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Sunday, September 25, 2011

Desperate Housewives: The Final Season

As we head into the final season of “Desperate Housewives,” I plan to savor every moment. I will openly admit that I am once again infuriated with ABC's decision to end the show this season. You see, "Desperate Housewives" was never clearly defined as a soap opera. The show's audience was far more diverse than ABC ever bothered to research. At UPBEAT Entertainment News Syndicate, we discovered that everyone from construction workers to professional athletes were GLUED to every single moment of this brilliant show. It never ever wavered from its title, "Desperate + Housewives", a combination of words that would prove to provide endless possibilities in terms of story. And over the last 7 years, we were NEVER left disappointed nor were we able to guess what was coming just around the corner. The plots were intricately woven to allow the audience to be taken on a ride, one that we feel should never end.

When it first premiered, I found it positively hilarious that everyone over at ABC was shocked at the success of "Desperate Housewives". It was SO NOT about the infusion of the soap opera genre or being 40-something [an audience all but ignored for the past 10 years]. It was about the irony of the hypocrisy of being a housewife; it was a show satirizing the supposed duplicity of placid suburbia and its emotionally turbulent underbelly while "mocking" an old Glen Campbell song.

For reasons far too irrelevant to go into— one of the few albums my parents let us listen to on family car rides was Glen Campbell's Witchita Lineman. Don't ask and I won't tell. It's not a bad album, but one song on there, The Dreams of the Everyday Housewife, was the kind of prepubescent consciousness-raising tool free to be… You and me could only wish it were. The song starts off clocking the everyday housewife's physical deterioration—

She looks in the mirror and stares at the wrinkles
That weren't there yesterday

Then it swings through verses detailing how the housewife makes it through the day— by pretending her apron is the ball gown she wore in her swinging single days, and by obsessively flipping through the scrapbooks she compiled back when she enjoyed her life. These verses are punctuated with the chorus—

Oh, such are the dreams of the everyday housewife
You see everywhere any time of the day
An everyday housewife
Who gave up the good life for me

I swear that song ought to have come with its own complimentary copy of The Feminist Mystique. Whatever the intended effect of the song, I came away from it determined not to spend my adulthood segregated from other grownups and reduced to poring over old photo albums lest I also be tempted to gargle with Windex. Despite later evidence that housewives were not, in fact, confined to the house, I still never shook my ambivalence about housewifery in general. A lot of people evidently listened to Glen Campbell or arrived at their uneasy regard of stay-at-home housewives and mothers by other means— a survey of articles in major publications over the last 18 months shows everyone from the New York Times to the Wall Street Journal discussing what my mother used to call "domestic engineering"— why people choose it, whether they're happy with it, how it affects the economy, whether it should even be a choice at all. Does it really matter? No.

To its credit, "Desperate Housewives" was always self-aware enough to at least be aware of these questions, even if it didn't bother to address them. The pilot— which was one of the most deftly executed inaugural episodes I've seen— was up front about the moneyed bubble in which all of its women floated. These housewives weren't desperate the way a young mother forced to feed a family of four on an E-2 salary might be. They were pinned by their own anomie.

In other words, this show was rapidly shaping up to be a peek at the lives of people upon whom we secretly wish plenty of juicy problems, served with a neat twist of self-conscious irony. These people appeared to have everything in life. So, let them all suffer. "Desperate Housewives" played up our darker desires to feel better at the expense of other people's personal train wrecks by giving us desperate divorcee Susan [Teri Hatcher], disgruntled trophy wife Gabrielle [Eva Longoria], manic Martha Stewart-esque Bree [Marcia Cross] and the trapped fertility goddess Lynnette [Felicity Huffman]. Over the course of the past seven seasons, they were all basically "put-upon" to some degree or another. They were all constrained by the exact kind of social pressure that hazing frat boys would find oppressive. Toss in a massive web of turmoil, twists, turns and mayhem to incite an explosion... and folks… we had lift off.

Okay, so the final season— the season eight opener (8:00 p.m. tonight on ABC) springs from what I believe is a fallacy: The “housewives” feel they have to hide the slaying of an intruder, namely Gaby's abusive stepfather, in order to keep the friend who killed him, Gaby's husband Carlos (S.A.'s Ricardo Antonio Chavira), from going to prison. Yet the act was clearly one of defense; Carlos hit him with a candlestick to protect his wife (part-time Alamo City resident Eva Longoria) from an assault. Despite this weak premise, the episode rolls along quite nicely, with loads of humor and moments of poignancy. We're also introduced to a sexy new neighbor, Ben Faulkner (Charles Mesure, “V”), who immediately catches the eye of Renee (Vanessa Williams).

The plot: It's been months since that fateful dinner party, which ended with Lynette, Gaby, Bree and Susan burying the aforementioned body and making a pact that no one would breathe a word of this “secret.” This causes all kinds of guilt-induced problems for our quartet, not to mention Carlos.

Given that this is “Desperate Housewives,” much of it occurs in the bedroom. Carlos' libido has been affected— so much so, in fact, that he dreads bedtime. Sleepless Susan (Teri Hatcher) forgoes her favorite bedroom activities with Mike to jump out of bed early to do what she normally dreads— cleaning. Lynette ( Felicity Huffman), now separated from Tom ( Doug Savant), brings on more emotional confusion when she has a nightmare about the dead man and jumps back in the arms— for one night, anyway— of her estranged husband.

The only one who seems to be thriving in the boudoir is Bree (Marcia Cross), who uses sex to distract new boyfriend Chuck (Jonathan Cake), a homicide detective.

It's ironic that the funniest sequence results from another death— of a hamster named Cupcake. Susan, who is called in to substitute teach an elementary class, recoils in horror when she learns she has to bury the remains of a hamster. Conjuring up the upsetting night of that other burial, she waxes poetically about the animal— and his grieving family and friends— while the kids look on, bewildered.

Then there's what struck me as a tribute to the old “Dallas”: a fight at a barbecue that ends up in the swimming pool. I'm also looking forward to scenes involving Brenda Strong (who married an S.A. man and said she frequently visits her in-laws here). Strong, alias narrator Mary Alice Young, told TV Guide that this season will revisit the day Mary Alice— who was pushed to the brink after harboring a deadly secret of her own— committed suicide. These memories may or may not teach some important lessons to the other “Desperate Housewives.”

So why cancel a show that has continued to pull in more than just a "target demographic"? We have our own theories. Perhaps the drama which "allegedly" had been going on behind the scenes (with Nicolette Sheridan and Marc Cherry being the topic of controversy) became far too overwhelming for the rest of the cast and crew to continue. Maybe they simply wanted to go out with a bang not a whimper. Whatever the case, make no mistake about to, "Desperate Housewives" will be sorely missed. And the forty-something audience will again be left to roam through the multitude of cable offerings to hopefully discover something even remotely similar. Our hats are off to EVERYONE at "Desperate Housewives", from Season One on... they deserve nothing less than a pile of Emmys, heartfelt thank-yous, and as much praise as anyone can muster up.