It’s been quite the phenomenon, for those of you paying attention. And much like my encounter with LOST while doing that review, receiving my screener copy of Desperate Housewives was my first introduction to this show (I must say, reviewing these discs for Buena Vista has opened my eyes to quite a few programs/films I otherwise might never have enjoyed). The show has wit, and is executed in high-style. For the uninitiated, the basic premise centers around 4 uptown housewives and the requisite drama in their lives. Sounds pretty basic but it’s actually a quite fertile base upon to build a series. What makes it work is the way that writer Marc Cherry delivers it. He mixes just the right amount of drama, eroticism, sexual intrigue, mystery, and most importantly…comedy, to infuse a winning combination. Actors are perfectly cast, and the lavish suburban lifestyle these gorgeous women lead (clothing, cars, houses, and sexy men) provides a voyeuristic pleasure. Also, the show never takes itself too seriously…which is its saving grace. I think were Cherry not to have approached his work with this sense of humor, the program would have quickly become tedious and a modern-day attempt to recreate a Dynasty-style evening soap opera.
Some conservative groups have been critical of the show’s portrayal of immorality (adultery, promiscuity, and the like), and if you find yourself in that camp and you’re wondering what all the fuss is about you may want to rent or screen an episode at a friend’s house before you buy this series without having seen it. However, it’s my personal opinion that the tongue-in-cheek flavor of the show mitigates the ill effect of any “immoral lessons” that one might otherwise have feared were being taught. Also, the show portrays a variety of women and lifestyles…each candidly explored to expose the pros and the cons to various choices and behaviors, without trying to offer any conclusions or push any real agenda. I would suggest that the show is generally not appropriate for children who haven’t been instructed about the facts of life, but some parents of traditional mind might actually find that watching the series with their older children or teens opens up issues for discussion that otherwise might have been awkward to bring up without an ice-breaking context.
The show has a broad-audience appeal: male, female, gay, straight. There’s plenty here to entertain everybody, and the characters and storylines give just about everyone something to which they can relate. Marc Cherry does an admirable job getting inside the head of people unlike himself and seems to have an uncanny ability to write from the point of view of each character in a way that feels convincing. Desperate Housewives isn’t perfect (some of the interpersonal “conflicts” on the show seemed to have that contrived sit-com feel to me) but it’s a good series and quite a bit better than most of the TV programming out there. I’d love to hear some discussion from some of our fans out there at HTF.
|Packaging and Presentation...|
For those of you who have LOST season one on DVD, this DVD presentation is almost identical. The show takes up six individual DVDs. The special features are distributed across these six discs with the most abundant bonus material on the last disc (which has only 3 episodes unlike the other 5 which each contain 4).
The DVDs are presented in a “fold out” cardboard case with two discs per section holding the discs in overlapping-style (the seventh disc is housed by itself without any overlapping partner). While normally I bemoan the “overlapping” disc presentation which causes you to have to remove the top disc to gain access to the lower…in this case my opinion is that the choice is the right one—I honestly can’t think of a better way to have combined so many discs into such an efficient presentation that fits nicely on the shelf when folded; When folded and slid back into it’s protective outer-sleeve, the packaging is only slightly wider than a typical “double DVD” case.
All discs are clearly labeled and easy to read. The included booklet clearly denotes the disc location of each episode with a brief synopsis of the show’s storyline to help jog your memory when trying to identify where you left off (and what disc holds the episode...the episode titles are not printed on the DVDs directly). The DVD’s are nicely silk-screened which is a cosmetic touch I personally appreciate. Overall I’m giving a thumbs up to the presentation.
Desperate Housewives looks very, very good blown up on my 106” 16x9 screen. The image is 16x9 encoded and is 1.78:1 aspect ratio and fills the 16x9 frame completely from edge to edge. I’m not sure if the show is broadcast in hi-def (I’m assuming it is by the 16x9 aspect ratio), but the results here on this standard definition DVD look very nice indeed. I suspect that the source of this program is film-based, as the image has the quality of a true-frame progressive image (no hint of scan-line aliasing which I often see when native 1080I programs are downconverted for DVD) though (unlike LOST), there is absolutely no hint of “film artifacts” to be seen…I can detect no film-grain or any other film-based anomaly at all.
