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In an episode of “Arrested Development,” George-Michael follows his quasi-girlfriend Ann to the home of “Desperate Housewives” creator Marc Cherry. Ann’s church group holds picket signs and chants slogans decrying the perceived indecency of the show while Cherry looks out the window and calls out in a pleading voice…..”It’s SATIRE!” The relevance of this reference to the release of “Desperate Housewives - Season 2: The Extra Juicy Edition” is nil. However, I always like to give a shout out to “Arrested Development,” a much better show than the wildly popular “Desperate Housewives” but unfairly cancelled. So, enough of my whining, onto the DVD.
Giving plot summaries of soap operas is a tricky business. And make no mistake, despite high falutin’ comments from its creator and stars about Thoreau’s “lives of quiet desperation,” “Desperate Housewives” owes much to previous prime-time soaps like “Dallas,” “Dynasty” and “Falcon Crest.” The plots deal with beautiful people involved in sex, murder, betrayal, and generally behaving badly towards one another. The only difference is rather than occurring in mansions and vineyards they take place on a “typical” suburban street. This street, Wisteria Lane, is only typical if you live on a street where the murder rate is higher than West Baltimore during the height of the drug war. Also, if all of your neighbors look like current or former underwear models, if all the kids carry guns and know how to use them, and if no one seems to actually do any work (unless, of course, it advances the plot.)
The basic story lines involve the four main Housewives, Susan (Teri Hatcher), Lynette (Felicity Huffman), Bree (Marcia Cross), and Gabrielle (Eva Longoria.) Susan deals primarily with tangled relationships, including her ex-husband, plumber boyfriend (who both live on her street), and her doctor. Lynette goes back to work while her husband stays at home with their four kids. Eventually, he joins her firm causing some conflict at work and at home. Bree buries her husband Rex, who died last season, and takes up with her pharmacist, who is not all he appears to be. She also develops a substance abuse habit and gets more out of AA than she bargained for. Gabrielle tries to get her husband Carlos out of jail and has to fight to keep him away from a local nun and their Chinese maid.
The main Housewives are supported not only by their various husbands, boyfriends, and families, but Edie (Nicolette Sheridan) as Susan’s rival and the current girlfriend of Susan’s ex-husband, and Betty (Alfre Woodard) who keeps a secret locked up in her basement... literally. The supporting players are very good, but Woodard seems way out of place here, both as an actress and a character. Her section isn’t particularly humorous and when the secrets of her basement are revealed, the tendency is to shrug, rather than gasp. Brenda Strong returns to narrate (and appear in flashbacks) as deceased neighbor Mary Alice, leading to one of my pet peeves when watching this set. It’s possible that when you watch the show weekly, Strong’s narration seems clever, but after watching two or three episodes in a row, you wish you could rip your ears off. What is supposed to sound witty and cutting is just annoying. By episode five I was fingering the mute button whenever her voice rang out.
The shows themselves are pretty funny at times (as Cherry says “It’s SATIRE.”) Huffman and Hatcher especially are strong comic actors and anchor their plot stories pretty well, but the show weakens when it has to focus on the other main Housewives (especially Longoria.) For some reason, most of the season has little interaction between the four main characters. They have one or two brief meetings at some point in each others' episodes, but are almost never involved in each others' plots. In fact, it was episode 11 before two of the main four women interacted on a main plot point (a stupid one involving Longoria kissing Huffman’s husband.) This means at least 50% of each show drags on until Hatcher and Huffman show up to spice up their sections.
Supposedly Cherry is returning to a more hands on role in Season 3 and promises to restore the show to the heights of its breakout Season 1. Hopefully that will result in the Housewives interacting more, which was reportedly one of the things that propelled the show the first year. This appears to be the typical sophomore slump, when the originality of the first year has worn off but the show has yet to hit its long term stride.
The DVD is entitled “Extra Juicy” and we all know what that means: nudge, nudge, wink, wink, say no more. It means there is no god-damn commentaries, that’s what it means. Twenty-four episodes and not one episode commentary in the bunch. Creator Marc Cherry reportedly was too busy to fully watch over Season 2, so maybe that carried over to the lack of commentaries, but what about the tons of actresses (or actors), writers, directors, line producers, costumers, and the like? Was it a money issue or is there some other reason why they wouldn’t be added. There is an extra called “Cherry-Picked” which shows Cherry’s favorite scenes with his commentary added, so that’s a nice treat, but doesn’t really make up for the lack of a few episode length commentaries.
The 24 episodes are spread out over five discs, with the sixth disc reserved for all the bonus materials. This is a great set-up, making it easier to find an extra without having to scan through several discs of episodes. The volume of extras is pretty impressive, but a lot of it seems like filler, nothing really jumping out as saying “buy me, buy me.” Also, nothing comes across as “Extra Juicy.” Marc Cherry shows up in a brief featurette with his mom and discusses his upbringing. After a comment by either Cherry or his mom, a clip from the show is run, implying that the activities of the Housewives are based on Cherry’s experience growing up. The connections are tenuous, but it’s a nice little feature. Another featurette shows director Larry Shaw bringing one episode to the small screen. You get some background info on how the writing process works and how ideas get included or rejected.
My favorite piece of filler is a featurette which features comments about the show from both the stars and “iconic TV moms.” The choices must have been slim pickings, because in addition to Marion Ross and some others, they have the mom from “Growing Pains” and “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.” Not exactly “iconic.” Everyone seems to be going along with the theme that old TV shows didn’t portray mothers realistically, all pearls and dinners at six, whereas “Desperate Housewives” shows more what it is like to live in suburbia. Huh? Murder, pratfalls, witty one-liners? The show isn’t any more realistic than “Happy Days” or “Father Knows Best” it just pushes the whole thing to the other extreme. Still, it’s fun to see the plastic surgery of the older stars.
There is a nice selection of deleted scenes and the prominently hyped “never-aired storylines.” These are just one episode sub-stories for two of the characters that were shot but not included in the final show. It’s really just deleted scenes with another name. Since this is a chick-friendly show, the clothing gets its own featurette. Also, there is a section called “Juicy Bites” where the stars mention their favorite “juicy” scenes. The whole thing lasts under three minutes and mostly allows them to show the few times someone on the show is in their underwear.
One thing that bugged me about the set was the lack of a good summary of Season 1 among the extras. It would have been nice to sit down and get brought up to speed on who was doing what with whom when. I guess they figure anyone who watches the set would be familiar with Season 1. There is a “The Whole Story” promo which supposedly tells what happened in Season 1, but it is really just a 60 second television commercial and the summary is so quick and cutesy, it’s of no help to anyone who hasn’t already seen Season 1. They also don’t do a good job selling Season 3 to the people who buy the set. There isn’t much teaser info in the set; a sneak peak at storylines would have been a nice addition.
The lack of commentaries really makes this a hard set to recommend enthusiastically, but the episodes look and sound great, the packaging is done well, and there is some behind the scenes stuff that is good for the more than casual fan. A nice pick-up for the hard core fans of the show, but nothing anyone else needs to bother with.
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