It is that time of year again, a time for good cheer and bad television. But this season holiday specials face hefty competition in the battle for most contemptible programming. This is not a reference to locker room nudity on a Monday night although, like most Canadians, this smug Northerner takes supreme pleasure in events that result in a heated debate of American family values. Heaven forbid a fifty-year old woman expose her backside when thirty or more steroid dependant Neanderthals wait sideline to pummel the living bejesus out of one another.
No. The despicable program in question is a show about four gals, sex and the suburbs. And it's huge! So huge, in fact, that more than twenty million are tuning in faithfully. Desperate Housewives they call it and they make me desperate, desperate not to keck every time annoying Mary Alice voices over vacuous holes in the plot line.
Now it is not unusual when the public applauds bad television. Children of the eighties recall, if you will, a little show called Greatest American Hero about a teacher who dawned a magic suit and saved people from stuff. The best thing about that show, aside from Ralph's hair, was that it never tried to disguise itself as anything other than crap. Those were the days when bad television could just be bad and no one tried to convince anyone otherwise.
In recent years, however, the undisguised shoddiness of television programs like Greatest American Hero have given way to the smug claptrap of offerings like Desperate Housewives; a program which disguises itself as something original. Sadly, we seem unable to recognize the difference between novelty and nonsense. The same can be said of those who believe Ashley Simpson dying her hair black was a note-worthy act of rebellion. But that's a whole other story.
Faster than you can say Swiffer Wet Jet, mother after mother, housewife after housewife, is opening wide for a heaping spoonful of the latest in network subterfuge. Replace the city with the suburb, Cosmopolitans with Neapolitan, Manolo's with macaroni and before you know it, there are four new ladies to emulate.
When Sex and the City left us flailing for a new reason d'etre, the smart people set about creating another program around which we could rally. But how did we go, in such a short period of time, from programming that featured four single, unapologetic, sex starved maniacs to a program about four attached, apologetic, sexually frustrated ignoramuses?
Susan, a neurotic little scaramouch of a thing looking for love in all the wrong places versus Carrie, a neurotic little scaramouch of a thing, looking for love in all the groovy places. Bree and Miranda are both controlling, driven perfectionists while Gabrielle and Samantha are the whores to Madonna-like Lynette and Charlotte. Like Julia choosing to name her kid Phinnaeus, it seems everything old really can be cool again.
You're a Bree, the ladies exclaimed, but we are more like Susan. Funny it wasn't that long ago when most women would have described themselves as a Carrie. Apologies to various Hollywood ingénues but Cabala schmabala. Desperate Housewives is the new faith and we are not required to don that difficult-to-accessorize red string bracelet.
Although there are a few obvious differences between the two programs; for example, one sucks and the other doesn't, what is most obvious is that kids and moms make a comeback. Mary Eberstadt, the author of Home Alone America, a new book that lays most of the problems with today's kids, firmly at the feet of working mothers, likely approves. Hey Mary, perhaps you should consider a sequel that addresses how well children fair when their stay-at-home mom blows her head off or takes ADD medication. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to hypothesize that the kids of Wisteria Lane will probably spend some time in re-hab.
Wouldn't it be refreshing if we were simply allowed to enjoy this program as a genuine guilty pleasure? Instead, Time Magazine goes and publishes an article defending Desperate Housewives as being 'ironic' in what seems an attempt to inflate the quality and meaning of the program beyond all possible reason. The thing about irony, other than being hard to define, is that people do not relate to irony. People relate to things, well, that they can relate to.
And moms do relate to the Desperate Housewives, however, the actually irony may be that no real woman resembles them in any way. Do you know anyone who would define herself as a 'housewife'? In fact, there was a time, in the not so distant past, when the term housewife was considered as distasteful to these same women as the term desperate. Now we rally around a program that combines both adjectives as a moniker.
The only truly relatable character on television is that ubiquitous Marg Simpson. At least the producers of the Simpson's seem capable of creating a stay-at-home mom that is recognizable. Her kids are hellions, her husband is a dolt, her house is uninspiring and she needs a cut and lights. But underneath all of the disappointment and compromise is a loving, intelligent woman holding it all together.
In a post 9-11 viewing environment where 'urban' is the new enemy and exit polling indicates that family values rank high on an anxious nations list of concerns perhaps it is not surprising that a program about families living on tree-lined boulevards hits such a chord. In a television market dominated by the CSI franchise, there is something refreshing about a show featuring women, kids and car pools instead of men, morgues and pools of blood.
But you will have to excuse this television viewer if she mourns the days when friendship, sex and cocktails ruled the day; when women could have children and fancy careers like Clair Huxtable and Murphy Brown. Thank goodness those same smart people in Hollywood who have turned their backs on those ladies see fit to occasionally replay that old stop motion version of Rudolph with the creepy Santa. At least all will not be lost this holiday season.