Here I go again. Another retrospective! 2004 was just such a great year for new shows. Deadwood, Veronica Mars, Entourage…My favorite of them all was LOST, but right there with it was another ABC debut: a delicious prime-time soap known as Desperate Housewives.
Equal parts hilarious, emotional, and macabre, Housewives scratched an itch in tv viewers they didn’t know they had. Particularly that of the dark underbelly of suburbia. This is by no means new territory, and DH seemed to take its best cues from The Stepford Wives and American Beauty, but there was something undeniably addictive about the tales on Wysteria Lane, and it must say something that a dude like myself never missed a Sunday in 8 seasons.
“Guilty” (1×08) is one of Housewive’s greatest episodes, and that is because it is representative of the impetus of the entire concept of the series:
In an interview with EW.com, Housewives creator Marc Cherry stated, “One night we were watching the trial coverage of Andrea Yates, the depressed Texas mother who drowned her five children in the bathtub. I turned and said to my mom, ‘Gosh. can you imagine a woman being so desperate she would resort to an action?’ My mother took her cigarette out of her mouth and said, ‘I’ve been there.’ That was an astonishing comment to me. She started telling me stories about how desperate she had felt while alone on a farm in Oklahoma with three small children. It suddenly occured to me: If my mother has had feelings like that, then every woman has had those feelings. I thought, ‘I need to write about this.’”
And with that, the pilot’s very first scene opens with Mary Alice turning a pistol on herself, only to become the pitch-perfect, elegant, omnipresent narrator of the entire series. Over the years, the strongest theme to take away from the show is that of sisterhood. Not unlike something one might have gotten from Sex and the City, Desperate Housewives’ quartet of women shared an unbreakable bond that went beyond just being neighbors. They truly felt like sisters to me, and I loved each of them equally, with no true favorite. It is impossible to imagine the show without any one of them.
For a blog that’s a little different, I thought I’d throw together a series of groupings, that I think cover the best (and worst) of this series in some fun ways. There were 4 primary housewives, so there will be 4 primary nominees (some may be more) spread across 15 categories, and concluding with my take on the 15 best episodes of the series. Yes, this is a Desperate Housewives super-blog, and I can’t think of a better way to take another trip down
memory Wisteria lane!
SPOILERS FOR THE ENITER SHOW TO FOLLOW
We’ll start with our starring cast. You know how there are 4 basic food groups? Well I believe there are 4 basic elements that defined Desperate Housewives: Humor, Drama, Toughness, and Sex Appeal. And while each of the ladies excelled at all of them, each lady also had one in particular, they were especially good at. In this way, each Housewife represented a characteristic of the show:
I can’t help but start with something that was hard to ignore. These women are beautiful. Never thought I’d be into the cougar thing, but Desperate Housewives made the concept very appealing. With the exception of Lynette, all the ladies found themselves showing a little skin more often than they probably needed to. But I’m not complaining!
Personal Pick: Gaby Solis
Eva Longoria is hard to deny as the babe of the block. The first actress cast, she was the youngest housewife, and a former model. As a weapon, Gaby was never afraid to play up her sex appeal.
The second of four characteristics, that I think make up the life of the show, was how the ladies handled desperate situations. There wasn’t a day that went by where someone didn’t need to be sneaky or underhanded, or outsmart, or flat-out threaten someone who got in their way. How tough the housewives got is why this show was so juicy.
Personal Pick: Bree Van de Camp
If there was one Housewife I didn’t want to screw with, it would probably be Bree! Tightly-wound, card-carrying member of the NRA, Marcia Cross brilliantly portrayed a bit of a darker streak in her than the other ladies, and even abandoned her own son!
Humor was everything. One of the things that made DH such a breath of fresh air was how funny these women could be (and how outrageous the situations got). I’ll never forget when Lynette ate the marijuana brownies, or Bree shooting George’s speaker. Every housewife has gotten some gut-busting moments, with Gaby and Susan in particular being highlights for seasons on end.
