The State of the Primetime Soap Opera: ‘Desperate’, ‘Sexy’ and ‘Sisters’

The primetime soap opera was heralded as the new and resurgent medium when Desperate Housewives arrived and brought steamy, sudsy television back to the forefront of popular culture. Now, three years later, ABC remains at the forefront of the movement but is not alone: CBS is introducing Cane and Swingtown, attempting to break through on what only ABC has managed to pull off in recent years.

Perhaps attempting to confirm themselves as the destination for primetime soaps without procedural elements or workplace settings, ABC is introducing ‘Dirty Sexy Money’ to the table while ‘Desperate Housewives’ bounces back from a weak couple of seasons and ‘Brothers & Sisters’ takes advantage of late-season momentum.

I am admittedly a sucker for these shows: I might view them with a more critical eye, but I have a penchant for some good family drama. But is it good family drama? And how are the show stacking up this season? Let’s take a gander.

Desperate Housewives – “Now You Know”

I will admit that I stopped watching Desperate Housewives last year, fairly early even. I simply didn’t find the second season interesting enough to justify sticking around during the rather slow start to its third. What has me watching the premiere, then? Mainly the arrival of new characters, new mysteries, and Nathan Fillion. So sue me, I became a Browncoat with Firefly over the summer.

My verdict: Dana Delaney has finally added some spice to the proceedings, the various women of Wysteria Lane are at their best when keeping secrets, and the mystery feels like just the right balance of intrigue and actually interesting material, as opposed to last year’s. It is a creepy dream for a brain-washed girl whose parents are hiding things in a locked room that hides not a chained up male but a hidden past.

It centers on not some secret murder plot or basement dungeon, but a mysterious new neighbour with a past and a future on Wisteria Lane. The drama amongst characters it as much of a retread as before, but it feels fresher as long as some level of change is being promised. And I feel like a new neighbour, and new neighbours to come, might be enough to bring the show back on track.

Brothers & Sisters – “Home Front”

At the end of last season’s finale, the Walker family cleansed themselves with a dip in the pool to signal a new beginning. However, this was really incredibly misleading, as this year’s season premiere showed: in reality, they’re still just as messed up as they were before. Kitty’s neutoric, Kevin’s narcissistic, Sarah’s marriage is a wreck, and the rest of the family are in a state of upheaval.

It is therefore nice to see that the show jumps right into this conflict, and isn’t afraid to stick with it. The episode was really about the futility of this family’s happiness: with Justin in Iraq, and with everything else falling apart at the seams, there is no way that this family’s drama will stop anytime soon. Justin, unseen in the episode, is running the show: he receives video messages, his status defines his mother’s sanity, and it’s a disruptive influence that won’t be going away anytime soon.

The episode had a lot of work to do: not only did it have to handle stories about Tommy and Julia battling post partem depression, Kevin being a jerk to his own McAllister, and Rebecca settling in living with Nora, but it also dealt with the anniversary of William’s passing. The writers did an admirable job of balancing all of this without having the story get bogged down with it. This being said, I hope that the next few weeks allow for some new advancements in the storylines to advance beyond last season’s dramas.

Dirty Sexy Money – “Pilot”

I know I’m late with this one, but CTV reaired it tonight and I didn’t get to it last Wednesday. The pilot has a lot going for it: it is sharp, campy, and contains an element of mystery that feels like it is just the right balance of evident and subtle. The cast is splendid, the sets lavish, and the history established in the pilot is meaningful and resonant.

And thus I think that ABC has another hit on their hands as long as viewership stays consistent following Private Practice on Wednesdays. I believe that Greg Berlanti, who rescued Brothers & Sisters last year, has helped craft another set of characters that we care about, who are interesting to watch and who, when the moment calls for it, can be pretty damn funny. And, well, I’m hooked.

1 Comment

Filed under Television

One response to “The State of the Primetime Soap Opera: ‘Desperate’, ‘Sexy’ and ‘Sisters’

  1. travis

    how does one differentiate a drama from a nightime soap opera? email at tbrivett@yahoo.com

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