Monday, March 22, 2010

Will Wisteria Lane Finally Embrace Change?...

Desperate Housewives started off super strong in 2004 but then quickly fizzled and nearly died around season three. It came out of the gate as a contender last year, slowly picking up strong guest star after strong guest star, and this year it finally seemed to regain its stride, thanks in great part to the additions of Drea de Matteo, Julie Benz, and even Sam Page (who I love, even if his character is the weakest of the bunch...at least so far). Perhaps unfortunately these three talented actors, though, signed on only temporarily.

de Matteo is a New Yorker with a young baby who probably can't wait to pack up and leave La La Land, but the hole left on Wisteria Lane when her sassy, somewhat reformed Angie Bolen goes out (from what I hear, in a quite literal bang) is going to reverberate all across the country. The same might be said for Benz' exit, which aired last night in a much quieter, simpler way. Arriving back to the house she was sharing with Dana Delany's Katherine Mayfair, she was accosted by packed suitcases. Katherine, fearing judgment from her neighbors, was feeling uncomfortable about accidentally outing their relationship, and she decided to leave town until she could get her head straight. In an interview Benz gave a few weeks ago, she said she loved the idea of the two "riding off in the sunset together." Well, last night she got her wish...sort of. They drove off in the dark but still together.

I'm glad Marc Cherry opted to simply write Katherine and Robin out on a trip when word got out that both actresses (though technically Benz was just going to be guest starring for a short arc anyway) were cast in other pilots. Housewives may be a primetime soap, but the genre is changing, and long gone are the days of long-term comas (Lauren on the new Melrose Place came out of hers in one episode!) and fake deaths only for the character to return with a new face and a renewed attitude a season or so later. This way, though, they can come back with less scoffing or eye-rolling from the audience. However, I can't help but note that getting written out in such a way might be the best thing for the actors, especially now that their "out and somewhat proud" relationship has come to light among the other housewives. After all, look at how the other gay couple of the cul-de-sac, Bob and Lee, have fared!

Tuc Watkins and Kevin Rahm are both accomplished actors in their own right, but they have been relegated to glorified extras in many scenes within Housewives. They're paraded out for parties, such as Karen's cancer-free celebration last night, and every now and then they'll allude to something going on behind their closed doors-- like when Gabrielle stumbled into a nursery they had set up for the baby they have yet to adopt-- but mostly they are just tucked away in a corner of Wisteria Lane that seems to be a bit unnecessarily old-fashioned.

Bob and Lee were the first gay couple to move onto Wisteria Lane. Since them, Andrew (Shawn Pyfrom) moved in, as well, with his doctor boyfriend who has since never been seen. As a gay man himself, Marc Cherry should have no problem writing realistic, poignant material for them. But for whatever reason, he doesn't. Maybe ABC or the FCC are still somewhat sensitive about the subject, but after seeing Katherine and Robin in bed together, there really should be no excuse anymore. This is 2010, and it's about time viewers no longer settle for the double standard.

My solution? Page's character of Sam clearly has a secret, and maybe it should be that he is gay as well. So much is being said for him being the "perfect son" while Andrew was a screw-up for years. But what if they have something very similar in common and have just approached, and embraced, it differently? And maybe Sam even has an affair with Bob or Lee. This will allow a new kind of triangle (and we all know how much the show loves those!!), but more importantly, it will allow Bob and Lee to move into the ensemble a bit more fully and take their rightful place in the circle of friends and front-burner of story lines. I'm not going to be picky when it comes to which one has the affair, either: they both deserve some action and a real, meaty story...finally, for once, and hopefully not for last!

I understand the risk here that if neither Body of Evidence, nor No Ordinary Family "go" next season (or if Delany and Benz decide to attempt double duty), Cherry could find himself writing just as many gay characters as straight ones. I maintain, though, that this is 2010, and that risk won't seem so great when faced with the reward of actually portraying a real microcosm of society.

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