In 2004 ABC reinvigorated itself with a couple of bombshell shows you may have heard of called Lost and Desperate Housewives. While the two are completely separate concepts, they both captivated America last season and have become a popular topic for discussion around the water cooler. Lost tells a story about a group of people that survive a plane crash on a remote island and Desperate Housewives takes a leering look at American suburbia.
To say that the show is unique is rather an understatement and it's really hard to peg what type of genre it is. It takes a little bit of a soap opera, mixes in concepts like Sex In The City and American Beauty plus blends in plenty of comedy and unpredictability. This melding of concepts crafts a vastly original show that tells the tale of scandal and intrigue while sugar coating it with an all American frosting.
It has gripped TV viewers so much so that the show itself and the term "desperate housewife" have been used commonly and across other forms of media. Everyone from Dr. Phil to Opera to even the NFL have spoofed it and I've even heard spots on local radio stations. Heck, the First Lady made a crack at the President how she was a desperate housewife. It has been a while since audiences were this captivated by a show and it makes you wonder what the keys are to it's success.
First of all Desperate Housewives is the epitome of guilty pleasure television. Everybody and their grandmother in the show has an affair or some dark deep secret they hide from their loved ones and friends. Each episode brings about new revelations about characters that you think you've been coming to know. It's shocking to see the lengths that some seemingly normal people will go to when faced with an abnormal situation. To put it simply; watching this show will make you feel dirty, but in a good way.
The second chemical that makes this magic potion work is some fantastic writing. Its easy to write off a mystery by simply not dropping many clues and leaving a lot of questions, the writers for Desperate Housewives know how to string you along in a big way. Nearly every episode ends on a cliff hanging note that will leave you dying to find out what happens next. It's almost like watching a train wreck and you simply can't avert your gaze. Thankfully the show doesn't take itself too seriously and that's probably what saves it the most.
The final piece of the puzzle that brings it all together here is definitely the acting. With names like Teri Hatcher, Nicollette Sheridan, Felicity Huffman, Marcia Cross and Steven Culp you can't go wrong. In fact the entire cast does such a marvelous job with the script that each character adds something to the show. Later on in the season Harriet Sansom Harris and Alfre Woodard even join the roster although we won't see much of Woodard until the upcoming season two. Overall this is one of the more charmingly acted shows I have watched in a long time and the characters will really stick with you.
The roster of characters relevant to the plot is pretty vast since the show bounces back and forth between different storylines. The bulk of Desperate Housewives centers on five leading ladies that find themselves trapped in the mundane life of the suburbs. Each of these characters has a lot of depth and are very easy to get to like, even if they do some pretty loathsome things at times.
Susan Mayer (Teri Hatcher) is a bitter divorcee who lives with her daughter Julie (Andrea Bowen) and illustrates children's books for a living. After a rough separation from her husband Karl a year ago she still hasn't put herself back on the market. That all changes when a stranger named Mike Deflino (Jamie Denton) moves into the neighborhood and pulls the tall, dark and handsome routine. As she competes with Edie Britt (Nicollette Sheridan) for Mike's attention things start to heat up for her.
Bree Van De Kamp (Marcia Cross) is basically Wisteria Lane's Martha Stewart and on the surface is perfect in every way. Her house is immaculately clean, her cooking is renowned and her prudish behavior is unrivaled. She is literally the very definition of a Stepford Wife but even as much of a neat freak as she is there is some dirty laundry in her closet. She finds herself in a failing marriage with her husband Rex (Steven Culp) and has earned the ire of their children Andrew (Shawn Pyfrom) and Danielle (Joy Lauren).
The next wife on Santa's naughty list is Gabrielle Solis (Eva Longoria). Gabrielle is easily the most self centered and materialistic character I have ever seen on a TV show. She's a gorgeous ex-model who married a power hungry jackass named Carlos (Ricardo Chavira) because he buys her everything she wants. Unknown to Carlos though, all Gabrielle seems to want is their teenage gardener.
