When series four of Desperate Housewives opened with Edie alive and kicking, it was a huge relief. For at the end of series three disturbing signs of sentimentality were creeping in.
Even if we could accept a soft-focus wedding for Mike and Susan, neither of whom offer many thrills dramatically, it would have been horribly awkward if we were required to cry over Edie, Wisteria Lane’s villainess-in-residence.
We don’t want to feel sorry for these women. We want to revel in their insecurities and vices – and we can do so because their wealth, good looks, fabulous outfits and the apparently interminable sunshine that beats down on their affluent neighbourhood is a rebuff to our pity, making them robust targets for our laughter.
So, Edie’s suicide bid is a fake, the first stage in her most ruthless, cold-blooded plan yet – to blackmail Carlos into marrying her.
And in true, darkly upbeat Desperate Housewives style, there’s even a hint that, despite his chilling predicament, there could be a perk in this for Carlos. The thrill of illicit sex with Gabrielle has done nothing but good for his relationship with her, and that’s great news for those of us who find their volcanic, utterly self-centred affair paradoxically the most touching romance of the series.
Because Gaby and Carlos embody the spirit of Desperate Housewives – that however bad life gets, there’s always a joke to be had, or an opportunity to be grabbed that will remind you there’s something better around the corner.
In fact, in these times of paralysing sensitivity towards everyone and everything, it’s refreshing to know that Desperate Housewives deems no subject off limits.
Anorexia, paedophilia and teenage pregnancy are all fair game. You wouldn’t think there were too many gags to be had from cancer. But what better way to remind us how tough it is for Lynette as she battles to hide her illness from the world than to see her inadvertently wreak revenge on a domineering PTA mother by spontaneously puking into the woman’s designer bag after a particularly rough session of chemo?
Mind you, Lynette does seem to be burdened with some of the most challenging storylines. She’s survived a shoot-out in a supermarket, an encounter with a paedophile and, as if that weren’t enough, now she’s up against terminal illness.
Perhaps that’s because she is the most caring of the neighbours and we can trust these issues in Lynette’s hands. But we loved her even more when she gave in to the chance of an affair with the handsome chef at her husband’s restaurant.
However, I have to admit, Lynette will never be my favourite housewife. For me, it’s Bree and Gaby who steal the show. Unrelentingly self-interested, these women don’t waste time playing the victim.
They may come from different sides of the track but they share a talent for taking on and surviving every bizarre situation the script throws up – whether it’s discovering the local chemist has poisoned your husband, or your husband has impregnated the maid – and they still emerge looking immaculate.
Despite the outlandish plots and larger-than-life characters, Desperate Housewives contains a lot of truth about loneliness in marriage, the failure of love to stay the course, and our inevitably flawed attempts to create happy families.
But by steering away from mawkishness and self-indulgence, when most of us shabby, unglamorous housewives should be heading for our regulation early bedtime, the writers ensure we’ll be filling up our wineglasses and settling down for another hour with the beautiful, chaotic residents of Wisteria Lane.