“Desperate Housewives” returns Jan. 8 after more than a month's hiatus, and perhaps the women of Wisteria Lane have used the time to reflect on the past 12 months. 2005 started off strong, with the show maintaining high ratings and critical and fan acclaim. But as the second season began and the calendar year wore on, the high ratings stayed, the acclaim ... not so much.
Outside the show's fictional little safe haven, the critics were sharpening their knives for the show's second season. After a first season that centered around a mysterious body in a trunk, a renamed child, and other issues all leading to Mary Alice's suicide in the very first show, there was bound to be a letdown of sorts. Yet reviewers correctly pointed out that the second season was squandering one of the show's strengths, the relationships between the main women characters, by so rarely showing them interacting. Even the neighborhood poker nights were few and far between.
2005 was a tough year for the "Wives" in many ways. We offer some thoughts on what went wrong (and right) for them in the past 12 months, and what resolutions they may be making for 2006.
Bree Van De Kamp
2005 was the year of: Loss. At the beginning of the year, Bree was a married mother of two with an impeccable reputation and a sense of style Martha Stewart would envy. By the time the ball dropped in Times Square, she was a widow who'd been accused of murdering her own husband, Rex, and she'd watched his real murderer, psycho pharmacist George, slip away.
Most memorable scene: After a doctor called to inform Bree that her husband had died (George had substituted other pills for one of Rex's prescriptions), she took the call, thanked the doctor, and then calmly sat down to finish polishing her wedding silver before allowing herself to break down. Again and again, Marcia Cross proves the truth of the old Richard Cory poem and song: Sometimes it is in the most pristine facades that the most terrible secrets hide.
Resolution for 2006: To bring her devastated family together despite the loss of Rex. It wouldn't be an easy task under any circumstance, but will be made especially difficult thanks to son Andrew. He's back from juvie boot camp and is vowing to make his mother's life even more hellish than it's been to this point. Bree thought she was helping soothe his anger over his father's death by confessing that she let George die, but really, she may have just handed Andrew a perfect bit of ammunition to use in his planned war against her.
Susan Mayer2005 was the year of: Family ties. Susan found love with plumber Mike Delfino, only to lose him, possibly forever, when she lied to him about knowing the whereabouts of his probable son, Zach. She saw her crazy mother Sophie wed (again), and finally met the man Sophie now says is her father, Addison Prudy. She fell back into bed with ex-husband Karl, only to watch him go back to neighbor Edie. Others tried to show Susan love, including her literary agent, Lonny Moon, but there was a Mike-shaped hole in her life that remains unfilled.
Most memorable scene: Susan finally confesses to Mike that she helped Zach stay on the run. She claims she was hoping to protect her own daughter from Zach's stalker-esque tendencies, but there was to be no forgiveness from Mike. He drove off, leaving her sobbing in the middle of Wisteria Lane, clad in her mother's froofy bridal gown.
Resolution for 2006: To stand on her own two feet. Susan's klutziness was cute for maybe the first month of the show, and no longer. If there's a melting ice-cream cone, goofy costume, or lame pratfall anywhere in the script, you can bet Susan's involved. She needs to shelve her childish antics, realize she can live without Mike, Karl, or any other man, and get back to the business of raising her daughter and nurturing her art career. Sadly, Susan's so well-established as the comic relief of Wisteria Lane that this resolution is unlikely to outlast January.
2005 was the year of: Change. Gaby never wanted to be pregnant, and she certainly never wanted to be poor. Yet the spoiled ex-model found herself expecting (thanks to husband Carlos' birth-control tampering) and near-broke (thanks to Carlos' dishonest business dealings which landed him in prison). Yet by the end of 2005, she'd lost the baby in a fall (and didn't seem all that sad about it) and regained her riches. She wants life to go back to the way it was before Carlos did time, but his infatuation with a crafty nun who considers her vow of celibacy more of a suggestion may not allow that.
