*Updated on 5/11/12
A seemingly happy wife and mother named Mary Alice puts a gun to her head and pulls the trigger...and an idyllic neighborhood is never the same.
Not since Knots Landing have television viewers been so enraptured by the weekly dramas of a bunch of cul-de-sac-dwelling suburbanites. For the past seven years, Wisteria Lane on ABC's Desperate Housewives became a ground zero for soapy fun. It quickly became a place where secrets - along with several criminals - were harbored, where wealthy former models slept with their gardeners, where neglected wives went off their rockers and shot up supermarkets, where accident-prone single moms got kidnapped by vengeful ex-cons, where on-the-lam families hid from eco-terrorists, where shady politicians got skewered by picket fences during tornados, where airplanes crashed into holiday parties, where serial killers held pregnant women hostage, where bitchy real estate agents got electrocuted by telephone poles, where...
You get the idea.
Debuting on October 3, 2004, Desperate Housewives, in a way, filled a void left by four sexy women who used to chat and gossip over lunch and see each other through some juicy trials and tribulations. If Sex and the City celebrated the comedic dramas of female, urban singles, then DH went further and celebrated the comedic dramas of female, suburban marrieds (and divorcees). Instead of sitting around a table and supporting each other while sipping cosmos at a trendy Manhattan hotspot, Susan Mayer (Teri Hatcher), Lynette Scavo (Felictity Huffman), Gabrielle Solis (Eva Longora), and Bree Van de Kamp (Marcia Cross) sat around a kitchen counter supporting each other over cups of coffee. And they did more than just cry on each other's shoulders and lend a sympathetic ear. Like the title of the show suggests, every episode consistently featured these women going out of their way to maintain order around the neighborhood and in their homes. Whether it was lying to cover up for a husband's crime, sabotaging a bake sale to get back at a rival, stealing other people's identities to save a life, or corrupting a carpool to avoid walking an extra block in heels, each housewife did whatever it took in order to protect their loved ones and get what they wanted.
While brushing up on the history of femme-centric television, one might discover that gathering around a table to dish about love, lies, and life in general was originally an art perfected by four Miami seniors named Dorothy, Blanche, Rose, and Sophia. The Golden Girls essentially invented the TV Girl-Talk Forum the moment they broke out the cheesecake and sat down to vent their problems. So it may come as no surprise that Marc Cherry, Desperate's creator, had been a writer on the classic sitcom during its last two seasons. The Golden influence on Housewives is evident.
DH also filled another void in prime-time television. It brought back the Nighttime Soap to small screens and tweaked the genre in way that made it more easily digestible for the savvy audiences of the 2000s. It introduced three-dimensional characters we grew to love, placed them in sudsy situations in a believable way, and recognized the absurdity of some of them through delicious one-liners and tongue-in-cheek dialogue that remained consistent throughout the years.
While many complain that the show never regained its mojo after that stellar first season - especially after sitting through the much-maligned second season (Alfre Woodard's got her son locked up in the basement!) - I pity those who were quick to give up and tune out. Having learned their lesson, producers delivered a third and fourth season that reminded loyal followers why they kept coming back to The Lane (new gay neighbors, back-from-the-dead spouses, and Dana Delany, oh my!). Then came the high-profiled stunt for the show's fifth season, that five-year jump into the future. Partners swapped, children grew up, and a new villain moved in (Neal McDonough's bent-on-revenge Dave). As for Season 6, fans were given a double dose of mystery when the Bolen family arrived in town (see Torchwood's John Barrowman get blown up in a Prius!) and the Fairview Strangler terrorized the neighborhood (Poor Eddie!). And the writers must have been getting a little nostalgic when they brought back first-season Man of Mystery Paul Young for the seventh and penultimate season (More revenge! This time with a switched-at-birth twist!).
Clearly the show is a liberal dressed in a conservative's clothing. The fictional and picturesque town of Fairview is located in the conveniently ambiguous "Eagle State" (Anywhere, U.S.A.). It's neither red nor blue but a bold shade of purple, maintaining its appeal to moms in Missouri as well as party boys in West Hollywood. This couldn't be exemplified any more than in Marcia Cross's Bree Van de Kamp, who was modeled after Marc Cherry's very own mother. Bree may be an uptight, church-going, gun-toting Republican with a penchant for pie-making, but she's got a gay son and a less-than-perfect daughter she loves with all her heart.
And now that the groundbreaking dramedy's eighth and final season is hitting the home stretch, I'm sure a retrospective of sorts is being planned for what will most likely be an emotional farewell. I look forward to seeing how this season's mystery, in which all of the ladies have implicated themselves in the murder of Gaby's evil stepfather, will be resolved (In a nifty twist that brings everything full circle, they find themselves in the same situation Mary Alice was in so many seasons ago, particularly Bree). And with March's shocking death of resident beefcake Mike Delfino (series veteran James Denton), the producers and writers have let it be known that they're not playing it safe as the countdown to the finale begins. The final scene in the pivotal episode, in which Mike fell victim to a mob-related drive-by shooting on his doorstep in front of wife Susan (Hatcher), was a gut-wrenching moment for viewers who grew to love the couple after the many ups and downs they endured over the years. And many of those years were poignantly revisited in a flashing montage of clips just as the fatal bullet hit Mike in the chest.
Like many suburban satires before it (American Beauty, The Ice Storm), the Housewives have made their case: Small-town life can be just as scandalous (and dangerous) as any crime-ridden metropolis. Rapists, drug dealers, and murderers aren't downtown - they're residing in that nice 3-bedroom behind your hedges.
Thanks for the memories, ladies (and Mr. Cherry).
Here's to seeing you at the wrap party.