I should offer a warning before I start with my actual review of the first season of “Desperate Housewives”. From about the fourth episode, my wife has been a big fan of the show. I, on the other hand, have not. What this means is I have been exposed to bits and pieces of the show over the season, sometimes overhearing crucial plot points, and sometimes being told them secondhand by my wife, excited enough about the show to want to tell me about it. Because of this, I may not be offering the best review of the season as I could. A person who had not been exposed to some of the major secrets might find the show a bit more captivating and mysterious then I have.
Never has the concept of the soccer-mom been so dangerous as in “Desperate Housewives”, a show that attempts to prove it’s not only men who, as Thoreau put it, “lead lives of quiet desperation”. The neighborhood the housewives live on, Wisteria Lane, is thrown into chaos when one of their premier housewives, Mary Alice Young, puts a gun to her head and commits suicide. Mary Alice lead the perfect life with a beautiful house and family and her friends are caught off guard by her untimely death. This leads them to start looking into her death, especially when they accidentally find a note Mary Alice received the day she died threatening, “I know what you did. It makes me sick. I’m going to tell.” Together the friends start to unearth both the secrets of Mary Alice and each other.
Mary Alice’s former friends offer a variety of the different people who make it into that soccer-mom upper class categorization. As a responsible television show it makes sure all of these people are beautiful though. Lets be honest, the world of television is one that presents someone like Alyson Hannigan as a humble looking person, so why should four leading ladies look less than that, regardless of how many children they have. The more visible inhabitants of Wisteria Lane include...
Susan Mayer (Teri Hatcher) - A divorced mother who creates artwork for children’s books. Although she’s probably the most easily identifiable of the characters, she is a bit dingy from time to time (Susan, not Hatcher) and isn’t above putting her daughter through a bit of risk to try and find out information or score a date with...
Mike Delfino (James Denton) - A single plumber who just happens to keep a cache of money with a pistol in his pantry. While Mike seems like a swell guy, it doesn’t take long to realize there’s more to him then meets the eye (although my wife really likes what meets the eye), which is probably what is noticed most by...
Edie Britt (Nicollette Sheridan) - Susan’s adversary for Mike’s affection. Edie is the neighborhood skank whore; the type that have been in neighborhoods like Wisteria lane ever since finding great popularity on “Melrose Place”. Edie’s house burns down early in the season (like the first episode), forcing her to live with...
Martha Huber (Christine Estabrook) - This nosey busybody gives historical neighbors like Mrs. Ockmonick or Mrs. Kravitz a run for their money. Mrs. Huber seems to be in everybody’s business at one point or another, always rearing her head when she’s least wanted. This makes it amazing she never really comes into play against...
Gabrielle Solis (Eva Longoria) - The neighbor I want living next door to me in a heartbeat. I made my wife a deal: if we ever move into a neighborhood like this she can have Mike Delfino in an instant as long as there is a Gabrielle living in there somewhere. Gabby is a former model, and the only one of the main Housewives without any kids. She makes up for that by sleeping with a high-schooler behind her husband’s extremely broad and strong back. The spoiled rich member of the neighborhood, which is the contrast of...
Lynette Scavo (Felicity Huffman)- You know that family in the middle of Wal-Mart with kids misbehaving badly? The one where the mother seems almost oblivious to how her kids are behaving? That’s Lynette. Only Lynette isn’t oblivious to her children’s behavior, she’s just unable to do anything about it. A Housewife who gave up her successful business career to become a full time mother, and who has regrets about that on an almost daily basis. If anything she strives to be...
Bree Van De Kamp (Marcia Cross) - Look at that name. Would you expect anything less then perfection from someone with that prestigious a name? That’s Bree. Everything about her is meticulous and perfect, from her hand cooked gourmet dinners to her never-a-hair-out-of-place hairdo. Bree would be the Martha Stewart model of perfection if it weren’t for her rebellious teenage children and the fact that her marriage is rapidly falling apart.
Each episode features the four main Housewives (Susan, Gabrielle, Lynette, and Bree) moving forward with whatever problems were uncovered in their lives the previous week, while playing sleuth in regards to Mary Alice’s death. Some of the storylines are actually very interesting, especially Lynette’s problems with her children. The romantic in me also has to admit the relationship between flirting potential lovers Susan and Mike is fun to watch, especially getting to see Susan get the best of Edie (or vice versa in some instances). If there’s one character I just couldn’t give a damn about though it’s Bree. I don’t know what it is about little-miss-perfect that disturbs me but, frankly, I’d be more than happy to see her be the next to put a revolver to her temple.
