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Prime time: Desperate for more

June 10, 2012

After running for eight successful seasons, the TV series Desperate Housewives came to an end last month. And while many can choose to dismiss it as just another dramedy, the truth is that the show was a trailblazer of sorts.

Don’t agree? Consider this. Desperate Housewives came into the picture, quite literally, in 2004; it was a time when reality television programmes were at their peak, with shows such as Who Wants to be a Millionaire, American Idol, Big Brother and The Bachelor dominating the ratings game on mainstream television while dramas such as Sex and the City (SATC) and Six Feet Under were restricted to private channels such as HBO.

What also differentiated DH from many other TV shows, reality or not, was the fact that the actors who played the central characters (with the exception of Eva Langoria) were well into their late 30s and early 40s (they bordered their 50s by the time the show ended), which was another first for prime time television. Not only that, but by the time it ended, DH was the only show with an all-female lead that lasted for eight seasons with the same cast.

And yet these women, despite being termed ‘older’ in showbiz years, managed to come off as ravishing, intelligent and witty throughout the show. In that way, DH firmly proved that ‘older’ women could well be cast as leads in a television show — and still make it a whopping success.

Several people also dismissed DH as a continuation of SATC, since both shows centered on four women; but there were several differences between the two. The most obvious was, of course, the age factor of the protagonists. While DH revolved around women well above their 30s, and in some cases in their 40s (one hit menopause during the show), the women in SATC were younger, in their 30s.

And while the housewives had already found love and were struggling to maintain it in the ‘happily ever after’ stage of their lives, only to realise that such things simply do not exist in the quiet cul-de-sac of Wisteria Lane, the Carrie Bradshaw-led brigade, despite their so-called ‘feminist outlook’ looked desperately for love in the Big Apple.

That’s what made DH so special; the fact that the housewives did not focus solely on the men they were with (they actually protected them at one point or the other); they had many other axes to grind, including covering up murders, burying bodies in the middle of the night, having extra-marital affairs, fighting alcoholism and other addictions (as well as dealing with a coma or two) — all in addition to the everyday chores which came with being wives and mothers.

While at times the show moved from the ludicrous to the bizarre (calling it unrealistic would be an understatement), it kept audiences glued because its treatment ensured that the unbelievable became believable, be it a plane crash, a tornado, shootings, hit-and-runs, or even stampedes and riots.

But sadly, despite the out of the extraordinary and unbelievable twists and turns that characterised the show, the season finale was comparatively believable, predictable, and, truth be told, disappointing (warning: spoilers ahead).

The last episode of the show neatly tied up all four of the storylines of Susan Mayer (Teri Hatcher), Bree Van De Kamp (Marcia Cross), Lynette Scavo (Felicity Huffman), Gabrielle Solis (Eva Langoria) and, to an extent, the new housewife on the block, Renee Perry (Vanessa Williams). And alas, they all leave their beloved Wisteria Lane eventually.

The annoyingly cheerful and idealistic Susan Mayer, after recovering from Mike’s death, moves away with her daughter Julie and her newborn granddaughter, and son MJ. She does, however, admit that she “has enough love in her for another love affair” but in the meantime memories of Wisteria Lane are enough for her.

Bree Van De Kamp, after being accused of murder, easily (and predictably) escapes a jail sentence thanks to her dashing lawyer and the testimony of the cranky but lovable Karen McCluskey. Bree then marries her lawyer after she is exonerated, and becomes a congresswoman in Kentucky.

Lynette moves to New York, where she finds joy in being a high-powered CEO in NYC, and lives happily ever after with Tom, her kids and eventually her six grandchildren.

Gabby eventually gets her own TV show and moves to California and “argues happily ever after with Carlos.”

Conclusion: Towards the end, as she leaves Wisteria Lane after one last drive around the block, Susan is watched by the ghosts of Wisteria Lane (all the people who died on the show) as Mary Alice Young reflects: “As Susan left her driveway, she had a feeling she was being watched and she was. The ghosts of people who had been part of Wisteria Lane were gazing upon her as she passed. They watched her as they watched everyone, always hoping the living could learn to put away rage and sorrow, bitterness and regret. These ghosts watch wanting people to remember that even the most desperate life is oh... so wonderful!”