Sunday, June 17, 2012

ATVC 2012: Desperate Housewives

Spoilers abound, so beware.

Desperate Housewives
23 episodes, ABC (September 2011 - May 2012)

Desperate Housewives was always an unusual series for me, in that it was that rare show that I'd watched from its very first airing until its series finale in real time, only I never particularly loved it past that notoriously attention-grabbing first season. At the same time, it was never exactly a show that fell off, as much as people insisted it did. It had one season that was especially strong, but then quickly dovetailed into a self-consciously zany 'dramedy' that occasionally traveled into darker places. It rarely got explicitly terrible, so it was fitting that its final season was something that left me mainly cold, but was generally distracting while it lasted.

What initially grabbed audiences all those years ago was the show's mystery format, with a dark underbelly of suburban secret-keeping lurking beneath the surface and disquieting the titular housewives enough to try and discover the truth. But it was that same format that wound up becoming something of a handicap in the show's later years, and while season eight opened with what seemed to be an intriguing central mystery that neatly folded together in a book-end with the first season... it rapidly became clear that it was just as ill-plotted and underwhelming as the mysteries of the past few years.

I loved the gradual building of the tension, from the women burying Alejandro's body, to the blackmail letter, to Chuck's murder, but the story came unhinged around the season's mid-point, in which Susan painted a ludicrous piece of artwork that depicted the four women dumping the corpse. Then we found out who was responsible for Bree's blackmail, but that was more of a red herring -- the story quickly depersonalized that element of the arc, and the final stretch featuring Bree's trial seemed more like a distracting after-thought rather than something complex and ball-busting that would bring the Housewives saga to an end. Like certain other shows this season, an intriguing opening led to a sagging middle and eventually a petered-out climax.

Of the housewives themselves, Bree's descent into promiscuous bottom-feeding was the only story that seemed to operate on a deeper level, in particular her brief flirtation with suicide and that powerful vision she had of Mary-Alice. Gabrielle remained mostly stuck in standalone sitcom stuff, but Eva Longoria remains such a charming performer with impeccable comic timing that she made most of it work. Vanessa Williams, a ridiculously gorgeous and multi-talented actress, got saddled with such lousy material last season that I appreciated that she was given more to do this year, even if most of her story with Ben seemed to be building to something a lot more interesting than it eventually did.

I had real problems with Lynette's arc this season, but my complaints are the same ones I've had every year about her. It all comes down to the fact that she's the most controlling, obnoxious and manipulative hag-harpy-wench to ever appear on television -- the very worst type of 'nagging housewife' cliché, only she was never called out on her behavior. Even if she has brief trips to Guiltville, she still actively manipulates those around her and ultimately always gets what she wants in the end. I also disliked that we were meant to see Jane as a villain, especially when the writers actively made her arch and deceitful in order to make Lynette look better. In the end, Tom and Lynette got back together, just like they inevitably would, only with no believable growth or evolution on Lynette's end. But Tom is such a flake that maybe they just deserve each other?

Elsewhere, I was more distracted by the Teri Hatcher rumors than anything Susan actually did this year, but couldn't help but feel that Mike's death was needlessly masochistic. Yes, certain moments in the immediate aftermath were effective (the funeral, the jar-smashing), but eventually his murder became so inconsequential that you wonder if it was more a vengeful by-product of Nicolette Sheridan's accusations in her lawsuit, rather than something organic that made sense for the series. It was almost like they wanted to make Susan suffer as some kind of retribution against Hatcher. Oh, God. I'm sounding like a gossip columnist.

In the end, Desperate Housewives closed with something of a whimper. I'm mostly in a party of one with that, but I found most of the ending pretty trite and generic, particularly the random job offers and annoying flash-forward montage (I never like those things). Then again, I don't know if I was ever particularly in love with the show. I watched every damn episode, but it ended up rarely reaching above 'fine' territory. There were laughs, some decent lines, actresses with real conviction -- but it never really had anything more than that, especially these last couple of seasons. With that in mind, I'm not at all sad that it's no longer around. C

Favorite Episode Nothing really stands out, but I thought Any Moment (8.18) at least had some semblance of balance between Susan's mourning, Andrew's heterosexual engagement, and the admittedly hilarious subplot involving Gabby's adventures as a personal shopper.


  1. I'm with you on a lot of what you said, particularly about it never really being amazing after season one, though I loved the wackiness of the Orson stuff in season 3.

    Teri Hatcher rumors? Not to fuel you gossip columnist tendencies, but..more please?!

    I liked what you said about Lynette, though I don't feel quite as strong about it as you do! I think that a lot of her character work started to make headway, then fell apart towards the end, but her ending up with Tom made sense. My main issue with her stuff this season was that it never really ended up exploring the separation in the way it should have, I loved all that story about Lynette being with someone else. They should have stuck that out for longer, instead of forcing the reunion on us. It could have made it way more organic.

    And about Vanessa Williams, hopefully 666 will give her a decent shot at portraying more than a vain glamour-puss. She deserves stronger material.

