Desperate Housewives: The Complete First Season review by Mike Long

ABC got lucky.

At a time when the network needed some hits, it got not one, but two successful new hour-long shows. Desperate Housewives became one of the most talked about shows in the 2004-2005 TV season, as it was able to generate a great deal of publicity, both positive and negative. The show appealed to both men and women, and it's combination of drama, comedy, and sex made it a must-see for many people. The success of this new show, combined with that of Lost helped to pull ABC out of a slump. And while Lost and Desperate Housewives may not seem the least bit similar on the surface, the two shows have many things in common.

Desperate Housewives is set on Wisteria Lane, a seeming perfect street in a suburban neighborhood. There, we meet our four main characters. Susan Mayer (Teri Hatcher) is a single-mother, raising her daughter, Julie (Andrea Bowen). Susan illustrate children's books and works from home. Bree Van De Kamp (Marcia Cross) is married to Dr. Rex Van De Kamp (Steven Culp). She is very conservative and always ensures that her house and her appearance are impeccable. Former model Gabrielle Solis (Eva Longoria) enjoys spending her days shopping, spending the money of her husband, Carlos (Ricardo Chavira). She also enjoys fooling around with her gardener, John (Jesse Metcalfe). Lynette Scavo (Felicity Huffman) once enjoyed great success in the business world, but as the mother of four children, she now stays at home while her husband, Tom (Doug Savant), brings in the money. These four women had busy, but serene lives until the day which their mutual friend, and the fifth member of their group, Mary Alice Young (Brenda Strong) committed suicide. This event would lead the four women to investigate not only Mary Alice's life, but their own as well, and they begin to realize that not everything is as it appears on the surface.

Following Mary Alice's death, several other major events occur on Wisteria Lane. A plumber named Mike Delfino (James Denton) moves in and immediately catches the eye of Susan, and neighborhood slut Edie Britt (Nicollette Sheridan). While Mike seems like a nice guy, he hides a dark secret. Mary Alice's son Zach (Cody Kasch) begins to have violent flashbacks while his father, Paul (Mark Moses) suddenly starts acting very strange. Neighborhood busy-body Martha Huber (Christine Estabrook) seems especially intrigued by Mary Alice's suicide and proceeds to poke her nose in where it's not welcome. As more and more secrets are revealed in this quiet neighborhood, it becomes clear that the suburbs aren't always a nice place.

Until watching this show on DVD, I'd never seen an episode of Desperate Housewives, but I had, of course, experienced all of the hype. Watching the show, it became quite clear why it's so popular. Let me start by saying that despite the show's high ratings and it's critical acclaim, it's not really offering anything new. Anyone who lived through the late 70s and early 80s will recognize shades of Dallas and Dynasty in the show, as we get a glimpse into the lives of the wealthy and are privy to their outrageous secrets and scandals. The double-crosses and intrigues shown in Desperate Housewives are pure soap-opera. Yet, this is probably why the show appealed to slightly older viewers, as it reminded them of those classic "scandalous" shows. But, along these same lines, the show's "scandalous" nature, most notably the sex and violence must seem "taboo" and appealing in our conservative culture. Of course, ABC took a huge chance on this show, because any program featuring the petty problems of the very wealthy could easily backfire. "I get to stay home while my husband works..." Boo-freakin'-hoo.

However, the best aspect of Desperate Housewives is the writing. Once again, a mystery element in a soap is nothing new (Remember "Who shot J.R.?"), but it's the backbone of this show. The death of Mary Alice is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the questions on Wisteria Lane, as the shows introduces a beguiling array of mysteries which overlap and intertwine. As the season opens, the storylines seem very distant, but by the end, many of the inscrutable elements of the show have come together. The show is very tricky, as it often introduces a new question or brings a new piece of the puzzle at the end of an episode, nudging the viewer to keep watching. In this respect, Desperate Housewives is very similar to Lost -- while the basic story may seem very familiar, the mystery elements make the shows addictive and keep the viewer glued to the set. While Lost skews more to the realm of science-fiction, the mysterious elements of Desperate Housewives are just as important and they truly make the show worth watching. The various storylines also contain a huge amount of karmic lessons -- each action on this show leads to some sort of reaction. It's often amazing to see the characters get a comeuppance for something which they'd done in the past.

