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Desperate Housewives: guilty pleasure or daft TV?


Desperate Housewives is still going. We apologise if this sounds like a masterclass in Stating the Bleedin' Obvious, but it's worth repeating: Desperate Housewives is still going. It seems to have been airing, on roughly 70% of all TV channels worldwide, for decades upon decades -- from maybe around when the Cuban Missile Crisis ended.

A quick check online, though, shows that the pilot was only broadcast in October 2004, and the show first hit Irish screens around May the following year. So, Desperate Housewives hasn't been on television as long as all that. It just feels like it has.

The camp, ridiculous. OTT goings-on at Wisteria Lane just refuse to end, as the show trundles through its seventh season. It slinks along, week after week, year after year, apparently without a whole lot of purpose or direction, but not without a certain entertainment value.

Some scientists believe that only a nuclear holocaust can bring down Desperate Housewives; others say a global flesh-eating plague might do the job, although considering that most of the cast are carrying very little flesh to speak of, it's possible they could just carry on making the programme into infinity, with or without an audience.

One way or the other, it's almost certain that it will continue to be produced and broadcast, forever and ever and ever, amen. Nothing this popular and profitable will be lightly cast aside by the moneymen, and Desperate Housewives is both.

In fairness, it's still as good -- or bad, depending on your point of view -- as it was, six seasons ago.

There's a lot to like about Desperate Housewives, and a fair bit to criticise. It has always looked gorgeous (Eva Longoria doesn't look too bad either, possibly because unlike the rest of them her face doesn't look like it's been scraped by an industrial sanding machine).

The show is smartly scripted and well-acted; the storylines are funny and inventive and sometimes quite daft, which is clearly a good thing.

And the gambit at the end of season four, where the whole thing jumped five years into the future, was so ludicrous, audacious and insanely inspired it turned out, inevitably, to be a masterstroke.

So, to summarise the positive side, Desperate Housewives is quite enjoyable, undemanding stuff. It's like a televisual packet of Skittles: a mild, artificial, guilty pleasure, good fun at the time though you really don't remember much about it five minutes later.

Then there is the bad stuff. The main problem with the programme is that it's too confused. Desperate Housewives doesn't seem to know if it's a comedy, a drama, a murder mystery, a murder-comedy or a murder-comedy-drama. It also moves very clumsily between slapstick, satire, pathos and pseudo-profundity, with some awkward results.

In one episode, for example, the main character Susan (played by Teri Hatcher) had received a package from a private eye, detailing the life and crimes of her boyfriend Mike.

This was a guy who'd been convicted of drug dealing and manslaughter, yet the whole scene was played at the completely wrong pitch, going for broad humour instead of, well, seriousness.

Possibly the biggest criticism Desperate Housewives, though, is that there just isn't that much there -- and considering all the hype when it first aired, the viewer can't help but feel a little disappointed. Back in the middle of the last decade, this programme was being talked up as a profound meditation on how stultifying suburbia can kill the soul: something along the lines of Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique crossed with Falcon Crest.

In reality, it's nothing more than just another TV potboiler. Desperate Housewives is a glossy, vacuous soap opera -- albeit a beautifully produced one -- like countless others made in California every year.

Having said all that, there's nothing intrinsically wrong with any of this. It's still only entertainment, after all, and Desperate Housewives does it as well as anyone else. This week sees the usual mix of intrigue, comedy and misunderstandings, as Gaby (Longoria's character) and her kids stay with uptight Bree (Marcia Cross). The resultant clash of cultures is both predictable and amusing. Meanwhile, Susan discovers that Felicia is out of prison and back in Wisteria Lane.

If you don't expect too many deep and meaningful thoughts on the nature of human existence and don't pay too much attention when the show lurches from light comedy to deadly-serious drama, you'll have as good a time as ever.