The Husband:

And now my weekly recap of ABC’s blatantly female-focused melodramas, Desperate Housewives and Brothers & Sisters:

How is it that a show known for its huge sweeps episodes and mystery-exploding finales can come up with a season premiere that doesn’t really feel like anything? With Desperate Housewives, it’s pretty much that aside from a well managed but mostly unnecessary flashback structure (pretty much designed to let you know immediately who Mike chose to marry) and a very brief start of a new neighborhood mystery, it was pretty much just picking up where we left off last season. And aside from the wedding (which starts and ends the episode), no time has actually passed, progressing only through some quick leaps throughout the eight weeks between last season’s finale and the Mike/Susan wedding.

Oh…yeah…Mike picked Susan over Katherine. And this is the absolute best choice from a purely storytelling standpoint. Admit it — we were all done with Susan’s love problems and her will-they-or-won’t-they with Mike, and Katherine’s story was completely static. This way, Susan can try out a new type of story and see how it fits, and Katherine, raging against Mike and Susan for their betrayal, finally gets a storyline that can bring out the fire she was completely lacking last season. Instead of a pushover just hoping that her new fiancé won’t fall back in love with his ex-wife, this new Katherine fights back, intercepting Susan’s wedding dress and threatening to stain it with pasta sauce, playing mind games with their respective friends, and ultimately blackmailing Susan into apologizing during the damned wedding ceremony. But all is not forgiven, and Katherine’s final moment, when she whispers to Susan that the apology didn’t really help, is the best Dana Delaney has been since the climax of her season 4 mystery.

But the rest of it, as is up to par with the majority of DH‘s episodes, is full of stories of wildly varying quality. I find no pleasure in any bit of Bree’s story with her affair with Karl, and I can honestly say that at this point I find anything Orson does far more interesting and sympathetic than any Bree story. I just can’t bring myself to care, and the affair is clearly not meant to last. Let’s see if Marc Cherry and the writers can, perhaps, give Orson another mystery revolving around those three years in prison we never really saw.

Lynette’s story is considerably dark for the Scavo family — and yes, I’m aware that their story last year involved a nightclub fire that resulted in a major death — as she deals with the twins that are on their way, her fifth and sixth child. After tearing into the happiness of a new mother at the doctor’s office, she admits to her husband that she is just really not feeling right about what is currently happening, as with these twins she doesn’t feel like she loves them as she did with all of her previous (and all unplanned) pregnancies. We’ve already seen the woman find a balance between her family life and her desire to reestablish her career over the last couple seasons, but this could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Will we finally deal with a major abortion storyline on this show? Probably not, considering how gigantic the show is all across the board, as well as the fact that this isn’t Maude.

And as I expressed interest at the end of last season in Gaby’s new storyline that has the Solis family taking care of a free-spirited and nasty teenage niece, that plot is pretty much progressing as I expected. Some of it is fascinating in the way that Gaby sees a great deal of her younger self in her niece and therefore wants to help her to avoid years of suffering and unhappiness, but some of it is also embarrassingly melodramatic and pointlessly cruel — the nightclub scene where Gaby gets on the mic and embarrasses her niece for sneaking out of the house went absolutely nowhere. But Gaby works best when she has a worthy opponent, so I’m not going to be too picky for a few more weeks.

Drea De Matteo: here to fuck up your shit.

Drea De Matteo: here to fuck up your shit.

And yes, that new mystery — Drea De Matteo (of The Sopranos), her husband (Jeffrey Nordling from last season of 24) and their son have moved onto Wisteria Lane, they had to move because of something the son did, Drea has a major burn/scar on the majority of her back, and somebody strangled young Julie at the end of the episode. But it wasn’t much establishment for how much I think we are meant to care.

As usual, the world of Brothers & Sisters fits more into the real world and, you know, generally believable situations. (It helps that it doesn’t pretend it’s a comedy like DH does.) And unlike DH, this felt like a real season premiere. Big emotions, big secrets, big starts and even potentially terminal illnesses abound in our return to the Walker Clan.

As Holly and Nora prepare for Justin and Rebecca’s engagement party, the two (as usual) clash, which comes to a boil when the soiree must be moved to Chez Walker after an influx of termites. There, Holly oversteps her boundaries during the party-planning while Nora has to deal with her and Saul’s aggressively insulting mother (Marion Ross from Happy Days), and it all comes to a head when Holly breaks the rules and buys the happy couple a new car, leading Nora to oust Holly as “that disease-ridden tramp” that her late husband was banging for decades (and, you know, the mother of Justin’s fiancée who was once thought to be the Missing Walker). It’s another Walker Clusterfuck, but come on…Holly had it coming.

