When the First Lady of the United States references your series for a White House Correspondents’ Dinner joke, you know you’ve got an instant classic on your hands.
If you don’t know what to watch next, ABC’s Desperate Housewives (2004-2012) is available to stream on Hulu. Marc Cherry’s mystery comedy-drama was a ratings juggernaut over the course of its run. It is the longest-running hourlong television show with all-female leads.
Set on Wisteria Lane, the primetime soap opera is narrated by Mary Alice Young (Brenda Strong) after she commits suicide.
The ensemble cast are Mary Alice’s friends and neighbors: the recently divorced girl next door, Susan Mayer (Teri Hatcher); the overwhelmed mother, Lynette Scavo (Felicity Huffman); the WASP-y Bree Van de Kamp (Marcia Cross); and the adulterous Gabrielle Solis (Eva Longoria).
Each season turns along a central mystery at its axis (the inaugural season being the circumstances which led up to Mary Alice’s death) as these four titular housewives come to grips with love, motherhood, and friendship.
Like Showtime’s Dexter (2006-2013) and HBO’s Game of Thrones (2011-2019), Desperate Housewives should’ve ended after its fifth season, but went on for eight instead. The first five mysteries are the most bingeworthy.
After the infamous time jump between the fourth and fifth seasons, it holds itself to be self-evident that Cherry could only develop these characters so much.
Visiting them five years into their future is a gimmick which sticks the landing for a staff of writers whose reputation precedes them for setpieces and cliffhangers, but it’s one that cannot be outdone.
Susan, Lynette, Bree, and Gaby become not who we know them to be when we initially befriend them, which is organic to their dramatic trajectories, but they begin to feel like strangers in the final three seasons.
These last seasons fail not because they’re bad, but because they’re forgettable, which a soap never should be. The sixth-season “witness protection program” twist is yawningly predictable, and this reviewer can’t recall what even happens in the seventh and eighth seasons.
Not every program can be AMC’s Breaking Bad (2008-2013), quitting while they’re still ahead, and Desperate Housewives is in the business of generating viewership, not crafting high art, which it does well, even if it’s what’s keeping it on life support past its expiration date.
If true genius in entertainment is to be found in knowing one’s limitations, then a visit to the campy, twisty, addictive fun of Wisteria Lane won’t overstay its welcome as long as you don’t plan on moving in there.