The Complete Third Season
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All photos © ABC
Reviewed by Ross Ruediger
fter a fairly lackluster Season Two, “Desperate Housewives” creator and showrunner Marc Cherry must’ve known that the third season of his hit series needed to kick some serious suburban hiney. Instead of dragging yet another new family onto Wisteria Lane, he wisely opted to spend more time expanding on and exploring the characters he already had, frequently by insinuating new characters into the regulars’ lives. For the most part, Season Three is something of an accomplishment, given that, in the previous season, the housewives looked like they were already running out of steam.
Cherry’s ace in hole comes in the unlikely form of dentist Orson Hodge (Kyle MacLachlan). Hodge was initially introduced toward the end of Season Two, where the guy lurked in the shadows and, in the finale, ran over Mike Delfino (James Denton), plunging the hunky plumber into a coma. MacLachlan returns with full-time cast member status in Season Three, and Orson quickly proposes to and marries Bree Van De Kamp (Marcia Cross). But when it’s revealed that Orson may have murdered his first wife, the union gets off to a shaky start. Oh, and then there’s another woman’s body that Orson is brought in by the police for questioning about. (Bree: she sure knows how to pick ‘em, doesn’t she?) Cherry has frequently spoken of his love for “Twin Peaks” and claims it was a major influence on the creation of “Housewives,” so maybe it’s no surprise that he enlisted the star of the classic David Lynch series to play a big part in his baby. What is surprising, however, is exactly how damn good MacLachlan is on this show. That isn’t meant as a barb at Kyle, but anyone who was ever a “Peaks” fan must certainly have noticed that he hasn’t had the best luck with nabbing great roles since it went off the air, which was a looooooong time ago. Was anyone expecting Dale Cooper to find salvation on Wisteria Lane? Orson has so many secrets and intricacies it almost becomes a chore keeping up with them all, yet most are eventually given satisfactory explanations and, as sinister as he frequently appears, he’s also a surprisingly good father and husband. If June Cleaver and Norman Bates had had a child together, he might have been sorta like Orson Hodge. The MacLachlan/Hodge combo is, in fact, so effective, it practically drives the season.
Well, most of the season anyway.
There was likely a Season Three master plan – with Orson at the crux -- that was unfortunately interrupted by Marcia Cross’ pregnancy. The production team does a good job of hiding her “bump” (isn’t that what the kids call it these days?), but ultimately Bree and Orson are written out of the final third of the season, and Orson’s mystery seems prematurely solved in Episode 15, the outstanding “The Little Things You Do Together.” Aside from taking Orson out of the picture, this show has also come to rely on the character of Bree so heavily that it can’t help but suffer when Cross isn’t around.
For the final stretch, the team finds a fairly adequate and dramatically engaging way to get around the missing housewife. They up Edie Britt (Nicollette Sherdian) to primary housewife status, and give the actress quite a bit more meat to chew on, including an extensive, believable relationship with Carlos Solis (Ricardo Antonio Chavira). In doing so, Cherry also preserves the basic four-storyline structure, which may have been a gamble to toy with -- “may have been” being the key phrase here. “Desperate Housewives” is at its best when it dares to think outside the little boxes, and two episodes in Season Three really prove how good the show can be when it puts its thinking cap on.
Episode 7, “Bang,” is probably the best “Housewives” installment yet unveiled, and the one that probably more than any other truly lives up to the series’ title. A very desperate housewife (Laurie Metcalf) discovers her husband (Brian Kerwin) has been having an affair; she goes ballistic and takes the local supermarket – along with a number of the show’s regulars – hostage. It’d be nothing less than criminal to say much more, except that the episode maintains levels of tension and unveils a poignancy that the show often seems to go out of its way to avoid. If there’s one thing about “Housewives” that drives me up the wall, it’s what I always call the “twinkly” music. It often shows up to diffuse the drama (why?), but this episode is conspicuously lacking in twinkly music, and “Bang” is all the better for it.
Episode 16, “My Husband the Pig,” is the installment I’d been crying out for since the show began. It places the male characters front and center and even has the smarts to temporarily change the omniscient voiceover: the deceased Rex Van De Kamp (Steven Culp) returns to take the place of the droning Mary Alice Young (Brenda Strong) and aid the viewer in seeing things from the male point of view. Titling the episode “Desperate Househusbands” may have been too easy, but that’s what it is, and it makes for a stimulating change of pace.
So what of the other housewives? Well, Lynette Scavo (Felicity Huffman) remains the only realistic anchor on this melodrama masquerading as a comedy. After some annoying character developments in Season Two, she again shines with numerous storylines such as being forced to deal with the obnoxious mother of her husband Tom’s (Doug Savant) illegitimate daughter, a possible pedophile moving into the neighborhood, Tom’s dream of opening a pizzeria and, finally, the temptation of an affair with a younger and more attentive man. By the way, Savant’s continued contributions to the series seem to often go overlooked, but the guy is really good, and his work with Huffman is always worth paying attention to.
Susan Mayer (Teri Hatcher) is finally, after three years, growing on me (a little bit). Unfortunately she’s saddled with a new romance in the form of Dougray Scott, an actor who, although Scottish, sounds like an American doing an atrocious British accent. Every time he’s on the screen, he is to be mocked and heckled. Most of that time, alas, is spent with Hatcher. Lastly, there’s Gabrielle Solis (everyone’s least favorite tabloid queen, Eva Longoria), who has devolved into one of the most repellant women on prime time TV. Her stories aren’t worth talking about, and it’s hard to imagine they have any relevance to the average viewer. Indeed, it’s not that they aren’t dramatic enough, but they aren’t even funny. At this point the show could only benefit from writing her off ASAP.
Criticisms aside, “Desperate Housewives” has matured into a show that gets more right than wrong, and Season Three likely would’ve been its best yet if not for the curve ball thrown by Cross’ pregnancy. It has moved into more of an ensemble piece that showcases the suburban desperation of not just the women, but the men and the teenage characters as well, so if you think it’s just one for the ladies, you might want to think again and give it a shot.
Oh, and it probably goes without saying, but this set would make for some pretty decent viewing for couples.
Special Features: “On Set with Eva” is a fawning puff piece seemed designed solely to promote how much fun it is to work with Longoria. “Here Comes the Bride” is a look behind the scenes of the filming of Gabrielle’s wedding from the season finale. “Amas de Casa Desesperadas” is probably the coolest bonus bit: it’s a compare and contrast piece with the Spanish version of the show. “Desperate Moments” is a look back by the cast at the season as a whole. “Cherry-Picked” has Marc Cherry sifting through his favorite moments from Season Three. Lastly, there are eight deleted scenes with optional commentary from Cherry and a blooper reel that would amuse only the most desperate of fans.