On Sunday night, when “Desperate Housewives” shuts down the action on Wisteria Lane for good after eight seasons, millions of people will gather around their televisions ... and watch “Game of Thrones” or “Mad Men.”
Actually, that’s not true. Last week, according to Nielsen figures, 9.2 million viewers tuned in to watch Teri Hatcher, Marcia Cross and the other “Desperate” ladies do, uh, whatever it is they’re currently doing on that show. By comparison, 3.8 million watched HBO’s “Thrones”and 2.29 million people checked in to AMC to confirm that Pete Campbell wasn’t dead yet. So it’s not true that no one watches “Desperate Housewives.” It just feels true.
In this Style piece, the Post’s Emily Yahr does a fine job of summarizing the ups, downs and messiness that the series delved into over the course of almost a decade. In the recent history of television, as Yahr suggests, it’s hard to think of a show that blew up as big as “Desperate Housewives” did, then watched the air in its zeitgeist balloon leak out so quickly. Maybe “Heroes.” That’s probably a close second.
I mean, do you remember when you were super into “Desperate Housewives” and cared a lot about it? I do. I remember it like it was 2005. Because it was 2005.
The slapstick-mixed-with-soap-opera side of “Housewives” made it fun, escapist entertainment, something girly and delicious to watch in the wake of “Sex and the City” ’s departure from the airwaves. Plus those opening credits — with that big red apple and that Lichtenstein-esque woman socking that dude in the jaw — looked really fab in HD.
But there were darker elements in “Desperate Housewives.” This was a show, after all, that initially centered on the suicide of a wife and mother. There was a sinister underbelly to the proceedings, the sense that unsavory, possibly David Lynchian things were happening beneath the facade of freshly mowed lawns and happy homemakers with French manicures. It was Stepford for the new millennium. And that made it okay for smart people to watch it.
And they did, leading to deep think pieces about what “Desperate Housewives” was telling us about our attitudes toward motherhood, gender politics, suburbia and Teri Hatcher’s ability to lock herself out of her house while naked. It earned multiple Emmy nominations, including an Emmy for Felicity Huffman. Along with “Lost,” it was the most talked-about show of the 2004-05 TV season.
And then season two started, and Alfre Woodard joined the cast, and she started locking her mentally challenged son in the basement. You probably don’t remember that because you had stopped watching by then, whereas I stopped watching right after that happened.
Overnight, it was like everybody stopped paying attention. Again, not everybody. Millions of people were still tuning in. But the multitude of Emmy nominations stopped. The chatter started to die down. The ratings slipped.
Was it because the Mary Alice mystery was solved in season one, making “Desperate Housewives” another victim of what I’ll call the “Who killed Laura Palmer?” syndrome. Maybe. At the time, it definitely lost its dysfunctional-mom mojo. In season one, “Housewives” had a definite point of view and a clear narrative trajectory. In its second season, it felt like a show trying to find its purpose. And once it lost people then, it had a hard time luring them back.
The TV-watching culture collectively turned its attention to trying to figure out the hatch on “Lost” and preparing for the end of “The Sopranos.” And by the end of 2007, we had found another show that said significant things about suburbia and gender politics, but one that was set in the ’60s and starred mostly men who drank. Aside from their appearances on red carpets, no one thought much anymore about the Solises or the Scavos or Eva Longoria’s hot gardener (Jesse Metcalfe — man, remember him?).
It seems unlikely that anyone will get super-verklempt about the demise of “Desperate Housewives” on Sunday night, aside from a handful of very loyal viewers. Most of us said good-bye to the show a long time ago.
Although maybe that’s something to be sad about, to mourn: a show that came out of the gate a total winner and then slowly, like a racehorse losing its stride, faded from front-runner to footnote.
Are you feeling melancholy about the end of “Desperate Housewives” or totally indifferent? Post a comment and share your grief or sense of ambivalence.