Certain housewives (like some other people) lead lives of quiet desperation. When they get on television, their desperation gets quite loud. Housewives are the latest victims to be discovered for prime-time television, this time in ABC-TV's dark, satirical Sunday soap called, naturally, "Desperate Housewives."
This is sophisticated, edgy television for the era of the values voters who kept George W. on Pennsylvania Avenue. Think Evelyn Waugh meets Bridget Jones (after she married and moved to the 'burbs). Evelyn and Bridget give new meaning to the words "Brideshead Revisited."
The network's marketing people scored a coup with that X-rated commercial for Monday Night Football, which drew attention from the guys as well. The desperate housewife attempting a locker-room seduction of a Philadelphia Eagle star was definitely not for the children's hour. The children, in fact, should be in bed when their mamas and papas watch the show. It's aptly described as "sex in the suburbs." But this show is selling more than sex.
The network has been scolded by the American Family Association, which encourages a boycott of sponsors. It will offend those with squeamish tastes. It was designed that way. Feminists with no sense of humor complain that it's post-feminist, a throwback to the sizzling sex hidden behind the facades of Peyton Place.
But this is a lot more than a satirical "Ozzie and Harriet." It exposes the mommy wars, the women wars, and the slings and arrows that fly in the endless war between the sexes. It exposes the superficial side of women's magazines, best-selling advice books about love and marriage and the silly stereotypes made in the name of femininity, feminism and family values. The timing, bursting into the consciousness of TV viewers just after the earthquake of Nov. 2, couldn't be better for the moguls of the tube.
The ladies of "Desperate Housewives" who live on Wisteria Lane are more surreal than real, but share enough of a comic-tragic mix to render the social commentary funny and painful in a suburban theatre of the absurd. As in the '80s movie "The Big Chill," the leading character - the most desperate housewife, you might say - has committed suicide and all those who knew her have to speculate why. This brings out the brutishness of men, the bitchiness of women and the brattiness of their children. The red badge of courage for these desperados of the kitchen sink is drawn from blood, strawberry jam or a spilled Bloody Mary.