Friday, October 3, 2014

'Desperate Housewives' Tenth Anniversary: An Appreciation

Before there was Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder, ABC debuted Marc Cherry's Desperate Housewives, a sudsy tribute to women that forced everyone to ask: how much do we want to know about our neighbors? I remember opening my Entertainment Weekly, and a two page ad featuring all of the women welcomed me on the inside cover. I knew I had to watch this show, and I didn't even know what it was about. Desperate Housewives celebrates its 10th anniversary today.  

At the time of its debut, there was nothing really like it on television. Nighttime soap operas like Dynasty and Dallas hadn't been around since the late 1980's, and Housewives tapped into a genre that was prime for a resurgence. Cherry originally stated that his inspiration for the show was combination of "American Beauty and Knots Landing," and the four women at the center made it instantly watchable.  

Of the four women, I had always loved Marcia Cross' Bree Van de Kamp. Perhaps it was my burgeoning love of redheads at the time, but I had never seen Cross before. Her clipped way of speaking and her obsessive household precision made me love her. Bree's outward projection of how life should be always felt like what the show was about. She kept a sunny demeanor on the outside, but inside she was grappling to keep control of her husband and her two kids who were slowly distancing themselves from her. Bree represented the manicured lawns and the spotless kitchens, but behind Cross's beautiful porcelain face was fear, desperation, and loneliness.  I wish someone would cast Cross in something, because I miss watching her so much. There is so much about Bree that would make me not like her (she's very religious and a proud card-carrying member of the NRA), but she was always my favorite of the four main housewives.

When the show debuted in 2004, I remember that everyone was talking about it. It was before I ever got a DVR or was versed in watching television, so I never watched Housewives during its original run. I borrowed the first season from my college friend Ryan (also a Bree enthusiast), and I was instantly hooked. Interestingly enough, I didn't tune into the second season on television. I purposely waited until each season was on DVD, and I binged it as soon as I got home. Desperate Housewives was quite literally the first show I binge-watched. Sorry, Netflix. 

The first season centered on the mystery of why their friend Mary Alice shot herself, and it peeled back the curtain of these women's lives. Why everyone continued to live on Wisteria Lane is a mystery, because everything happened on that street. The yearly "disaster episode" was always one of the season's highlights, but it's quite surprising that none of these characters decided to move off the Lane. A tornado touched down...convicts moved in...houses burned to the ground...people were shot, strangled, and run down more on Desperate Housewives than any show on television. It was addicting. 

Subsequent episodes were criticized for not living up to anything in the first season. While the first season remains the best (mainly because it was so fresh and different), other seasons are pretty darn good. The show always worked the best when Susan, Bree, Gabby and Lynette were on a united front, but their own storylines got too much criticism. Did audiences want them solving crimes every season like some soccer mom version of Scooby-Doo? There are people who abandon shows and then all they do is talk badly about them. Everyone does it, but Housewives didn't deserve it. In its fifth season, Cherry turned the show on its head by flash forwarding the action five years. It breathed new life into the show and also gave them five years of back story to work with. It was a genius move. You know, shows do sometimes drop in quality, but no one gives them credit when they have a comeback.  

People might argue that the women aren't likable characters, but I say bring on more unlikable people, male or female. Lynette Scavo was constantly challenging her husband on the roles of men and women in the workplace, but a lot of people viewed her as uncompromising or bitchy. If a man did the same thing, it would be a power play, and the show addresses the roles of men vs. women throughout the entire show. Sometimes people can't see it amid all the scandal or salacious details. Desperate Housewives celebrated women going after what they wanted whether it be a high-powered job or just the hot man down the street. Roles for women are much better in television right now than they are on film, and Housewives was full of women who went after what they wanted. Sex and the City was on around the same time as Housewives, and they are two very different (and very good) representations of women at the forefront of television.

Coincidentally, I re-watched the last season of the show, and when it was over, I re-watched the pilot. It holds up very well, and I love it as much as I did when I first saw it. It's glossy, but is that bad? It's fun to watch these women bounce off of each other while they navigate their lives. 

Suburbia is a dangerous place, and you can call these women desperate if you want to. I would watch them uncover secrets and lies and make fools of themselves over and over. Wisteria Lane had its picket fences and perfect sunny days, but the dark ones and the dangerous secrets were addicting.

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