My Take: 'Desperate Housewives' wrestled with big Christian issues
Lynette (Felicity Huffman), Gaby (Eva Longoria), Susan (Teri Hatcher) and Bree (Marcia Cross) tried to be good neighbors.
May 15th, 2012
01:26 PM ET

My Take: 'Desperate Housewives' wrestled with big Christian issues

Editor's note: Danielle Elizabeth Tumminio is an ordained Episcopal Church priest and author of "God and Harry Potter at Yale: Teaching Faith and Fantasy Fiction in an Ivy League Classroom."

By Danielle Elizabeth Tumminio, Special to CNN

(CNN) - A neighbor recommended I watch "Desperate Housewives" when it premiered eight years ago, and I was hooked from the moment I saw that snake hand Eve the apple during the opening credits.

I was a grad student at the time, poor and living in an attic apartment, studying Christianity and trying to figure out who I was and who I would become.  Every Sunday night, my neighbor and I got together to cook dinner - her meals were always perfectly prepared and mine were always burnt - and watch the adventures of four neighbors, Susan, Lynette, Bree and Gaby, as they negotiated the quirky dynamics of their relationships.

Watching "Desperate Housewives," which had its series finale Sunday night, became a non-negotiable ritual that nothing interfered with, in part because I treasured my neighbor’s inspired cooking and in part because I was convinced this show had something to say to people of faith such as myself.

Just as Christians struggle with Jesus’ command to love our neighbors, the characters in "Desperate Housewives" struggled with that same principle. From the first moment of the first episode, when the seemingly perfect neighbor Mary Alice Young shoots herself in the head, leaving Lynette, Gaby, Susan and Bree wondering why they didn’t know something was wrong, to Bree’s alcoholism, Lynette’s battle with cancer and the murder of Susan’s husband, "Desperate Housewives" has been about a lot more than the antics of four eccentric women.

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It has been about how much these eccentric women know their neighbors and how much they ought to care for them.

A long time has passed for Susan, Bree, Gaby and Lynette since that first episode. Bree married the sleazy Orson, Susan became a grandmother, Lynette found out Tom had a child from a previous relationship and Gaby confronted her stepfather Alejandro, who raped her, and whose stalker behavior led her husband, Carlos, to murder him and her friends to cover up the crime.

That last plotline dominated the final season of "Desperate Housewives" as the neighbors tried to hide Alejandro’s murder from the cops. When they failed at that, Bree allowed herself to be put on trial alone so that her friends might remain unharmed. In Sunday’s concluding episode, the women’s loyalty was pushed to its most desperate limits, and what it means to love your neighbor was literally put to the test.

In the two-hour finale, viewers saw that loving one’s neighbor isn’t always graceful or easy.  (Spoiler alert!). Renee betrayed Bree, testifying against her at the trial not because she necessarily believed in her guilt but because it was in her own best interest. Wanting to buy time so her husband wouldn’t confess to murdering Alejandro, Gaby stuck a knife in her husband’s jacket so security workers at the courthouse would be sure to detain him.

And after a divorce primarily provoked by her insatiable perfectionism and lack of appreciation for her husband, Lynette jeopardized her newfound reconciliation with her other half because she was tempted by a New York job offer.

Not the best examples of loving thy neighbor for people of faith, which makes one wonder if the women of Wisteria Lane were more successful at demonstrating how not to love your neighbor than they were at providing healthy role models.

And yet the conflicts that arose in their relationships developed because the characters are flawed like us. Despite their limits, they were trying, in an intimate and authentic way, to be neighbors to one another. As Susan said toward the end of the final episode, “It’s funny, some people never get to know the folks next door. They share a fence and nothing else, and we’ve shared everything.  How did we get to be so lucky?”

Perhaps, then, what the ladies of Wisteria Lane offer the faithful is the reality that loving one’s neighbor is challenging because it demands giving of your whole person. It requires sharing what you have with another - sharing time, emotions, stories, money, secrets, fears and vulnerabilities. It means sharing the burnt dinners as well as the perfectly prepared ones.

Living that way carries the hazard of hurt precisely because it asks that we be willing to share the most desperate, shameful parts of our lives in order to be truly loved and to love truly in return.

As Susan leaves her house in the final moments of "Desperate Housewives," the narrator says that the ghosts of those whose lives played out on Wisteria Lane are watching her. "They watched her as they watch everyone,” the narrator tells the audience, “always hoping the living could learn to put aside rage and sorrow, bitterness and regret.  These ghosts watch, wanting people to remember that even the most desperate life is oh so wonderful.”

And that might be the enduring lesson "Desperate Housewives" leaves us with: The reality that in one way or another, we are all desperate.  But when, even in our desperation, we do our best to love our neighbor by giving of ourselves, our lives may seem to be a lot less desperate after all.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Danielle Elizabeth Tumminio.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Christianity • Opinion • TV

soundoff (99 Responses)
  1. Aurea Brockmann

    Desperate Housewives the storyline covers thirteen years of the women's lives over eight seasons, set between the years 2004–2008, and later 2013–2017 (the story arc included a 5 year passage of time). They worked through domestic struggles and family life, while facing the secrets, crimes and mysteries hidden behind the doors of their — at the surface — beautiful and seemingly perfect suburban neighborhood.;"

    Ciao for now

    May 1, 2013 at 9:20 pm |
  2. Kindness

    For you.
    A thought to consider without a typical ego response

    Accept Jesus christ as your lord and saviour. You never know how soon is too late. Transcend the worldly illusion of enslavement.
    The world denounces truth....