Most memorable scene: Certainly not the hokey scene in which an ex-con convinces her to release a balloon in memory of her lost baby. Instead, the one time that it seemed Gabrielle might be willing to accept motherhood was after she'd fallen down the stairs in her home and was being loaded into the ambulance. She desperately whispered into Bree's ear, and the neighbor returned with the baby's one and only ultrasound photo, which she pressed into its mother's hand.
Resolution for 2006: Build a time machine and go back in time to before the loss of the baby, before Carlos' prison term, before the appearance of Sister Mary Hotpants. Gabrielle never knew how good she had it till it was all taken away.
2005 was the year of: Growing up. Lynette talked herself hoarse about how stifling she found staying at home with her demonic boys and placid baby girl, but it turned out she was the one who had some growing up to do. She didn't have faith that husband Tom could care for things at Casa Scavo, repeatedly testing and tweaking his parenting skills. And while she successfully plotted to get rid of boss Nina, she learned that new boss Ed may be just as odd.
Most memorable scene: Sick of serving as then-boss Nina's wingwomen, Lynette turns the tables by making herself the hottest thing in the bar, topping even the Tabasco in the bloody Marys. She let her hair down, tossed back some shots, and danced on the bar to the irresistible "Boogie Shoes," a nice nod to fans of Felicity Huffman's role in the late lamented "Sports Night," which featured the tune in a classic episode.
Resolution for 2006: Be careful what you wish for. Lynette wished for work, and found she missed home, and that the office came complete with its own tangle of troubles. So far home had been as calm as life with the three Scavo terror sons can be, but Lynette had better not push good-natured husband Tom too far. As viewers learned in an episode featuring Tom's father, Tom has a secret or two of his own, and it's unlikely Lynette will want to learn what they are.
2005 was the year of: Secrets. Wisteria Lane's newest neighbor managed to buy, sight unseen, a house whose basement could function as a secret prison cell. How handy, considering that Betty had Caleb (we presume he's her son, but we've never been formally introduced), who was fleeing murder charges in Chicago. But maybe she should have visited the house before buying after all: The dungeon proved crashable, and Caleb broke out. Other presumed-son Matthew managed to coax Caleb out of the psych ward where he'd been placed, but a mysterious bounty hunter or other interested party is also hot on the trail. Let's hope Betty's piano talents keep her in tune, because her life is crashing all around her.
Most memorable scene: Any of the scenes where Betty lovingly assembled a dinner tray for Caleb, using Martha Stewart-esque hostess skills which would make Bree proud.
Resolution for 2006: To open up. Betty's been unwilling to let her neighbors in, and for good reason. The "Housewives" writers have also been unwilling to let viewers into her life. We're not sure what happened to her abusive husband, or if his abuse caused brain damage in Caleb. We don't know what evidence there is that Caleb did or didn't murder Melanie. Heck, we don't even know if Caleb and Matthew are indeed her sons: In an early episode, her caress lingered on Matthew's well-chiseled body in a most un-momlike way. Maybe if Betty becomes a regular at poker nights, some of her secrets will get spilled.
2005 was the year of: Invisibility. Sassy Edie is a favorite of many fans, but she seems to have been shoved to the background so far this season. Her most major plotline involved her relationship with Karl, Susan's ex, and with Julie, their daughter. Susan and Edie are entertaining rivals, but Edie needs a story outside of merely serving as Susan's nemesis.
Most memorable scene: Susan nosed Edie out of performing at Julie's Family Follies night at school. Instead of shooting daggers at Susan perched at the piano, Edie clapped wholeheartedly and seemed honestly proud of Julie. She seemed so proud, in fact, that even Susan wavered and gave up her role in the performance to an unpracticed Edie, who limped her way through a piano piece snarling "Give me a break, this thing has like 90 flats in it!"
Resolution for 2006: To magically receive as much screen time as John the gardener. Or Danielle. Or Lynette's baby girl, Penny. Anything would be a step up.
Gael Fashingbauer Cooper is MSNBC.com's TV Editor