The arrival of Ugly Betty minx Vanessa Williams brings bitchy back to Wisteria Lane

By Tanner Stransky
Updated September 27, 2010 at 04:51 AM EDT
Credit: Ron Tom/ABC

Desperate Housewives

S7 E1

Bless you, Renee Perry, for packing your bags and chartering a flight to Wisteria Lane.

Sure, I suspected I’d love the addition of Vanessa Williams into the Desperate Housewives mix before I even saw her on screen, but last night that anticipatory excitement was validated: Moving the former Ugly Betty star onto ABC’s Sunday-night franchise was a smart, smart move. After all, how many dramatic permutations can the show’s writers be expected to cook up involving the four-woman squad of Gaby, Bree, Lynette, and Susan, who’ve already fought with, made up with, consoled, supported, challenged, and schemed with each other a thousand different ways? That’s not to say that our four principal actresses have stopped delivering. But let’s be honest, new blood is a crucial ingredient for any soap to chug along into its seventh season.

Of course, new blood has to be presented in a way that makes sense, and in that regard, Renee’s successful introduction seems reminiscent of the debut of Dana Delaney’s Katherine Mayfair, who sent delectable shockwaves through the neighborhood in season 4. Just as Katherine had an immediate and obvious entrée into the Housewives coffee klatch thanks to her prior residence on Wisteria Lane (and close friendship with Susan), Renee turned out to be the former college roommate of Felicity Huffman’s Lynette. Et voila! Our core quartet is now poised to become a quintet — without anyone’s children being chained in the basement.

Better still, Desperate Housewives has always churned and gurgled on secrets, especially ones dredged up from the distant past. And that’s where Renee so beautifully fits into this situation. In last night’s episode we saw her begin to offer up some highlights from Lynette’s past that probably didn’t make the Christmas newsletter: “It’s just hard for me to reconcile this suburban housewife,” she told the ladies, “with the girl who had a threesome with two of the guys from the rugby team!” Yikes. (Yum?) What else is Renee hiding about Lynette that could make this season especially juicy? I can’t wait to find out.

Renee’s Ginsu-sharp tongue should also be an asset in the weeks and months to come. Her banter with Lynette snapped, crackled, and popped with the patented brand of bitchery we used to get when the Wisteria Four got together with the late, great Edie Britt. Susan asked Renee to tell the gals what Lynette was like in college. “Absolutely fearless!” Renee unabashedly said. “She just kept wearing those parachute pants, lesbian rumors be damned!” Zing! But the best part was that Lynette didn’t just sit there and take it: “Renee was always the one with the fashion sense,” Lynette offered as a rebuttal. “Before I met her, I’d never even heard of Gucci or Prada…or Chlamydia!”

I should really move on to one of the show’s other storylines—and there were lots of other good ones!—but before that, can we discuss Renee’s grand entrance? I mean, is it even possible for someone as delicious and fabulous as Vanessa Williams to arrive any other way than a stretch limo? Having a rich, high-rolling bitch of a baseball wife — or, as it was revealed last night, an about-to-be baseball divorcee — in the mix brings a saucy juxtaposition to the sometimes not-so-fabulous realities of our original-flavor Housewives. There was Renee, rattling on about her huge house and glamorous life in NYC, while Lynette cleaned baby spit-up off her shirt. How will Renee’s nouveau riche ostentatiousness go down with former Manhattan model Gaby, or suddenly struggling Susan? The potential for conflict here is endless.

One final thought on Renee: As much as no one would want to hear this—especially probably the writers on Desperate—I can’t help but feel that Williams is playing this role very close to her Ugly Betty character Wilhelmina Slater, one of TV’s best-ever villains. Not that I’m complaining, but it’s hard for me to deny the comparison, what with Renee’s bitchy vibe and her sound bite-happy dialogue. What say you?

NEXT: The return of Paul Young! (And better yet, Felicia Tilman!)

The other big addition to Wisteria Lane this season is, of course, Paul Young, who has returned from a stint in the slammer (after Felicia Tilman framed him for her murder) and is renting Susan and Mike’s vacated house. Just as a refresher: Felicia has it out for Paul because she knows he killed her sister, Martha Huber, who was blackmailing his ex, Mary Alice, about the couple’s son Zach. (This all reaches far back into Housewives’ history, as Mary Alice’s suicide occurred in the first episode of the series.) After Paul got locked away, Felicia was discovered to be alive, and now Paul is a free man. Last night’s hour actually did a beautiful job of recapping said backstory, don’t you think?

Paul, it seems, is back with a secret. (Shocker!) Or maybe what he’s got up his sleeve isn’t so much a secret, but rather some sort of plan to execute revenge on the ladies of Wisteria Lane, who largely ignored him after he was carted away for Felicia’s murder, despite their close friendship with his late wife. Paul’s return had everyone on Wisteria a bit on edge: “Paul Young, he’s back!” warned Karen McCluskey. “You heard me. Now, don’t just stand there—we gotta warn people!”

