Terrance Heath

Wisteria Lane: Once More Around The Block

Filed By Terrance Heath | May 17, 2012 10:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Entertainment, Marriage Equality
Tags: Desperate Housewives, Saturday nights, season finale, Wisteria Lane

(WARNING: SPOILER ALERT! IF YOU STILL HAVEN’T WATCHED THE DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES FINALE, AND DON’T WANT TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENED, READ NO FURTHER!)

Folding laundry, in our house, will never be the same again. That’s how my husband and I have spent every other Sunday for the past eight years -- sitting on the couch,  folding laundry, and watching Desperate Housewives. Many things changed over those eight years. As Parker (who was about a year old when the show debuted) got bigger, so did his clothes. In the meantime, we packed away his baby clothes and toddler togs, only to unpack them again when Dylan was born, and we went from folding three sets of clothes to folding four sets of clothes.

But two things never changed in eight years: 1) That every other Sunday night was laundry night, and 2) that Daddy and Papa watched Desperate Housewives and folded laundry.

It got so that Parker started to pick up on it. Bedtime has always been pretty much the same every night, with occasional allowances made for later bedtimes on special nights. But not Sunday nights. Dylan’s bedtime is earlier, but Parker was marched upstairs by 9:00 pm sharp on Sunday nights. No arguing, and no discussion. No amount of begging or pleading, or even the occasional tantrum could change that, because at 9:00 pm the adults in our family finally reclaimed the television from children’s programming. (Whichever of us had Parker’s bedtime would miss the first 30 minutes, and the other would deliver a brief recap during the commercial break.)

It all ended Sunday night, with the final episode of Desperate Housewives, as we (along with 9.49 million other viewers) said goodbye to Wisteria Lane.

I know some people gave up on the show after the first season, or the second. It had it’s flaws, certainly.Some elements of the story were implausible. (I wondered how Susan kept that house with her earnings as a children’s book illustrator who never seemed to have much work to do. Even if the won it in the divorce from Carl, and owned it free and clear, how did she pay for bills and upkeep? Even with Mike’s salary as a plumber, it would seem to have been a stretch.) But it’s shortcomings weren’t enough to dissuade us from becoming regular viewers.

Eva Longoria notwithstanding, I always wished the cast had been a little more diverse. Alfre Woodard’s 26 episodes as Betty Applewhite seemed to be a response to criticism about that problem, but Wisteria Lane stayed pretty white after that -- at least until Vanessa Williams joined the cast as Lynette Scavo’s college buddy Renee Perry. (According to Wikipedia, Renee was only the second African-American housewife on the show.)

I don’t know if I’ve written about it here before, but I’ve been a huge Vanessa Williams fan since her inspiring Miss America win. But what’s more inspiring to me has been her comeback and incredibly successful career after the scandal that cost her the crown. After getting knocked down like that, a lot of people would have stayed down. Not Vanessa Williams. (How do you think she got to be Miss America in the first place?) She went on to stardom in just about every realm of the entertainment industry. Her addition to DH in season 7 made Sunday nights that much sweeter. (Though “sweet” isn’t a term anyone would use to describe Renee.)

For a show with a gay creative producer, and off-the-charts campiness, DH took a while to get seriously gay. Yes, Bree’s son Andrew (adorably, petulantly played by Shawn Pryfom) came out in season 1, but by season 3 Andrew was a minimal character. He served to help carry a story arc or two, got and lost a boyfriend, helped Bree manage her Mrs. van de Kamp’s empire, got a drinking problem, and then got lost.

the Lane didn’t have a properly gay couple until Bob Hunter (Tuc Watkins) and Lee McDermott (Kevin Rahm) moved in.

Even then, Bob and Lee were never fully “integrated” into the Lane. They, too, served to help carry certain story arcs. Their  Just about anytime someone on the Lane needed a lawyer that they weren’t going to end up sleeping with (i.e. Bree Hodge) Bob was there. And, after the shocking demise of resident real estate agent Edie Britt, Lee got his license and helped facilitate the comings and goings of those passing through Wisteria Lane.

The writing, while not always great, was often very good. As a writer, I’ve got to have a good story, or you lose me pretty quick. I have a simple test. When the writing becomes so predictable that I can not forecast with stunning accuracy not just what’s going to happen by the end of an episode, but what story arcs are going to start and finish over the next two or three episodes, is the kiss of death. That’s what happened halfway into the second season of Queer As Folk. I started to feel like I could write the rest of the season myself, rather than watch the show, and enjoyed it more.

No so with Desperate Housewives. Sure, I could tell where some of the story lines were going, but most of the time the writers kept me guessing enough to keep me interested.