You know how you go out in public and sometimes you see a parent with more kids than they can handle that are completely out of control? That is pretty much the exact description of Lynette Scavo (Felicity Huffman) and no matter where she goes she has her demon children in tow. She gave up her high powered career for the joys of parenthood and longs to be back in the boardroom. Lynette easily has the most aggressive personality of the group and always seems to open her mouth at times that she shouldn't. It's through Lynette and her kids that issues like schools pushing for children to be put on medication to calm them down are put on the table.
It's ironic that Edie Britt who is considered the town tricycle (yes, meaning everyone's had a ride) is the only character that wears her heart on her sleeve. She seems to be the only one throughout the entire season that doesn't have something to hide from others whether it be an opinion or action. Often times many of the other characters in the show can seem two-faced or have ulterior motives behind their actions. Edie says what's on her mind to whomever, whenever and doesn't seem to carry any secrets in this season.
Almost immediately the dark tone of the show is started in the very first episode with the suicide of Mary Alice Young. She was a big part of the group of friends on Wisteria Lane so her sudden death rocked the neighborhood and prompted many questions. As the girls dig deeper and try to understand why their friend did what she did, a mystery surfaces that only leads to more questions and violence when a strange letter is found.
Mary's suicide isn't the only odd thing going for this street and many more situations pop up that are nearly as gruesome as the truth behind her death. Over the course of the season you'll see parents going to any length (even breaking the law) to protect their children, several people cheating on each other and generous amounts of blackmail and extortion fly around. Another interesting thing about Desperate Housewives is that nearly every character seems to be expendable and a couple will even die through the course of the season.
Yes, behind the show's bright bubbly exterior there is a definite dark undertone that creeps below the surface. Thankfully it doesn't take itself too seriously and there are plenty of quirky moments to ease the tension. My only real complaints with the show is that with so many intersection plotlines and mysteries, several of them get pushed aside until its convenient for the story. With so many characters to look at they each get equal camera time but it also means that it takes longer to get to know them. This isn't a completely negative thing and it certainly gives Desperate Housewives a pacing of it's own but it certainly feels like some situations are dragged out longer than they need to be just to string you along.
The ending of season one ties up just about all of the loose ends that were left unkempt for much of the 23 episodes. There are still a few areas that were never fully explored but with season two around the corner maybe those will carry over. With the cliffhanger ending episode that holds the lives of two main characters in the balance it will be interesting to see how things play out in the second go around. As it stands the first season of Desperate Housewives is very entertaining and even though it may not be for everyone the show is definitely worth a look.
Desperate Housewives is presented in the aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and it has received anamorphic widescreen treatment. The show looks absolutely fantastic on DVD and the image quality seems to be slightly better than it's broadcasting. The video remains sharp, clean and very vibrant throughout the season and even though there are a couple of occasional moments where some grain or minor edge enhancement is noticeable, the picture is flawless.
The surreal world of Wisteria Lane and Fairview comes to life in colorful fashion and eye popping clarity. The look of the show is one of the things that gives Desperate Housewives it's unique quality and everything has a bubbly artificial feel to it, almost like its too good to be true. The brightness of the show definitely offsets the dark situations the characters find themselves in and adds to a level of strangeness to it all.
Desperate Housewives gets some high quality English 5.1 Dolby Digital audio worked into the mix and it sounds wonderful. The channel balance is very engrossing and it takes great use with the rear channels for sound effects and background music. Most of the dialogue comes from the front channel but there is a decent use of directionality at play and at no time does the sound become muffled or distorted. The only thing I noticed was that at times it seemed the volume dipped lower in a couple of parts but I didn't find it to be that noticeable or frequent. There are subtitles but you should be aware that they are "captioned for the hearing impaired". They aren't too overbearing but you will have to watch stuff like [giggles] and [whispers].
The audio direction for the show is essentially like another character all in itself. Depending on the situation the music will be anything from low-key to bouncy to sinister sounding. There isn't a wide variety of music used in the show but it's used well enough to get the point across.