Yet while Bree, Lynette, Susan, and even to some extent Gaby appeared disconcerted by Paul’s return, one person who clearly is not afraid of the man is Felicia, who’s plotting his demise from her prison cell. (Apparently, faking your own death and framing somebody else for that “muder” is not viewed kindly by the courts.) “I wanted to spit in your face,” Felicia nastily said when Paul came to visit her, and referring to the clear partition between them, added, “I didn’t realize there would be glass.” To her cellmate, Felicia later said: “Paul can now receive the punishment he’s entitled to. Paul Young will be dead within six months.” And how, exactly, will that happen? “Paul Young doesn’t have friends on that street. I do,” she said, a maniacal grin spreading across her face. Who are these “friends”? And are any of ’em truly close enough to Felicia (or perhaps Mrs. Huber) to commit a felony homicide? (If so, I vote for Karen McCluskey!) However this plays out, here’s hoping Harriet Sansom Harris gets plenty of scree time going forward. I thought Paul Young would be the creepiest character in season 7, but Harris’ Felicia—what with all of her smile-laced threats—has him beat out. This lady freaks me out in the best possible way.

Elsewhere on the Lane, Bree finally told Gaby the truth about how Andrew was the one who killed Carlos’ mother all those years ago. Gaby was livid—but not for the reasons you’d think. “You shouldn’t have told me at all!” she screeched at Bree. “Now I have to tell Carlos, and he’s going to kill Andrew!” I guess Gaby’s position on Grandma Solis hasn’t softened much, even after the old woman’s death? Coincidentally, however, Carlos found out a secret that you know he’s going to have to eventually tell Gaby: Their daughter Juanita was switched at birth, and isn’t their biological progeny. Remember the storyline from last season’s finale where the nurse revealed her misstep on her deathbed? It’s rearing its head.

NEXT: Bree’s potential romance with Brian Austin Green, and Susan’s potential for having the worst storyline ever (it involves her in lingerie).

The push and pull here for Gaby and Carlos is that both are keeping bad news close to the vest because of how much it would destroy the other. It’s actually a sweet narrative in the couple’s long and sometimes turbulent relationship arc. But that’s not a surprise, really, when you think about it: Despite the breakups and affairs and messes in the past, Gaby and Carlos have always has one of the sweetest relationships on the show. And yet, as a viewer, it’s hard to imagine that eventually both secrets won’t be revealed — with explosive consequences. Is this marriage strong enough to survive the blast?

As for Bree, after she revealed the Andrew bombshell to Gaby, she returned to her own glum house that Orson was in the process of vacating. “Let’s see,” she said. “I’m getting a divorce, I lost my business, and I’m sitting here trying to remember why I quit drinking. I’ve had better Mondays.” On his way out, Orson suggested Bree focus on a project, which she scoffed at because she didn’t want to use busywork to stem her emotions. Alas, she eventually did: In a total Bree moment, she channeled her rage into ripping the wallpaper off the walls of her living room and then hiring Keith (a dirty sexy, sweaty, wife-beatered Brian Austin Green) to help her repaint. Romance (or fling) alert! Cougar Uptight, domestic goddess on the loose! I found myself chuckling out loud heartily after Keith suggested to Bree that she could go bold with her redux of the living room. She seemed excited at the idea: “Perhaps a nice, deep beige.” That’s our Bree! It’s no secret that Wisteria ladies love a blue-collar guy, but it beats me why a young handyman would dig a woman who’s this uptight about choosing a paint color. Then again, love—or lust, we shall see—can be a strange thing.

And finally we get to Susan, who’s out of the Wisteria Lane loop now that she’s living across town in a crappy apartment owned by—yes, I died when I saw her, too—the delectable Lainie Kazan. And honestly, as much as I love Lainie and as much as I love the idea of Lainie as an Internet madam, I can’t get with this storyline at all. Susan, stripping down to her lingerie and cleaning for a camera-laced fetish website called You’ve got to be kidding me. I’m just going to let my further silence on this storyline serve as my commentary, and you readers can try to talk me down from the ledge in the comments below.

Some other questions to discuss in the comments: Based on her flirty nature with Tom, is Renee going to try to get her big-city hooks into Lynette’s husband? Carlos’ new clean-shaven look: j’adore or j’loathe? Are you with me on my eternal love for Harriet Sansom Harris, who delivers Felicia Tilman at a level of creepiness not seen on Desperate Housewives in a long time?

Episode Recaps

Desperate Housewives

Eva Longoria Parker, Teri Hatcher, Marcia Cross, and Felicity Huffman star in the soap set on the dangerous Wisteria Lane

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