Desperate Housewives (***)

Posted on October 3rd, 2004 in Television by EngineerBoy

Combine Sex in the City, the Stepford Wives, and The Gilmore Girls, add a dash of Twin Peaks, and you have the recipe for Desperate Housewives, based on what we saw in the pilot tonight. The story focuses on the ladies of the house along a stretch of Wisteria Lane in an unnamed, but hyper-American, upscale suburb. The primary characters run the gamut of stereotypical suburban American ladies, and include the single mom (replete with wise-beyond-her-years teenage daughter), the Martha Stewart-esque “perfect” housewife (replete with desperately unhappy husband and children), the former model who married for money (and regularly gets her lawn trimmed by the yard boy, if you know what I mean, and I think you do), the former high-powered executive who abandoned corporate life to become a full-time mom (replete with three little boys who make the Tasmanian Devil look like a narcoleptic sloth overdosing on Ritalin), and the divorced slut.

The pilot was entertaining, sly, surprising, and quirky…things that I like. To those of you who understand what this means, you can understand everything you need to know about this show by hearing that the theme music is done by Danny Elfman.

The pilot sets the stage for the series with a voice-over by one of the ladies. She happens to be the one who appears to be the most strong and the most normal of the bunch. Things kick into gear when she promptly commits suicide. Her voice-over persists after her death, and provides running commentary on the goings-on of the neighborhood, while providing only tantalizing clues as to the reasons for her self-off-age. Suffice it to say that it wasn’t because of suburban malaise, or anything else mundane and/or every day. The reasons for her suicide are hinted at by the end of the pilot episode, but nothing is revealed or explained.

There’s also a new guy on the block, a single plumber who is renting one of the houses. He may or may not be more or less than he seems, but I couldn’t quite figure out how a plumber could afford to live on this street (notwithstanding what they charge).

Round things out with one of the wives attempting to kill her husband (maybe accidentally, maybe not, but she does apologize to him), and one of the husbands taking a pickaxe to the bottom of his drained pool to dig up…who knows what…and you have a pretty good idea of what’s going on with this series.

The stories go in unexpected directions, the show is funny (but isn’t a comedy), some of the situations are textbook soap opera (but it isn’t a soap), bizarre things happen (but it’s not The X-Files), and several crimes are committed (but it’s not a police procedural). It’s an interesting mix of all of these things, and more, and the pilot was very interesting and entertaining. Based on buzz, we had set TiVo to record the pilot, and we have now set up a Season Pass to be sure we get all the episodes. If they live up to the standards of the pilot, this should be an excellent show.

The only thing I don’t like about Desperate Housewives is that it’s so quirky, strange, original, and entertaining that it’s almost guaranteed to get cancelled. Unfortunately, and I don’t mean to generalize here, the American network TV viewing public are pretty much a bunch of easily spooked sheep who quiveringly cling to the middle-of-the-road, who just want to get their Survivor on and don’t really want anything that challenges their intellect or sensibilities. This show will do both.

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