Personal Pick: Susan Mayer
It’s a close call, but Teri Hatcher seemed to almost exclusively get the humorous storylines, and so for sheer number of funny situations, I gotta give it to her. Klutzy Susan was a riot. Getting locked out naked cements her in Housewives history.
MOST DRAMATIC HOUSEWIFE
For as tough, or sexy, or funny as these women needed to be, to bring viewers back, it all came down to great drama to keep us watching. Gaby has had to both lose a child and give one up. Susan crying after Mike in her wedding dress? Unforgettable. And Bree’s alcoholism and continuous husband woes were heartbreaking.
Personal Pick: Lynette Scavo
Sympathy. Misery. Reserve. Nothing quite breaks me to my core like the work Felicity Huffman does as Lynette. Children issues, friction with Tom, there was no plot too big or too small that she couldn’t knock out of the park. And getting the big C pretty much trumps anything the other ladies ever dealt with.
Now we are going to get into the supporting players. A well-rounded cast makes for a well-rounded neighborhood, and it makes the whole show come alive. It was a delight to watch our leading ladies play off such talented supporting actors, both young and old.
THE 5TH HOUSEWIFE
Even though Susan, Bree, Lynette, and Gaby made up the core 4 leads, Edie was always a 5th housewife to stir up the circle, and after her departure, the role was filled by a revolving door of new faces. Katherine Mayfair feuded with just about every woman on the block, Angie Bolen was mysterious for just season 6, and uber-diva Renee Perry capped off the last 2 years.
Personal Pick: Edie Britt
How could I go with anyone but Edie? The man-eating foil to innocent Susan, when Edie wasn’t playing poker with the girls, she was sometimes even a bit of a villain. The show was never quite the same without Nichollette Sheridan.
In the case of Desperate Housewives, behind every woman is a good man, and DH had a quartet of unsung heroes that kept the peace (or disrupted it) at home. Even Orson, who only started dating Bree in season 3, was a mainstay that brought a lot to the Van de Camp plotline over the years.
Personal Pick: Tom Scavo
While Carlos was in and out of prison and Mike was in and out of comas, Tom was the most consistent, and thoroughly likeable husband on the show by a mile. How about in episode 6×05 when he tells Roy he lets Lynette control him so she can feel safe. A true epiphany and his finest moment.
All the housewives were, of course mothers too and parenting told us as much about the ladies as any of their other antics. But the kids themselves were a handful, particularly the girls. Mother/daughter relationships were a huge theme on Housewives, and even though Gaby got in the game late (thanks to the 5-year jump), she got teenage headaches of her own in dealing with Carlos’ niece Ana.
Personal Pick: Juanita Solis
Julie seemed like a know-it all, and at 10, Kayla was a bitch in the making. Ana was stuck up, and Danielle was as much of a shit as brother Andrew. The only daughter that I genuinely enjoyed was chubby little Juanita, who was hilarious for her age.
OTHER SERIES REGULARS
I’d be remiss if I didn’t shout out a little love to everyone else (my favorite peripheral cast probably since the citizens of Springfield on The Simpsons). Rex, Bree’s first husband from season 1 was a bit of a jerk, but he’s nothing compared to Susan’s ex, Karl- a lawyer and full on tool (I mean this with love). Karen McClusky was the perfect old lady curmudgeon on the block, and when couple Bob and Lee moved in, they gave a great outsider’s perspective to the madness in Fairview.
Okay, time for a detour. I’m going to kind of rant about some of the things I didn’t like about Desperate Housewives- because let’s face it, it wasn’t perfect. DH did a lot of things right, but they also did some things badly. This was a show that went from being a #1 phenomenon to taking a ratings hit year after year. We can look at some of the reasons why.
DUMBEST SHORT-TERM STORYLINES
Every once in a while there were plots that popped up that just made me go “What?” and not in the good way. Mercifully, they were arcs that only lasted about half the season or less. And deservedly, they were storylines that most fans completely forget about when looking back on the show. But they happened, and they were awful.