    I liked the finale, but it wasn't great. More underwhelming than awful. I liked some of the flash-forward stuff, particularly the arguing happily ever after with Carlos and Gaby. It was fitting. I loved what you said about Eva as well, she's a comedic genius, even in this format. Hopefully she'll end up with some decent material in the future to showcase that more. I also liked the ambiguity of Susan's future. Particularly the idea of her memories being all she needed. It was a hopeful ending, but not one that was cheesy and contrived.

    Whoops, sorry for the super-long comment. Can't wait for the next lot of ATVC posts. I have my end-of-season posts made up for some shows, but I have a few to do. I should really get on that before the end of July at least!

  2. No problem about the comment length! Heh.

    I also liked season three a lot (the Dixie Carter one, if I'm correct?), it was the only season that I remember especially enjoying, besides the first.

    The Teri Hatcher thing was all over the web if you're interested. It was basically more rumors that everybody hated her, but some of the so-called 'evidence' made everybody seem a little catty and strange, more so the non-Teri cast members. It at least explains why Susan was moved off the Lane, and why all her storylines were kept separate with her family, and not so much the other ladies. Supposedly some mysterious 'incident' two seasons ago severed all ties between her and the others. Honestly, though, she just strikes me as a little lonely and insecure -- like she doesn't really mix well with others. It's sort of sad.

    Gah. Anyway. Your comment about Lynette brought to mind most of the season, like it was constantly building up expectations but delivering no follow-through. And, yeah, I'm excited to see Vanessa Williams on 666. I've never seen her play straight before, so it ought to be interesting. She's ridiculously talented, though. Same with Eva. Their comic timing is some of the finest (and most underrated) on TV. I don't know what it is about Eva, though. I'm not sure I like her as a person (or, you know, her 'media persona'), which is probably why she never crossed over into features. There's sort of a block there, and she doesn't really have that appeal. Genius comedienne, though.

    And I agree about your consensus of the finale. But that whole format has never worked for me, where you get a complete depiction of the character's futures. Same with Charmed. It just takes away all the ambiguity and mystery. Great endings are ones for shows like Buffy or Friends, where you just see characters fade away into the distance, and you're left to imagine where they would end up. Six Feet Under is the only show that used the 'flash-forward' device to good effect, but that was more because it reflected the sensibility of the show so spectacularly.

    Wooh, I rambled on there. Thanks for commenting, Panda!

  3. We really differ on Housewives. It's always been one of my top 3 shows of all time. I just love the crazy world this show transports me to and I never stopped adoring it. Sure it had its weak spots but I was always willing to overlook them. Nevertheless, this was a fascinating review to read that further conveyed just how much different people get attached (or in your case not so much) to different shows for a variety of reasons.

    My God Lynette was annoying. They really should have handled her and Tom better as it feels like they ended the show where they started with the exact same flaws.

    Interesting theory about Mike's death. I found it really jarring but you know what, in the end it kind of worked for me to see Susan alone and leaving the lane bittersweet. Wasn't too fond of the cliche flash forwards but LOVED the ghost montage final sequence.

    And by the way I am so curious about the Teri Hatcher thing. I've been reading about it for weeks as the girls really don't include her in anything be it a gift to the crew or all the Twitter pics etc... I think Teri is just a loner as Eva Longoria mentioned. Not much a feud, more of a keeping her distance from co-workers kind of thing (which I have as well). Still it makes me sad.

    By the way I'm torn over series finales. On one hand Charmed and DH really left nothing to the imagination while Buffy left an open door, but sometimes I feel I prefer the former. Buffy for example makes me sad when I think of it. There's no sense of closure or finality for me. I guess it's a personal thing but I like seeing the characters' futures instead of imagining them just so I feel I can move on as a viewer. The same for Friends which just breaks my heart when I remember the finale. Haha. But I definitely see your point.

  4. I actually thought the other girls came off worse in the Teri feud, especially with the luggage. It was like they intentionally wanted people to be aware of Teri's absence, regardless of how it started. It all read as a little petty and immature. I've heard horror stories about Teri Hatcher, but I really do think that she's probably a little insecure and closed-off. I don't think she's necessarily some huge hag like the rumors seemed to imply.

    And I completely disagree about Buffy and Friends. Without spoiling anything, I really felt they both resolved the stories that were in motion but allowed the characters to go off into the distance like actual people. Because they were supposed to be people with lives, and those lives won't just end when the credits roll. I like to imagine that the Scoobies are fighting monsters somewhere, or that Rachel and Monica are hanging out in the suburbs somewhere.

    I prefer the ambiguity, rather than having everything spelled out for us.

  5. I think I'm with Adam on ambiguous endings. I think they're much more hopeful, and like you said, realistic. I think flash-forwards work to a certain extent, but I prefer to leave it up to my imagination. Buffy and Friends' endings were two of my favorites. Not necessarily depressing, but fitting and not contrived at all.

    Since Susan's journey pretty much ended with Mike, it felt right that she didn't get one and the others did. I hope I'm not coming off a bit too rambly.

  6. Heh. No, not at all. Nice to have a little discussion around these parts. And agreed 100% about the finales.