Warning: This article may contain minor spoilers for the "Desperate Housewives" premiere.
When Mary Alice Young’s familiar voice opens the third season of ABC’s “Desperate Housewives” on Sept. 24, one can’t help but thinks her words have a dual meaning. As a storm dumps water onto Wisteria Lane, her words can be applied as easily to what’s happening on the screen as to the tempest the show endured in its second season.
“This is what rainy days are good for,” Young says. “They make everything clean again, which is necessary on a street like Wisteria Lane. Where everything can get so messy.”
After a debut season in which “Housewives” was given credit for redefining broadcast television and being one of the most daring, innovative and funny shows on the small screen, a backlash was inevitable.
But the second season was a near disaster, and the coming year will prove to be the test. The rubber match. The tiebreaker. At the risk of hyperbole, the third season of “Desperate Housewives” could very well determine this drama’s place in TV history.
It’s difficult to pinpoint what went wrong last season. The Housewives spent much less time together, the stories went awry, the show became too soapy and seemed to slip at every turn.
Show creator Marc Cherry has promised to right the wrongs, and some changes were made as the new season approached. Executive producer Tom Spezialy has left the show and Cherry is running the show, leading viewers to believe that it will return to his dark comedic vision.
Ripping off ‘Sex and the City’?The season opens with a mystery involving new cast member Kyle MacLachlan, who plays dentist Orson Hodge, the man we saw beginning to sweep Bree Van De Kamp off her feet at the end of last season.
Hodge already left an air of mystery about him when he purposely mowed Susan’s boyfriend Mike Delfino down with his car in the second season finale. But the opening moments of the new season will make viewers see Orson in a whole new way.
The season premiere hums along just fine, except for a disturbing conversation in which Bree tells her lady friends she does not want to engage in premarital sex with Orson. The scene is virtually ripped from HBO’s “Sex and the City,” when Charlotte York (played by Kristin Davis) told her friends she wanted to wait until after the big day to do the deed.
Charlotte’s friend Samantha (Kim Catrall) chimed in, “Honey, before you buy the car you take it for a test drive.”
This time, it’s Bree’s friend Gabby (Eva Longoria) who says, “You wouldn’t buy a car without at least taking it for a little test drive.”
Ironically, MacLachlan played both “cars” in question, as he portrayed Charlotte’s fiancé Trey MacDougal on “Sex and the City” and now plays Bree’s beau. It isn’t entirely clear if the writers are giving us a wink with this homage or just lacking creative juices.
Regardless, we see Cherry and co-writer Jeff Greenstein wrestling to wrap up or work through leftover storylines for each of the main characters that must be resolved before the show is fully back on track.
Bree Van De Kamp
What went wrong?: She’s the most tortured woman on Wisteria Lane, and that’s the problem. Bree (Marcia Cross) went from the strong, resolute, anal-retentive wife and mother to a passed-out drunk with a penchant for falling in love with cold-blooded killers. This isn’t the Bree audiences came to love, and it isn’t the Bree they want to see.
What’s in store?: Sadly, Bree appears destined to continue with her unfortunate choices in men. While MacLachlan’s character is a joy to watch and slips nicely into the cast, he doesn’t seem right for Bree and serves as another reminder that killing her husband, Rex (Steven Culp), off the show was a bad, bad move. The couple’s interactions worked, whether or not they were living together. Rex’s relative level-headedness balanced Bree’s obsessiveness and gave Cross a chance to shine. But when she’s continually placed next to murderers, being a little uptight doesn’t seem like such a big deal.
What went wrong?: The one thing even the most ardent detractor of hers could say was that she always stuck to her conviction and never gave in to her slimy ex-husband Karl’s advances. Then she gave in to her slimy ex-husband Karl’s advances. Like it or not, Susan (Teri Hatcher) is goofy and clumsy, but she wasn’t supposed to be stupid. The dynamic between the divorced Karl and Susan was always entertaining. But their hook-up sent her character into a tailspin and turned her on again, off again situation with Mike Delfino into an annoying and overdone bore.
What’s in store?: Mike’s in a coma now, so Susan is tending to him at the hospital. But she’ll soon find herself falling for a new man, played by Dougray Scott (“Heist”).
What went wrong?: Getting her out into the working world was a fantastic move, but bringing her husband, Tom (Doug Savant), into the same office killed it. Audiences wanted to see Lynette (Felicity Huffman) do her own thing and watch her stand out. She ended up eating a pound of raw bacon to defend Tom’s honor. To make matters worse, viewers were teased with the suggestion that Tom was cheating on her and that she’d have to make it as a single mother — a development that would actually be interesting. Instead, they discovered Tom’s secret pre-marriage lovechild whose overbearing mother, Nora (Kiersten Warren), is trying to squeeze into the Scavo Family.
What’s in store?: Unfortunately, this story isn’t going away and is easily the most exasperating bit of the first new episode. There’s talk of a character’s impending death in the first few episodes. Not sure how they’d do it, but here’s hoping Nora is shown the exit.
What went wrong?: Not much. Some viewers were bothered by her character’s quick 180-degree switch from never wanting a child to being obsessed with having one. But Gabby (Eva Longoria) continued to provide some of the only comedy that remained through the end of the second season.
What’s in store?: Her husband Carlos (Ricardo Antonio Chavira) is out of the house, but Gabby is still tending to Xiao Mei, their maid and surrogate mother of their child who became Carlos’ mistress (talk about padding the résumé). She still offers some of the best comedy on the show, including a perfectly placed diatribe right from the start that will fill viewers with the hope that the "Desperate Housewives" doldrums may have passed.
Victor Balta is a writer in Philadelphia.