That said, Marc Cherry and the writer’s had an annoying habit of starting storylines and not finishing them at times. Two come to mind from the last season. Bob and Lee adopt a daughter, Jenny, in season 7. Jenny figures prominently in at least one episode in season 7, and the first episode in season 8. But after that, she disappears for the rest of season 8. Likewise, Andrew van de Kamp showed up at the beginning of season 8, engaged to an heiress in a marriage of convenience that Bree ultimately breaks up. When Andrew admits he has nothing else going for him, Bree invites him to stay with her and get his life back together. And that’s the last we see of him.

I have less of a beef with the fate of Orson Hodge. He threatens to kill himself, when Bree discovers his stalking and manipulation of her. The last time we see him, he is mailing evidence to the Fairview Police. What happens to him is left to our imaginations, but he does not appear among the “ghosts” at the end of the finale.

The Finale

I’m usually wary of final episodes. Sometimes they’re great; a deserving send-off for a much-love series. (Think the final episode of M*A*S*H.) Sometimes, they’re a bit too schmaltzy and clunky. (Think the final episode of Will & Grace.) This one was more the former than the latter.

There were some things we knew had to happen.

  1. Bree would not be found guilty and would not go to prison. (This isn’t Seinfeld, after all.)
  2. Carlos would not confess or go to prison.
  3. Tom and Lynette would get back together.
  4. Renee and Ben would get married.
  5. Mrs. McClusky would die.

How these things were accomplished was surprising at times. I never understood why Carlos couldn’t confess that he killed the man who had abused his wife as a child, had been stalking her recently, and had broken into their home. Those three things alone would probably have gotten him an acquittal. His “three strikes” excuse never quite worked for me.

So, getting Bree off the hook is left to Mrs. McClusky, who “confesses” and gets away with perjury due to her old age and declining health. Interestingly enough, Karen McClusky was the heart of the final episode. The softening of her character throughout the series, and her development from the crabby old gossip on the block to a more grandmotherly figure (with plenty of snark left in her) is completed.

Karen’s death kicked off the most touching part of the finale, to me -- a montage that tied together Karen’s death, the birth of Jullie and Porter’s daughter (Susan, Lynette and Tom’s granddaughter), Tom and Lynette’s reconciliation, Bree and Tripp’s new relationship, Renee and Ben’s new marriage, and the maturing of Carlos and Gabi’s relationship to the tune of Johnny Mathis’ “Wonderful, Wonderful,” wrapping it all in lyrics that underscored how much the characters had grown and changed in the years we knew them.

Even though there wasn’t a word of dialog in the whole segment, it was the kind of thing as I writer I found myself wishing I’d written.

Honestly, Tom and Lynette were always my favorite couple. And let me stop here to say that Tom Scavo, portrayed by Doug Savant, was my favorite husband on the Lane. 

You can have Mike, Carlos, and the rest. If I were going to do a little husband stealing on the Lane, it’d be Tom. No question.

I was rooting for Tom and Lynette to get back together. There was no way the show could end with them splitting up, but there was no way they could just get back together. There had to be one last push-pull, one last tug-of-war, one last moment or two of doubt. That it was supplied via a surprise reappearance by Kathryn Mayfair (Dana Delaney), with a too-good-to-turn-down job offer for Lynette -- in New York -- seemed like a bit of “deus ex machina,” but it gets the job done and continues the theme of “leaving the lane,” since we already know that Susan will be leaving to follow Julie back school, and take care of the baby while Julie finishes her studies.

That’s where I also part ways from some viewers who were disappointed with the finale.

At its core, Desperate Housewives has always been about the strength of the four women as a group -- particularly as they dealt with the dark secret of Alejandro's murder in this final season -- so to split them up just when they were finally in the clear felt like unauthentic, like something the women would never actually do if they were real.

Then again, maybe it was creator Marc Cherry's attempt to make a profound statement -- that life doesn't always work out as you plan it, despite your best efforts. And when you consider that Housewives' narrator is a woman who literally shot herself in the head in the pilot, it's also possible that the series finale's ending was just a way to get back to the show's original roots.

It’s the most natural thing in the world. The thing about communities is that they change. People move in and out of them just like they move in and out of each other’s lives. They may share life changing experiences and dark secrets. They might even share a grandchild, but it’s likely the parents spend more time shuttling between visits to grandparents than the grandparents spend traveling to visit at the same time. It doesn’t diminish the time shared or relationships created. They remain as important as they ever were, even if the best intentions of maintaining those ties fail.

People move on, sometimes whether we want them to or not. My husband I certainly didn’t want the ladies (and gentlemen) of Wisteria Lane to move on. But they have, and so must we.

We’ll find something else to watch on Sunday nights. Eventually we’ll move on, knowing there may never be another show like DH was for us. We’ll move one. But, like I said, folding laundry will never be the same in our house again.


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