Desperate Housewives: The Complete Second Series Review

The first season of Desperate Housewives was one of the biggest hits of 2005. Big deal, you may say. True, in a year memorable for any number of unconventional successes the popularity of yet another prime time soap opera is not as exciting as it once was. But then that's missing the point. Because as much as the likes of Lost, Battlestar Galactica, or on this side of the Atlantic Doctor Who made science fiction relevant to people who have never felt the need to put on a Klingon costume, Desperate Housewives made serial drama palletable to whole new audiences. Including, God forbid, men.

So then the question becomes why? What does Desperate Housewives have that gives it this crossover appeal? On the surface the answer isn't obvious. Look at any promotional poster, or the cover for this very box set, and you'll see a conventional formula. Another female ensemble show analysing what it is to be a woman in this modern age. Sex and the City, but with the sophisticated career women exchanged for seemingly average suburban housewives. Looking at the main cast there's nothing in the stories of ditzy divorcee Susan Mayer (Teri Hatcher), high-flying businesswoman turned put upon mother of four Lynette Scavo (Felicity Huffman), appearance obsessed super-housewife Bree Van De Kamp (Marcia Cross), or indeed bored trophy wife Gabrielle Solis (Eva Longoria) to suggest that the show could be anything special. But then that's kind of the point, because right from the opening moments of the pilot episode when our otherworldly narrator Mary Alice Young (Brenda Strong) blows her brains out without warning it's been clear that Desperate Housewives is more than the simple comedy drama it appears to be. If there is a theme to be found it is that appearances can be deceptive, and over the course of the first 22 episodes the veneer of suburban life was peeled back to reveal the complex murder mystery lurking underneath.

What then of the 24 episodes that make up this second year? With all of season one's dark secrets now out in the open there was always a chance that the second season would fall flat on its face. Sure plenty of people watched Desperate Housewives for the soap aspect but the magic of the show was how well it balanced so many different styles of story. With one critical ingredient now gone would people still have a reason to keep tuning in week after week? Unsurprisingly season two saw the introduction of a brand new mystery. With the arrival of new neighbour Betty Applewhite (Alfre Woodard) and her family, including one teenage son secretly locked in the basement, comes a new set of questions. Without wanting to spoil this storyline for those who have not yet seen it there is a sense that it lacks the same mileage as last year's events, or that the mystery of the boy in the basement fails to attain the same water cooler conversation status as the contents of season one's toy chest. Whilst the first mystery drip-fed us tiny revelations week after week that gradually unfolded to reveal the bigger picture, the second lets its secrets out in a smaller number of giant spurts. By the time we're half way through the season almost everything has already been revealed of this story. All that remains is one last twist in the season finale, and even that is a little too predictable. It's a shame really because the Applewhites did have potential, and Woodard in particular delivers a stunning performance. It just feels like this particular story is a little too disconnected from all the other events taking place on Wisteria Lane and as a result keeps getting pushed to the sidelines.

But then Desperate Housewives was always more than just a mystery show. The dark secrets may have drawn in the viewers but it was always the day to day struggles faced by the four main characters that lay at the heart of the show. In this respect nothing has changed. Each episode contains four very different tales of suburban life, often linked by one vague theme explained by Mary Alice's closing voiceover. As Alex Hewison mentioned last year when he reviewed the first season, each character seems to represent one distinct stereotype of the modern housewife. Lynette is our everyman (or technically woman) character whose struggles with her unruly kids will inevitably ring true with mothers across the globe. Bree is the seemingly perfect Martha Stewart type, as well as the one who cannot cope with the rebellious nature of her teenage kids. Gabrielle is the spoilt model who only married for money and appears not to have any affection for her husband. Finally the adorably clumsy Susan is our unlucky in love romantic lead.

Whilst little has changed for Susan, who continues to go through relationship ups and downs and finds herself in embarassing situations surprisingly regularly, the others go through quite a bit this year. Lynette returns to work after seven years as a stay at home mom, Bree struggles with the aftermath of her husband's death at the end of season one, and Gabrielle finally warms to the idea of motherhood but is faced with one tragedy after another.

