‘Housewives’ recaptures its appeal this year

New characters have
revitalized the show.



Sometimes television viewing becomes a matter of habit. You keep watching a particular show not necessarily because it’s great TV, but because, well ... just because.

Case in point: “Desperate Housewives” (9 p.m. Sundays, ABC). In its blockbuster first season, we became so addicted to the show’s delicious brew of soapy escapades and dark humor that we continued to pay weekly visits to Wisteria Lane over the ensuing years, despite the fact that much of what went on there was teeth-grittingly lame.

That’s why this fourth season has been such a pleasant surprise. Just when we had become accustomed to putting up with uneven storytelling and harebrained plot twists, “Desperate Housewives” has triumphantly recaptured its rookie-year mojo.

Key to the reclamation project has been the addition of the still-gorgeous Dana Delany. She plays Katherine Mayfair, the latest in a long line of great love-to-hate-her TV ladies — a domestic diva so cool and calculating, you wonder if she’s got any blood flowing through her veins.

Katherine is steadfastly guarding a deep, dark secret, and though we aren’t quite privy to all the details just yet, it seems considerably more tantalizing than Alfre Woodard’s disturbed man-in-the-basement plot line of a couple of seasons ago (we’re still dogging creator Marc Cherry for wasting an actress of her caliber).

Unlike Woodard, Delany has been seamlessly incorporated into the cast. And not only does her shady scheming have us on the edge of our sofas, but we admire her flair for the catfight.

Some of the show’s funniest moments have been pegged to Katherine’s snippy clashes with Bree (Marcia Cross) over everything from gardening procedures to who makes the best pie. Through it all, every sly dig that slips from her lips is delivered with nasty perfection.

Also new to the block party are the show’s first gay couple, the easy-going Bob (Tuc Watkins) and the acerbic Lee (Kevin Rahm), urban transplants trying to adjust to their new surroundings. Cherry and his writers deserve plenty of credit for playing against type in depicting these guys who don’t even have a feel for good home decor — as proven by the hideous fountain sculpture in their front yard.

But while we’re heaping praise on the newcomers, let’s not forget our core group of actresses, who all have been involved in their own engaging adventures while still managing to maintain a sense of neighborly cohesion.

At the forefront is Felicity Huffman, who during Lynette’s recently concluded bout with cancer infused the story line with both heart and humor.

“Desperate Housewives” is often at its best when it eases up on the broad-stroke zaniness and allows its characters to ply deeper emotional waters.

Huffman was given the chance to do just that, and she responded by rocking the heck out of her scenes. We also love the verbal throw-downs she has with her whiskey-guzzling mom (Polly Bergen), aka “Boozilla.”

Meanwhile, Eva Longoria’s Gaby has earned belly laughs in a screwball affair with her old husband (Ricardo Chavira) that very nearly led to the murder of her new one (John Slattery).

And Marcia Cross seems to be having a blast with Bree’s fake pregnancy and the post-natal issues it has raised. Her recent squabbles with Orson (Kyle MacLachlan) over circumcision, baby-rearing policies and the lack of sex have been priceless.

As for Teri Hatcher’s Susan, she can still be annoying with her klutzy moves and ditzy ways, but she also has had some very affecting moments in portraying a woman making those awkward late-life adjustments to a second spouse (James Denton) and all that entails.

Fortunately, the show seems to have a few more surprises in store before it slips away into winter hibernation. On Sunday, a tornado is scheduled to whip its way through Wisteria Lane in an episode that ABC is breathlessly hyping as the “best of the year.”

We can hardly wait to see what kind of havoc it will wreak on the ladies’ lives — and their hairdos.

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