Justin, meanwhile, is losing his mind to stress thanks to a one-two punch. First, he is called into the Dean’s office and told that if he wants to stay in the med program, he needs to seriously up his grades all across the board. Second, he finds out that he was admitted to the school not because of his grades (which weren’t great), but because his Senator brother-in-law made a few phone calls. But by the end, Justin and Rebecca have stopped bickering, he has vowed to stop being a quitter, and then they almost get into a car accident. (Whatever.)

Kevin and Scotty get a big plot boost in their mission to adopt a child, focusing on the emotions involved far more than the details of the adoption itself. (Really, how many times have we seen a TV show delve into that story and think it’s being informative by letting us know all of the steps we already know because we watch so much television?) The heart of the story lies in Scotty’s hesitation in expanding the family, a character twist instead of a plot twist, and I am grateful for that. Kevin and Scotty are still probably the most realistic gay couple on television (seriously, I’m hard-pressed to find another, although Modern Family may prove its ability to join this distinction) and I’m glad that they can talk like adults about adult issues. Besides, the story gave me the only two quotes I wrote down the entire night.

“Which one of you gets to sleep with the egg lady?” — Grandma Marion Ross, completely missing the point of surrogacy

“How’s Assembling a Child by Tolstoy?” — Kevin to Scotty regarding the gigantic manual they received from their adoption counselor

But all this interest had to take a backseat to the big sad center. While Kitty and Senator Robert go to couples therapy to deal with that douche from Eli Stone making Kitty all weak in the knees, she finds that there is something wrong with her lymph nodes, and that the news isn’t good. The episode ended without declaring what the potentially terminal disease was, but we have to go with cancer, right? My wife, just based on me describing the episode, says lymphoma, especially because it allows her to suffer but gives her the possibility of not dying, and I’m pretty sure that Nate Stone didn’t spread any HIV to her. But still, boo.

So there you have it. B&S sucked me right back in, while DH was more of the same (although a vast improvement over last season’s first handful of episodes).

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The Wife:

I think I’ve found the one episode of Gossip Girl I really don’t like. And believe me, I desperately wanted to like the “backdoor pilot” of the Untitled Gossip Girl Spin-Off About Young Lily Rhodes, but I didn’t. I liked what they tried to do with it, but the execution just fell utterly short. For instance, it made sense that, as Lily leaves her daughter in jail to think about her actions, she reflects on her own relationship with her mother and the night she spent in jail as a teenager. Premise = solid. In fact, the cast = totally solid, too. I like Brittany Snow. I like Andrew McCarthy. I like Cynthia Watros. I like Ryan Hansen. I love Krysten Ritter. But there was something about the writing of these characters that just didn’t work. Part of the point is that Lily as a teenager was very different than the Lily we know now, the one who ultimately fulfilled her mother’s wishes for her by marrying up, marrying someone grand (or several someones, as the case may be), but it was hard to see a connecting point between teenage Lily and adult Lily, other than that their both blonde and like men who wear leather jackets more than men in Don Johnson suits.

So as Serena sits in jail (by choice, in fact, to prove to her mother that she can make adult decisions such as serving her time, which means she’ll miss prom), Lily reminisces on her past. About how she got kicked out of boarding school (Santa Barbara’s Thacher School, which is real and thus I must give unlimited props to the attention to detail there) because she wanted to live with her dad, a music producer. But Daddy Andrew McCarthy doesn’t have time for his daughter, other than to tell the good folks at the Thacher School that she was acting out because her parents divorce was adversely affecting her, effectively getting her back in after a brief suspension. (Sidenote: I miss Lipstick Jungle.) Her mother is callous and inattentive, and her sister had the wherewithal to remove herself from that life altogether years ago, which Lily feels was a worse form of abandonment. So Lily, sensing her life kind of sucks, disobeys her parents and goes to find her sister in L.A.

No Doubt, I have a date with you July 21. Be ready. I will be.

No Doubt, I have a date with you July 21. Be ready. I will be.

