(*homocinematically inclined)

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Actor Factor: Desperate Hours

It’s five years later, and everything on Wisteria Lane has changed. Well, maybe not everything, but there is definitely some thing fresh and reinvigorated about Desperate Housewives ... and no, I’m not talking about rumored Botox injections in any of the lead actresses’ foreheads. The DH season four finale saw the action jarringly and unexpectedly jump five years into the future, and that is where the fifth season (available on DVDthis week) picks up.

Bree is now a catering dynamo with a book deal. Katherine is her unsung partner. Lynette and Tom are working overtime to keep Scavo’s Pizzeria running and their kids in line. Edie has returned to town after a five-year absence with her creepy new husband. Gabby, overweight and out of shape, and Carlos, still blind, are struggling to make ends meet while raising two daughters. And the couple of couples, Mike and Susan, are no longer a couple.

As always, the cast is fantastic. Marcia Cross and Felicity Huffman never fail to deliver. Nicollette Sheridan plays the deadpan-sexpot-pragmatist, Edie, to perfection. Dana Delany is classy and understated, but a little underused for an actress of her talents. This, however, allows well-deserved camera time for the Emmy-winning Kathryn Joosten as Karen McCluskey, who turns sleuth and tackles this season’s mystery arc. Eva Longoria Parker is particularly strong this season as a frumpy, down-and-out Gaby, who spends nearly the entire season clawing her way back to the top.

Season five, however, truly belongs to Teri Hatcher. Her storylines this year have been their strongest ever, and Hatcher rises to every moment. Episode after episode, she runs the gamut from light comedy to heart-felt pathos and ridiculous, screwball situations to heavy drama — often played all in one scene. The girl can turn on a dime and make you believe every minute of it.

The ‘Desperate Husbands’ also have particularly good plotlines and scripts this season, especially Doug Savant as Tom Scavo. His midlife crisis meltdowns are hysterical and downright ludicrous at times. However, he never fails to grow up and rise to the occasion when Lynette and the kids truly need him to be strong. Neal McDonough, as Edie’s new husband, Dave Williams, performs effectively with Machiavellian menace, and he remains creepily sexy despite his strange, albino crew-fro.

The children of our desperate housewives and husbands (The ‘Desperate Offspring,’ as I like to call them) have always played a strong part in the show, and this season is no exception. However, many characters have been recast in the five-year jump. Madison de la Garza, as Gaby’s eldest daughter, Juanita, is the standout. There is wonderful chemistry between her and Longoria, as the controversial “New Game” scene in the opening episode will attest. Juanita often functions as Gabrielle’s main foil and sometimes confidant, and it is an interesting dynamic to watch.

The only continually returning ‘D-Offspring’ actor is Shawn Pyfrom as Bree’s son, Andrew. He is still gay and now engaged to a hot young doctor. Said doctor has an interesting past, about which gay neighbors Bob (Tuc Watkins) and Lee (Kevin Rahm) know a little too much. To see four recurring gay male characters, each with different and distinct personalities, is a delight rarely seen in any media. Add to this Edie’s gay ex-husband, Lily Tomlin as McCluskey’s sister (and detective sidekick) and Queer as Folk’s Gale Harold as Susan’s new love interest, and I say we have DH’s gayest season ever!

It is also the show’s best season since season one. There are several standout episodes. “Mirror, Mirror” has some of the finest editing and direction seen on broadcast television. The 100th episode, “The Best Thing That Ever Could Have Happened,” guest stars Beau Bridges, who was justly Emmy nominated for his turn as Eli Scruggs, a handyman who touches the lives, both past and present, of all the women of Wisteria Lane, including that of pre-suicidal Mary Alice Young. “Look Into Their Eyes and See What They Know,” the episode in which the housewives say goodbye to a long-time friend, however, is particularly moving, but I cried at the wedding episode of The Nanny, so I am a bit of a pushover.

The season finale does what DH does best: brings everything to an exiting conclusion without demonizing the villains or sanctifying the heroes. The cliffhangers are less sensational than usual but are still clever, and they will keep you desperate to know what happens next.

The “extras” on the DVD release (I received “The Red Hot Edition”) are a mixed batch. The blooper reel, consisting of little more than some flubbed lines, is somewhat disappointing. The deleted scenes don’t add much, though Lynette’s drunken chemo session is priceless. However, the 100th episode retrospective is a nice touch, as is the mini-tribute to Teri Hatcher.

The best “extra” is the behind-the-scenes look at the table read of the weekly script, showing just how much work goes into crafting such quality television week after week and year after year. There is also excellent and informative commentary by series creator Marc Cherry and weekly narrator Brenda Strong on the 100th episode.

“Extras” are always nice, but it is the episodes themselves that truly matter, and this fifth season is the cream of the crop. If you have never seen DH, season five is a great place to start. If you left DH after the first season (and shame on you), this is a great season to come back. If you are like me, and have been desperate for the last five years, it is well worth watching this season all over again. So — get the DVD setand pour a glass of chardonnay, or perhaps a ‘Desperate Daiquiri,’ and sit back and enjoy the show. Every night is Sunday night, and the gals of Wisteria Lane and all their desperate escapades are just a remote click away.

The Actor Factor: A View from Both Sides of the Camera is by James Jaeger, Los Angeles based actor and resident television critic of Movie Dearest.

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