Contrast and black level are fantastic. Blacks are solid and deep and cleanly encoded without any undue MPEG noise revealed in my system (in the process of tweaking my DLP projector so that impression may vary on your own system). Whites have plenty of punch and the image feels smooth and solid. The image also seems slightly dark to my eyes…and at times just barely softened, but I’m assuming the intended look is being preserved. However, one thing I do want to mention…the 16x9 encoded “Blooper” reel in the special features (on the last disc) shows an image that looks subjectively a bit sharper and more detailed…and just a tad brighter. Interesting. I had noticed something like this on the INCREDIBLES DVD as well where the feature-program looked a hair-soft to my eyes and the clips in the bonus material looked noticeably sharper (that title showed more of a difference than what I’m seeing here). Not trying to alarm anyone and there’s nothing “wrong” with the image of the DVD…but differences like that are good to take note of and can help point to where mastering issues may come into play should questions arise.
Fine detail is “good” though I kept feeling it could have been just a tad sharper (as it appears in the Blooper reel). Compression seems unchallenged given the generous disc-space to play-time ratio on the five dual-layer DVDs. I noticed no evidence of edge-haloing/ringing anywhere to be seen. Thank you Buena Vista. Overall the image has a smooth, graceful character that’s easy on the eyes and has a film-like, natural feel. I much prefer this than the live-cam 1080I programs which often have an edgy-electronic look/feel despite their “sharp” image. The look/feel of the image on this disc greatly serves the material…I think that even ardent fans with videophile-calibrated wide-angle viewing systems will be very pleased.
Picture Quality: 4. 5 / 5
In the past I think I've been too ambiguous with my scoring or at least haven't applied it consistently from title to title, so I've endeavored to define my rating system more clearly to help make the scoring more meaningful (for all titles reviewed December 2004 and later):
|1-2||An absolute abomination. Hurts to watch. Think "Outland" (scan-line aliasing, chroma noise, dotcrawl)-- truly horrid.|
|2-3||Has some serious problems, but one can at least watch it without getting a headache despite all the problems though you might try to talk your guests into picking a different movie to watch if you have a large projection screen. Think Cold Mountain.|
|3-4||Good or at least "acceptable" on a big-screen, but not winning any awards and definitely room for improvement if you view the image wide-angle (though smaller-screen viewers may be quite content). Think the first extended cut of Fellowship of the Ring...decent picture but still some HF filtering and some edge-halos.|
|4-5||A reference picture that really makes the most of the DVD medium and shows extraordinary transparency to the film-source elements. Non-videophile observers can't help but remark "WOW". Think The Empire Strikes Back or the Fifth Element Superbit (full “5” would be sans EE) or the new Toy Story 10th Anniversary Edition.|
Currently running DVDs on my OPPO DVD player (Faroudja deinterlacing) which scales to 720P, feeding my BenQ 8700+ PJ via DVI, projecting onto a 106” 16x9 Dalite HiPower screen, viewed from approximately 1.6 screen-widths distance. Well mastered DVDs produce a stunningly film-like image in this scenario, and lesser-mastered material quickly shows its flaws.
The 5.1 Dolby Digital audio track is perfectly fine…all the usual descriptions apply: Dialogue clear and easy to hear without sounding edgy or harsh, musical score well recorded with nice frequency response and sense of left/right spread across the front mains. I even heard some occasional surround use from time to time (in an appropriate way) though I would characterize the mix overall as a bit front-heavy…but folks…what are you expecting; it’s a dialogue-driven drama. I would say that my one “room for improvement” suggestion would be that the surround channels could have been used a little more to convey ambient fill at times to help dissolve the front/rear separation. However, the current mix serves the show quite well and certainly its presentation on this DVD does justice to the mix prepared by show’s creative talent.
