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Image: Desperate Housewives
Matthew Rolston  /  ABC
Vanessa Williams, center, joins the ladies of Wisteria Lane — from left, Marcia Cross, Teri Hatcher, Eva Longoria Parker and Felicity Huffman — for the seventh season of "Desperate Housewives."
By
TODAY contributor
updated 9/28/2010 4:24:46 PM ET 2010-09-28T20:24:46

Change has been good for the women on “Desperate Housewives,” the show viewers adore and critics treat like their first crush turned sour.

While audiences still tune in to see what new surprises are in store for the women of Wisteria Lane, most media watchers have dropped it from their radar. The last time the series caused a slight stir in the critical community was when it did a five-year time jump in 2008. But even that major shift wasn't enough to keep the critics' attention.

“By then, many of its early media champions had moved on,” said TV Guide magazine critic Matt Roush.

Now entering its seventh season on Sunday, the show still draws a solid audience each week, charmed by the ladies of Wisteria Lane: prim Bree (Marcia Cross), dingy Susan (Teri Hatcher), overachiever Lynette (Felicity Huffman) and self-absorbed Gaby (Eva Longoria Parker).

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Moving on
This season, the feisty show immediately plunges into multiple story lines, and will also answer a big cliffhanger from the season finale: who the victim of the baby swap is. The husband will struggle to tell his wife the truth, while looking at his child in a new light.

Bree will have several things going on in her life as she moves on from yet another marriage gone bust. Orson has moved out, but a tatted-up young contractor played by Brian Austin Green will catch the eye of the Martha Stewart clone.

“We had a scene where he grabs my hand to pull me somewhere as Bree, and just coming into my personal space sends (Bree) atwitter. I was atwitter too,” Marcia Cross said. “He has this out-there sexuality that just reverberates.”

A new love interest isn’t all that Bree’s got going on. She’ll also come clean to Gaby about covering up Andrew’s involvement in the fatal accident that killed Carlos’ mom.

“What we deal with right from episode one this year is (Gaby’s) friendship with Bree because she finds out something we’ve been holding back for six seasons: that Andrew, Bree’s son, ran over Gaby's mother-in-law. And then there’s another hit-and-run,” creator Marc Cherry said.

“What I learned (as a writer) on ‘Golden Girls’ is that you want your ladies to be very close, but it gets even funnier when you put them into conflict. So we decided to put the women into a lot of conflict this year. The secrets get darker, the action juicier and I’m going to try and make it sexier.”

Dark times
Things certainly get dark for debt-ridden Susan, who has moved into a small apartment with husband Mike and son M.J. In her quest to earn extra cash, she’s enticed into an Internet scheme run by her landlord (Lainie Kazan).

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Meanwhile, Susan’s house on Wisteria Lane has been rented to first season bad guy Paul Young (Mark Moses) — widower of Mary Alice — and he’s out for some revenge after being exonerated for the faked murder of the still-kicking Felicia (Harriet Sansom Harris). Never mind that Paul strangled Felicia’s sister Martha and got away with it.

“People think I’ve dropped a story line, but no, it’s lying there just waiting for me to get back to it,” Cherry said. “And it’s a joy to have Mark back. He was one of the more popular members of our cast.”

A new 'friend'
Career woman Lynette will find herself as an unappreciated stay-at-home mom caring for her five children, including an infant daughter. The sting of that demotion weighs heavily when her frenemy Renee (Vanessa Williams) pops back into her life.

“Over the years, some of the additions have been more successful than others, but Vanessa gets it,” Cherry said. “She’s involved in some of the best bitchy dialogue we’ve ever done on the show.”

Williams, who just finished “Ugly Betty” as the scheming Wilhelmina, comes on as the pampered wife of a professional athlete. Her world may revolve around fashion, travel and high society, but Renee knows where all the skeletons are in Lynette’s college closet.

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“Lynette was wild and fearless, which is kind of fun to hear that you were a really cool girl when you were younger, because she’s pretty conservative and straight-laced now,” Huffman said. “She came from a screwed-up family so I thought she was always nose-to-the-grindstone, but it’s nice to find out that she was wild and woolly.”

Fresh face
One of the more shocking visual changes wasn’t even scripted. Ricardo Antonio Chavira, who plays Carlos, shaved his goatee for a theater gig during hiatus. Suddenly, he lost his beefy quality and looked more like a skinny 20-something.

Cherry said Chavira asked if he should wear a fake goatee until the hair grew back, but Cherry just brushed it off and said viewers would just accept that the character decided to shave. “Then he came back looking like he was 14.”

“He just looked so completely different,” Longoria Parker said. “That look is so not Carlos.”

Yet it does reflect the fact that viewers never know what changes might be in store for these characters.

But that won’t matter to critics. “No matter how hard the show works to reinvent itself, there’s a perception it has peaked, though it’s still a popular destination for many fans who’ve made the show a Sunday night habit,” Roush said. “And they’ll probably be there to the very end.”

Susan C. Young is a writer in Northern California.

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