If Marcia Cross was the real star of season one then it's Felicity Huffman who really shines this time around. Quickly ditching the trappings of the downtrodden mother, she shows us exactly who wears the trousers in this show. Her stories do take a while to get going. I didn't initially take to her comedy workplace and I'm sure we could all have lived with fewer stories on the guilt of being a working mother, but things do step up considerably once she begins working with husband Tom (Doug Savant). For once in this situation it's the husband who reeks of desperation and I think many modern men can identify with the crisis of masculinity Tom endures once he realises how much more successful his wife is than him. Of course it's not like Marcia Cross doesn't still get her fair share of juicy stories. Life certainly doesn't get any easier for a widowed Bree whose challenges include dealing with the affections of her husband's killer, alcoholism, and her sociopathic son's constant attempts to break her. I wish I could same for Eva Longoria who, despite several heartbreaking moments over the course of the season, continues to play the least likeable of the four leads. To be fair I never was a fan of her diva antics the first time around but Gabrielle remains vain and materialistic, and seems to demonstrate her worst traits inappropriately soon after her more humanising moments.

Whilst the format may not feel as fresh and original as it did last year there remains a lot to recommend about Desperate Housewives. The second year doesn't have as much mystery to it, and that may put off those readers who found that the main selling point of season one. Then again you can't fault this particular collection of episodes when it comes to character development and new dimensions are added to practically all of the main cast that you may not have seen last year. All in all if you enjoyed the first season then the second makes for a solid investment.


Episode Guide

Disc One
2.01 - 'Next'
2.02 - 'You Could Drive a Person Crazy'
2.03 - 'You'll Never Get Away from Me'
2.04 - 'My Heart Belongs to Daddy'

Disc Two
2.05 - 'They Asked Me Why I Believe in You'
2.06 - 'I Wish I Could Forget You'
2.07 - 'Color and Light'
2.08 - 'The Sun Won't Set'

Disc Three
2.09 - 'That's Good, That's Bad'
2.10 - 'Coming Home'
2.11 - 'One More Kiss'
2.12 - 'We're Gonna Be All Right'

Disc Four
2.13 - 'There's Something About a War'
2.14 - 'Silly People'
2.15 - 'Thank You So Much'
2.16 - 'There Is No Other Way'

Disc Five
2.17 - 'Could I Leave You'
2.18 - 'Everybody Says Don't'
2.19 - 'Don't Look at Me'
2.20 - 'It Wasn't Meant to Happen'

Disc Six
2.21 - 'I Know Things Now'
2.22 - 'No One is Alone'
2.23 - 'Remember' Part 1
2.24 - 'Remember' Part 2

A/V

Unfortunately the check discs that Buena Vista provided feature copyright warnings burned into the picture. As this means that they do not represent the video quality of the final product I cannot comment on this aspect of the transfer. You will see that I have also opted not to rate the video for this release.

In the audio department we do get a Dolby Digital 5.1 track but don't get too excited because it's nothing special. Like most dialogue driven television shows it's only the music that really gets the speakers going, but even then you won't hear anything that you wouldn't expect from a decent 2.0 track.

Edit: There is a listing on the main menus for French audio and subtitles. As far as I can tell selecting the audio track achieves nothing and the subtitle option brings up English subtitles. The only exception seems to be the extras disc which does feature French subtitles.

Extras

All of the extra features are contained on disc 7 and are, for the most part, both entertaining and informative. The disc also opens with trailers for Lost, Grey's Anatomy, Alias, Scrubs and Commander in Chief. One word of warning in relation to the extras though. I've heard reports that the packaging for the retail version contains listings for additional extras including a blooper reel and interviews with the men of Desperate Housewives. These were not present on the check discs I was sent and as far as I can gather did not make it to the final product either. I can only assume that Buena Vista made some sort of mistake printing the packaging and listed features that for one reason or another were not included in the set.

Marc & Mom
Creator Marc Cherry and his mother Martha discuss their family life and how it influenced events seen in the show. Cherry reveals that elements of his mother went into both Bree and Lynette and the two also recall anecdotes from his childhood that inspired stories. This short featurette is mildly entertaining and does provide a few insights into the show but its value really depends on how much you care about seeing Marc Cherry's mother.

