Saturday, April 18, 2009

"We All Started On Soaps!"...

Through the affairs and attempted murders, the countless guest stars and time-jumping story devices, the fans have stuck with Desperate Housewives for better and for worse. If there was any question to their devotion after five years of push and pulls with the women (and men!) of Wisteria Lane, this Saturday's Paley Fest panel featuring the cast and creators gave a solid answer. Fans came out in droves to see their favorites, all of whom were present except for Marcia Cross and Felicity Huffman who had prior commitments, and the recently-ousted Nicollette Sheridan.

Desperate Housewives hit televisions in 2004, nearly a decade since a primetime soap opera actually seemed to work, and it revitalized the genre, as moderator Will Keck reminded everyone at the start of the afternoon. Eva Longoria-Parker was not surprised that creator Marc Cherry found a hit when so many before him (including one starring fellow castmate Dana Delaney) had failed. "We all started on soaps!" She laughed. Therefore, it is only natural that they could fully understand the sometimes campy, sometimes corny, but always dramatic world in which he was building.

Like any soap worth its salt, Desperate Housewives has had its share of shocking and otherwise defining moments (no pun intended, even though it's latest one was quite literal: Sheridan's character of Edit Britt crashed her car into a telephone pole, only to emerge unharmed, step in a puddle of water, and brush against a downed power line, electrocuting herself before any of her neighbors could come to her aid. As one fan bemoaned: "Marc Cherry, I only have one question for you. Edie: Why? Why? WHY?") Seasons earlier, though, it came as a surprise to no one that Paul Young (Mark Moses) was a bad guy by the time he killed nosey Martha Huber, but the way in which he decided to take her out was a bit surprising. Already no stranger to death, Cherry must have been looking to win some sort of booby prize for the most original attempt, as he had Young bash in his poor neighbor's head with the blender she had borrowed from his dead wife. That moment, perhaps even more so than Mary Alice (Brenda Strong)'s death, defined the arc of the Young family…and also, in part, the up-until-that-point-mysterious Mike Delfino.

Lynette (Huffman) learning she had cancer could have been a real downer for a show that relies a lot on comic relief. At Paley Fest, in fact, Doug Savant quipped that "See? Look what happened to this panel; you bring up cancer and [he makes falling motion with his hands]. Everything was so good, we were laughing and now..." But in fact at Paley Fest and for the show in general, the mood did not completely darken when the "c word" was mentioned. Cherry and his writing team went out of their way to depict her battle as real as they could have. They showed Lynette's fears, but they also showed Tom's because as anyone who has dealt with cancer in their circle of loved ones knows, it is a disease that affects everyone. Sure, it delivered some of the show's more serious moments-- and no one thought seeing Lynette lose her hair was glamorous-- but life is full of good times and bad. And so is Desperate Housewives.

For the cast, though, some of these moments happened when the cameras weren't rolling. Hatcher reminisced about the scene where she was standing in the middle of the street in her wedding dress after Mike had left her at the alter. The scene was memorable for fans because here you had who was pitched as the "super couple" not getting together, and that didn't sit well. But for Hatcher, it was much more than that: "I was standing on the sidewalk, in this big white dress, and all of a sudden I could feel this swarm of bees rush under and get caught in the big hoop skirt of tulle...It was the kind of thing that would happen to Susan!"

Perhaps the most poignant moment for the series, though, aired just a few short weeks ago, during it's one hundredth episode. "The Best Thing That Could Have Ever Happened" took the women back through time as they each remembered an important shared moment with their handyman Eli, played by Beau Bridges, whose character quite poetically suffered a heart attack and died on Susan's roof while doing his final job before retirement. The episode was exceptionally special to Cherry, who wrote it based loosely on his own close, personal friend, Doug Blasdell (who you might remember from Bravo's Work Out)'s passing. "Sometimes there are just those people who touch your life in ways you don't even realize," Cherry explained. And when Eli, down on his luck, first came a'knockin' around Wisteria Lane, Mary Alice saw that he had holes in his shoes and gave him his first job, promising to pass his card around to her friends, as well. It was in that moment, five years and one hundred episodes later, that the narrator of the show's own importance was reiterated. All of the good Eli did for the other women was, in part, due to her; her actions while she was alive impacted them (even if they didn't know it) as much as her action in taking her own life.

Though Edie's final demise (and Sheridan's exit) is airing a month before the season finale, Cherry and Co promised many more twists and surprises within the next few episodes. "A major character from the first and second season comes back for the final five minutes of the finale," Cherry teased. The audience murmured amongst themselves for a few seconds before the next question, dealing with Longoria-Parker's ex-flame John the Gardener, had them all assuming that he was the answer. However, I'm holding out hope for one of the Young men; after all, Moses is on hiatus from Mad Men and no one really knows what Cody Kasch is up to these days...

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