No longer ‘Desperate,’ ‘Housewives’ fades away

Johnny Depp (center), star of the movie version of the ’70s soap “Dark Shadows,” which is reviewed on Page 33, looms over the “Desperate Housewives.”
Johnny Depp (center), star of the movie version of the ’70s soap “Dark Shadows,” which is reviewed on Page 33, looms over the “Desperate Housewives.”
Posted: May 11, 2012

DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES. 9 p.m. Sunday, 6ABC.

I WAS DIGGING out my office last week — before someone called “Hoarders” — and it wasn’t till I’d filled a bin to the very top that I closed the door and noticed, hanging on the back, the “Desperate Housewives” T-shirt in the drycleaners bag, just where I apparently stuck it after ABC sent it, nearly seven years ago, to promote the show’s second season.

Like the T-shirt (which I’ll happily send to the first reader who emails me with his or her name and home address), it’s become easy to overlook “Desperate Housewives,” which wraps up its eighth and final season on Sunday in a two-hour episode.

And easier still to forget there was, however briefly, a time when people talked about what happened onscreen, not just behind the scenes, on the primetime soap about the secrets of suburbia.

In the fall of 2004, when “Desperate Housewives” became an out-of-the-gate-success with an average of more than 21 million viewers a week, one Baltimore Sun writer called it “ABC’s newest reason for Muslims to hate us” and a group touting its own “traditional family values” targeted the show’s advertisers, angry about storylines that included an adulterous affair between one character, Gabrielle Solis (Eva Longoria), and her teenage gardener (Jesse Metcalfe), and the mysterious suicide of the show’s narrator, Mary Alice Young (Brenda Strong).

Other neighbors on Wisteria Lane included Lynette (Felicity Huffman) and Tom Scavo (Doug Savant), whose then-four children were driving their mother to Ritalin, Bree Van De Camp (Marcia Cross), whose obsessive-compulsive tendencies couldn’t tame the messiness of her life, Susan Mayer (Teri Hatcher), a pratfall-prone divorcee with a young daughter, and Edie Britt (Nicollette Sheridan), a real estate agent who was originally meant to be little more than a slutty thorn in Susan’s side.

They were all a lot of fun, and every once in a while, they were believable, even thought-provoking. And with all those millions watching, they helped send a message that women of a certain age could still turn heads while putting ABC, then a fourth-place network, back in the game.

This was mostly, of course, before the tornado, the plane crash, the serial strangler, the guy whose mother (Alfre Woodard) kept him in the basement and the five-year flash-forward that didn’t so much age the actresses as make Lynette’s twin sons even more annoying. I haven’t tracked it by the Nielsens, but I know that as the body count on Wisteria Lane climbed, I personally grew less desperate to even record “Housewives,” much less keep track of its expanding (and occasionally contracting) cast.

And then there were the stories behind the stories, beginning with the 2005 Vanity Fair piece on its photo shoot with the show’s stars in which they were made to sound more like characters from “The Borgias” than women portraying close friends.

Charming as it was to hear creator Marc Cherry recount his comeback story — the onetime sitcom writer’s string of bad luck included an embezzling agent and he’d had to borrow money from his mother before selling the script she’d partly inspired — it seemed less charming when Sheridan, whose character was killed off, sued for wrongful termination. She claimed her character was written out as retaliation for having accused Cherry of striking her in the head in September 2008.

The trial may have ended in a hung jury, but not before exposing the show as what a writer who covered the courtroom proceedings for the Daily Beast called “one of the nastiest workplaces in Hollywood.”

Sunday’s finale will likely deal with a different trial: Bree’s facing a murder charge.

Personally, I’m hoping Tom and Lynette, ever the show’s most realistic couple, will finally mend their broken marriage, theirs being the only plot point to which I felt any connection as I staged a catchup marathon this week.

But if the clearly cursed Wisteria Lane is instead destroyed in an earthquake (or by a plague of locusts), leaving no survivors, we might at least be spared what “Dallas” and “Melrose Place” weren’t: a next-generation reboot that can’t possibly recapture what for a little while, at least, was great television. n

Contact Ellen Gray at 215-854-5950 or graye@phillynews.comor follow on Twitter @elgray.Read her blog at EllenGray.tv.

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