On ''Desperate Housewives,'' Bree slaps her mother-in-law, Susan injures Edie and the paperboy, and Gabrielle lets Carlos take a beating
Eva Longoria, Desperate Housewives
Credit: Eva Longoria: DANNY FELD/ABC

”Desperate Housewives”: Suburban smackdown

If you’ll forgive a really bad pun, this week’s Desperate Housewives put the punch back in the television punch line. Not since the days of Wile E. Coyote getting crushed by the anvils he dropped on Road Runner do I recall so much violence getting packed into a single hour — and making me laugh with such wicked abandon.

Think about it: With the exception of Edie Britt, all of the main female residents of Wisteria Lane unleashed their inner vicious criminals this week. Take Susan, for example: Not only did she injure her paperboy by using a rolled-up daily like a boomerang, but she also backed her car into Edie, shattering her tibia. Gabrielle’s selfish scheming, meanwhile, resulted in Carlos getting beaten by his cellmate, while Lynette was responsible for the death of an innocent pet-store rat. Even Bree, who expressed her distaste for public outbursts of emotion, got in on the act, smacking her grieving mother-in-law across the face in the middle of a crowded restaurant (justifiably so, I might add). And let’s not even get started on the chained man in Betty’s basement, you know, the one she’s sedating with illegally obtained pills.

For those who like to keep score at home, we’ve got three cases of assault (one using a motor vehicle), one case of possible animal abuse, a side order of unlawful imprisonment, a little prescription fraud, and, well, I’m not quite sure how to classify Gabrielle’s behavior, but if it wasn’t criminal, it certainly wasn’t very nice, either.

So how come Desperate Housewives doesn’t come off like Law & Order: SUV? Some credit certainly has to go to the writers. Lynette’s heartfelt thank-you speech to the crushed rodent lying in her trash can — ”You really helped my marriage. That’s a lot for a little rat to accomplish in one lifetime” — was particularly genius, especially with the knowledge that a late-night horror movie (was that Ben?) gave her the idea to enlist the furry pest to spur Tom into keeping a cleaner house.

But the comedy-to-brutality balance would be all wrong if it weren’t for the show’s amazing leading ladies, and no one is better than being magnificently dreadful than Eva Longoria as Gabrielle. Folks who think the Emmy snobs were right when they snubbed the youngest Housewife for a nomination this year should be forced to watch the master at work in this week’s third prison scene opposite Carlos. Wielding a checkbook like a weapon, Longoria infused her rote dialogue — ”Careful, Carlos, you’re not in a position to argue” — with a sadistic snap that was as much a come-on as it was a threat, in perfect keeping with the couple’s protracted love-hate duel. Every good soap opera needs an unapologetic beeyotch (or two). And now that the Housewives writing staff has reduced Nicollette Sheridan’s Edie to a once-an-episode sight gag (the pom-poms on the roller skates were too, too much), it’s clear that Longoria is shouldering that burden all by herself. So let’s give her the credit she’s due, starting with a Golden Globe nomination come early 2006. Longoria’s sideways glance after she told the slum-dwelling Rita, ”You seem to have everything you need,” was trophy worthy all by itself.

Longoria’s performance certainly serves as a tart and necessary complement to Teri Hatcher’s doe-eyed, lovelorn sweetness, a shtick that’s getting increasingly harder to swallow. That said, it’s a testament to Hatcher’s inherent likability that she made me delight in watching a preteen boy go head over heels on his bicycle; plus, her conspiratorial glance with Mrs. Greenberg provided a guffaw on top of a laugh. But since an actress is only as good as her material, can I just ask: When will Susan be freed up to do something other than sit around her house and fret over Mike? Doesn’t the woman ever work? Or go shopping? Or take a day trip?

For that matter, how come none of the ladies of Wisteria Lane seem to hang out anymore? Where are the card games and coffee klatches? And how will that creepy Applewhite chick react when (or if) she finally gets invited to one of them? She’s certainly got a good face for poker, what with the way she told her son, ”You know we don’t talk to him. That’s part of his punishment”; she spoke with such breezy matter-of-factness that you could hardly believe she was referring to the dude shackled in their home-made prison.

As for the tale of woe Betty fed to her therapist, I’m labeling it pure fiction until it’s proven otherwise, and to me, that mystery makes the rattling in her basement far more exciting than the drama facing Bree. I’m not saying Shirley Knight is anywhere near as annoying as last year’s most dubious guest star (that’d be Leslie Ann Warren as Susan’s mom, for those of you lucky enough to have missed her), but Phyllis Van De Kamp simply isn’t formidable enough to match the Iron Housewife. The next time glorious Bree raises her hand in anger, let’s hope there’s a worthy adversary on the receiving end. Maybe the paperboy?

What do you think? Was there too much violence on Wisteria Lane this week? Is Gabrielle too bad for your tastes, or not bad enough? And are you, like me, wishing for a little more Edie in next week’s episode?

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