If "Sex and the City" was about desperate singles in their 30s, "Desperate Housewives" is about the desperately married - or the desperate formerly married - women in their 40s who are facing up to the frustrations, rationalizations and unexpected pleasures of their choices. The personal is no longer political, but it's up close and very personal.
No hysterical rhetoric can explain it away; their bras were burned a long time ago. Martha Stewart is in a prison of her own making, divorce is commonplace and adultery on television and everywhere else is unadulterated. This is unvarnished criticism of the stereotypes that make us feel better about our complexity. There but for the grace of God go I. Not!
With savage satire, the characters are portrayed trying to snatch happiness from the jaws of compromise. Lynette, who left a career filled with mixed feelings to raise her four children with mixed feelings, becomes addicted to the drug prescribed for her twins suffering from attention deficit disorder.
Gabrielle, a model who married for money, has a big house but an empty life. She mows the lawn in high heels and evening gown to cover the tracks of a love affair with the gardener. The grass or her side of the fence is definitely not greener.
Bree, who sounds like a gourmet cheese, isn't maturing naturally. She's described as "Martha Stewart on steroids," an overachiever who makes osso bucco for her son.
Susan, the divorcee, looks for love in a sexual cul-de-sac. Her competition is as tough and polished as false fingernails.
"Housewife," as defined in the Oxford English Dictionary, is "a domestic economist, a pert woman, a hussy." That sounds about right for this suburban limbo. The foods the housewives bring to the house of mourning reflect a wild spectrum of styles: macaroni and cheese, an expensive basket filled with gourmet goodies, fast-food fried chicken and hot paella.
Critics say "Desperate Housewives" examines women in suburban society today. Well, some of them, maybe. But the show is simply one more bit of evidence that we still haven't found the answer to Freud's famous question: "What do women want?"