When Desperate Housewives premiered in 2004 with more than 21 million viewers, primetime television was never the same, and neither was pop culture. Being a “desperate housewife” became a thing; 40-year-old women were, for the first time, perceived as sexually vibrant; and women everywhere sighed with relief that they weren’t the only ones exasperated by their children. With its black comedy and soapy melodrama, the show catapulted ABC out of the bottom of the rankings and gave America new ladies to be excited about on Sunday nights after Sex and the City went off the air. An instant success and cultural phenomenon that hasn’t been duplicated since, the show paved the way for other primetime dramedies, such as Grey’s Anatomy, and the reality franchise Real Housewives. Viewers were thrilled to welcome Teri Hatcher, Nicollette Sheridan, Felicity Huffman, and Marcia Cross back to television, and newcomer Eva Longoria became a household name overnight. From the moment viewers saw a fully dressed Lynette (Huffman) dive into a pool to fetch her rebellious sons during a wake, to Gabrielle (Longoria) mowing the lawn in her formal-wear, the actresses became highly coveted megastars. Although the show was not able to sustain the creative magic of its first season and lost two thirds of its audience along its journey, Desperate Housewives’ lasting mark on the TV landscape is undeniable. The Daily Beast revisits the show’s top-12 moments, beginning with the series finale; the rest of the retrospective is listed chronologically.
Season 8, Episode 23, “Finishing the Hat”: The Ladies Say Goodbye to Wisteria Lane
(Aired May 14 , 2012)
The final season of Desperate Housewives was eclipsed by real-life drama in a Los Angeles courtroom where actress Nicollette Sheridan, who played Edie Britt for five seasons, sued ABC Studios and creator Marc Cherry for firing her after she complained that Cherry had hit her on the head during a rehearsal. What happened on Wisteria Lane in its eighth season just could not compete with that reality. However, the show delivered a sweet if predictable goodbye, with Cherry himself making a cameo as a moving guy, and all of the lane’s deceased loved and hated neighbors—except for Edie, of course—showing up for one last moment of face time. Because this show was always about the women and their friendships, we pick the last montage as our favorite moment from the series finale. After the women play poker for the last time together, the show flashes forward to tell viewers what happens to the main foursome: Lynette, Bree, Gabrielle, and Susan. Lynette becomes a CEO and she and Tom (Doug Savant) move to New York City, buy a penthouse, and have six grandchildren. Bree marries her lawyer, Trip, (Scott Bakula), moves to Kentucky, and becomes a state legislator. Gabrielle and Carlos (Ricardo Chavira) start a personal-shopping website, which lands her a talk show, and they move to Los Angeles. And Susan leaves Wisteria Lane to help her daughter, Julie, raise her baby. As Susan drives away, the last ghost she sees is Mary Alice (Brenda Strong), whose last words to viewers are: “Even the most desperate life is oh so wonderful. But only a lucky few realize the gift they’ve been given. Most people just go on day after day, trying in vain to keep secrets that will never stay hidden.”
Season 1, Episode 1, “Pilot”: Mary Alice Shoots Herself
(Aired Oct. 3, 2004)
From the start, all of Wisteria Lane’s ladies were as charming as they were beautiful. But one housewife stood out more—the dead one. Narrating from heaven—or was it hell, since it turned out she had murdered someone?—Mary Alice (Brenda Strong) spent her last moments on earth “as I spent every other day, quietly polishing the routine of my life until it gleaned with perfection.” Then she shot herself in the head. Her passing served as the catalyst for the most compelling mystery the series ever did while her tongue-in-cheek gossip gave the soapy dramedy its unique voice.
Season 1, Episode 3, “Pretty Little Picture”: Naked Susan
(Aired Oct. 17, 2004)
If Desperate Housewives viewers didn’t find Susan Mayer (Teri Hatcher) endearing before this episode, there’s no way her locked-out-naked-in-bushes moment couldn’t have won your heart. Wisteria’s resident klutz managed to run out of her house in a towel during a fight with her ex-husband, Karl Mayer (Richard Burgi), lose her towel as he drove away, lock herself out, and then fall into the bushes. Then it got even more humiliating. Her new beau, Mike Delfino (James Denton), found her in the bushes and proceeded to ask her out on a date anyway. All this after Susan had just ironically yelled at her ex: “I can walk down the street and hold my head high!” The all-around hilarious performance by Hatcher would go down as one of the show’s classic comedic moments.
