Monday, October 04, 2004

THE BOX: Desperate & Legal

My my my... someone's been spiking the watercooler over at ABC. Yes, ABC seems to have stolen someone's thunder to give it 3 of the best shows on television (4 if you're counting Alias). I don't know what they're doing, but they're doing it well. Last night Desperate Housewives and Boston Legal premiered ending the intro to the fall season (save for Fox).


Before we get started, I would like to say how super surprised I was about two bits of casting. I'm partially surprised that I didn't know anything about this until I was watching the show. Which, in a world of internet news, was kind of refreshing. Anyway... First, who is this Mary Alice because it certainly isn't Sheryl Lee? Lee's probably most famous for playing a corpse in the pilot episode of an ABC cult classic over a decade ago. As Laura Palmer in Twin Peaks, she solidified a small spot in pop culture history. So, was she type cast to play a dead woman in the opening of ABC's newest tawdry town tale? Maybe. The correlation was enough to get me interested in seeing the show which I originally scoffed at. The deal? The role of Mary Alice was recast to Brenda Strong after the pilot was picked up by the network.

The second bit of casting that threw me for a loop was the role of "the gardner". Jesse E. Metcalfe normally sat beside me in my Actors Craft I class at NYU. I actually ended up producing the last film he shot at NYU before he landed a role on NBC's Passions. He's an all around great guy. As an actor, he's great at taking his shirt off. He's someone, unlike a few classmates, I'm happy to see "making it".

Meet the Housewives of Wisteria Lane.

Now that that diatribe's over, let's get back to the show. Playing Hollywood... Desperate Housewives is a cross between Edward Scissorhands, anything by David Lynch, and Melrose Place (which explains some casting choices). In a setting reminiscent of Stepford or Peyton Place, Wisteria Lane is home to upper middle class suburbanites with desperate lives and dirty little secrets. I constantly heard that this show was a take on American Beauty. Besides the suburban debauchery, I don't get it. It's tone is completely different, at least in this blogger's opinion.

DH 1-01: Pilot

Wife 1: Mary Alice (Brenda Strong)
Why is she so desperate? Mary Alice has a secret. That's what the whole show is about. Aside from the fact that she grabbed a pistol and blew out her brains to open the series we don't know too much about her. She narrates letting us in on everyone else's issues. Her husband can be found digging up the concrete of the pool late at night, but we don't know why yet. The day Mary Alice shot herself, she received a letter threatening to reveal her mysterious skeleton.

Wife 2: Susan Mayer (Teri Hatcher)
A successful children's book illustrator, Susan is lacking in all skills domestic. She's a mother to a teenager and recent divorcee with a touch of Ally McBeal single girl neuroticism. She can't cook, even macaroni and cheese. Her husband left her for his secretary. Always on the look out for a good man, she's normally out sexed by Wisteria Lane's siren-like slut, Edie Britt (Nicolette Sheridan). When a hot new plumber (James Denton) moves in across the street, the competition is on to see who's pipes he can unclog first. Susan discovers that Edie is has a night of seduction planned and tries to coyly delay or dissway the impending fornication. Susan sneaks into Edie's home looking for a cup of sugar only to accidentally start a fire which burns the house down. As all of Wisteria Lane gawks on the corner, Susan runs into Plumber Mike who just got home. Susan is over joyed that he wasn't the one unclogging Edie. Plumber Mike seems to have some secrets of his own, we just don't know what they are yet.

Wife 3: Bree Van de Kamp (Marcia Cross)
My current favorite DH, Bree is "perfect" down to her pearls. She cooks gourmet meals every night, takes care of her husband, and even does her own gardening. She creepy in her perfection. Or, Maybe it's just the memory of Marcia Cross's superb portrayal of psychotic Dr. Kimberly on Melrose Place. Everyone thinks Bree is the perfect wife and mother, that is except for her husband and kids. Her children long for pork and beans and her husband for the normalcy of burnt toast. After a compromised outing to what appeared to be a Pizza Hut, Mr. Van de Kamp asks for a divorce. In her haste, Bree makes him a salad with onions. Surviving a near deadly allergic attack, he accuses Bree of trying to poison him.

