On ''Desperate Housewives,'' alcoholic Bree finally takes the first step, and Lynette helps a colleague who's hooked on nursing
Marcia Cross
Credit: Marcia Cross: ANDREW ECCLES/ABC

”Desperate Housewives”: More drinking problems

Okay, so I’ve given up hope that Marc Cherry and his writing team are planning on delivering any kind of riveting overarching mystery for Desperate Housewives‘ sophomore season. I made peace with this conclusion midway through tonight’s episode, right around the time the sadly underutilized Alfre Woodard made an appearance on my TV screen. I will now pause this TV Watch for a brief look at my internal monologue:

”Hey, that’s Betty Applewhite! What’s she doing on the show? I thought she’d disappeared with Susan’s daughter sometime around the holidays, right after that promising (and quite chilling) confrontation she had with Bree. I wonder how come they never really followed through on that. Is it possible that Woodard’s per-episode salary is so high that the producers can’t afford to give her much work? That would be one explanation why every scene with Woodard looks pretty much identical — Betty trapped on Wisteria Lane, in some nondescript silk blouse, having yet another argument with her son. Come to think of it, is it possible the show’s producers decided to save some money this week by inserting some old, unused Woodard footage from back in the fall? It wouldn’t be the hardest thing to pull off, and…oh wait. Her scene’s finished. That was quick.”

Anyhow, by putting aside the expectation that Housewives is aiming for anything but a jaunty social satire — doesn’t Lost provide enough twisty mysteries for one network? — I’ve been able to concentrate on the show’s strong suit: Its twisted attention to detail.

Take, for example, the way the simplest props on Housewives can elicit bigger laughs than half the punch lines on your average network sitcom — like that needlepoint pattern Bree worked on throughout her AA meeting. It was impossible not to guffaw seeing Bree stitch diligently while a fellow alcoholic shared a story about waking up in a pool of his own vomit, but the moment went deeper than a mere sight gag. Indeed, Bree’s carelessly casual dismissal of the plight of a roomful of alcoholics was like a CliffsNotes guide to her inner demons. On one level, she feels superior to folks who would publicly discuss their tribulations and seek out help in overcoming addiction. But she’s also secretly longing for the strength to admit not only that she has flaws but that her drinking has spiraled out of control since the death of her husband.

What’s more, Bree’s hilariously uptight response when asked to speak in front of the group — ”I couldn’t possibly top that. Thank you, though” — speaks to her borderline-sociopathic need to excel. How can she share a story about her alcoholism if she doesn’t have the best anecdote in the class? Is it any wonder that soon thereafter our gal is passing out in a department-store dressing room? I’m still not 100 percent certain about this whole alcoholism plotline — especially in light of the preview showing Bree lip-locking with her sponsor (Oz‘s Lee Tergesen) — but Marcia Cross is such a force, and her scenes with Sean Pyfrom so crackling with vitriol, that I’ll just shut up and enjoy for now.

Two other residents of Wisteria Lane, Eva Longoria’s Gabrielle and Felicity Huffman’s Lynette, have been far less sympathetic than Bree but no less entertaining. It’s interesting that while the Housewives writers have continued to draw Lynette and Gabrielle as two of TV’s most self-centered characters, they remaining winningly so.

I loved the way Huffman played Lynette’s reaction to discovering that her new co-worker was still breast-feeding her five-year-old. You could practically see the wheels grinding to a halt in Lynette’s head as she contemplated what she’d just witnessed through the vertical blinds (yikes!), and seconds later — bam! — they’re turning again with a this is none of my business, but I’m gonna end up confronting her anyway resolve. And even though sometimes Lynette’s choice of weapons scares me (remember that rat she released into her own home?), offering the little tyke a chocolate milk as a way to start the weaning process was inspired, as was the ”in the third world, they don’t have juice boxes” retort.

Gaby, on the other hand, appears (emphasis on ”appears”) to be playing it a little less smart as she and Carlos negotiate to adopt themselves an attractive baby. I’m not going to judge Gaby for judging that Diana chick’s dreaded side ponytail or grim guacamole-eating skills, but I will express my disappointment in seeing her get so obviously played by the pregnant pole dancer (who isn’t exactly Venus de Wisteria either, is she?). How can a woman who’s schemed for everything she’s got in life not see right through the expectant-parent trap that’s clearly being laid out for her? Unless, of course, that was a phony necklace Gaby parted ways with down at the club. Hmmm.

I could also comment on Susan’s inability to see Karl’s attempt to create turmoil in her love life, but somehow the whole Susan-Mike-Karl-Dr. Ron love rhombus fails to intrigue me. As Susan said when Mike asked her what prompted her split with Ron, ”What’s the point?” I hope she meant it, too, because it’s time for the pratfall-happy housewife to get out of her romantic doldrums and maybe help wrap up whatever milquetoast mystery remains in the Applewhite residence next door.

What do you think? Are Bree’s struggles with the bottle convincing? Do you think Gaby is already wise to the stripper’s game? Are you tired of seeing Susan pine for Mike already? And whatever happened to Edie and Mrs. Tilman?

Desperate Housewives (TV Show)
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