The words “desperate” and “housewife,” don't conjure an image of a well-coifed, pencil-thin, artificially breasted homemaker in stiletto heels, mowing the lawn in a designer gown while plotting a rendezvous with her 17-year-old lawn-boy lover.
Call me crazy. Being a housewife, I sometimes feel desperate but not enough to burn down my neighbor's home, poach my children's prescription drugs or hire a “sex surrogate” (whatever that is).
Hollywood must not have consulted housewives like me before creating the scenarios depicted each Sunday evening on Wisteria Lane, the fictional neighborhood in which ABC's Desperate Housewives takes place.
The show follows the long, sordid tradition of television's prime-time soaps. The media's entertainment pundits call it the surprise hit of the season, but they shouldn't be surprised at all. This show is a hit for the same reason Peyton Place had tongues wagging back in the 1960s; the same reason I didn't study for a psychology midterm but instead watched the cliffhanger “Who shot J.R.?” episode of Dallas in my junior year of college.
For example, here's a synopsis of an episode called “Move On” from ABC's Web site:
Edie organizes a neighborhood search for the missing Mrs. Huber; meanwhile, Bree resigns herself to her marital state and asks an attractive pharmacist on a date; Susan's ex, Karl, suddenly reappears in her life; Lynette fears that Tom is attracted to the new nanny; and Gabrielle sinks to new depths she gets a job.
Imagine Gabrielle gets a job. It's scandalous.
Every episode offers revelations of deep, dark secrets, bizarre behaviors on the part of seemingly normal characters, and what appears to be an obsession with sex. The water on Wisteria Lane must have aphrodisiac qualities.
The preoccupation with sex is one reason I've never actually seen Desperate Housewives. It's not that I'm a prude, it's that I have teenage daughters who aren't yet in bed at 9 on Sunday evenings, and “the adulterous Gabrielle” and her weekly exploits aren't the family fare I want them watching.
OK, so maybe I am a prude. I'm just not that interested in seeing Susan take her relationship with Mike to the “next level.”
The only new twist is the creative albeit morbid premise of the pilot. In that season opener, Wisteria housewife Mary Alice commits suicide, permitting the unique point of view from which she and we watch her former neighbors in action. Otherwise, the show's plotlines seem like retreads.
Haven't we watched stories like this before?
Looking to give her life a purpose, Gabrielle decides to organize a glamorous Halston fashion show for charity highlighting the ladies of Wisteria Lane.
If the women of Wisteria Lane already are looking for a purpose in life, this show won't make it to a second season without an infusion of domestic desperation from real-life housewives like me. So in the spirit of creative cooperation, here are a couple new episodes for the folks at ABC:
Title: “Nothing to wear.”
In this episode, the housewife's high school daughter declares a late-night wardrobe crisis. Revealing she will participate in a school assembly the next morning, she claims her closet void of an appropriate ensemble.
The housewife expects to find something suitable, but wading through a sea of clothing plentiful enough to outfit a Third World country, she grudgingly admits there's nothing her daughter can wear.
Desperately, they jump in her minivan and drive to the 24-hour discount superstore, where they spend two hours negotiating about the meaning of the word “appropriate.” As the episode ends, the beautiful daughter recites her lines at the assembly while wearing the emergency outfit.
Camera fades to housewife, folding and hanging the mountain of clothing left on the floor of her daughter's closet.
This is what it means to be desperate not looking for the perfect man, but for dress slacks at a superstore in the middle of a Thursday night, in a pattern neutral enough not to be recognized as superstore slacks. Men are easy to get. Natural fibers are rare.
The gals on Wisteria Lane also need mysteries to keep viewers coming back from week to week. Real housewives have lives full of mystery. In fact, “sleuthing” is one of the principal attributes of our role.
Title: “Not Me.”
This gripping episode spans a period of two weeks, during which time the housewife searches desperately for car keys, lunchboxes, shoes, a retainer (in the garbage), the source of the offending smell in the garage, her camera, the bike lock, a hammer, dental floss, a pair of scissors, the television remote, the source of the offending smell in the laundry room, a term paper on Magellan, three library books, two pairs of athletic socks (one of which is probably the source of the offending smell in the basement), and one hairbrush.
Grilling her children about the whereabouts of these items, the housewife discovers the perpetrator in each disappearance is the mysterious “Not Me,” who also is responsible for the rip in the carpet, the permanent marker stain on the kitchen counter and letting the dog out.
Camera fades on housewife, dusting for fingerprints in the storage room to discover who got into the Halloween costumes in the middle of February.
I'm not likely to ever catch this “breakout hit” show. I'm too busy being a desperate housewife to watch a show about them.
Then again, I might tune in if they produce a spinoff: Desperate Businesswomen.
(Marybeth Hicks is a writer and author of the features “then again.” and “A View from the Pew.” A wife of 17 years and mother of four children from second grade to sophomore year, she uses her columns to share her perspective on issues and experiences that shape families and the communities we share. Marybeth began her writing career more than 20 years ago in the Reagan White House. She currently writes a column for the Washington Times. Learn more about Marybeth and her work at www.marybethhicks.com. This column first appeared in and is reprinted with permission from the Washington Times.)