While the individual storylines are fascinating though, somehow I never got very interested in Mary Alice’s death. As I said before, I did learn many of the secrets of the show through my wife’s interest, so maybe the mystery of Mary Alice’s death is a better storyline then I give it credit for. My wife assures me it’s what kept her tuning in week after week, but I didn’t find it compelling. This is a bit strange, since I’m usually a huge fan of dynamic shows that build on themselves instead of returning to status-quo after each episode. Still, there’s a lot of soap opera in this comedy, and I’ve always felt soap operas tend to think less about a “big picture” and more about how they can screw with their characters and audiences in each subsequent episode.
My massive other complaint about the show also involves the deceased Mary Alice, particularly her narration over every episode. Each episode the audience is presented with Mary Alice’s reflections on what’s going on as compared with her lack of ability to notice things when she was living. What disturbs me about this is not the never-ending bad puns and one liners, but the entire idea of the voice over. Where is Mary Alice speaking from? Is she a ghost? Is she an angel? Since she committed suicide isn’t this opening a door for millions of philosophical and theological debates? What it is, more then any of those things though, is a frustrating way to watch the writers move the story along. By using this disembodied voice we get a reference point from someone who knew these characters well, but since the entire point of the first season was to reveal the secrets of our narrator... well, it provides too many moments of convenience, building suspense by having the narrator gloss over things she knows best of all.
I can see where the draw of “Desperate Housewives” lies for many people. I, however, am not one of those people. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad show, it’s just not my bag. I am assured both by the show’s ratings, and by my wife who is one of those people, that the show is a well done mystery. I’ll just have to take her word for it. It’s too much uninspired drama for me.
There are many shows that are fantastic to watch on DVD because of the ability to watch them in rapid succession. Usually these are suspense type shows like “24” or “Lost” where the mysteries of one show compel the viewer to watch the next one and, on DVD, the viewer gets to do that immediately instead of having to wait a week. This is exactly the type of show “Desperate Housewives” is, however unlike the others being able to watch them in succession isn’t as appealing. Even my wife agrees that perhaps the mystery each show leaves is more interesting with time separating the episodes. So, while DVD allows the viewer to watch the series at their own convenience, watching multiple episodes may not be as interesting as spacing them out.
What the show does have going for it on DVD though is a beautiful anamorphic transfer. As one of “those people” with a widescreen high definition television, I enjoy getting the most use of it I can. Typically I’ll watch television DVDs on a smaller 19” screen, but with this anamorphic image I had to watch it in my home theater. With a pretty good soundtrack as well, the show is entertaining enough for the home theater experience.
Let’s talk about packaging for a second. I’m in love with the “Desperate Housewives” packaging, which features a plastic sleeve over a cardboard case. Here’s the fun part though. On the plastic sleeve are the four primary housewives, wearing white dresses. When you remove the cardboard case, you realize their white dresses are actually from the case. The sleeve only has their faces and limbs painted on it. Thus, when you remove the white case, you are taking off their clothing. Any package that allows me to take Eva Longoria’s clothing off gets bonus points, even if there’s nothing there but see-through plastic once that “clothing” disappears.
The 23 episodes of the series are spread out over six discs, similar to Buena Vista’s recent release of “Lost”. The big difference between the two though, is that “Lost” got a seventh disc to contain all of the bonus material for the set. “Desperate Housewives” gets no such luxury, having to scatter the fair number of extras over its discs. With some of these features, such as extended versions of the episodes, deleted scenes, or commentaries from series creator Marc Cherry, these make sense. For others, it becomes a task to remember which disc contained which feature. There’s an episode listing included for each disc. Perhaps for the second season they could include a list of what bonuses are on which disc as well.
Several of the included featurettes are promotional material that aired on television for the show. The most notable of these is “The New Neighbor”, a segment that puts Oprah Winfrey on Wisteria Lane, giving her the opportunity to talk with each of the characters and unearth some of their secrets. Other featurettes delve into topics fans should love, such as costumes and set designs. Another goes behind the scenes with creator Marc Cherry to dispel my earlier thought about writers not having a “big picture” in soap operas. It turns out, as frightening as it may be, Cherry based many of the events in the show from events in his own life. Still, I’m jealous if he lived next door to a character like Gabrielle.
For fans of the show, the first season DVD release of “Desperate Housewives” should be a welcome addition to their libraries. Having the ability to look back at hints and clues given is always a treat for a mystery, even if the show doesn’t lend itself to rapidly watching several episodes. With the mysteries of the second season coming to television soon, it’s good to be able to review what we have learned about each of the Housewives and how that may tie in to the future.