ABC show, `Desperate Housewives,' is formulaic

October 12, 2004|By SUSAN REIMER

IN MY BABY boomer lifetime, I have gone from flower child to thirtysomething to soccer mom to empty-nester.

Somehow, I missed out on being one of those Desperate Housewives.

You know that stereotype, too, I am sure.

Exhausted by my spoiled kids, abandoned by my workaholic husband, obsessed with the perfection of my home and driven mad by it all, I burn down the house of my rival, have sex with the garden boy, poison my husband or blow my brains out in front of the family portrait.

Desperate Housewives (Sunday, 9 p.m.), ABC's newest reason for Muslims to hate us, is billed as a dramedy. It's as schizoid as the women who live on back-lot perfect Wisteria Lane in Surburbia Somewhere, and just as predictable.

If you aren't sure whether to laugh or grab a tissue after watching this show, it is because it is neither funny nor dramatic. It is bad Stepford Wives and bad American Beauty; bad Twin Peaks and bad Six Feet Under.

The show's writers have chosen one of each female stereotype from the human pantry, set them in a perfect suburban cul-de-sac, and infested their dialogue with enough cliches to require an exterminator.

The ensemble cast includes one Martha Stewart, one hot-tempered Latina, one predatory divorcee, one hapless but sympathetic divorcee and a passive, defeated former career woman overrun by her children. The only feminist is a precociously together teenaged girl, who demands to know when her mother last had sex.

All of these women are miserable behind their gleaming windows, but impossibly good-looking nonetheless.

If it weren't for the mysterious note and the mysterious box unearthed at midnight and the mysterious widower who just moved in, there would not have been a thimble full of curiosity generated for another episode.

We wives and mothers have had a rough go of it so far this television season.

There is the pot-smoking mother of the future president of the United States in Jack & Bobby, and the women in Wife Swap, who can't seem to cope with any change in their environment, their routine or their cast of characters.

Then there was Rose, who lost her husband, her job and her house and garden in Revenge of the Middle-Aged Woman. Add to that the docu-drama of the Houston woman who ran over her husband three times. Why not make a movie about post-partum Andrea Yates drowning her five children to complete the set?

The search for lasting love, the complexity of family life, and the conflicts of the modern requirement that women both work and manage the home are all fertile ground for drama. And there can be a good reason to watch our little miseries replayed on the small screen: thirtysomething proved that almost 20 years ago.

But the suburban tele-women of Desperate Housewives makes me long for the smart-aleck vacuousness of the girls on Sex and the City or the brilliant suburban send-up of Tom Hanks' The 'Burbs.

In the meantime, I'll take my McMansion housewives Carmela Soprano-style: smart, tough and very dangerous.

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