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Desperate Housewives: Season 1 DVD Review

Desperate Housewives: Season 1

February 5, 2006

Director: Fred Gerber, David Grossman, Charles McDougall, Jeff Melman, Arlene Sanford, ,
Starring: Teri Hatcher, Felicity Huffman, Marcia Cross, Eva Longoria, Nicollette Sheridan, Steven Culp, Ricardo Chavira, Mark Moses, Andrea Bowen, Cody Kasch, Jesse Metcalfe, Brenda Strong, James Denton, Doug Savant, ,

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DVD Review

Desperate Housewives proves that there are roles for women over 40 (providing that they look younger) as the four lead actresses were all plucked from the margins and catapulted into fame as the show has become hugely popular. And yet, its success is not all that surprising. Essentially, part mystery, part soap opera, Desperate Housewives is a clever blend of American Beauty (1999) and Knots Landing. However, look closer and this show is hardly progressive at all but quite dated in its portrayal of women.

The show is narrated from beyond the grave by Mary Alice (Strong), a housewife who mysteriously killed herself. Her friends and neighbours try to figure out why she did it while also dealing with their own problems. They all live on the postcard perfect Wisteria Lane – the epitome of the American Dream with its white picket fences and perfectly manicured lawns. Lynette (Huffman) was a powerful business executive who traded in her briefcase for diapers once she had a few kids. Gabrielle (Longoria) was a successful New York City model who married a rich man, retired to the suburbs and now spends her afternoons cheating on him with a hunky, teenage gardener. Bree (Cross) is the ultimate homemaker, an obsessive control freak who tries to maintain a perfect household despite her unhappy husband and children. Finally, Susan (Hatcher) is a single mom still getting over a messy divorce and trying to raise her precocious daughter.

Desperate Housewives follows in the tradition of other popular nighttime soaps like Knot’s Landing and Melrose Place (thanks to the presence of Marcia Cross and Doug Savant). It pushes all the right buttons with four gorgeous leads, plenty of sexual escapades (thanks to Gabrielle), catty in-fighting amongst the characters and the mystery that runs in the background of each episode. It also includes an intriguing cast of supporting characters: Mike (Denton), the sexy neighbour who catches Susan’s eye, Edie (Sheridan), the sexed-up divorcee who hits on anything with a pulse and has her sights set on Mike much to Susan’s chagrin, or Mary Alice’s husband (Moses) – just what is he digging up underneath his swimming pool?

One of the reasons behind the show’s success is that it plays on the familiarity most people have of the day-to-day routines of housewives and transforms it into something that is exciting to watch. The show presents all the usual archetypes typical of the genre: the klutzy comic relief (Susan), the bitchy control freak (Bree), the frazzled, overworked wife (Lynette) and the cheating sexy one (Gabrielle). Once the writers establish these characters they then proceed to put them on auto-pilot rarely deviating from the stereotypes for the entire season. Desperate Housewives portrays these women in an oddly defeated way. Gabrielle and Lynette, in particular, were successful in their own right prior to the events depicted in the show but once they got married and settled down their individuality was cut down. Now, all of these women channel this frustration of being trapped in the suburbs by lashing out at each other and at others.

On one level, Desperate Housewives is junk food for the mind. It gleefully amps up domestic life to exaggerated levels for comic effect. The four leads are excellent but as the show becomes more and more popular and paychecks increase one wonders how long egos can be held in check before the show implodes. There have been several unsubstantiated reports of in-fighting amongst the ladies but you’ll get none of that in the DVD’s extras. So far the show’s creator Marc Cherry has managed to keep everyone together and continues to produce a very popular and successful show.

Special Features:

Over the six disc set are sprinkled deleted scenes for various episodes with optional commentary by creator Marc Cherry. He points out that these scenes weren’t cut, in most cases, because of lack of quality but rather due to time constraints or the footage simply didn’t fit the rhythm of said episode.

There are also several audio commentaries for select episodes, usually with Marc Cherry and sometimes including one of the show’s directors. They tend to be more technically-oriented tracks filled with mentions of deleted scenes and reshoots. On one with director Larry Shaw, they talk about editing, the use of stunt doubles in a scene and so forth. They also discuss specific plot points and praise the actors’ performances.

The much anticipated commentary track with the four lead actresses turns out to be something of a disappointment as they comment separately on montages of their favourite scenes from the season. For example, Longoria loved the one where she pushes a lawnmower in an expensive dress (which she comments on constantly); Huffman likes the scenes that allowed her to flex her acting chops a bit; Cross prefers scenes that show the different sides of her character (i.e. like playing a seductive vamp); Sheridan picks scenes she found to be the funniest and tells some amusing and entertaining anecdotes; and Hatcher gets the most time talking about her famous nude scene on the front lawn of her house and how her naughty bits were covered with strategically placed gaffer’s tape.

The first disc includes “A Stroll Down Wisteria Lane” that takes a look at the show with Cherry. He talks about how he pitched the show to the network and feels that the look of Wisteria Lane represents the American Dream but the reality is that everyone has dark secrets. Cherry consciously wanted to mix genres with the show: comedy, drama, mystery and romance.

The second disc includes a featurette entitled “Desperate Housewives Around the World” that focuses on the popularity of the show all over the globe. People even get together at bars to watch it with others. People seem to identify with certain characters that resemble themselves. Critics and fans alike gush about why they love the show.

“Multi-Language Sequence: Bree’s Dinner Party” allows you to watch a scene from the show dubbed in various languages. Sometimes the voices match the characters quite well, other times…not so well.

“Dressing Wisteria Lane” examines how the show’s production and costume design reflects who the characters are and is distinctive for each of them.

The sixth disc includes “Oprah Winfrey is the Newest Neighbor,” an eight minute goof where Oprah moves onto Wisteria Lane and meets the Desperate Housewives. This featurette is loaded with all sorts of in-jokes to things on the show that gets way too cutesy for its own good.

“Bloopers From the Set” features a montage of the cast blowing their lines and goofing around the set.

“Secrets of Wisteria Lane” is a behind the scenes look at the filming of the show, in particular aspects of production design – the construction of sets that reveal a few tricks of the trade but, sorry, no revelations of plot points from the show.

Finally, there is “Behind the Scenes of Desperate Housewives,” a nice look at the show that gives an insider’s perspective on what it’s like to shoot scenes with interviews with Cherry and various cast members.

J.D. is a freelance writer who is currently doing research for a book on the films of Michael Mann. He likes reading anything written by Jack Kerouac, James Ellroy, J.D. Salinger, Harlan Ellison or Thomas Pynchon. J.D. is currently addicted to the T.V. series 24 and enjoys drinking a lot of Sprite. This is not a blatant plug for the beverage but if they ever decided to give him a lifetime supply he certainly wouldn’t turn them down.
view all DVD reviews by JD Lafrance

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Rating: 80%

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