''Housewives'': Gaby takes on one tough Sister
Writing a great Desperate Housewives storyline is kind of like preparing the perfect Thanksgiving dinner. Stick with the key ingredients. Don't try any jarring menu substitutions. And with apologies to my sister Becky, don't think the fact that you made cranberry relish from scratch means you don't have to serve the store-bought variety that pops from the can with a satisfying sploosh.
Okay, maybe that last part has nothing to do with this TV Watch, but you know what I mean. There are certain guidelines that must be followed: Choose one of our four heroines. Pit her against a formidable opponent. Have said housewife behave outrageously, surprisingly, and preferably just a bit wickedly. Most importantly, even when she looks licked, make certain she never, ever grovels.
Pretty much all of my favorite Wisteria Lane memories fit the recipe: Bree hurling the ultimate verbal harpoon (''Rex cries after he ejaculates'') at her dinner party; Lynette rallying her fellow mothers to ''kill the damn wolf'' in Maisy Gibbons' politically correct staging of Little Red Riding Hood; Susan burning down Edie's house.
So imagine my delight that nine episodes into a second season that's had its share of half-baked character motivations, overheated twists, and hard-to-swallow ideas, the show's writers finally cooked up a scenario worthy of multiple helpings. Not since the early days of Mrs. Tilman and Mama Solis has a Wisteria Lane newcomer been as sinfully delicious an adversary as Sister Mary Bernard, or as Gabrielle calls her, the ''hot nun.'' Granted, from a strictly aesthetic standpoint, this Sister's no match for Wisteria Lane's resident sexpot, but having God on her team pretty much levels the playing field.
In my mind, Gaby's at her best when she's at her most obscene, or at least obscenely funny flipping over John's little-league photo before an afternoon tryst, or putting up her ''do not talk to model'' sign at the mattress shop. So when she dragged Carlos upstairs for some noisy lovemaking within earshot of her rival, then came downstairs clad in a tiny robe and called said holy woman a bitch, it was the episode's raunchy highlight. I'm just wondering if Sister Bernard's intentions toward Carlos are purely spiritual, or perhaps a touch more carnal. Her observation that ''some marriages are meant to be annulled'' has me suspecting the latter, and ready to don my ''Team Gaby'' T-shirt if necessary. Better still, the Gaby-nun matchup goes beyond the battle for a man's heart, and cuts right to the heart of the battle between greed and charity, as evidenced by Gaby's priceless retort to refute Sister Mary Hotpants' claim that money can't buy happiness: ''That's just a lie we tell poor people to keep them from rioting.''
At first glance, Bree's current story arc seems to fit the classic Housewives mold as neatly as Gaby's, so how come it tastes like leftover stuffing? Perhaps because George has never been, and never will be, an adequate sparring partner for Bree. Last season, Bree's every interaction with Rex crackled because, no matter how caddishly he behaved, we knew that deep down, she adored him. With her heart and her happiness at stake, Bree pulled out all the stops donning dominatrix gear, bringing baked goods to the prison, delivering the season's most damaging one-liners while fighting for her relationship.
These days, the Widow Van De Kamp never comes off as anything more than a victim, even when she's firing her shotgun out the bedroom window to the amusement of her dinner guests, or refusing to call an ambulance to save George from his pills-and-booze cocktail. The old Bree would've done a heckuva lot better than allowing her husband's murderer to slip into that good night; she'd have dug up a pair of gloves to match her resplendent white evening gown, grabbed a pillow, and snuffed the life out of the milquetoast villain. Let's just hope that George is going the way of Mary Alice, Mrs. Huber, and other departed Housewives players. Actually, scratch that: I don't want to be misinterpreted as advocating that the show's creepiest character should start pitching in with narration duties.
It also looks as if we've seen the last of Nina, which is kind of a shame, since it was an unexpected delight to watch her boardroom confrontation with Lynette. I just wish our favorite working mom's poster presentation for ''Hinterlands'' clothing had looked a little more like a professionally produced ad campaign, and less like one of her kids' art collages. It might've made Nina's rapid-fire comeback (''Stinky pitch. Workin' late. No apologies.'') seem slightly less justified. With Lynette getting new responsibilities, and apparently inheriting the world's most incompetent, selfish boss, does anyone want to wager she'll be trading places with Tom again before season's end?
The only safer bet is that I'm never going to get emotionally involved in Susan's quest to connect with her long-lost father, especially since Paul Dooley, the actor who plays him, seems as if he's mentally reviewing his grocery list as he talks. In fact, I'm really starting to pity poor Teri Hatcher; her character's gone from groveling for Mike's affection to groveling for Daddy's, and she's averaging about one decent punch line every three episodes. Why doesn't she try out some blind dates on Match.com? Or get her groove back on a Caribbean vacation with Julie?
Then again, maybe she should be glad she's not locked in the Applewhites' basement, which is my new official euphemism for describing the way major Housewives characters and story arcs arbitrarily disappear on a regular basis. This week's prisoners: Betty, Caleb, and Matthew Applewhite; Mike Delfino and his son, Zach; the Van De Kamp kids; Paul Young; Tom Scavo and his four offspring; Karl; and the Solis' attorney, David; not to mention all the loose ends that come with 'em.
Were there any characters or plot threads you missed seeing this week? What do you make of the limited screen time for Nicollette Sheridan and Alfre Woodard? Has Bree gone soft, and does Gabrielle's holy war rank up there with Housewives' classic Season 1 moments?