Directing Desperate Housewives
A detailed look at the production of episode 13 'There's Something About a War'. This feature does well to cover everything from the writing process to filming and post-production. Predominantly though it looks at the episode's big fight scene between Gabrielle and Sister Mary and demonstrates how it was planned and put together. This is the most technical offering and will be of most interest to those looking for insight into the processes that go into making Desperate Housewives.

Desperate Role Models
Famous television housewives from over the years discuss their opinions on Desperate Housewives and the changing role of women on modern television. Short segments are dedicated to how they feel about each of the central characters. This particular feature seems little more than promotional fluff and achieves nothing beyond stating the obvious.

Cherry Picked: Creator Marc Cherry's Favourite Scenes
Key scenes from throughout the season presented with commentary from Marc Cherry. I had feared from the description that this would turn out to be a brief promotional montage, thankfully I was wrong and the commentary that Cherry provides is informative to the point that it is the best feature on the set. I had also noticed the lack of full-length audio commentaries for any of the episodes, and the option of doing a series of single-scene commentaries makes for an interesting alternative as it allows Cherry to focus specifically on the moments for which he actually has something to say without worrying about talking for entire episodes. I'm sure it's also something that people who would not normally spare the time to watch an entire commentary would be more likely to watch

Unaired Story Lines
Two sets of deleted scenes viewable with or without commentary from Marc Cherry. The first set features Susan in a story that was originally intended to feature in 'Color and Light' continuing the, quickly forgotten, idea of her trying to write a semi-autobiographical novel. Interestingly the story does set up a number of events that would happen later in the season, including explaining the presence of the camper van from the last few episodes. However, as Cherry himself points out, the story never quite works and it's understandable why it was eventually dropped. The second set is taken from 'No One is Alone' and features Lynette getting in trouble whilst trying to make a phone call in the middle of a flight. This story is a lot more entertaining than Susan's but, as Cherry explains, it was an unnecessary part of an episode that was running long.

Deleted Scenes
Eleven deleted scenes from across the season with optional commentary from Marc Cherry. These are presented in an intriguing order with sections for each of the core housewives and an "and more" category for other characters. Unlike the previous set these deleted scenes are small parts of stories that eventually did make it to the screen. Whilst I'm not going to list every single scene these are an excellent selection, some it's entirely clear why they were cut and others seem like they should have been left in. As Cherry himself admits one of Susan's scenes also served as the key moment in her health insurance story and probably should have been kept.

Fashion & Couture
A series of interviews with costume designer Catherine Adaire on how she developed the individual style of each of the main characters. Obviously for a show like Desperate Housewives fashion plays an important part and Adaire does a wonderful job explaining how she creates the look of the show as well as talking more specifically about some of the more memorable wardrobe choices.

Juicy Bits
Sadly as it turns out we were not saved from the pointless montage of memorable scenes. Frankly this feature is mere filler and offers absolutely nothing of value.

"The Whole Story" Promo
A brief trailer for season two that went out on ABC before the premiere aired. Basically it recaps season one and avoids giving away any spoilers for season two. If you've not watched the first season lately it's worth a look before you start watching the episodes but that's more or less it.

Overall

I have to confess that I stopped watching half way through this season's run on Channel 4. When the first season went out last year it was required viewing and I never missed an episode, but season two never quite grabbed my attention in the same way and I quickly lost interest. When I first agreed to review this set I had a fairly good idea of what I was likely to say, something about how quickly the fresh and innovative can become stale and formulaic. Strangely when I finally sat down to review the set (after the first attempt when Buena Vista sent me seven copies of disc five) I began to realise how wrong I was and started to care about the characters all over again. This time around there's nothing that serves to really hook the audience in, no last minute revelations that leave you desperate (pun intended) for next week's installment. What remains the same however is the heart of the show. The mix of characters and storylines is so broad that practically everybody will see something in this season that they can identify with, whilst the show's ability to go between crazy comedy and powerful drama at the blink of an eye remains almost unparalelled. Although I have not yet seen anything of season three what I've heard suggests that it raises the bar even higher, and I can only hope that Desperate Housewives continues to push the boundaries of telvision drama for years to come.

Film
7 out of 10
Video
- out of 10
Audio
6 out of 10
Extras
8 out of 10
Overall

7

out of 10

Last updated: 03/06/2018 07:25:42

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