Ron Tom/ABC

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

September 27, 2010 at 04:51 AM EDT

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!)

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