The broadcast networks have longed to emulate pay-cable's edgy, sophisticated, envelope-pushing fare like HBO's Sopranos and Sex and the City. Desperate Housewives is ABC's version of the "high concept" series, with the flavor of HBO while still remaining within the FCC guidelines. And the show-think of the Sex and the City characters getting married and moving to the suburbs-has become one of the year's biggest hits.
The show is about the residents of Wisteria Lane, an affluent suburb filled with stay-at-home moms, philandering, and intrigue. Everyone seems to have an unhappy marriage, the kids are monsters, and adultery is rampant.
Desperate Housewives makes fun of gun ownership, mothers-in-law, shopping, and other staples of ordinary America. A couple, despairing of getting their little hellions into an elite private elementary school, consider homeschooling. "Kids in homeschools do better in their later years," says the husband. The mom comes back, "They won't make it to their later years if I have to spend all day with them."
The darkness of the show is unsettling and perverse. The bored housewives have affairs with teenage boys. A mother-in-law threatens to murder her son's cheating wife. The neighbors think a father is beating his son; actually, the teenager is beating his father.
But this is ordinary America as imagined by Hollywood. Yes, the show has flashes of creativity and is often funny. Yes, elements of middle-class life are ripe for satire. Yes, Teri Hatcher does a good job playing the divorced single woman in the neighborhood. But the show drips condescension, derision, and contempt for middle-class Americans, including many of the very people who are watching it in vast numbers.