Season 1, Episode 4, “Who’s that Woman?”: It’s Edie Britt!
(Aired Oct. 24, 2004)
Edie Britt may not have been in the title sequence of Desperate Housewives, but she was a man-eating force to be reckoned with on Wisteria Lane regardless. When Nicollette Sheridan vamped it up and showed what Edie’s got in the series’ famous car-wash scene, the rest of the women knew they were in trouble. Edie may have been trying to seduce Mike Delfino (James Denton) in her Daisy Dukes, but he was not the only husband or boyfriend she’d target. Cleaning cars on television was never the same.
Season 1, Episode 23, “One Wonderful Day”: Rex Van de Kamp Dies
(Aired May 22, 2005)
The death of Rex Van de Kamp, Bree’s husband, was a complete shock to viewers. Maybe we should have known when he almost died in the pilot. A hilariously annoyed Bree (Marcia Cross) accidentally had put onions in his salad when he (Steven Culp) asked for a divorce. Still, they mended their relationship, and everything looked like it was back on track until Rex had a heart attack and his doctor told him he believed someone was poisoning him. Rex died thinking his wife had poisoned him, but it was a crazy stalker pharmacist who was in love with Bree. Cross did some of her best work on the show in the poignant scene in which she learns by telephone that Rex has died. As Bree is meticulously polishing her silver, she dissolves from control freak into grieving widow. In the episodes that followed, as Bree dealt with the aftermath of her husband’s death, Cross continued to deliver. Another particularly memorable moment came at Rex’s funeral, when in classic Bree style, she changed his tie in the casket.
Season 3, Episode 7, “Bang”: Hostage Situation
(Aired Nov. 5, 2006)
After a ho-hum second season, Laurie Metcalf spiced things up on Wisteria Lane when she guest-starred for four episodes as Carolyn Bigsby, a nosy neighbor who learns her husband is cheating, goes to his supermarket to kill him, and holds all the shoppers hostage. Proving why she earned the series’s only Best Actress Emmy, Felicity Huffman’s Lynette Scavo went head-to-head with Carolyn in a riveting and shocking scene in which Carolyn kills Nora, the mother of Lynette’s stepdaughter. Before all hell broke loose in the supermarket, Nora (Kiersten Warren) had been flirting with Tom (Doug Savant) and getting on Lynette’s nerves. But in the crisis the two women bonded, and Lynette promised to take care of Kayla, Tom’s daughter with Nora. The superbly written episode ended with Lynette dreaming about saving Mary Alice and her dead friend advising her to “enjoy this beautiful day. We get so few of them.”
Season 4, Episode 9, “Something’s Coming”: Tornado Hits Wisteria Lane
(Aired Dec. 2, 2007)
One of the series’s best cliffhangers—did Lynette (Felicity Huffman) lose her entire family in a tornado? The show’s fourth-season winter break left viewers hanging with that question as well as the image of Lynette poignantly shrieking as she discovered her family was inside a neighbor’s house demolished by the disaster. It would be four weeks before viewers learned that the Scavo family was intact but that, sadly, neighbor Ida Greenberg (Pat Crawford Brown) had perished. Ida sacrificed herself alone in a corner of the basement so that the four Scavo children could hide under the stairs.
Season 4, Episode 17, “Free”: Katharine Mayfair’s Secret
(Aired May 18, 2008)
Dana Delaney elevated Desperate Housewives in the fourth season when she joined the show as Katharine Mayfair, a housewife who had lived on Wisteria Lane a decade earlier and had returned, of course, holding a big secret. The smart casting of Delaney, who originally turned down the role that went to Teri Hatcher, was met with glee by fans and critics. Although her secret was a bit ludicrous (she replaced her daughter who died with a look-alike from a Romanian orphanage), Delaney was sorely missed when she left the show at the end of the sixth season.
