(*homocinematically inclined)

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Actor Factor: Acts of Desperation

Desperate Housewives launched its sixth season (now available on DVD) doing what it does best: taking everyday suburban situations, mixing them with a dose of malevolent mystery and raising them to a sort of absurdist operetta. The opening episode's breeze along adhering to the show's standard but effective formula. Even after five seasons, the now extremely familiar residents of Wisteria Lane can still entertain, surprise, engage and reveal something new about themselves. Unfortunately, about halfway through the season, the show takes a dark and heavy-handed turn, which stretches the bounds of believability even for Desperate Housewives.

The season opens with a strong episode, “Nice is Different Than Good,” picking up with last year's cliffhanger and quickly revealing the identity of Mike's bride (okay, it's Susan) and catching us up with the other characters in Fairview. Lynette and Tom (Felicity Huffman and Doug Savant) are dealing with the reality of becoming parents again in their forties, Bree and Orson (Marcia Cross and Kyle MacLachlan) are still at marital odds, and the situation is not being helped by Bree's affair with Susan's ex-husband, Karl (Richard Burgi.) Gabby and Carlos (Eva Longoria Parker and Ricardo Antonio Chavira) find themselves playing host to the latter's troubled and dangerously gorgeous teenage niece. Katherine (Dana Delany) is not handling Mike and Susan's remarriage well (in fact, she's down right crazy.) To top it all off, the obligatory mysterious-newcomers-with-a-dark-secret, Angie and Nick Bolen (Drea de Matteo and Jeffrey Nordling) have taken up residence in dead narrator Mary Alice's former house.

The season certainly has its high points. Gabby starts home schooling Juanita (Madison De la Garza) when the latter is withdrawn from school after both she and Gabby use some colorful language. Lynette's struggles with her feelings about her mid-life pregnancy give Felicity Huffman a chance to use her always-impressive range. Dana Delany finally gets a good storyline when a new and unconventional romance presents itself to Katherine. Marcia Cross and Kyle MacLachlan do some of their best work ever, with the help of some very fine writing, as Bree and Orson, in the season's final episodes, struggle to save their marriage. However, the most consistent storylines this year are Susan's, and Terri Hatcher continues to impress and surprise with both her comedic and dramatic range. She proves herself an agile pole dancer as well.

Drea de Matteo is a welcome addition to the cast, and her chemistry with the other actors works surprisingly well. Kathryn Joosten's role as Karen McCluskey is gratefully expanded this season, as are the characters of supporting gay couple Bob and Lee (Tuc Watkins and Kevin Rahm). Andrea Bowen returns as Susan's daughter, Julie, and Shawn Pyfrom makes several guest appearances as Bree's gay son, Andrew. A talent to watch is Julie Benz, who portrays a former stripper named Robin who has a profound effect on the women of Wisteria Lane — one in particular.

Unfortunately, the season also has far many lower points than usual. Lynette's plot to hide her pregnancy from boss Carlos starts out amusingly enough but spirals into a bitterness that goes on too long (even when watching back-to-back episodes on DVD), and the storyline is cheaply resolved in the prerequisite mid-season catastrophe episode “Boom Crunch.” This episode is followed by the even weaker and ultimately pointless “If”, which is saved only in part by Teri Hatcher in a fat suit and some strong work (in a forced scene) by Felicity Huffman. There are far too many psychopaths lining up in the final few episodes as well, including a stranger (Sam Page, channeling a preppy Eddie Haskal) trying to take over Bree's company, a be-sweatered and murderous Eco-terrorist played by the charmingly miscast John Barrowman of Torchwood fame, and last-but-not-least the Mayfair Strangler!

The revelation of the Strangler's identity is probably the most unbelievable revelation in DH history (considering the character could probably be taken down by Juanita and Celia Solis in a fair fight.) Furthermore, when normally intelligent Lynette begins to piece together the truth about the killer, she is such a bad detective, even Nancy Drew second bananas Bess and George would mock Lynette's sleuthing abilities.

Despite the season's shortcomings, the show remains entertaining and maintains an overall quality and freshness that is rarely found in a television show in its sixth season (or first season for that matter.) This year's guess-who's-back! cliffhanger also bodes well for better things to come next year.

The DVD's extras feature some excellent deleted scenes, a Mike Delfino (James Denton) man-on-man kiss in the blooper reel, and a not-to-be-missed interview with the cast by Muppet stars Miss Piggy and Pepe the Prawn. Also included in the extras are favorite scenes from the season “Cherry-Picked” by show creator Marc Cherry. Ironically, one of the favorite scenes he chooses is one I found rather forced and clumsy. However, hearing his commentary regarding the scene certainly gives one a sense of the time, craft, love and attention that goes into this show.

Desperate Housewives has set the bar pretty high for itself, and though it may miss its own mark at times this season, it remains one of the best written, acted and produced shows on television. When a sixth season of a show can still keep its audience hoping for a seventh season, it must be doing something right.

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.

1 comment:

  1. Never been to crazy about this show, although my partner bugs me to watch it every time its on TV, maybe i should watch the first season to see if I can get into it.
    Great review