The Complete Fifth Season
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All photos © ABC
Reviewed by Ross Ruediger
t may have been a bad idea to kick off the fifth season of “Desperate Housewives” with a nasty car accident, because in a lot of ways that’s exactly what the season ended up being. Yet, like any such mishap, it becomes near impossible to look away from. In re-watching the season on DVD, it didn’t seem quite the catastrophe it did upon broadcast, yet I couldn’t get away from the feeling that the show has seen far better days, which is a shame, because the last two seasons were of very high quality. But gone is any real sense of pathos, and the biting humor which has long since been a trademark of the show also appears to have been lost in the shuffle. The fifth season just isn’t as engaging or funny as most everything that came before it, and the characters, which are the core of the show, have ceased to be likable people. In one episode, a character demands her child to fall to the ground while riding his bike so that his father won’t be offended that he learned to ride without his dad’s help. The kid ends up going to the hospital. Yeah, I didn’t find it funny, either. In another episode, a character invades her child’s privacy by posing as a girl on a MySpace-type website and clandestinely woos the kid with poetry. It lacks taste, class, and ends up being just plain creepy.
Unless the writers get a clue, this could very well be the season where people will say “Desperate Housewives” jumped the shark, and the jump will invariably be tied to the fact that the season moved ahead five years in the timeline. Funny thing is, though, the jump in time actually has little or no bearing on the problems of the season. It’s used primarily as an excuse to have most of the children grow up – only to be replaced by new sets of children.
For instance, Porter and Preston Scavo, the two little hellions, are now teenagers, causing teenage problems for their parents, Tom (Doug Savant) and Lynette (Felicity Huffman) – stuff like setting up a gambling hall in the pizzeria for high school students, and sleeping with women old enough to be their mother. On the flip side, Gaby (Eva Longoria Parker), now out of shape and plain looking, has two girls of her own, and the older one, Juanita, is considerably overweight for a girl her age. There are plenty of inappropriate jokes centered on the girl, unless you’ve got a particularly nasty sense of humor. (One wonders what the little girl playing Juanita must have thought of all the gags being had at her expense.) Carlos (Ricardo Chavira), still blind, is trying to make ends meet for the family by running a massage business out of the house. Susan (Teri Hatcher) and Mike (James Denton) have divorced, and so Susan is a single mom once again, this time to five-year-old M.J. Bree (Marcia Cross) has become an enormously successful caterer, with a cookbook in stores and on the bestseller list, while Orson (Kyle McLachlan), having done time for running over Mike, is just trying to find his place in the world.
Everything begins to change when Edie (Nicollette Sheridan) returns to Wisteria Lane, having been booted out by the other housewives for crimes against suburbia. But five years have passed, so she’s been gone longer than it seems. She brings with her a new husband, Dave Williams (Neal McDonough), who ends up being the resident psycho for the season. The character of Dave is at the very heart of everything that’s wrong with Season Five. He’s such an immensely unlikable character from the start, and much of the season revolves around his dastardly plans to right a wrong from the past, and nothing and nobody will get in the way (the only thing Dave is missing is a moustache to twirl). Part of the problem is that about halfway through the season, the plot has been so dragged out and given so little explanation, that one ceases to care what the guy’s up to. I like Neal McDonough, and always have, but he’s thoroughly detestable, and entirely one-note throughout the entire season. The only person who seems to notice that the guy is a whack-job is Karen McKluskey (Kathryn Joosten, who, no matter what this show does, remains a great deal of fun to watch), and nobody will listen to her because, of course, she’s just a crazy old busybody with too much time on her hands, and maybe even suffers from dementia. She of course does not, but everyone places their eggs in Dave’s basket, and as a result, everyone comes across as a bunch of dimwitted buffoons.
I have never hated a character on this show as much as I hate Dave Williams, and the fact that he’s so well-liked by the rest of the characters for the bulk of the season aided in my dislike of them, too. While it could be argued that’s the whole point, I would argue back that the show should have done a much better job writing this guy, and made us care about him a little bit more, because in the end we discover he’s a guy who’s lost a lot, but by the time we find out, it’s impossible to give a toss. Notice how much I’ve already written, and notice that I’ve made no mention of Dana Delany. There’s a reason for that, as there’s not much to say. She breathed new life into the series last year, and this year she’s given almost nothing to do. What a dropped ball.
But perhaps all is not entirely lost, because amongst all the season’s problems, there is one episode that shines brightly and proves that the show is still capable of doing something really good when it knows it must rise to the occasion. The aptly named (especially for this season) “The Best Thing That Ever Could Have Happened” is the 100th episode of “Desperate Housewives,” and it’s a one-off, unrelated to the larger plot. It’s also not only one of the best hours the show has ever done, but probably one the best hours of TV that was created last season. Beau Bridges guest stars as Wisteria Lane handyman Eli Scruggs, who dies in the pre-credits sequence while fixing Susan’s roof. As the episode moves forward, each of the housewives flash back to the different ways Eli touched their lives, and helped to make them better people (not that any of that shows in the rest of the season). Some scenarios are funny, some are touching, and all of them are excellent. The episode will remind you of better days, when the show had much more to offer. It goes far back in time and even brings Mary Alice Young (Brenda Strong), Rex Van De Kamp (Steven Culp) and Martha Huber (Christine Estabrook) back to life, as well as gives a hilarious cameo appearance to the Solis’ maid from Season One, Yao Lin (Lucille Soong). Even if you don’t see the entire season, you must find a way to see this episode.
Special Features: There are two commentary tracks. The season opener, “You’re Gonna Love Tomorrow,” features director Larry Shaw, Doug Savant, Kyle MacLachlan and James Denton, while “The Best Thing That Ever Could Have Happened” features Marc Cherry and Brenda Strong. All the other extras fill up Disc Seven: “What More Do I Need? - A Very Good Read” is a look inside a table read of Episode Seven. “I Know Things Now – ‘Desperate Housewives’ Celebrates 100” is pretty self-explanatory, as is “So Very Teri,” a featurette centered on Hatcher and her pratfalls. “Cherry-Picked – Creator Marc Cherry’s Favorite Scenes” has become a standard on the season sets, and once again, he dishes on what material worked best for him throughout the season; they can be viewed with or without Cherry commentary. Finally, there’s a collection of bloopers and eight deleted scenes.