''Desperate Housewives'': Over- and underdressed
Unlike a lot of folks who've been declaring a sophomore slump for Desperate Housewives since early October, I've managed to maintain a degree of optimism throughout this season's previous five episodes. Sure, Susan's been morphing into an unlikable wretch, and in my mind, Bree's acknowledgment of her feelings for George so soon after Rex's death has been wildly out of character, but if I can't keep the faith in my favorite TV show, then what next? Cancel my cable connection? (Hell to the no!) That's why, going into tonight's episode, I promised myself it'd take more than a couple of shaky plot twists to make me press the panic button.
And so, how do the show's writers repay my faithfulness? By choosing to bring back Susan's colossally irritating mother, Sophie (Lesley Ann Warren), who isn't so much a character as she is a jarring distraction. With that strained, singsong speaking voice, and her flailing arms and eyelashes, Warren is clearly working overtime to achieve loveable-bimbette status, but instead she comes off like a large, awkward bird that's staggered onto the set and begun squawking and flapping its wings to no avail.
To be fair, the blame isn't all hers. I mean, the only discernible reason for Warren's guest spot this week was to give the writers an excuse to have a wedding dress lying around, one that could add to Susan's end-of-episode humiliation. Otherwise, why wouldn't Sophie head to a professional tailor or bridal salon for the alterations?
Speaking of that wedding dress, I hate to sound like a harpy, but let me ask this: Did this week's episode seriously end with yet another tearful breakup between Susan (clad in poufy white, natch) and Mike? Certainly, Susan deserved to pay some kind of price for secretly packing her boyfriend's disturbed, homeless son onto a Utah-bound bus, but you'd think instead of pathetically falling to her knees and begging Mike to come back, she'd at least remind him that she once forgave his felonious past, not to mention the fact that he recently kidnapped and came close to murdering Paul Young. As I see it, the score's pretty much tied. So how come he gets to play enraged and indignant?
And anyhow, I had figured the hideous Pepto-Bismol-colored, zip-front sweatshirt and floral top Susan wore to work on her kitchen sink was penance enough. What's the deal? Doesn't ABC's highest-rated series have a big enough budget to dress all four of its leading ladies in fetching attire? (After all, they've certainly saved on ensembles for Nicollette Sheridan and Alfre Woodard, who've had maybe a combined 27 seconds of screen time in the last three episodes.) Or perhaps it's simply that the show's wardrobe managers and writers are combining forces to create a new Housewives pecking order.
Take Lynette, for example: Not only did she indeed glide, not walk, in that flawlessly cut $900 cream-colored suit, but her story arc also contained this week's most surprising twist and most satisfying crescendo. Lynette's speech to Tom about how designer clothes and carbon-fiber golf clubs could help make them a happier family was only trumped by Tom's declaration: ''Wow. I feel like a better parent already!'' (I'm just hoping she also becomes a better employee, and maybe finds a new way to pour some scalding coffee on that miserable boss lady of hers.)
Meanwhile, the only character who came close to Lynette this week in the battle for Alpha Housewife was Gabrielle. The Housewives costume department clearly hasn't gotten the memo that Gaby is with child well, unless there's some secret cult of pregnant women roaming the land with abs so flat and ripped they can work tiny negligees and skin-tight tops with nary a stomach bump but what's reality got to do with Mrs. Solis, anyway? Her story line has always been one massive, indulgent fantasy, and unlike those viewers who cringe at her outrageously selfish ways, I raise a not-so-guilty toast to her every Sunday night. Someday soon, she'll probably have to act like a responsible mother, so in the tradition of Joan Collins' Alexis Morell Carrington Colby Dexter Rowan, and Heather Locklear's Amanda Woodward, enjoy the unapologetic badness. Gaby's lust-struck lawyer (who kinda looks like better-dressed brother of George the pharmacist) sure does. And hubby Carlos certainly seems to as well. In fact, the spouses' hostile repartee ''start packing up your shanks, or whatever it is you people make in here'' is loaded with as much vitriol as it is naked lust.
Oh, and while we're on the subject of hostility and lust, how creepy is George the Pharmacist? Watching him loosen his tie while standing over a passed-out, drugged-up Bree was totally gag-worthy and, worse, left open a small window of possibility that the Widow Van De Kamp was unknowingly raped just prior to consummating her relationship with George. The thing is, though, I think I could handle the ick factor of this plotline better if I were able to believe Bree would take a hotel room with George in the first place.
Now Marcia Cross is a total superhero; girlfriend can leap tall buildings with a single bound as far as I'm concerned. But something about the Bree-George romance just keeps falling short of authentic for me. Bree is a woman who's so concerned with public opinion that she won't let her teenage son leave the house in a ripped T-shirt, yet I'm supposed to buy her trotting around town with the man the police once suspected of killing her husband? And if I could, how am I supposed to shake that shattering image of Bree sobbing into her silverware over Rex's death in last season's finale? That was a moment as beautiful as it was harrowing, the kind of scene that not only kept me glued to the screen but had me buzzing about it with friends and family days later.
Six episodes into its sophomore season, that special kind of Housewives magic has gone the way of Betty Applewhite. You know she's alive and well and living right there on Wisteria Lane, and yet, good luck finding her on your TV screen.
What do you think? Are you sold on the Bree-George story line? Were you moved by Susan's tearful collapse? Or, like me, are you just trying to savor the better parts of the episode and hoping the show's writers can pull themselves out of this rut?