PASADENA, Calif. -- After eight seasons of murder, a tornado, shootings, an airplane crash, and numerous car accidents, the mayhem on Wisteria Lane will end in a few weeks. The finale of ABC's Desperate Housewives set for 9-11 p.m. May 13.
It's already been a tumultuous season on Desperate Housewives both on-camera and behind the scenes. Mike Delfino (James Denton) died after being shot by a mobster just days after Denton testified at a trial pitting former cast member Nicollette Sheridan against show creator Marc Cherry and ABC. Sheridan sued, claiming her Edie Britt character was killed off in retaliation for her complaint that Cherry slapped her on set; the trial ended with a hung jury.
The trial may have distracted from the fictional Desperate Housewives universe, but it shared many of the show's hallmarks -- a mix of drama, comedy, and soapy shenanigans (observers in court said Sheridan mouthed "Bastard!" after Cherry finished his testimony).
For viewers who drifted away from Desperate Housewives, the final season has offered good reason to tune in. The writing is sharper than it's been for several years, with plenty of reminders about why viewers made the show a habit when it debuted.
The March episode containing Mike's death included some winning comic moments with cancer-stricken Mrs. McClusky (Kathryn Joosten) trying to convince Bree (Marcia Cross) to help her commit suicide.
The episode about Mike's funeral showed each of the four women having flashbacks to moments with the significant others in their lives.
Characters from the past have returned, including Bree's gay son, Andrew (Shawn Pyfrom), who introduced his mother to his new heiress girlfriend. Bree accused him of getting involved with the young woman only for her money and even showed how far she's come in accepting her son's sexual identity: "You love Italian shoes, you love mid-century modern furniture, and according to your Internet history, you love Army doctors giving elaborate physicals to young recruits, but you do not love girls! ... Honey, you're here, you're queer, I'm used to it!"
As TV shows age and their popularity wanes, we sometimes forget about their impact. At an ABC press conference in January, Desperate Housewives cast members recalled all the programs that sprang up in the wake of their show's success, including the Lifetime drama Army Wives and the entire Bravo franchise that began with The Real Housewives of Orange County.
"I think people will look back on [Desperate Housewives] really fondly as a very interesting hybrid," Denton said. "The fact that we're not a comedy; we're not a drama; we're not a soap. ... Marc brought something to TV nobody had ever seen before, and I think that's why it took off the way it did -- and part of the reason is that it's really hard to put a label on it."
Cherry said he's had the show's final act planned for seven-and-a-half years and he's sticking with that idea, even if how the story gets there has taken unexpected paths.
"What was cool was the day that I shared it with the writers, because I had been kind of keeping it to myself, as always happens with my wonderful writers, I said, 'Well, this is what I want to do,' and then they started adding things," Cherry said. "So it definitely got better. But the general premise has always been the same."
Cherry said the characters he had the least ideas for at the start of the series were Gabby (Eva Longoria) and Carlos (Ricardo Chavira), but they evolved into the show's go-to couple for comedy.
"I'd written on The Golden Girls, and one of the tricks on The Golden Girls that the writers on that show used to say is how brilliant Rue McClanahan was because no matter how selfish or vain her (Blanche) character acted, you still loved her," Cherry said. "And seeing the more self-involved and vain and selfish and egotistical (Gabby) became, the funnier she became."
Cherry said he'd always wanted to break up the marriage of Lynette (Felicity Huffman) and Tom (Doug Savant), but he didn't think he could get away with it. The actors wish he hadn't put that plot in motion this season.
"We hate it," Savant said.
"We actually started fighting off-screen," Huffman said. "So art imitated life or life imitated art. It's the eighth year, so you get to go places you didn't get to go before and the gloves are off for the writers."
Getting to stories like the dissolution of the Scavo marriage sold Cherry on the idea that it was time for Desperate Housewives to end.
"Basically it's trying to go, 'OK, what haven't we done?' Which, by the way, is one of the reasons why I made the decision, 'Let's shut her down,'" Cherry said. "It used to take us X amount of time to plan a season. Then, as the years went on, it got harder and harder because, literally, there'd be that jerk writer in the corner going, 'No, we've done it.' "
The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Rob Owen is a staff writer for the Post-Gazette. Follow him on Twitter: @RobOwenTV.