Those who didn’t buy into the hype surrounding Desperate Housewives probably didn’t watch the show long enough—if at all—to tell that ABC had dropped a loaf on our collective Sunday nights. I was suckered in, but I certainly didn’t expect the program would get as old as quickly as it has. Mary Alice Young, a woman whose mysterious death was the first season’s one unbroken plotline, is back for more breathless connect-the-dots narration. The book may be closing on her death (status report: no sign of her husband or Zach, who, it turns out, is really Mike’s son!), but because the producers don’t want to mess too much with the show’s “winning” formula, a new mystery is beginning to unravel—in typically banal, excruciatingly prolonged fashion—for Terri Hatcher’s I-spy detective to solve. Call it Nancy Drew and The Secret Inside My Black Neighbor’s Basement.
The show’s limp-dick satire dictates that naming a black woman living in the ’burbs Betty Applewhite (Alfree Woodard) is cause for the shits and giggles. Betty arrives in Wisteria Lane with her handsome son ($20 the kid is boning someone by mid-season—Edie, Bree’s possibly gay son, Susan’s creepy daughter, it doesn’t matter), and though she puts on a good poker face for the town’s robot women by playing the organ at Rex’s funeral, something sinister lurks beneath. In this case, it’s something big, black and dangerous, and it’s chained up inside her basement! (If I haven’t tuned out just yet it’s because I’m afraid whatever is down there might look a little bit like the Fratelli clan’s deformed son from The Goonies.) I say “it” because the show isn’t going to any pains to humanize this mystery character, at least not yet, although to be fair, it’s probably silly to criticize this new angle for its lack of human dimension given that the show’s characters are as thick as cardboard.
Not a single one of the housewives are showing signs of evolution: Bree (Marcia Cross) is still cold, Gabrielle (Eva Longoria) still thumbs her nose at poverty, Edie (Nicollette Sheridan) is still a slut, and though she’s now wearing the pants in the family, Lynette (Felicity Huffman) is still a control freak. In the single worst scene of the new season, Lynette gives thanks to a dead rat for saving her marriage during a ridiculously long conversation that should have ended after “thanks, little guy.” Huffman is good, but even she can’t sell us on the idea that a woman as smart as Lynette would have such a conversation—and given the actress’s background in theater (Mamet! Shakespeare!), I think it’s safe to say this single moment represents the low point of her career.
I don’t know what’s worse about Desperate Housewives: its contempt for women, its shrill sense of humor, the incessant tinkle of its Elfman-esque score, or its lame attempts at making its Backlot, Hollywood aesthetic seem as if it exists in the real world. In one scene, Susan (Hatcher) opens the door to Mike (James Denton), wind blowing in her face and through her hair. You can’t help but laugh, not because the creators mean to evoke the tableux of a harlequin romance cover, but because they dare to suggest that air actually circulates throughout Wisteria Lane. Do I care how long it’s going to take for Susan to crack the mystery writhing inside Betty’s basement? Not really. I’m just concerned that next season’s hook is going to revolve around an Asian family, a litter of puppies and a box of Korean barbecue. Accused of hawking a lurid form of conservatism, you get a sense Marc Cherry and his cohorts intend to say something profound about suburbia with their outmoded view of womanhood and the places they call home. What that message is I’m not exactly sure, and anyone who tells you otherwise simply doesn’t know shit.