Like Mike’s coma, and then his amnesia. Amnesia. The worst possible thing television does to its characters. A lazy tv trope to create false drama that is a huge writing pet peeve of mine. But I guess Desperate Housewives wouldn’t be a soap without one. And during this amnesia, Susan was running around with some British twat named Ian. The idea wouldn’t have been so bad if Terri Hatcher had even an ounce of chemistry with Dougray Scott. Less offensive was mustached twin Preston Scavo coming home with a beautiful, gold-digging wife. None of that sentence even makes sense as I type it. Go figure this was from season 6 (which I will get to later). Lastly, out of nowhere, at the end of Season 7, Gabrielle’s sexual predator step-dad pops back into her life. Why a child molester would stalk an adult years later is beyond me, but this creep was super lame. At least his murder lead to a pretty good storyline for the final season (I’ll get to that later, too).
DUMBEST LONG-TERM STORYLINES
Tougher to sit through were the bad plots that lasted all year long- and in some cases across a couple seasons. I did not look forward to visiting the storylines that stunk up episode after episode for extended periods of time. Unfortunately, these are harder to forget; DH lowlights that even objectively have to be seen as just bad television.
Like Carlos losing his sight. Ridiculous. A consequence of the tornado episode, we had to suffer through Gaby’s husband having to be blind for what seemed like forever. This was never convincing or believable, and while we’re all thankful he got his sight back (huh?), it just further highlights how pointless it was to lose it in the first place. You wouldn’t be a Housewife husband without taking abuse on this show, and Orson was crippled after the infamous plane crash (kinda) hit him. Yes, it is just as absurd as it sounds. Sadly, Orson did not get revived like Carlos did, and was an invalid for the remainder of the series. More realistic, yes, but it did a terrible number on the Bree segments of the show.
Confession: I never liked the pizzeria. Never. Tom’s bright idea was a new location for the cast in season 3, but it just never rang true to the characters for me, and also housed the hated almost-affair Lynette entertained. And then you have the Applewhites… The season 2 mystery of a retarded guy locked in a basement did not go over well, but even worse was the negative subtext- the neighborhood became uncomfortable because a black family moved in. I know the show didn’t mean this on purpose, but the racial connotations made many, including myself, uncomfortable, and some say, Desperate Housewives never recovered.
THE WORST THING ABOUT SEASON 6…
But as bad/embarrassing as DH’s sophomore slump was, it was nothing compared to the fiasco that was season 6- what I believe to be the worst year of Desperate Housewives.
Terrorists posing as a family. That should do it right there. But if you want more, there was Eddie, the Fairview Strangler, Sam, Rex’s illegitimate son, Katherine randomly turning into a lesbian (after 2 ex husbands, and being so obsessed with Mike? Ok..), and Dominic and young Julie having an affair, the blackmailing RN. The earlier mentioned Preston and Irina engagement. Orson in the wheelchair. Killing off Karl. Ana the bitch. The Susan’s-in-a-fat-suit episode. I just can’t do it.
Now Season 6 wasn’t all bad. I really did like Drea DeMatteo as Angie. She was tough but sensitive. A love interest, Roy, was brought in for Mrs McCluskey and they hit it off. Dana Delany was still killing it as Katherine, despite her cray-cray storylines. And Bree’s affair with Karl was a ton of fun. But that disaster of a finale, which saw a bomb re-wired, Lynette go into labor as she was being held hostage (yay for clichés), by the very serial killer she took in, and a baby switcheroo, pretty much embodied how over the top DH had got up to that point.
Now, let’s switch gears again, and get back to the good stuff. This next section is going to look at some of the better aspects of the show. Namely, the stuff that was water-cooler worthy. If Desperate Housewives was known for one thing, it was known for how juicy it was. Here are some of the plots and characters that got audiences buzzing.
