Forget Mary Alice, Why Did This Show Kill Itself?

The announcement that Desperate Housewives would be drawing to a final close after its upcoming eighth season was handed down from ABC’s not-as-lofty-as-it-once-was perch last week. Depending on your relationship with this show, this tidbit is either a gesture of mercy, a mild disappointment or a non-event. For me, it’s a little bit of all three.

It’s difficult to muster up much passion for a show that’s a faded, decomposing shell of what it once was.  If we were still on the Season One quality train, I wouldn’t even be remotely ready to pull into the station. But sadly, Desperate Housewives’ own story arc has been one of deteriorating conditions. But to know how far we’ve fallen, we must know from whence we fell.

When Desperate Housewives premiered in September 2004, it was like nothing else on television. It’s combination of mystery, soap and light comedy – sprinkled with just enough self-aware camp – was pretty irresistible. The season’s central mystery surrounding the death of housewife Mary Alice Young was a model of storytelling, with the other housewive’s various plots and arcs flowing like perfect little tributaries in and out of the central story’s main stream. Even the luster of Susan’s non-stop physical hi-jinks hadn’t worn off quite yet.

The show was a massive success – it’s season finale was watched by over 30 million viewers – and, along with the same season’s debuts of LOST and Grey’s Anatomy, it put the then-struggling ABC back on the map.

Even Season 2 – which featured a new mystery surrounding a new neighor, Betty Applewhite (Alfre Woodard) – while weaker overall, maintained the same spirit of Season 1 that kept me coming back in anticipation week after week.

But then it went horribly, horribly wrong.  With few exceptions – Edie’s mysterious Season 5 husband, Dave Williams, and the beginnings of the Orson Hodge storyline among them – the show steadily declined in terms of story quality, excitement and character development. From the neglect in stories for Bree’s son Andrew – a truly interesting and complex character – to the increasing limpness of the central mysteries of each season to the massively destructive decision to the consistent insistence on having the housewives spend so much time apart and separate from each other’s lives, it was a rocky road indeed.

Now, when the show was on, it was on. Eva Longoria blossomed as a light comedienne as Gabrielle Solis – and hers has become one of the more well-rounded housewives on the show – but not the most complex. Despite wrong turns in her overall arc, for my money, Bree remains the most fascinating.

But increasingly, the show’s liabilities outweighed its assets.

One of the show’s biggest sins is an apparent disregard for the talents of its central cast. It seems like the writers just stopped trying at some point. How else do you explain putting a powerhouse like Felicity Huffman in the same harried-mom situation time and time again. And don’t even get me started on the complete waste they have made of Vanessa Williams. This should have been the perfect vehicle for her and one that she could have helped revive. I’m sure she was intended as a replacement for Edie Britt, but believing you could replace Nicolette Sheridan’s Edie Britt was just foolishness. Williams deserved better.

Still, there’s reason to hope for some final redemption for this once great show. Last season’s finale – with the housewives coming together in a common bond again after Carlos’s slaying of Gabrielle’s father – hinted at a potential return to Season 1 form. And now that the showrunners know for certain that this May is lights out for Wisteria Lane and have promised a full-circle return to the mystery of Mary Alice – let’s hope that the show can return to its glory days one more time before signing off. But please, Marc Cherry, no more Lucille Ball-wannabe antics from Teri Hatcher. Thanks ever so.


JT Landry has been in a torrid affair with pop culture ever since his parents first sat him down in front of Mary Poppins as a tyke. A movie buff, a music lover, a voracious reader and an evangelist forCommunity- Go Human Beings! – and other marvels of storytelling, JT can be found on Twitter and Facebook.Read more posts from JT.

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