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Desperate Housewives: A Eulogy

by Rachel Stein May 14, 2012 11:20 am
<i>Desperate Housewives</i>: A Eulogy

What can I say about Desperate Housewives? Once a clever, black humor soap opera about life as a woman in the suburbs, Marc Cherry's series eventually became a Sunday-evening afterthought that only the most devoted of fans watched and even then, it was mostly to see it end. In Season 1, it averaged 23.69 million viewers -- in Season 8, it never quite reached the 10 million mark. Now, Desperate Housewives has left us... and against all odds, takes a tiny bit of each fan down with it.

To be clear, I thought "Finishing the Hat" was terrible. The writers so clearly wanted to end their show with a bang, cramming in a death, a birth and a wedding all into 40 minutes of script that all of the emotionally strong moments fell completely flat. To put it in perspective, Karen McCluskey's death got less screen time than Renee's wedding. Even M.J. got a speaking role. Had the earlier episode of the evening, "Give Me the Blame," aired last week to tie up the trial -- the trial that never needed to exist because accidentally killing a man (who is trying to rape your wife) out of self-defense isn't exactly first-degree murder -- thus allowing "Finishing the Hat" to actually be the two-hour series finale it was clearly supposed to be, perhaps it wouldn't have felt phoned-in.

Maybe it would have been less disappointing to see all the future reveals of the wives. There's a chance I would have actually been too emotionally wrapped-up to notice how low-budget the final vignettes with Bree, Lynette and Gaby were, let alone how frustratingly nonsensical and out-of-character it would be for Bree to go into politics. And those last precious seconds with Susan driving through the Wisteria Lane chockfull of the ghosts of Desperate Housewives past eerily watching over her -- a series finale moment that maybe would have been powerful and fitting to the show had the mighty not fallen so hard so long ago and then the introduction of a new woman and a new Mary Alice-caliber secret -- maybe they would have sparked something inside of me. Instead, the only thing I'll miss about the series is the fans.

Desperate Housewives was not the kind of show you casually let people knew that you watched. It was always an embarrassing reveal and you just hoped that you wouldn't have to justify watching eight seasons of the same declining crap over and over again. A typical kind response to your viewership was maybe, "Oh, that's still on?" or "I watched Season 1!" But to find another fan, a person who not only watched the ladies uncover Mary Alice's secret, Gaby's affair with John Rowland, Bree's crumbling marriage to Rex, Susan's rivalry with Edie over Mike and Lynette's bout with her kids' ADD medicine, but also all 180 episodes up through to last night's overdue finale (and let's not even talk about Season 6), it was like swapping war stories and opening up a little portal to your vulnerability.

And not for nothing, with an audience of mostly women (and some very patient boyfriends and husbands), Desperate Housewives was once so transcendent -- and eventually, just so plain addictive -- that a person's age was no indication of whether or not they watched. Much like the women of Wisteria Lane, both young and old, we were brought together in our differing, stressful lives and had an hour every single Sunday to roll our eyes (and laugh and even cry, when no one was watching) at soap opera filled with complex women and pretty men. Bree, Gaby, Lynette and Susan may not have been the icons that the Sex and the City characters came to be, but they did represent a type of woman whose surface we don't see too much outside of the clever cleaning product commercial: An unsatisfied one with needs that go beyond a husband, kids and a career -- a woman who, more than anything, just wanted a friend who'd bring over a pot of coffee or a pitcher of margaritas after a particularly crappy day. Because Desperate Housewives understood the importance of celebrating female friendship in a society where female competition is the standard. And sure, talking about the worst of the show was like trading battle stories, but discussing the good times was like speaking fondly of an old friend and pronouncing that you recognized something about the inner struggle of these characters that kept you back for more.

In retrospect, it feels like there were more good times then bad (I think it's mostly that the worst episodes were really terrible), but in the end, it doesn't matter. What's important now is that Desperate Housewives paved the way for more women to feel represented and for less women to feel alone, be that because of the friendships they were inspired to keep after seeing the ladies of the Lane or because the show itself fulfilled the hole on its own. I hope that whichever side of the coin you fall on, you were able to take a piece of what you originally loved Desperate Housewives away from the finale and feel as free and satisfied as I do now. It's what Mary Alice would have wanted.

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