-the-top, and ridiculous, and with the need to explain Bobby's return from the grave anyway, it was a genius way to quickly and suddenly rid the show of the all that had come before that wasn't underthe showrunner's control and bring the show back to its original standing.) This sudden deus ex machima of Gabby's two kids, without previous explanation, and without the needed character development to explain her kids and her decision to keep them, was missing, and unexplained, and frankly, the show could never fully recover from this. It still seems wrong for her character to have kids. It's like having a stripper at your kid's birthday party, in of themselves they're two things that are okay, but they clearly shouldn't be paired together.

The show could have recovered from this, might have even been better than ever. It even had a few really good episodes after the time jump. The great 100th episode of the show, which focused around the sudden death of a local handyman played by Beau Bridges, I'd argue, was onc of the best single episodes of the series. (Bridges went on to get an Emmy nomination for that episode, and deservedly so.) However, once a storyline is broken in a serial, it's just about impossible to jump into it again with the same kind of whimsical zeal one used to.

It's not the first show to start off as high as the sun, only to fall like Icarus, and unfortunately, it won't be the last. But this one hurts. It was as special as any show has ever been, and it ends, remaining special. Not as popular, not as strong, not the ratings hit it once was, but frankly it tried and failed where most shows wouldn't even have conceived, and there isn't enough of that on TV, not on basic TV anyway. It's going to be a long time before a scripted TV show is going to replicate the creative aspects of "Desperate Housewives." and have its pop culture phenomenon-style popularity. So, Goodbye Wisteria Lane. We'll miss all of you. even you Mary Alice, even though you've been dead forever, and you still won't shut up, you're gonna really be missed.

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