Wednesday, March 22, 2006

# Posted 11:26 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

NO PROFOUND THOUGHTS TONIGHT: Instead, desperate thoughts. As in Desperate Housewives. As I think I've mentioned before, I don't do television. I do Netflix. So recently, I ordered the first four episodes of Desperate Housewives, Season 1.

I was hooked within minutes. I love black humor, and this show had it in spades. I also thought that the characters had a lot more psychological depth than you get on your average network television show.

So here I am, around a month later, having watched all six discs and twenty-three episodes that comprise Season 1. I must admit the show is ambitious. It wants to be a comedy of manners, a social commentary and a murder mystery all rolled into one. Amazingly, this strange formula almost always worked.

Although I didn't pay much attention at the time, I remember some fuss when the show debuted about whether it was sexist trash or a blow for women's equality. I believe the NYT said the former, USA Today the latter. A little bit of both, I'd say.

One crystal clear message the show has is that, more often than not, being a housewife really, really sucks. Poor Lynette (Felicity Huffman) was a hotshot executive before she had four kids. Now she watches with envy and anger as her husband goes off to work, oblivious to how much menial labor is involved in raising his four children.

The pampered Gabrielle (Eva Longoria) discovers that staying home with no children and many possessions does not bring happiness, but boredom. Followed by an affair with her teenage gardener that is constantly on the brink of destroying her marriage.

For WASP extraordinaire Bree Van de Kamp (Marcia Cross, above), an obsessive-compulsive commitment to the Martha Stewart lifestyle stands in for any real emotional connection to her husband or children.

Finally, there is Susan (Teri Hatcher), who works from home as an illustrator. Her only problem is the boorish ex-husband who ran off with her secretray, crippling Susan's self-confidence.

Now let's talk about sex. One thing that the four housewives have in common is how impossibly thin they are. And in the case of Susan and Bree, remarkably buxom as well. (Seinfeld fans may recall that it was Hatcher's breasts that inspired the immortal phrase "They're real and they're fabulous.")

So if you're a body-image feminist, you pretty much have to give Housewives a big thumbs down. But wait. What about the fact that three of the four Housewives is over 40? Aren't we making progress if thin, big-breasted older women can be sex symbols?

Related to sex is the subject of men. This show certainly doesn't have all that much nice to say about them. Lynette's husband is self-centered. Gabrielle's is an outright sexist pig. Bree's husband is the exception, a real nice guy with a bit of thing for hookers and S&M. Susan's ex is also a sexist pig, although her new crush Mike is a real prince charming.

If you're willing to read a little into, Susan's obsession with Mike is a pretty retrograde demonstration of how women are ditzy little things who never progress beyond their fantasies of being rescued by a knight in shining armor.

The counterpoint to Susan is Edie Britt, the town slut who, unlike the Housewives, has a successful career outside the home and isn't dependent on any man (for more than a few hours). Yet Edie is also a friendless and selfish bitch.

Perhaps in the end, Housewives isn't such a bad reflection of where women are today. There are pockets of progress, pockets of reaction and no simple answers about where happiness comes from.
(4) opinions -- Add your opinion

The phrase is "They're real, and they're spectacular."
Enjoy the first season because the second jumps the shark fairly quickly. Loses the darkness and the originality that make these so great. I still watch because whether it is real or not they are all spectacular.
David: no correction on the misquotation?
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