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A Real Housewife Takes On Housewives

As a real-life housewife, let me say this first: I do watch Desperate Housewives, and I like it. I laugh at it. I make note of the fact that it bears little resemblance to my life in any way, shape, or form, and that's okay -- it's a soap opera, after all. No, none of my neighbors are former runway models who are screwing the gardener, nor are they man-hungry divorcees. There are two very nice single moms who live across the street, but while they're both lovely people, neither of them looks remotely like Teri Hatcher. The woman who lives next door does garden constantly, but she does it in a denim shirt and a ponytail, not a cashmere twinset and an oddly shaped sun hat like Marcia Cross.

That said, Desperate Housewives does bother me. And that's because it does contain one character whose life is actually meant to resemble mine and that of many of my friends -- and it doesn't, not at all. Lynette -- played by Emmy-winner and all-around excellent actress Felicity Huffman -- is a stay-at-home mother of four, with three young boys and a baby girl. When the show began, her life was portrayed as pretty extreme -- but as the show's first season evolved, it went from extreme to ridiculous.

Are we really supposed to believe that a woman who evidently has the financial means to hire a full-time, live-in nanny never thought of getting a sitter a few hours a week to help her maintain her sanity? Or that once she hired the nanny, she would go directly from being worried the nanny couldn't handle things to being jealous of how much the kids liked the nanny (a fact learned, of course, after installing a nanny-cam) -- all without taking an afternoon to go get a manicure and go shopping and relax? Each episode features Lynette dealing with one particular parenting issue, as though the show's writers are meticulously working their way down a checklist of Mom-related dramatic themes.

And then there are the ridiculous portrayals of marital issues. What housewife with four kids complains when she and her husband haven't had sex for ten whole days? Lynette does. Which one has time to put on a French maid costume and falls asleep drunk on the couch? Lynette again!

The other characters have ongoing storylines in which they get to deal with interesting soap-opera type issues, but Lynnette's too busy crossing items off the mommy checkist -- and with stupid and far-too-speedy resolutions. Because, you know, stay-at-home mothers aren't very interesting, and you wouldn't want to waste too much time on them.

The one part of Lynette's character the show does get right is her ambivalence about having left a high-powered career to be home with the kids, not to mention how difficult her new role is. Unfortunately, the way she responds to the challenge makes her seem like such a petty, shrewish moron that it's hard to buy her as a former captain of industry.

Really, this points to a bigger problem, not so much with this show in particular, but with the portrayal of parenting on TV in general, and the parenting of young children in particular. I'll admit I don't watch many sitcoms anymore, but I can't think of any shows on TV that do a good job of this. On Desperate Housewives, Lynette's three sons are barely distinguishable from one another. Same with the twin sons on Everybody Loves Raymond, another good show that had a dismal track record when it came to offering believable storylines about young children. Really, I have to stretch as far back in my memory as Roseanne (before that show went to hell, that is) to think of a show that dealt realistically and interestingly with the whole topic of parenting on a regular basis. That's pretty sad. I guess good parenting just doesn't seem as entertaining as bad parenting. Or maybe the hand-wringing of Mel Harris on another show I loved, thirtysomething, poisoned TV's willingness to deal with real parenting.

If Lynette really does head back out into the corporate world this season (in last spring's finale, she sabotaged her husband's promotion, forcing him to quit), maybe she'll finally be allowed some interesting storylines. Of course, then she wouldn't be a housewife anymore, would she?


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