Lily finds one of Carol’s coworkers and he agrees to let her borrow her sister’s clothing from her locker (she changes at work a lot because she’s constantly going on auditions) and escorts her to a Snowed Out show where Carol and her boyfriend/not boyfriend Shep would be in attendance. First of all, Krysten Ritter was amazing. Adorable. Funny. Perfect casting choice for the artsy, free-spirited older sister. But an even better choice was casting Veronica Mars‘ Ryan Hansen as Carol’s sort-of boyfriend. Hansen is amazing at playing self-absorbed jerkmeats, and here he was a self-absorbed jerkmeat with a bad Billy Idol pompadour. Genius. Carol wants to help Lily and be a good big sister and everything, but she can’t at the moment because she and her friends are on their way to crash a music video director’s party so they can get back the tape he took from them, which they paid him a good $500 to shoot. That music video director, by the way, is a Van Der Woodsen, channeling James Spader as Stef in Pretty in Pink. And he really likes to do coke. And he fucked Lily’s sister, which I think, if that turns out to be the Van Der Woodsen that Lily eventually marries, IS SUPER FUCKING AWKWARD. Owen and Shep pick a fight with Van Der Woodsen and his cronies, which Lily gets into to defend her sister. Van Der Woodsen calls the cops, and Carol has to bail her little sister out of jail when their mother won’t, opening up the possibilities for a string of Rhodes sisters adventures in LaLaLand.

Other than Ryan Hansen being a dick and dancing around to “The Safety Dance,” not very exciting. And even less exciting was the modern-day prom storyline. Someone might be sabotaging Blair? Well, no, not really, because it’s just Chuck making her prom dream scrapbook come true by forcing her choices to lead her to the dress she’s always dreamed about (which is fab), the date she wanted to have (Nate), the mode of transport and the glittery princess Prom Queen tiara that Nelly Yuki almost stole from her had Chuck not taken the stuffed ballots. He even gives her the key to his suite at the Plaza, because that’s how she wanted her perfect prom night to end. But instead, she ends it by breaking up with Nate. (Hooray! Because we all know she should be with Chuck, the man who made her 12-year-old prom dream come true!) Serena even makes it out of jail in time to attend the dance because her former lover/almost step brother bails her out. I mean, why? Why even bother with the prom in this episode? It was so insignificant, and wholly, completely understated. While I liked the thru-line of the big band at the prom playing “Stand and Deliver,” I have a very difficult time believing that a prom for Constance and St. Jude’s would have looked like that prom looked. We know their winter formal looks a lot more stunning than this did. This was so cheeseball in its attempt to be elegant, adult and understated that I just didn’t know what to do with it. I hate to say it, but I think the 90210 prom is going to be a lot more believable.

If Blair designed that dress when she was 12, shes a better designed than Little J ever was.

If Blair designed that dress when she was 12, she's a better designed than Little J ever was.

There’s nothing technically wrong with the L.A. Lily storyline. And nothing wrong with the grainy film wipes they applied to her memory (which works for me because she’s a photographer). It just fell really flat. And even though there was a lovely resolution in which Serena, sitting with Blair outside prom, acknowledges that she knows her mother had her arrested out of love and concern while Lily apologizes for her entire tenuous relationship with her own mother, there were no real risks in telling either story, nothing to lose or gain, which means . . . no drama. And that means boring. I’d like to see the spin-off succeed, though, because I’m very curious about the timeline of Lily’s life, which was something my sister-in-law brought up last night. The music they chose last night put us pretty solidly in 1986, and we’re assuming that Lily was 16 or 17 then. And Serena was born in 1991 if she just turned 18 this year, so Lily was bearing Van Der Woodsen children by the time she was 20/21. Now, that’s perfectly plausible and all . . . but does that really give her enough time in L.A. to cultivate a career as a rock photographer and follow Lincoln Hawk and Nine Inch Nails around? I had assumed her wild years lasted much longer than this, at least until her mid-20s. If anything, I need to spin-off to help me flesh that out.

The Husband:

I do feel a definite disconnect between the present Lily and the 1980s Lily, and I definitely have a hard time believing that whatever Cynthia Watros was doing would ever lead to some of the horrific displays of behavior and evil that modern-day Celia is capable of (I point you toward the Debutante Ball episode from s1), but I also think I liked the backdoor pilot far more than my wife did. It shows a good deal of promise, and while they might be getting their years a little iffy as far as much is concerned, I think it could be a pretty wildly fun program. They just need to bridge the years a little bit better, because otherwise it’s barely even a spin-off so much as an entirely new show. (Like how Mork & Mindy is technically a spin-off of Happy Days. Say what?)

Or maybe it’s just because I really like 80s Los Angeles movies, like Less Than Zero and, as the title would suggest is an influence, Valley Girl. The city still feels dangerous and open in these narratives, not like the plastic, cultureless meh I lived in for five years.

And yes, I love Krysten Ritter too, but I’ve loved her for a few years now. And she is definitely one of the main reasons I thought Confessions of a Shopaholic was such a blindingly underrated film. (Yeah yeah, I am in fact male – don’t let my endorsement of that movie fool you.)

But other than Blair and Nate breaking up, nothing really vital happened to anybody in modern day GG land. Save that for next week.