Wife 4: Gabrielle Solis (Eva Longoria)
A former runway model who likes rich food and rich men, married her high powered corporate whore of a husband because he could give her everything she's ever wanted. The problem, as she puts it to the teenage gardener she's banging on the side (Jesse Metcalfe) is that she wanted all the wrong things. She's just a possession, like the $23,000 kitchen table or her $15,000 diamond necklace. She's miserable. When her husband threatens to fire the gardener for not doing his job, she rushes home from a social dinner to catch up on the lawn work insuring that her boy toy will be around for more afternoon fun.

Wife 5: Lynette Scavo (Felicity Huffman)
Lynette shattered the glass ceiling at her company and was on the way even higher. After she gave birth to triplets, she decided to give up the power and prestige for the fulfillment of domestic life. With a new born infant, three problem children, and a traveling husband, Lynette longs to be back in a boardroom. She delivered two of the best moments of the pilot. On the way to Mary Alice's wake, she threatens her boys with a call to Santa's cell phone calling off Christmas this year if they step out of line. "I know someone, who knows someone, who knows an elf." They proceed to embarrass her anyway taking a leap into the pool. When her husband rushes home from out of town business for some "afternoon delight", he asks her to "chance it" instead of reaching for some condoms. She slugs him right in the face.

DH is beautifully stylistic to an extent that most television shows never reach. The writing and direction is top notch. While the story lines offer the guilty pleasure of tawdry housewives, there is a darker, campier, kitschier fantasy world along Wisteria Lane. The arc of secrets, lies, and homicide is enough to keep you coming back next week. For a pilot, the show delivers 100% with a talented cast who will give Edie Falco and Allison Janey a run for their money come GG and Emmy time.

Desperate Housewives garners another "Abso (F-ing) lutely" recommendation from me. As a side note, DH will switch time slots to make room for Alias come January. The good news is that Arrested Development will also be switching from it's current 8:30 slot to 9 p.m. on Fox. So with all the switching, the two shows hopefully won't conflict.

BOSTON LEGAL - 10 p.m. Sun., ABC

Boston Legal was given birth to by the last couple train wreck seasons of The Practice. Legal follows the characters of sleaze machine - in a good way - Alan Shore (James Spader) and sweet and sultry Tara Wilson(Rona Mitra) out of the gutter of the Practice to a large and in charge firm headed by Denny Crane (William Shatner). Both Shatner and Spader won Emmy's for their Practice performaces last season giving Boston Legal a bonus start right out of the block. The last few Practice episodes were already taking place at the firm.

Boston Legal: 1-01 "Head Cases"

Alan takes an equal opportunity case involving a very talented chubby African American girl whose mother feels she was unfairly looked over for the role of Annie, a skinny white girl. Alan, immediately, in a pissing contest with lawyer Brad Chase who just returned from the D.C. office, lays money on the line. Brad in turn takes on a case of an woman fighting her maniacal ex-husband for legal permission to move with their children to New York City. In the midst of all of this, Denny is having an affair with the trophey wife of the firm's best client. After hiring a private investigator, the client returns with a gun to shoot Denny. Denny taunts the client until he breaks down commenting that he bought the client that pistol, a starter pistol. Rabbits: At one point during the show, Denny declares to Alan to pull a rabbit out of his hat to win the Annie case. As the judge was about to rule in favor of the producers of the touring musical, who but the Reverend Al Sharpton bursts through the doors begging and pleading and lecturing everyone about the little girl's cause and rights to dream. Exiting the court room, he let's Alan know he's a rabbit, a gift from Denny Crane. Alan pulls a rabbit of his own setting up the sleazy ex-husband in Brad's case with a hooker. He uses the pictures to blackmail the man into being permissive with their client. At the end of the day, everyone wins with their immoral behavior.

I miss Rebecca DeMornay's character of Hannah. Over all the premier had a rabbit of it's own with Sharpton and a pantless Larry Miller. Was it good? Yes. Great? Not quite. The performances of Spader and Shatner are without a doubt award worthy, but the supporting cast, including gorgeous Rona Mitra, seem lost, pointless, and kinda boring. The show is worth the watch, but nothing to lose sleep over.

Recommendation: If you're not busy...


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