Declaring “Desperate Housewives” to be the worst show on the broadcast networks, as I did in a recent blog entry at chicagotribune.com/watcher, is bound to attract a certain amount of flackflak.
One fan of the ABC show e-mailed that he would never read my work again. Other fans declared, in comments on the Web site, that I just didn’t get “Housewives” – I didn’t get that the show is meant to be escapist entertainment, “fun in a world of craziness,” as one reader noted.
All that disagreement is fine – welcome, even – and it’s all par for the course for anyone who throws opinions out into the world for a living. But the fact is, I actually got far less angry e-mail than I thought I would. If anything, what the “Housewives” piece seemed to unleash was the pent-up scorn of a whole host of TV viewers who, like me, cannot understand what others see in this still red-hot show.
The disdain for the show, as evidenced by comments left on the Watcher blog, seems to center around these six main critiques, which I share. Readers said they dislike:
• The plots that go nowhere or that start out interesting and wind up as poorly thought-out filler. “I loved the show when it first came out, (I) thought it was “American Beauty’ lightened up for TV,” reader Ron Fishman posted at the Watcher Web site. “By the second half of the first season, I was staying with it out of loyalty and hoped that it would recover its footing. The next-to-final straw for me was when they killed off Rex, the most complex character on the show. I really didn’t understand that – there were very interesting dynamics going on with Bree as they tried to salvage their marriage. Maybe it was too difficult for the writers, (it) made them uncomfortable?”
• A lack of character development – or characters whose personalities vary wildly from week to week. “They need to be really careful with Bree,” reader B.K. Ray posted. “One day she was Martha Stewart and the next she was a rather drunk, passed-out Martha Stewart (which was totally unbelievable).” You said it.
Goodness knows the actresses on this show, with one exception, do the best with what they have, and often make their scenes better then than they have any right to be. But even a classy, talented actress such as Marcia Cross can only do so much with Bree. The rest is up to the show’s writers, who seem to change the characters to suit the plot, not the other way around, which is more work for the writers but far more satisfying for viewers.
• The fact that Eva Longoria can’t really carry her weight dramatically on the show. Though some readers disagreed, Longoria is, in many readers’ opinions, the weak link in the “Housewives” cast (the recent scene in which the authorities took away her baby was proof of that for me). “As we’ve recently seen with the films “Catwoman’ and “Aeon Flux,’ attractive talent alone does not make a show,” reader Patrick Broderick noted.
-The preponderance of clunky dialogue. Some recent samples of the lines “Housewives” cast members have been asked to speak: “It’s dangerous to care about me. A lot of people have over the years and they’ve all ended up getting hurt”; “This is our baby. … You can’t take her away, we’ve already fallen in love with her.” Now, it wouldn’t be fair to take a couple of lines of dialogue out of context if those lines weren’t pretty representative of the general quality of the “Housewives” scripts, which, especially of late, have all the wit, complexity and nuance of “an anvil to the solar plexus,” as I wrote in my “Housewives” blog entry.
-The characters can be pretty irritating. Commenter (and fellow blogger) Claire Zulkey noted that she had rented the entire first season of the show, to see what all the “Housewives” fuss was about. “I didn’t find any of the characters on the show particularly likeable. Bree was cartoonish, Gabrielle was bratty, Lynette was grating, Susan was blah and Edie was just sort of bizarre … ( and) I just never have seen the appeal of Teri Hatcher.”
I like Hatcher just fine, but it’s disheartening to see her given so little meaty material. Sure, “Housewives” is meant to be, at least partly, a comedy, one without, perhaps, a huge amount of weightiness or seriousness behind it. That’s fine. But at least give these actresses something to do, besides line up their next magazine features on breaks between scenes.
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You might wonder, by the way, how can I call “Housewives” the worst show on the broadcast networks – how can it be worse than “According to Jim”? Because “Jim” aims for inoffensive mediocrity and succeeds. Because it does not live up to its much greater potential, and because it misuses such a talented cast, the flailing banality of “Housewives” is all the more galling.
“Housewives” should and could be much more than it is. It could be a sharp satire of suburbia, an intriguing exploration of motherhood, marriage and relationships, and a sympathetic, funny look at the price of making it as a female executive in the working world. Its failure in all those realms and its inability to get its house in order a mere two years into its run is shocking. And sad, for all of us who were intrigued and excited by the idea of an hourlong comedy-drama examining the lives of women – or anyone who has ever been desperate.
Maureen Ryan: moryantribune.com
(c) 2006, Chicago Tribune.
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