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Desperate Housewives: The Complete First Season

ABC-TV scored the two most celebrated breakthrough hits of the 2004 primetime schedule, with the supernatural airplane crash drama Lost and the sexy adult soap Desperate Housewives. "Lost"'s appeal was the result of its ambitious, cinematic-quality technical prowess and eerie, unpredictable storylines, while Housewives tapped into a decidedly different pop-cultural impulse. Reclaiming the nighttime soap genre from the last decade's teen/twentysomething domination, Housewives harkens back to the reign of 1980s pulpmasters "Dallas" and "Dynasty" as it revels in the tawdry secrets of a wealthy suburban neighborhood on idyllic Wisteria Lane. Creator However, Marc Cherry's show updates the formula of its benefactors with a veneer of knowing farce, infused with the anthropological wit and ersatz feminism of "Sex and the City" but diluted by the dull slapstick and situational gaggery of Blake Edwards. Desperate Housewives is narrated by Mary Alice Young (Brenda Strong) — a loving wife, devoted mother, and member of close group of neighborhood women — who kills herself during the pilot episode's opening moments. As Mary Alice's friends (Teri Hatcher, Marcia Cross, Felicity Huffman, and Eva Longoria) attempt to unravel the mystery behind Mary Alice's shocking exit, so are revealed a variety of other Wisteria Lane secrets, ranging from the sensational — adultery, blackmail, arson, murder — to the mundane — marital struggles, perils of child rearing, career frustrations.

The central conceit of Desperate Housewives is the popular Hollywood fantasy that the "conservative" suburbs, despite their facade of comfort and happiness, are really a sweltering storm of repression, perversion, and deception. However, the show is at its weakest when this pseudo-sociology is at its most explicit (usually during Mary Alice's often superfluous and tiresome narrations). On the other hand, the series' greatest strength lies in its ability to learn from its problems and improve on them (said narration, for example, becomes increasingly less preponderant and ponderous as the series matures). While the first six episodes clunk along, suffering from overly broad caricatures and tired farce conventions (lovers scrambling to hide from unexpected cuckolds, people being locked outside their houses while naked; etc.), the subsequent batch of episodes leading to the mid-season climax begin to reveal engaging angles of previously 2-D characters and refreshing facets of too-cynical (or too idealized) relationships. Housewives slips into some doldrums during the late-season stretch, but it pulls back together for a compelling and sometimes surprising finale that packs unexpected emotional punch. As with any series that becomes a runaway success, the cast is key to quality. Hatcher stands out as Susan, a lovelorn and klutzy single mom who steadies the series as its empathetic anchor — she, Huffman, and Cross each received Emmy nominations for Lead Actress in a Comedy Series (a miscategorization sure to annoy sitcom actresses). The male characters are just as perfectly assembled, with Steven Culp, James Denton, and Doug Savant proving exceptional foils for their desperate female counterparts. Also featuring Nicolette Sheridan, Ricardo Chavira, Mark Moses, Andrea Bowen, and brief appearances by Bob Newhart and, foreshadowing Season Two, Alfre Woodard.

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Buena Vista presents all 23 episodes of Desperate Housewives: The Complete First Season in an attractive box set, with each episode in a bright anamorphic transfer (1.78:1) and Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Scattered throughout the set's six discs are a smattering of bonus materials, including "unrated" extended versions of episodes "Who's That Woman" (#1.04), "Anything You Can Do" (#1.07), "Every Day a Little Death" (#1.12), "Impossible" (#1.15), "Sunday in the Park with George" (#1.21), and "Goodbye for Now" (#1.22). Cherry provides solo commentary on episodes "Pilot" (#1.01) and "Guilty" (#1.08) and is joined by director Larry Shaw for thoughts on "Anything You Can Do," "Impossible," and "One Wonderful Day" (#1.23). Longoria, Huffman, Cross, Sheridan, and Hatcher also pipe in during their favorite scenes. There are also seven deleted scenes with optional commentary by Cherry, plus featurettes "A Stroll Down Wisteria Lane," "Desperate Housewives Around the World," "Multi-language sequence: Bree's dinner party," "Dressing Wisteria Lane: A look at the costume and set design," "Behind the Scenes with The View's Meredith Viera," "Secrets of Wisteria Lane," "Oprah Winfrey is the new neighbor," plus a blooper reel. Six-disc fold-out digipak.
—Gregory P. Dorr



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