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‘Desperate Housewives’ hopes to go out the way it came in

This news story was published on April 29, 2012.
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By Neal Justin, Star Tribune (Minneapolis) –

LOS ANGELES — Ask Teri Hatcher to select her favorite moment from eight seasons of “Desperate Housewives,” and she’ll most likely reminisce about the time she bared it all.

“There was a new wardrobe girl and at 6 in the morning she came over to me, introduced herself and said, ‘Can we please take some gaffer’s tape and cover your nipples and crotch?’” said Hatcher of the Season 1 episode in which her character, Susan, locked herself out of the house without a stitch of clothing.

As “Housewives” heads toward its May 13 finale with three new episodes beginning Sunday, it’s been making more headlines for ugly lawsuits than steamy scenes. Give the show credit, though, for showing a different kind of nakedness — an honest depiction of the challenges of creeping into middle age without losing one’s job, sexual drive or sanity.

In the first episode’s most riveting scene, Lynette (Felicity Huffman) breaks down in a public park, thinking she’s failed her four children.

“I love my kids,” she says while being consoled by her friends. “I’m so sorry they have me as a mother.”

Those kind of grown-up conversations were welcomed by women who couldn’t relate to the Cosmo-slugging, shoe-shopping gals of “Sex and the City,” which had ended its TV run about eight months before “Housewives” premiered, said Leah Wilson, a Dallas-based editor of a collection of essays called “Welcome to Wisteria Lane: On America’s Favorite Desperate Housewives.”

“It’s so infrequent to hear women talk on a day-to-day basis about the bad parts of motherhood,” Wilson said. “That grounded the show in its first season, that sense that you’re not good enough. They look like perfect mothers, but that’s never how it feels.”

Once the top-rated show among women ages 18-49, “Housewives” also struck a chord because of its setting, Wilson said. Before its success, Hollywood thought the suburbs were too dull, unless the neighborhood was populated with Stepford wives. Today, shows like “Suburgatory,” “The Cleveland Show” and “Weeds” embrace the outskirts.

“All of sudden, the suburbs were exciting in a good way,” she said. “Instead of finding out the residents are secretly robots, you find out they are human.”

It didn’t take long for “Housewives” to become a sensation, attracting nearly 25 million viewers a week and inspiring screening parties, celebrity impersonators and a bevy of reality shows on the Bravo network. It also redefined ABC as the place to go for female-driven drama. Since its debut in 2004, the network has had success with “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Revenge,” “Once Upon a Time” and “GCB.”

Eva Longoria, whose role as Gabrielle landed her the No. 1 spot on Maxim’s Hottest Female Stars list, recalled seeing the show being promoted one afternoon at a dry-cleaning shop, a grocery store and a flyer that was swirling in the street.

“I was like ‘Arrrgh!’” said Longoria, who was forced to buy a new house with a garage because paparazzi were camping out behind her trash cans. “You couldn’t escape it.”

Not even overseas. While vacationing in London right after the first season, creator Marc Cherry read a newspaper review of a production of “Hedda Gabler.” The first line: “Hedda Gabler is the original desperate housewife.”

All good things come to an end and, quite frankly, the good stuff for “Desperate” dried up years ago. The heart of the show got buried under one melodramatic stunt after another — a mysterious man locked in the basement, a plane crash, a grocery-store shootout, a tornado. Susan had so many crying fits, I could swear Hatcher was getting paid by the teardrop.

The series, once ranked No. 4 in Nielsen ratings, sank last season to No. 26.

But “Housewives” should get some extra love in these final three episodes, which promise to circle back to the show’s finest hour: The very first one.

Cherry and his writers watched the pilot before starting to write this season, aiming to evoke the original spirit of the show. These last episodes are likely to feature appearances by former characters and reminders of early story lines.

For both cast and fans, it should be an interesting, emotional goodbye.

“Everyone gets to go, ‘You were great. We’re really going to miss you. I’m sorry you’re dying,’” said Huffman. “All you can do is go, ‘Thanks. I really had a great time.’”

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