Season 5, Episode 1, “You’re Gonna Love Tomorrow”: Fast Forward Five Years
(Aired Sept. 28, 2008)
Reboot time! Executive producer Marc Cherry skipped ahead five years in the lives of his housewives. Where did viewers find the lovely ladies at the start of the fifth season? Bree (Marcia Cross) was the successful head of a catering company, about to publish her first cookbook. Lynette’s (Felicity Huffman) sons entered adolescence, joining their father. Susan (Teri Hatcher) was hiding a secret lover. Gabrielle (Eva Longoria) became a frumpy mother of two overweight daughters. And Edie Britt (Nicollette Sheridan) returned to Wisteria Lane with her new husband, Dave (Neal McDonough)—the beginning of the end both for the character and the actress. In her classic Edie way, Sheridan delivered one of the episode’s best lines after Gabrielle explains her unexpected pudginess: “I had two children.” Without missing a beat, Edie wisecracked: “For what? For breakfast?”
The show’s final season was eclipsed by real-life drama in a Los Angeles courtroom where Nicollette Sheridan sued ABC Studios and creator Marc Cherry.
Season 5, Episode 18, “A Spark. To Pierce The Dark”: Edie Britt Dies
(Aired March 22, 2009)
No Desperate Housewives death has been written about more. The passing of Edie Britt, Wisteria Lane’s most promiscuous and ballsy resident, would have been noteworthy on its own. But the manner in which she was killed—almost strangled by her husband, followed by a horrible car wreck, and finally she stepped into a puddle and was electrocuted—was overshadowed by actress Nicollette Sheridan’s legal claims that the only reason Edie died is because executive producer Marc Cherry struck her across the head on set and fired her after she complained. (The first trial resulted in a hung jury, and a new one is scheduled for September in Los Angeles Superior Court.) All the nasty legal feuding aside, Sheridan gave it her very best in the episode and the one that followed it—a lovely flashback tribute to Edie. RIP Edie Britt.
Season 6, Episode 10, “Boom Crunch”: Plane Crashes on Wisteria Lane
(Aired Dec. 6, 2009)
A hostage situation, a tornado—why not throw another catastrophe at the cul-de-sac? By this time, many Desperate Housewives viewers had had enough of all the melodrama, but the show always did big well. Even if viewers knew no one they really cared about would be killed by the plane, there was still a lot of suspense as Wisteria Lane prepared for its annual Christmas party and a single-engine plane barreled onto the street. Right before the crash landing, Bree told Orson (Kyle MacLachlan) she had filed for divorce, Karl (Richard Burgi) planned to propose to Bree, Gaby (Eva Longoria) fought with Lynette (Felicity Huffman) over her lawsuit against Carlos (Ricardo Chavira), and Mona (Maria Cominis) blackmailed Angie (Drea de Matteo). Lynette pushed Gaby’s daughter, Celia, out of harm’s way, as the plane toppled the adult-size Santa’s workshop with Bree, Karl, and Orson inside. Karl died as a result, and Lynette later miscarried one of her twins. The episode ended with Mary Alice’s sad observation: “The best Christmas ever—that’s what everyone had wanted. But something went wrong, horribly wrong. For those who survived, it would be a day they would try to forget. For those who didn’t, this Christmas would simply be their last.”
Season 8, Episode 16, “You Take for Granted”: Mike Delfino Dies
(Aired March 11, 2012)
The best love story on Desperate Housewives was always between Susan Mayer and Mike Delfino. It wasn’t an easy relationship, but Teri Hatcher and James Denton always had terrific chemistry and made you believe Susan and Mike were in love every step of the way. Mike’s tragic death at the hands of the mob would have been one of the show’s best-kept secrets if it hadn’t been spoiled just days before it aired during testimony in the Nicollette Sheridan trial. But it still managed to be one of the series’s most-poignant episodes, as a montage of Susan and Mike’s life together flashed on screen as Mike fell to a bullet. Hatcher’s performance—as Susan embraced a dying Mike on the front porch and Mary Alice narrated, “We all take the gift of life for granted. If only we could slow things down ... because before you know it, the gift is gone.”—was heartbreaking and beautiful.