After the first season of Desperate Housewives the show appeared unstoppable – ratings were monster and the show spawned a mini-cottage industry of board games, t-shirts, books, CDs, etc. Underneath all this was an excellent comedy-drama that boasted top-notch writing and a fun, game cast. It would be impossible for the second season to be just as good, but even bearing all this in mind, the second season has some major debits that keep it from matching the excellence of the first season. That’s not to say that the show’s no good – in fact, there are some major comic highlights as well as much-needed pathos and poignancy, but the writers also introduced a subplot that proved to be almost-fatal to the show’s excellence.
The second season comes after the deep mystery of the first season is solved, regarding Mary Alice Young’s suicide (Brenda Strong). Her death in the first season brought together the four heroines of Wisteria Lane to figure out why their friend killed herself. While trying to figure that mystery out, each housewife also has to deal with her drama: Bree Van de Camp (Marcia Cross) recently widowed is dating the obsessed pharmacist George Williams (Roger Bart), who has some deep, dark secrets of his own; she also to contend with her son, Andrew (Shawn Pyfrom), who is doing his best to destory his mother’s life; Susan Mayer (Teri Hatcher) is trying to find love after breaking up with Mike (James Denton), and has to deal with her ex-husband Karl (Richard Burgi) moving in with the neighborhood vamp, Edie Britt (Nicolette Sheridan); supermom Lynette Scavo (Felicity Huffman) goes back to work, while husband Tom (Doug Savant) becomes a stay-at-home dad; Gabrielle Solis (Eva Longoria) is trying to have a baby, while convicted felon hubby Carlos (Ricardo Antonio Chavira) languishes in jail.
Wisteria Lane also gets a new neighbor: Betty Applewhite (Alfre Woodard), who moves in with her sons, and is harboring a deep, dangerous secret herself. She gets mixed up with the core four ladies, but never really becomes part of the gang – instead, she remains in the peripheral, providing the mystery the four women will be trying to solve.
So, how is the addition? Well, Woodard is wonderful in a role she shouldn’t have been saddled with. The mystery, however, wasn’t all that interesting – and really viewers will probably figure it out about half-way through the season. Another issue with the Applewhite subplots is that the nature of the mystery is so grim and glum, it doesn’t mesh with the other stories – each character has to survive some kind travail, but she does so with the show’s trademark humor and campy irony – there’s none of that with the Applewhite story lines – instead it’s excruciatingly sincere and dour, and feels like a different show.
But all that could be forgiven if the Applewhite story lines weren’t so blatantly racist. One thing that viewers noticed about the show is the lack of black people on Wisteria Lane, so Woodard’s introduction to the show was welcomed. Unfortunately, all we get are some very damning and damaging images of black men, all that enforce and perpetuate the idea of the dangerous, violent black man. It’s hard enough to see positive or realistic images of black men on TV, and it’s especially disturbing to see a show with the kinds of artistic resources like Desperate Housewives present images of young black men shackled, shooting guns, or lusting after young white women. One of the characters in particular is particularly distressing to watch because he’s burdened with playing a variation on the kind of black male character D.W. Griffith portrayed in The Birth of a Nation. In 2005, there’s no excuse for employing these archaic and offensive tropes, and it’s pretty unforgivable that Marc Cherry and company sling this kind of trash.
That being said, there are still some bright spots to this season – namely Cross and Huffman who both get to show off some really wonderful acting this season. Hatcher the lead of the first season has had her role slightly diminished, but is still on hand to wring some sad laughs – she’s just as hapless as ever, but thankfully the writers decided to reign in on some of those goofy pratfalls that were starting to really put her intelligence into question. Unfortunately, Longoria is not as well-served, and at times her thespian limitations betray her, and her character can start to feel a bit one-note. The core cast is surrounded by some wonderful supporting and guest players, too – Kathryn Joosten steals scenes like a bandit as ornery neighbor, Mrs. McCluskey, Shirley Knight scores as Bree’s mother-in-law, Lesley Ann Warren is a gem as Susan’s flighty mom, and best of all, Harriet Sansom Harris is a fiendish wonder as the scheming Felicia Tilman.
The second season is essentially two shows in one: a very good one, and a pretty bad one. The following seasons fix some of the mistakes of this year, but the show’s still worth watching – and despite its massive problems, it’s a very entertaining show.