The Wisteria Lane neighborhood has spent the past four years battling cancer, tornadoes, blindness, infidelity and attempted murder. Now the residents face the most daunting challenge of their suburban lives: aging.
“Desperate Housewives” opens its new season tonight by fast-forwarding the action five years, as bold and risky a move as adding Keith Olbermann as an “American Idol” judge or turning “Law & Order” into a campy musical.
After a preview of the first two episodes, it appears the gamble has paid off.
Creator Marc Cherry has used the leap into the future to turn back the clock and recapture the tone of the prime-time soap opera’s Emmy-nominated inaugural season, where sniping and sarcasm were more powerful and destructive than any windstorm.
“It was a chance for us to reset,” said Cherry, whose show has largely been overlooked at awards ceremonies since that heralded rookie year. “Soaps tend to build up, and I wanted to get back to where we were that first season when it was just the small and relatable problems of some ordinary women.”
Cherry said he was partly inspired by the time-travel twist employed by another ABC series, “Lost.”
“I was initially going to do an eight-year jump, but then when someone explained to me how the actresses would react to the idea that they were eight years older, I thought, ‘Maybe five. Maybe I can get away with five.’”
The results are fresh and funny: Lynette’s (Felicity Huffman) rambunctious kids are now borderline delinquents. Bree (Marcia Cross) has become a wildly successful, wildly insecure TV personality. Edie (Nicollette Sheridan) has married a motivational speaker. Susan (Teri Hatcher) has been transformed into a love-‘em-and-leave-‘em free spirit. Gabby (Eva Longoria Parker) now has two children, forcing her to trade in window-shopping for window-washing.
“Teri and I were saying that we’ve kind of switched roles because she’s glamorous now and I’m frumpy,” said Parker, whose use of stomach and buttock pads on set have triggered rumors that she’s either pregnant or addicted to creme-filled doughnuts. “I love it, because I come into hair and makeup now and it’s like 10 minutes instead of two hours.”
In serving up new story lines, Cherry also has given his cast new challenges—something rarely provided to actors on network TV, which is always wary of messing with a successful formula.
“It’s given all of us an opportunity to be something we haven’t been,” said Hatcher, whose character was dangerously close to running out of ways to whine. “For Susan, it’s been years of ‘Please love me, please love me, please love me,’ and now, for reasons that will be revealed this season, she’s more closed off to love and not so needy of it. It’s empowering and exciting to play different levels and different parts of your personality and have legitimate reasons why each character is in a new place.”
What hasn’t changed are the witty zingers, which were always the series’ strength, but too often buried under heavy-handed story lines and dramatic twists that had more in common with “The Twilight Zone” than a frothy comedy.
The season kicks off with one perfect punch line after another, whether it’s an icy saleswoman suggesting that Gabby’s overweight daughter might want to shop in the costume department where they sell a Mrs. Shrek outfit, or the response to Edie’s news that she now has a husband.
“Really?” Susan quips. “Whose?”
There’s also a series of delightful vignettes, including Lynette’s accidental “e-mail affair” with one of her sons (don’t worry, it’s more touching than icky); Bree being forced to produce a tricky dessert that she boasted of creating, and Gabby’s attempt to sneak into a high-end party out of fear that her social life is disintegrating into a future of “flip-flops and keggers.”
“What I love about my gals is that, for all the glamour, they’re all actresses first,” Cherry said. “I have friends who work on other TV shows who constantly marvel at what my gals allow me to do and how ridiculously silly I make them and how wickedly driven I can make the characters. They really go with me.”
The ride can’t go on forever. Cherry openly admits that he plans to end the series at the conclusion of the seventh season—and don’t expect him to hand the reins to anyone else.
“I love working with these gals, but the idea of letting anyone else take the show from me makes me sick to my stomach,” he said. “I would rather just end it as my thing. We’re going to get out while people still like us.”