Naturally, There were a lot of steamy relationships on DH- too many to narrow down to just 4. But aside from Susan’s sexual romps with painter Jackson, or Renee’s steamy flirtation with Aussie Ben, re-watching the show has made me notice one main thing: Bree was a player! After Rex died, she’d see her share of action, but outside of the stability of Orson Hodge, her main affairs came from Keith, a handyman 20 years her junior, Chuck the police detective investigating her own cover up, and her best friend Susan’s ex husband, Karl!
Personal Pick: Gaby and John the Gardner
For my money, there’s nothing like the O.G. scandal that got people talking. Saucy Gabrielle was getting tossed by her own teenage gardener, and the risk of getting caught by temperamental Carlos was too delicious to miss.
It’s odd to think about a series like this having characters you could classify as “villains”, but that’s exactly what we got for 8 seasons. Evil doers, malcontents, and just some straight up sketchy figures- almost all of them hiding behind smiles (and isn’t that the definition of sinister?)
In my most extended category, I’d included antagonists both big and small. George the pharmacist and the Applewhites from season 2, Mayor Victor Lang from S3, late-season pop ups, Wayne and Patrick from seasons 4 and 6 respectively…and Dave Williams’ vengeance quest from season 5, a slow burn that I think plays a lot better upon revisit.
Personal Pick: Paul Young
Was there really anyone else? Paul Young was a fantastic prime suspect in the first season’s main mystery. But even after he was incarcerated (after being wrongfully accused), in season 7 he returned with a plot to destroy the entire lane. Truly maniacal stuff.
What drives good television better than a great rivalry? Desperate Housewives has mixed and matched many type-A personalities to create some deviously fun results. Often they are in battle with guest stars, but almost all the housewives have butted heads with themselves at one point or another. These are my favorite 4:
- Susan vs. Edie (seasons 1-5) Basically her entire time on the show, Edie tormented poor Susan. The fought over the same men, and even burned each other’s houses down!
- Gaby vs. the nun (season 2) Sister Mary Bernard pulling Carlos away from Gaby was a cute little storyline, that came to an unforgettable catfight in “There’s Something About a War”.
- Bree vs. Katherine (seasons 4 and 5) The fun fact is that Dana Delany was up for the role of Bree. But this worked out so much better, Bree had never needed to contest an equal before.
- Paul Young vs. Felicia Tilman (seasons 2 and 7). This was just like watching two villains go at it. Felicia wanted revenge for what Paul did to her sister. From cutting off her fingers, to planting her daughter as his wife, Tilman was relentless.
TOP SEASON MYSTERIES
Desperate Housewives’ lifeblood was the season mystery. Often driven by murder or some tragic history, the past came back to haunt Wisteria Lane in some surprisingly creative ways. As we’ve already discussed, some of these mysteries fell flat. But at least half of the 8 seasons had a solid through-line to work with. Here they were:
- Mary Alice’s Suicide (season 1). The note and the nosey neighbor. A prime suspect in Paul Young. A troubled teen in Zach. Nothing beats the first season’s mystery box.
- The truth about Orson (season 3). Before marrying dentist Orson Hodge, Bree needed answers- about running over Mike, about his ex (and his mom). And it was too much!
- The Dylan Mayfair secret (season 4). An ex-cop, a dead baby, and the most surprising twist in the show’s run. Katherine’s family intrigued in a way the Applewhites never could.
- The Housewives’ cover up (season 8). Creepy step-dad Alejandro may have sucked, but after his death, the girls finally find themselves directly involved in the season’s mystery for their final year.
And finally, we come to the best episodes of Desperate Housewives. I wanted a Top 10, but I had to expand, because there was some great stuff I just didn’t want to miss. I certainly had an idea which my favorites would be, but after rewatching the entire series, a lot changed. Some episodes are stronger on second viewings. Others are actually weaker. Some of the most memorable only really had one moment and the rest is just filler. While some underappreciated gems run on all cylinders from beginning to end. We’ve got finales, we’ve got the ‘event’ episodes…but most importantly, we’ve got the 15 finest hours of one of the best shows of the past 10 years. Enjoy!