Over the course of the six discs included on the first season of Desperate Housewives there is quite a few special features that are definitely worth taking a look at. For the most part every disc offers a similar theme of special features like extended episodes and deleted scenes with optional audio commentary though there are some featurettes scattered throughout the season.
In all there are approximately seven extended episodes spread across these discs and they focus on the episodes that are on that disc. Each of these offers material from the cutting room floor that didn't make it due to time constraints. For the most part these are all character interactions and developmental bits that weren't essential to the whole story but do offer some insight into the characters. You could watch only the extended versions of the episodes but its not crucial to watch both.
A selection of deleted scenes is available on many of the discs as well and they vary in length and significance. Some of these are classic moments that should never have been cut but had to be for one reason or another. Scenes like Edie strutting her stuff in lingerie for Mr. Shaw are a prelude to the NFL fiasco that made headlines. Others like Gabrielle and her mother-in-law in Bree's kitchen are hilarious compared to the final cut of the scene. They aren't all that great but there are a few gems that are definitely worth a look and its unfortunate that they got cut from the show all together.
There is also a generous amount of commentary tracks that include either just creator Marc Cherry or director Larry Shaw and Marc. I personally preferred the ones with two commentators because there is at least some banter and double the insight into the production of the show. It's interesting to hear about how certain scenes were shot or why things were done a certain way. There are even more than a few jokes cracked if you enjoy your commentaries with a touch of humor.
The ladies of the show get together for a commentary for their favorite scenes of the season. Each of them picks two scenes and if you have the audio commentary on you'll hear them discuss what they liked about that particular moment in the show. It was nice to hear a different take on a part of the show from the actors point of view compared to the directors.
Desperate Housewives Around the World is a fun eight minute feature that talks about how the show has been received by the global audience. They talk about the different languages it has been translated into and the impact that it has had on television. Along the same vein is an amusing distraction that features a scene with Bree's dinner party but with everyone speaking a different language with each conversation. It's just a cute look at the popularity of the show.
Dressing Wisteria Lane is a twelve minute look at the design of Desperate Housewives. Everything from the neighborhood to the costumes is discussed here and there are some nice behind the scenes shots. The cast goes through the personalities of the characters and talk about what they think of them. There's some pretty funny stuff here and all of it comes from the ensemble of actors that are interviewed.
Oprah Winfrey makes a visit to Wisteria Lane in a cute little feature that introduces the characters and concept. Her and her husband move into the neighborhood and interact with the residents. Oprah wanders the street looking to borrow a cup of sugar and finds herself caught in the middle of some scenes that take place during the show. It's a neat promotional type featurette and has some personality.
Along with a twenty five minute behind the scenes featurette there is also a ten minute extra on the secrets of Wisteria Lane. These both provide some great behind the camera shots and some candid moments as well as an in depth look at the show. A cute five minute blooper reel also makes it onto this set and is pretty funny stuff.
There is also an interview featurette entitled A Stroll Down Wisteria Lane but for the love of God don't watch it until you have finished the series. This feature is a discussion about the final episode and completely unravels the mystery of the first season. Whoever the genius was that put it on the first disc definitely made a mistake.
The DVD box set offers up a fantastic visual and audible presentation along with a plethora of extra features. It would have been more convenient if most of the features were packed onto one disc instead of a little here and there but it's not that bothersome to go back after you watch the season and check out the extra content. Again, just heed my advice though and do not watch the A Stroll Down Wisteria Lane on the first disc until you actually finish the season. If you do it will completely ruin just about every mystery and plot twist for you. Aside from that little quirk and the overlapping disc design of the case this set gets high marks.
I really enjoyed Desperate Housewives and can understand what all the fuss is about. The concept is hip and mysterious, the characters are devious yet loveable and overall the show has such an upbeat atmosphere that its hard not to like. There are a couple of flaws with the first season but mainly its petty complaints about stretched out plots and forgotten storylines. Overall this is first class television and this first season is remarkably entertaining. Very Highly Recommended
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