‘Housewifes’ desperate for direction

The problem with ABC's new drama "Desperate Housewives" isn't so much the writing, acting or appearance of the show.

Taken individually, these things are suitable and in some cases excellent in their own right. The problem is that these three elements don't work together cohesively to accomplish anything notable.

For example, take the writing and the show's concept. One of the titular desperate suburban housewives has committed suicide and is narrating the plot from her otherworldly vantage point. With the newfound abilities to see the lives of her neighbors as they really are, Mary Alice Young — voiced by small-screen veteran Brenda Strong — takes viewers on a ghost's-eye perspective tour of the dirty laundry that permeates her neighborhood.

The WASP-ish suburbs have been targeted before by a slew of writers, most successfully by the 1989 Tom Hanks movie "The 'Burbs." Ironically, the film was taped on the same set as "Desperate Housewives."

If the number of satirical movies and television shows about the suburbs are any indication, the suburbs are a big target of satirical and dramatic material. Despite the fact that the show's writers — a collection of veterans from past hits like "NYPD Blue," "Melrose Place," "The Golden Girls" and other similar staple shows — have ample material to work with, the show comes off somehow lacking in its portrayal of a neighborhood where everybody has something to hide. The big detriment might be that there is no 'straight man' to give the audience any perspective on the problems. There is only Mary Alice, and she's recently dead.

The acting isn't stellar, but it's enough to get the job done. Bree Van De Kamp, (Marcia Cross, formerly of "Melrose") is perhaps the strongest character of the ensemble as the ever-so-perfect housewife with little faith in the marriage counseling that she and her husband are struggling through. Eva Longoria sizzles as the philanderer Gabrielle Solis, so much so that a kind of guilt- producing empathy for character is established. The closest thing to a reasonably sane character is Lynette Scavo (Felicity Huffman), the mom desperately trying to escape the unintentionally tyrannical escapades of her twin sons by sending them to an exclusive grade school.

The residences wherein these characters play out their twisted, increasingly anarchic lives, seem a little ritzy for the suburbs, and perhaps a little too furbished. This definitely isn't the same suburb where Al Bundy sat on a couch, complained about Oprah and fondled the family jewels.

When all is said and done, "Housewives" comes off as little more than a well written, sufficiently acted, over-priced tabloid dedicated to the plight of a select group of wealthy women.

Grade: BC,”Brian O'Connor”