15. A Spark to Pierce the Dark (5×18)
This one is known mostly for being the episode that killed off fan favorite Edie. Nicholette Sheridan was infamously on her way out of the show, so I’m not sure how much of a surprise this was. The episode itself is rather mundane (don’t get me started on Orson’s kleptomania) until the big ending. The car crash is great, but the electrocution feels like overkill (and it looked silly). Still, there’s no denying this episode’s popularity.
14. You Take for Granted (8×16)
It’s another major death, and this time, it’s Susan’s long-time love, Mike Delfino. I still kind of resent that the show killed him off- hadn’t they put him through enough over the years? And the fact that it was some random loan sharks tied to Ben’s dumb construction storyline makes me madder. but I shouldn’t ignore the fact that the episode itself is very well made, and the emotional gut punch lands hard.
13. Finishing the Hat (8×23)
Series’ last episode had a little bit of everything. A death (Karen McCluskey), a birth (Julie’s baby- let’s ignore the fact that Porter is the father), a wedding (Renee, going bridezilla before tying the not with Ben)- kind of all the finale clichés we’ve come to expect from tv shows. But the future of our friends, and that last lap around the block with the ghosts of the past… Finishing the Hat still had that distinct Housewives charm, and the closure for each character was heartwarming and satisfying.
12. Free (4×17)
Aired back to back as a two-hour season finale with Gun Song, the episodes work in tandem regarding two particular plots- Lynette sending Tom’s daughter Kayla away and how that effects their relationship, and psycho cop Wayne holding Katherine hostage in her own home- all while Bree is trying to cater Bob and Lee’s commitment ceremony. Despite the writer’s strike cutting this season short, this was an exciting couple of hours.
11. Down the Block There’s a Riot (7×10)
Season 7 was all about what Paul Young was up to, and when we learned he planned on destroying Wisteria Lane, it was kind of cool to see him mastermind a destructive riot, simply by playing off the anxieties and prejudices of the neighborhood residents. (A Halfway house on the lane? Never!) Several housewife storylines are caught in the mix, including Juanita running away, Susan getting trampled, and Bob and Lee as pariahs.
10. Bang (3×07)
Incredibly popular, Bang sort of kicked off DH’s yearly tradition of “event” episodes. This one was a hostage situation in a supermarket. Upon re-watch, I wish it wasn’t played for so many laughs (the tone doesn’t really shift until Nora gets shot), and I wish the episode was told linearly instead of starting en media res. But it is because of that surprising great kill, and Lynette’s retching performance afterwards, that keeps this one a contender.
9. Boom Crunch (6×10)
Boom Crunch was a bit of a mixed bag for Housewives fans. A tornado, a fire…Some people were jaded with the ‘disasters’ that kept happening on this street, and a plane crashing into the neighborhood Christmas celebration was just too much. But for others like me, it was yet another can’t-miss hour of tv, that brought out the best in the show. And the only worthwhile episode of season 6. Like other big events, this served to resolve storylines (Lynette fired by Gaby and Carlos was a great one) while setting up new ones. (Still mad about Karl)
8. Mirror, Mirror (5×05)
Mileage may vary regarding your appreciation of the enigmatic Dave Williams. As it aired, his mystery unfolded too slowly, but upon re-watch, it is impressive how calculated he truly was. Mirror, Mirror is a great collection of non-linear stories, and does what 5×01’s You’re Gonna Love Tomorrow didn’t: flesh out what happened during the 5-year jump instilled at the very end of Season 4’s finale. But the main plot sees Dave stage a surprise party for Karen McCluskey, the only resident who’s on to him. How he outsmarts her is genius, making her look as if she’s gone senile to the rest of her friends.
7. Now You Know (4×01)
Lynette was diagnosed with cancer at the end of season 3, but it was the season 4 premiere, that really dealt with it head on. Her inadvertent reveal to her friends is a moment not to be missed. Now You Know is excellent, since we see the fallout from Edie’s suicide attempt, Katherine Mayfair returns to the lane, Gaby shows she’s unhappy with Victor, and Bree hilariously keeps up her pregnancy charade. Two words: pillow and fork, lol!
