For all its soapie nature and cartoon-like plots, Desperate Housewives has at its core the ability to create a significant level of identification. This appeal to the emotional through identification is at the heart of its attraction for women. Like Sex in the City, the use of four main and a couple of auxiliary characters all of differing natures mean that there is always someone with whom identification is possible.
The first season, in particular, found a way to totally engage me with the characterisation and the emotional ups and downs, particularly of Lynette. As someone learning at the time to balance the rigours of children and a professional career, I could fully identify with a number of her crises and emotions. Admittedly, since that time, I totally hate what they have done with her character, and season two left me somewhat despondent because it lost that fresh female perspective, and returned too often to the rut of stereotypical, misogynist, women-punishing storylines.
The leap forward five years was an effective approach to hitting the reset button and has resulted in something that I never imagined happening – finding myself identifying with the character of Gabrielle Solis more often than most of the others. I am currently half way through the season, and Gabby has considered that she has become “her old self”. Which I think is a pity. Her struggle to come to terms with the facts of aging and its impacts on looks and life post two children, both financially and time poor, captured the emotions which many women must face is a really effective way. Now I was never a runway model, but I am also at that age (and weight) when you sense the change in the way the world looks at you, and the way you look at yourself – suddenly I dislike most photos taken of me, I know how it feels to go unnoticed while waiting for service from a hot young guy behind a bar, and the occasions on which I am the most attractive person in a room have faded. Fortunately, on the other hand, my self esteem is no longer as bound up in that need to be attractive as it once was. Nonetheless, the identification with Gabrielle’s sense of loss was enough to make me feel teary on more than once occasion throughout the season. I am, however, not willing to go to the extremes of exercise and diet that she was to regain her former glory.
Now that she is thin again, and her family is regaining its wealth, I doubt I’ll feel much of that identification any more. Which is a pity. In returning to Gabrielle to type, the series loses a powerful recognition that women change as they age, they may not have the same kind of attractiveness that they had when they were younger. perhaps it would have been nicer to see Gabrielle find a new path to attractiveness rather than move backwards. Or perhaps, this recognition of the process of aging makes producers uncomfortable as it moves too far away from fantasy.