Would Gaby Solis Have An Affair With 'Desperate Housewives' Now That It’s 15 Years Old?
This soapy, women-led, pop culture juggernaut first hit televisions 15 years ago this week
This week, 15 years ago, Desperate Housewives aired. It was a pilot like no other—daytime soapiness disturbing the prestige of primetime television with Mary Alice’s death, the suicide that launched a thousand unravelling secrets in the quiet neighborhood of Wisteria Lane. Of course, that was the last time that street would ever be quiet. Housewives had it all: a model having a steamy affair with a young gardener, a harried mother taking her sons’ ADHD medication to keep up with the demands of parenting, a Republican housewife having to deal with the fact that her son is gay, and the girl-next-door falling head-over-heels—literally—for her hot plumber neighbor. And a million other things too: fingers getting chopped off, ashes getting thrown in one’s face, a tornado, a plane crash, a sex offender next door. There was no lack of bewildering and baffling storylines in Desperate Housewives’ eight-year run, but amidst the campiness and extravagance of every episode—all of which were named for a Sondheim song or lyric—hid genuine, tender moments between its four main characters, Gaby Solis, Susan Mayer, Bree Van de Kamp, and Lynette Scavo.
Marc Cherry’s soapy, campy opus, inspired by the trial of Andrea Yates, the Texan mother who confessed to drowning all five of her children in a bathtub in 2001, was ABC’s biggest success in 2004 and beyond. 21.3 million viewers tuned in, and critics could not get enough of it. Cherry had initially compared it to American Beauty, and critics affirmed this in various news sites, continuing to compare it to four completely disparate pieces of media—Knots Landing, The Golden Girls, Sex and the City, and Twin Peaks. Disparate, yet somehow making complete sense. By 2006, Desperate Housewives was a pop culture staple. It became a regular at the Emmys, the Golden Globes, and the Screen Actors Guild Awards, winning 71 out of 273 nominations across various award shows, including GLAAD and NAACP (although one could argue that its queer and POC representation leaves much to be desired). There were dolls, there were games (there are still games—as of writing, Desperate Housewives: The Game is still available for download on the App Store), there were coffee table books, there were scholarly works. (Reading ‘Desperate Housewives’: Beyond the White Picket Fence, edited by Janet McCabe, may or may not have been used by the author as a reference while writing her undergraduate thesis.)
To date, Housewives is still the longest-running primetime television show that features an all-female cast, with Charmed and Pretty Little Liars coming in at number two and number three, and it didn’t survive eight whole seasons without a tiff (or two or three or four) between the show’s leads.
In 2005, Vanity Fair placed the main cast—from Felicity Huffman, to Eva Longoria, to Marcia Cross, Teri Hatcher, and Nicollette Sheridan—on its cover, and apparently, tensions on set had been high. Something about Teri and not getting to get first dibs on the swimsuit she would wear, Marcia walking out, et cetera, et cetera. In 2012, Sheridan sued Cherry and ABC for wrongful termination and assault. The showrunner had fired back, revealing that during the series’ first season, he had to intervene in a fight between Nicollette and Teri. Towards the show’s latter years, as social media became a hotter and hotter thing, Teri was suspiciously absent from many behind-the-scenes ‘grams and tweetpics posted by Huffman, Longoria, and Cross.
When Huffman was set to be sentenced after her involvement in the college admission scandal early this year, her co-star and longtime friend Longoria wrote a letter of support, revealing that an unnamed Housewives actor had started to bully her, and Huffman came to the rescue. “I dreaded the days I had to work with that person because it was pure torture,” Eva had written. “Until one day, Felicity told the bully ‘enough’ and it all stopped. Felicity could feel that I was riddled with anxiety even though I never complained or mentioned the abuse to anyone.”
Cherry had chimed in, too, of course, noting a ‘problematic cast member’ who, even as she refused to speak to the rest of the cast, Huffman still greeted ‘good morning’ every day. “We had a problematic cast member on my show. She was a big star with some big behavioral problems,” he wrote. “Everyone tried their darnedest to get along with this woman over the course of the show. It was impossible. And things went from bad to worse. At some point during season seven this woman decided she would no longer speak to her fellow cast members.”
While interest in the show steadily waned during its last years—series like Game of Thrones and Scandalwere invading pop culture, and shows on-demand were on the rise—Housewives’ two-hour long finale was still a cultural moment, with 11.12 million viewers ‘kissing them goodbye,’ as promotionals materials had gone. Seven years since its finale and fifteen since its premiere, Housewives remains a pop culture icon. Who would ever forget its opening sequence of images of women flouting their traditional roles all throughout history, set to Danny Elfman’s music; all four Housewives being nominated one year at the Emmys, and winning not a one, instead, the statue going to Mary-Louise Parker for Weeds; their provocative and steamy promos, apples almost always included; “Rex cries when he ejaculates,” delivered flawlessly by Marcia Cross? Currently, an Out of Context Desperate Housewives Twitter account has 72,200 followers and counting, with each post earning notes and likes up to the thousands from millennials and Gen-Z kids. “My mother and I used to watch this together,” wrote several commenters. At the height of the Felicity Huffman/college admissions scandal, the account had tweeted screenshots of Lynette’s showing willingness to bribe her son’s Little League coach—it currently stands at 36,500 likes and 10,700 retweets. Social commentary in the 21st century at its finest.
These days, the Housewives are out doing their own thing and living off their purported $300,000+ salaries. Felicity Huffman is set to spend 14 days in prison, but recently appeared in Otherhood and When They See Us; Eva Longoria is taking care of her one-year old and just concluded a stint at L’Oréal at Paris Fashion Week; Marcia Cross is in remission after a battle with anal cancer, and she was last seen in Quantico in 2018; and Teri Hatcher appearing steadily in various television shows and her own YouTube channel, Hatching Change, where she mostly has been cooking saucepan banana bread and cheery cherry pie.
For many television enthusiasts, Housewives had been a nightly Sunday tradition. It had retained its 9pm slot since its premiere, and reruns of the show’s earlier seasons were rampant on local channels here in the Philippines. Shoutout to season three, episode eight—“Children and Art”—for being on TV at the right time, and a golden-haired Felicity Huffman acting the living lights out of Lynette Scavo after she discovers the neighbor who had saved her life is a pedophile. Housewives was the first series I ever remember binge-watching, before binge-watching even became the ubiquitous activity it is today. My 16-year old self had extolled this mostly campy, sometimes trashy, rarely dull series as the “Best Television Show Ever” (I no longer do). Until today, though, I still celebrate my birthday by blasting Boogie Shoes by KC and the Sunshine Band, the very same song Lynette Scavo had danced on bar tables to.
Happy 15th birthday, Desperate Housewives, and thank you for the some of the wildest, most nonsensical moments on television I’d ever witnessed.