Desperate Housewives

Sunday's gaudy premiere ratings suggest "Desperate Housewives" has escaped the sophomore jinx, but that doesn't mean those pulling the levers that animate Wisteria Lane can afford to breathe easy. The second-season opener, fortunately, featured a couple of knockout, buzzworthy moments as well as a tantalizing new plot thread.

Sunday’s gaudy premiere ratings suggest “Desperate Housewives” has escaped the sophomore jinx, but that doesn’t mean those pulling the levers that animate Wisteria Lane can afford to breathe easy. The second-season opener, fortunately, featured a couple of knockout, buzzworthy moments as well as a tantalizing new plot thread, promising that this suburban soap’s back alleys and side streets have plenty of stories left to divulge. Then again, once a show becomes a full-blown phenomenon, it also becomes a ripe target, offering plenty of nits to pick.

Unlike those behind ABC’s other second-year sensation, “Lost,” “Housewives” creator Marc Cherry has readily disgorged secrets while intricately adding new ones along the way. The season-two kickoff, in fact, virtually laid bare any remaining uncertainties regarding the plot that set the show in motion, in terms of why Mary Alice (voiced by Brenda Strong) killed herself, what was in the sunken chest, who was “Dana,” etc.

The real question, then, is whether new wrinkles surrounding Mary Alice’s surviving friends pack the same wallop as the old ones. Sending beset mom Lynette (Emmy winner Felicity Huffman) back to work looks extremely promising, especially with a tight-assed new boss (Joely Fisher) who fumed when Lynette brought her baby on a job interview, where she changed a diaper as she declared, “Watch me multitask.”

The real water-cooler sequence, however, came during a funeral for the ages, as Stepford wife Bree, in another bravura flourish by Marcia Cross, allowed a feud with her late husband’s mother (a nice guest turn by Shirley Knight) to very publicly and quite hilariously explode. At one point, Bree even threatened the minister with moving the service out of his church, huffing, “I will go nondenominational so fast it will make your head spin.”

The two plots exhibiting signs of wear and tear are those involving the other half of the Wisteria quartet, as Gabrielle (Eva Longoria) labors to save her marriage despite an extracurricular fling and Susan (Teri Hatcher) continues her on-again, off-again romance with Mike (James Denton). Although the writers have deftly managed to keep concocting impediments to break those two up before putting them back together, it’s not a huge leap to see that tennis match growing tiresome.

Perhaps hedging a bit against much-talked-about internal discord, “Housewives” also adds to its teeming cast, with Alfre Woodard as a new neighbor who has something macabre hidden in the basement, though it’s premature to make any judgments there.

For now, suffice it to say that ABC has the kind of serialized hit not seen since “ER” when it was still “ER.” How well Cherry and company can keep adding layers while inching the existing stories forward ultimately will determine just how long the Alphabet net will wake up smiling Monday mornings, but so far, so good.

Desperate Housewives

ABC, Sun. Sept. 25, 9 p.m.

Production

Filmed in Los Angeles by Cherry Prods. in association with Touchstone Television. Executive producers, Marc Cherry, Tom Spezialy, Michael Edelstein; co-executive producers, Chris Black, Joey Murphy, John Pardee, Kevin Murphy, George W. Perkins; supervising producers, David Grossman, Larry Shaw; producers, Alexandra Cunningham, Sabrina Wind, Charles Skouras III; co-producers, Stephanie Hagen, Kevin Etten; director, Shaw; writers, Jenna Bans, Kevin Murphy.

Crew

Camera, Lowell Peterson; production design, Thomas A. Walsh; editor, Andrew Doerfer; theme, Danny Elfman; music, Steve Jablonsky; casting, Junie Lowry-Johnson, Scott Genkinger. Running Time: 60 MIN.

With

Susan Mayer - Teri Hatcher Lynette Scavo - Felicity Huffman Bree Van De Kamp - Marcia Cross Gabrielle Solis - Eva Longoria Edie Britt - Nicollette Sheridan Betty Applewhite - Alfre Woodard Mary Alice Young - Brenda Strong Mike Delfino - James Denton Tom Scavo - Doug Savant Carlos Solis - Ricardo Antonio Chavira Paul Young - Mark Moses Karl Mayer - Richard Burgi George Williams - Roger Bart Zach Young - Cody Kasch Julie Mayer - Andrea Bowen Andrew Van De Kamp - Shawn Pyfrom Danielle Van De Kamp - Joy Lauren Matthew Applewhite - Mehcad Brooks John - Jesse Metcalfe
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