Desperate Housewives feminism

`Housewives': It's pro-feminist satire. No, it's a tired cliche.

One of the more provocative and eagerly awaited shows of the new TV season is the ABC drama-satire "Desperate Housewives" (8 p.m. Sunday, WLS-Ch. 7). It is something of a petri dish of contemporary gender issues. With that in mind, we let two of our critics, one male, one female, discuss the show in e-mail debate in lieu of a standard review.

Their comments follow.

Sid Smith: Combining the caustic, anti-suburban sensibilities of "American Beauty" and "The Stepford Wives, " "Desperate Housewives" starts out terrifically, opening on Mary Alice as she dishes up a waffle breakfast, ushers her family out the door and goes about her chores - what her narration calls "quietly polishing my routine until it gleamed with perfection."

Then she takes a gun from her closet and blows out her brains. Her best friends gather at her Wisteria Lane home for her funeral, and, though well-to-do housewives all, they're utterly miserable.

Maureen Ryan: The opening of "Desperate Housewives" is indeed intriguing. It's what comes after that is dispiriting - if you are a mini-van-driving suburban mom, as I am.

I found that the satire of "Housewives" wasn't tart enough to be truly funny, and the drama wasn't nearly textured enough to reflect the real lives of contemporary mothers. Are we supposed to laugh at Mary Alice and her cohorts or feel sorry for them?

"Housewives" couldn't quite decide whether it wanted its talented cast to portray a bunch of stale stereotypes (a Martha Stewart-style perfectionist, a "spicy" Latina, two predatory divorcees) or dramatically depict the suburban angst of women. That mix of drama and satire is a difficult combination to pull off, and it remains to be seen if "Housewives" will master it.

But my main reaction to the show was, "Here's another show about women's lives . . . written by a man."

Smith: I found the satire hilarious, beginning with the most cartoonish character, the nosy neighbor whose very name, Mrs. Hoover, mimics housewife drudgery, and her horror at discovering Mary Alice's body, followed by her gleeful realization that the death means she gets to keep her borrowed blender. I'd also argue, male writer notwithstanding, that this is one of the funnier, pro-feminist scripts on TV these days.

FAQ

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Where is MJ in Desperate Housewives.

MJ, short for Maynard James, is the son of Susan and Mike Delfino. He lives with both of his parents. This season, they left their home on Wisteria Lane and moved into an apartment.

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Who dies on desperate housewives?

Nora dies by a shot. (Nora is the ex-wife of lynettes husband)

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