6. The Game (4×03)
I was hooked once Bree sent Susan to a shady obgyn clinic on the bad side of town. A personal favorite of mine, The Game is the closest thing Desperate Housewives gets to a bottle episode. Bree vs Susan, Katherine vs, Gaby, and Lynette’s weed brownies (one of my all-time favorite scenes). And there was the power play between Edie and Carlos that kind makes me feel bad about the whole situation. In one hilarious night, tensions come to a boil.
5. Pilot (1×01)
The concept is ‘Practically perfect in every way,’ and then, with a gun to the head, a phenomenon is born. At the time of its airing, there wasn’t anything quite like Desperate Housewives. Sure, it felt very familiar, the dark side of suburbia is nothing new- and yet DH presented it in a fresh way. The humor, the intrigue, and much of all I’ve already talked about was too delicious to miss. Incredibly addictive, the debut episode of Desperate Housewives is one of the best pilots in TV history.
4. Remember (2×23, 2×24)
Because Season 1 was so great, season 2 was inevitably going to be seen as a disappointment. I have my issues with how the mystery unfolded, and a lot of its offensive undertones, but revisiting it, there is still some pretty good stuff to be found. Namely in its finale, Remember, which is surprisingly excellent. The twist is a genuine surprise, but the coolest thing about it is this is the episode that shows us when each Housewife first moved to the lane.
3. One Wonderful Day (1×23)
At the height of its popularity, the season 1 finale drew over 30 million viewers. And no one left disappointed. The Mary Alice mystery was solved in a masterful way, Gaby’s affair with John came to a head, as Carlos was taken to jail, Bree lost her husband Rex (her reaction has to be seen to be believed), and Susan was held hostage by Zach.
2. Something’s Coming (4×09)
“It was supposed to be a beautiful day…” And so opens arguably the biggest/ most epic episode Desperate Housewives ever produced. The season 4 event followup to Bang, took things bigger, with an all-out catastrophe, that most other tv just doesn’t even try. Gaby vs. Edie for Carlos’ offshore account, Mike losing it at the hospital because of Susan, Lynette begging Mrs McClusky for shelter, and the Carlos vs Victor fight (who was a lot like Paul Young now that I think about it). Thankfully, Something Coming is genuinely exciting, with the impending tornado, accentuated by all the chaos going on in the Housewives’ lives. The only thing keeping this spot from #1 is that annoying stalker, Sylvia harassing the Mayfairs.
1. The Best Thing That Could Have Happened (5×13)
When I pick a #1 episode, the thing I look for, is how does it best embody everything about that show? On my LOST article, fan favorite ‘The Constant’ isn’t tops because it doesn’t showcase the ensemble cast, and doesn’t really give you a sense of what LOST is really all about. The Best Thing That Could Have Happened does that in spades for Desperate Housewives.
The genius thing about this episode, is it can be viewed as a stand alone, completely out of context from committing to the entire series. Eli Scruggs, a local handyman that we only ever meet here, is retconned into the backstories of each housewife, and we see, in some small ways and some big, how he affected their lives. You’ll get the full DH spectrum from humor to tragedy, viewing all these stories, and Beau Bridges brings a warmth to Eli that few characters have. It is nice for a change, to watch a death that is touching instead of shocking. The Best is underrated because it is deceptively simple. Just all about one person making a difference. But when I saw the catalyst for what puts Eli on his path, I couldn’t help but wonder what I was doing with my own life. If you only watch one episode of Desperate Housewives, let this be it.
So that will wrap me up. Whew! 8 seasons, 180 episodes. What an exhausting undertaking. Weekly poker games and gossip seemed light-hearted enough, and the occasional face off between ladies was wickedly fun to see who would come out on top. A dead body hidden under the stairs. A Nooner on top of the washing machine. Who knew suburbia could be this much fun? I’d like to thank Marc Cherry, the brilliant cast, and everyone involved with delivering this excellent prime-time drama to such a significant chunk of our lives.