While Desperate Housewives is certainly worth checking out, it's not perfect, and at times, I felt that it didn't live up to the hype. As noted above, the overall concept of the show isn't very original, and at times, I felt as if I'd seen it all before. Speaking of which, some of the subplots in the show, especially those concerning Gabrielle and her lover, become very tiresome. While these storylines eventually pan out and pay off, they feel tedious at times. As with Lost, the show has a habit of introducing subplots which don't re-appear for several episodes. The show's biggest flaw are the characters themselves and their relationships. Sure, Desperate Housewives is meant to be over-the-top, but the evil nature of the many characters gets old very quickly. I found myself longing for a "normal" person to arrive on the show so that I could find someone to relate to. (And this would actually work, as it would give someone for the characters to be jealous of.) Often, the dialogue and relationships between the characters feel very forced and just when I'd decided to give up on the show because of this, wham! a new mystery would arrive and pique my curiosity.

Desperate Housewives isn't the best new show of the year (I would probably give that honor to Lost), but it is worth watching. It's a throwback to the old night-time soaps which I grew up with, spiced with a dash of Twin Peaks-esque mystery. The characters can be annoying at times, but the evolving storylines make it worth the effort.

Desperate Housewives: The Complete First Season vamps onto DVD courtesy of Buena Vista Home Entertainment. This 6-disc set contain all 23 episodes from the Season One of the show. The shows are presented in their original 1.78:1 aspect ratio and are anamorphic. The images here look fantastic, as the picture is very sharp and clear. There is only a slight hint of grain on the picture and the image is very well-balanced. Desperate Housewives is all about contrasting light and darkness, and this comes across very well on this transfer. The bright, pastel colors look fantastic, while the dark scenes are never too dark. The transfer shows a hint of artifacting, but it's not distracting. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. This track shows no distortion and there are no problems with the dynamic range. The music sounds very good here. While the surround sound effects aren't constant, when they do arrive, especially sounds like a barking dog, they work very well.

The Desperate Housewives: The Complete First Season set contains many extra features. "Pilot" (Disc 1) & "Guilty" (Disc 2) contain audio commentaries from series creator Marc Cherry, while "Anything You Can Do" (Disc 2), "Impossible" (Disc 4), and "One Wonderful Day" (Disc 6) contain a commentary with Cherry and director Larry Shaw. These are interesting commentaries, as they provide a great deal of information, but Cherry's solo talks are bit repetitive and his hyper-critical comments get old very fast. Cherry also provides optional commentary for "Deleted Scenes" for the following episodes -- "Ah, But Underneath" (Disc 1), "Guilty" (Disc 2), "Running to Stand Still" (Disc 2), "Suspicious Minds" (Disc 3), "The Ladies Who Lunch" (Disc 4), "Your Fault" (Disc 4), "There Won't Be Trumpets" (Disc 5), and "One Wonderful Day" (Disc 6). Along with these deleted scenes, some episodes can be viewed in an optional format where they contain extra footage. These "Extended Episodes" are "Who's That Woman" (Disc 1), "Anything You Can Do" (Disc 2), "Every Day A Little Death" (Disc 3), "Impossible" (Disc 4), "Sunday in the Park With George" (Disc 6) and "Goodbye for Now" (Disc 6).

The remainder of the extras are of the more familiar featurette variety. "A Stroll Down Wisteria Lane" (Disc 1) (11 minutes) features a conversation between Meredith Viera and Marc Cherry, as the show's creator talks about many facets of the program and gives some hints about Season 2. This segment contains MANY SPOILERS. "Desperate Housewives Around the World" (Disc 2) (8 minutes) explores the popularity of the show in other countries and features comments from international fans. There is also a clip from the show dubbed into several different languages. This same clip can be viewed independently of this featurette. Production designer Thomas A Walsh and costume designer Cate Adair are featured in "Dressing Wisteria Lane" (Disc 3) (!3 minutes), which gives an overview of each characters personal look and the style of their home. The five main female actresses show us their favorite moments from the show and provide audio commentary in "The Ladies' Favorite Scenes" (Disc 5) (32 minutes). The rest of the extras are found on Disc 6. "Oprah Winfrey is the New Neighbor" (8 minutes) is an incredibly self-indulgent piece which incorporates Winfrey into clips from the show. The "Bloopers from the Set" (5 minutes) are actually quite funny. "Secrets of Wisteria Lane" (11 minutes) contains more behind-the-scenes footage and gives an interesting look at a writer's meeting. Finally, Meredith Viera hosts "Behind the Scenes of Desperate Housewives (25 minutes) which offers on-set footage and comments from the cast & crew.

7 out of 10 Jackasses

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