SOMETHING IS SERIOUSLY WRONG ON WISTERIA LANE. Inside the old Leave It to Beaver house, some friends are having a party. Frasier Crane's nemesis, Julia, is on the phone with her husband, Matt from Melrose Place, who's clearly not gay, considering that he's knocked her up four times. Across the room, Lois from Lois & Clark is on the arm of a guy who's clearly not Superman and chatting up Isabella from The Young and the Restless. Melrose's Kimberly, decked out in stupendous Stepford regalia, is passing canapés. When her hubby, who's clearly not Michael Mancini, announces they are in marriage
counseling, Kimberly drops the tray.
So much of ABC's new soap-mystery-comedy—Housewives is so hard to classify that we'll make up a word, somysomedy—is familiar. Its set has housed NBC's Providence, The Munsters, Beaver, and others. Its four titular wives—Marcia Cross, Teri Hatcher, Felicity Huffman, and Eva Longoria—and resident hussy Nicollette Sheridan have performed in a total of 21 series in some incredibly iconic roles. And its pilot plays like a meld of an NBC soap, a Lifetime movie, and an HBO drama—no coincidence since the project was pitched to all three networks as a comedy before being sold to ABC as a one-hour dramedy. Yet through clever dialogue, editing, and acting, the final product is an absolute original. Says Huffman, "You have all these known factors that come together and bring you something unknown: same ingredients, different cake."
Housewives follows the travails of a harried married mom, Lynette (Huffman), a harried divorced mom, Susan (Hatcher), a never let-the-harried-show mom, Bree (Cross), and the unharried married Gabrielle who, according to Longoria, "grabs life and the gardener by the balls." Sheridan's Edie is around to compete with Susan for the neighborhood's handsome new bachelor, Mike Delfino (Threat Matrix's
Jamie Denton). What keeps Housewives from becoming Premenopausal Place is its doozy of a hook: Seemingly perfect Mary Alice (Brenda Strong, who replaced Twin Peaks' Sheryl Lee) commits suicide in the first episode—but sticks around as the series' undead narrator. Her demise sets off a bunch of mysteries, like why is her husband digging up their pool in the middle of the night?!?!?
The show is the brainchild of former Golden Girls writer Marc Cherry, who's been an avid soap fan ever since he won a VCR by appearing on The $100,000 Pyramid. ("God love Jo Anne Worley.") Cherry, 42, says he got the idea while watching the trial of Andrea Yates—the Houston woman who drowned her five kids—with his mom, who spoke frankly about her own "desperation" raising three young children. Cherry realized that if his own seemingly unflappable mother had these moments, other women must have had them too. The creator says he'll rip a couple of stories from his childhood (e.g., Mom leaves kids on the side of the road to teach them a lesson), but most will come from his fertile imagination: Susan accidentally starts a fire while snooping around Edie's house, Lynette gets hooked on Ritalin, and Bree finds her MIA son at a strip club. And Cherry's biggest tease of all: "The reason Mike Delfino is on the street is connected to why Mary Alice killed herself."
There may be a dead body, but thankfully, Wives remains forensic-officer-free. "Who needs another cop show?" asks Hatcher. Amen, sister, now pass the canapés. —Henry Goldblatt