Your complete guide to ''Footballers Wive$'' -- The raunchy, eye-popping hit British soap that makes an hour with those ''Desperate Housewives'' feel like a PBS telethon
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”Shut up! She did not just molest a man in a coma!”

You can tell by the screams in the hallway when a fresh shipment of Footballers Wive$ episodes has arrived at EW’s offices. The four-year-old British soap — which follows the sluttier halves of the fictional Earls Park Sparks soccer club — is, as executive producer Brian Park puts it, ”as much about football as Dallas was about oil.” Indeed, no one actually plays soccer on Footballers Wive$ — instead, story lines revolve around more important issues, like barbecued boobies and hermaphrodite babies. So it’s no wonder that Wive$ is becoming as big an obsession around these parts as it is in the U.K. Over there, it’s a ratings darling, attracting an average of 6 million viewers each week (that is, 10 percent of the U.K.’s population). Over here, Wive$ is garnering a cult following thanks to BBC America, which began airing it in July 2005 — and it’s now their highest-rated show among adults 18 to 34.

Those of you out there who haven’t yet experienced Footballers Wive$, we implore you: Turn. It. On. Why — after BBC America has aired two delicious seasons of infidelity, coke snorting, and murder by champagne bottle — is now the time to get hooked? Simple: The show’s writers have lost their minds. Season 3, premiering Feb. 19, engages in more sex, scandal, and general Omigod-the- English-actually-get-away-with-this-on-regular-television?! antics than ever before.

A little background: ”Footballers Wive$ is an American dream made British,” explains Park. ”Here you have young 20-year-olds who one day are kicking a ball against a wall or a garage door, and the next minute, they make up to $75,000 a week…. It’s too much money, too soon.” The country’s ever-growing celebrity worship of soccer stars (think Posh and Becks) provides the perfect backdrop for a splashy soap that just about writes itself, what with professional athletes’ penchant for misbehavior and conspicuous consumption. Wive$‘ mayhem is further propelled by TV’s most flagrantly over-the-top trophy wife — and the show’s central character — conniving ice queen Tanya Turner (Zoë Lucker). ”The aesthetics of Footballers Wive$ are great. It’s like reading OK! magazine on television,” says Lucker, on the phone from her London flat. ”It’s tabloid TV.”

If you think you’re ready to dive into the world of the wild, wild Wive$, this handy primer will provide everything you need to catch up with the first two seasons. Another suggestion: Watch this show with your most foulmouthed buddy and a bottle of bubbly. Feel free to swig liberally — just like Tanya.

Tanya Turner
(Zoë Lucker)

THE STORY Coke-buzzed queen bee of the Sparks’ wives, Tanya is the show’s raison d’être. She’s now a widow, but weep not for her late husband, rageaholic and Earls Park captain Jason Turner: He repeatedly boffed one teammate’s sister-in-law, and then impregnated another’s mum — only to reject their hermaphrodite baby. Luckily, a drunken Jason was ”helped” over the side of a building in the season 2 finale. MOST SCANDALOUS MOMENT Waiting until they were standing at the altar, renewing their wedding vows in front of a few hundred swells, to dump Jason. ON SECOND THOUGHT… She also tried to kill Sparks chairman Frank Laslett, slept with one of Jason’s teenage teammates, and knocked boots with his ballsy female agent, Hazel. IN HER DEFENSE ”There’s no other character like her on British TV,” says Park. ”So rich and delicious…. There’s no villainy that she can’t find herself in.” Adds Lucker, ”As Zoë, I don’t live that lifestyle whatsoever. I live in a flat in North London with two cats…. The show being so glamorous and glamorized, you retreat from that lifestyle. I’ve always been happiest when I’m with my close friends and family.” WHAT’S AHEAD In a word? Sex. (In three words? Sex and cocaine.) Tanya marries old foe Frank for his supposed fortune, and according to Lucker, ”finds herself yet again in a situation that she absolutely does not want to be in.” So, of course, she’ll try to literally shag him to death. ”She has to deal with it to the best of her ability,” explains Lucker, ”to stay on top of it — as it were.” All the while, she’s busy igniting a passionate affair with new player Conrad Gates, thus earning the wrath of his wife, Amber.

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