Sound Quality: 4 / 5
The following applies to first-time viewers:
DO NOT, I repeat DO NOT check out the special features until after you’ve finished viewing the entire series (the only exception might be the commentary for the episodes you’ve already seen, but even then you’re taking a risk). There are serious spoilers in just about every special feature, and you’ll be disappointed to discover who gets killed and who’s husband dies blah blah blah if you don’t heed this advice you’ll be sorry…and no even keeping your fingers primed on the remote’s skip button won’t save you…trust me.
Ok…warning now over, let me say that the bonus material on this disc is pretty decent and really worth the time to investigate. One bonus item should be mandatory viewing by everyone after watching the series…it’s the spoof with Oprah. It’s brilliant. Truly brilliant. If you’re not a bonus-feature junkie and aren’t planning on checking out all the special feature material, write a post-it note to yourself reminding you to at least check out that one item. You’ll be well rewarded.
My one complaint is that I can’t find any reference to the bonus material anywhere in the printed scene-selection booklet. I remember Alias did a nice job with that and even foot-noted which episodes had commentary etc. so you could locate the special feature content by referencing the printed guide. That would have been nice to have here as well.
- Commentary:Marc’s a nice guy with a personable style and no veil of pretention. His commentary is on-the-level and will be enjoyable for even casual viewers. Some of the commentary includes participation by the housewives and it’s all lots of fun. I lost count but I believe that 5 of the episodes have commentary.
- Unrated, Extended Scenes:Not having seen the original TV broadcasts I can’t really comment here, but I’d like for some fans to chime in on this one. I remember seeing “Extended” written on one of the DVD menus so I think that the episodes that are expanded for the DVD may be labeled.
- Deleted Scenes:A nice handful of deleted scenes are presented 4x3 lbxed from video source media (not the greatest picture quality). I found them quite interesting in terms of what they reveal about the characters or story. Some of them would have benefited the show to have been left in-tact (I think you’ll agree). Even casual fans should watch them all. A nice touch…each deleted scene appears on the DVD with the episode to which it would have belonged. Ok…this would be the other special feature you could checkout before having finished the entire series…it’s “safe” because of the way it’s presented as the show progresses.
- Several short making-of and publicity featurettes: There are several various “making of” or “behind the scenes” little featurettes which will all be of interest to fans. They are “spread out” over the various discs but DO NOT be fooled into thinking “oh…it’s probably safe to watch the featurette on the first disc before I start watching the episodes on disc 2”. Don’t do it! Spoilers are present in each featurette and you’ll be sorry if you any of them before finishing the series. You’ve been warned!
- Oprah Winfrey is the New Neighbor:OMG. Freakin’ brilliant. I mean BRILLIANT. I found myself *rolling* with laughter a number of times. This spoof…where Oprah moves to Wisteria Lane and meets her new neighbors…the Desperate Housewives… is a total hoot. It also shows just what a great sense of humor Marc Cherry has about the whole thing and how he refuses to take his own show too seriously and can make fun of Desperate Housewives and give everyone a good time. Keep it up Marc. You’ve got quite the phenomenon on your hands with this show and keeping your great attitude about it will make it even better.
- [b]Multi-Language Sequence—Bree’s Dinner Party: See that scene from the show translated into various languages. Yes…even in Tanzania they are watching Desperate Housewives…
- [b]Bloopers:This blooper reel is better than average. First off, it’s 16x9 and has (to my eyes) better picture quality than the feature presentation. Secondly, rather than little snippets all edited into a “montage” with music (which is starting to get on my nerves) it shows the bloopers in more extended-scene fashion and most of them are actually funny. I had a great time with this one and think you will too. Didn’t I already warn you to NOT WATCH this or any other feature until AFTER viewing the complete first season???
Marc Cherry deserves points for bringing a well crafted show to American television audiences that breaks the mold and just doesn’t follow in the footsteps of something that’s come before. It’s original, well written, and is decidedly uncategorical with its mélange of mystery, murder, sexual intrigue, drama, and comedy. If you haven’t seen Desperate Housewives then you’ve got a great chance to view it now on DVD allowing you to enjoy the series at your own pace and leisure. If you’re already a fan of the show, you’ll be pleased to know that this DVD presentation does a great job…gorgeous picture, decent audio, and a nice helping of special feature content that’s well worth the watcing.