    Accepting Jesus Christ (for me) resulted in something like seeng a new colour. You will see it .....but will not be able to clearly explain it to anyone else..... Its meant to be that way to transend any selfism within you.

    Also... much the world arranges "surrounding dark matter into something to be debated" in such a way that protects/inflates the ego.

    The key is be present and transcend our own desire to physically see evidence. We don't know anyways by defending our own perception of dark matter.

    Currently.... most of us are constructing our own path that suits our sin lifestyle. Were all sinners. Knowing that we are is often an issue. But both christians and non are sinners.

    We don't like to Let go and let god. We want control to some degree. This is what Jesus asks us to do. "Let go and let god".
    It's the hardest thing to do... but is done by letting the truth of scripture lead you (redemptive revelation)... as I said .

    Try reading corinthians and see if it makes sense to you. Try it without a pre conceived notion of it being a fairy tale.
    See the truth...
    do we do what it says in todays society... is it relevant... so many have not recently read and only hinge their philosophy on what they have heard from som other person...which may have been full of arogance pride or vanity..

    Look closely at the economy ponzi, look at how society idolizes Lust , greed , envy, sloth, pride of life, desire for knowledge, desire for power, desire for revencge,gluttony with food etc .

    Trancsend the temporal world.

    Just think if you can find any truth you can take with you ....in any of these things. When you die your riches go to someone who will spend away your life..... You will be forgotten.... history will repeat iteslf.... the greatest minds knowledge fade or are eventually plagerzed..... your good deeds will be forgotten and only give you a fleeting temporary reward . your learned teachings are forgotten or mutated..... your gold is transfered back to the rullers that rule you through deception. Your grave will grow over . This is truth .

    Trancsend your egoism and free yourself from this dominion of satan. Understand you are a sinner and part of the collective problem of this worldly matrix... Repent.... Repent means knowing

    Evidence follows faith. Faith does not follow evidence..... Faith above reason in Jesus Christ.

    Faith comes by Reading or Hearing the word of god from the bible . Ask Jesus in faith for dicernment and start reading the new testament... You will be shocked when you lay down your preconceived notions and ....see and hear truth ... see how christ sets an example ... feel the truth....

    Read Ecclesiastes. Read corinthians.

    You cant trancend your own egoism by adapting a world philosophy to suit your needs. Seek the truth in Christ.

    Sell all your cleverness and purchase true bewilderment. You don't get what you want ....you get what you are in christ.

    I promise this has been the truth for me. In Jesus christ .

    Think of what you really have to lose. ...your ego?

    Break the Matrix of illusion that holds your senses captive.

    once you do . you too will have the wisdom of God that comes only through the Holy Spirit. Saved By grace through Faith. Just like seeing a new colour.... can't explain it to a transient caught in the matrix of worldly deception.
    You will also see how the world suppresses this information and distorts it

    You're all smart people . I tell the truth. Its hard to think out of the box when earthly thinking is the box.
    I'ts a personal free experience you can do it free anytime . Don't wait till you are about to die.. START PUTTING YOUR TREASURES WHERE THEY REALLY MATTER >
    Its awsome and It's just between you and Jesus

    June 6, 2012 at 6:11 pm |
  3. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things

    May 17, 2012 at 9:04 pm |
    • Jesus

      Prayer doesn’t not; you are such a LIAR. You have NO proof it changes anything! A great example of prayer proven not to work is the Christians in jail because prayer didn't work and their children died. For example: Susan Grady, who relied on prayer to heal her son. Nine-year-old Aaron Grady died and Susan Grady was arrested.

      An article in the Journal of Pediatrics examined the deaths of 172 children from families who relied upon faith healing from 1975 to 1995. They concluded that four out of five ill children, who died under the care of faith healers or being left to prayer only, would most likely have survived if they had received medical care.

      The statistical studies from the nineteenth century and the three CCU studies on prayer are quite consistent with the fact that humanity is wasting a huge amount of time on a procedure that simply doesn’t work. Nonetheless, faith in prayer is so pervasive and deeply rooted, you can be sure believers will continue to devise future studies in a desperate effort to confirm their beliefs!

      May 18, 2012 at 11:09 am |
  4. WachetAuf

    While I do not criticize the producers, creators or actors who created the show, there is a huge moral and religious issue which cannot be dismissed. It is a consuming issue which appears in all TV drama. Christianity, as I understand it, insists that we be truthful with our neighbors, that we leave it up to a higher authority (religious or otherwise) to resolve our disputes. We are invited to place our lives in the hands of the moral and ethical "laws" of a higher power or even a temporal power (at least if it is not abusive). The general theme of all TV drama is the attempt to deceive those powers, to deceive our neighbors. And, real life pretty much mirrors what we see on TV. While there is sometimes a moral message, it is usually confused by the seductive appeal of the glamour, the wealth, the belief that deception, cunning and manipulation will bring resolution, happiness. It is easy to become addicted. The biggest lie the devil ever told was that he did not exist.

    May 16, 2012 at 11:57 pm |
  5. cherry red review

    I was suggested this blog by way of my cousin. I am no longer sure whether or not this submit is written through him as nobody else understand such detailed approximately my difficulty. You're amazing! Thank you!

    May 16, 2012 at 11:05 pm |
  6. loriey

    I've watched & enjoyed Desperate Housewives for years.....finding it silly/goofy at times but other times heartwarming & often times funny. It showed sometimes neighbors get along and sometimes they don't. There was quite a mix of age groups fm Mrs. McCluskey to the younger kids & babies all having issues of their own. People separate, divorce, get b ack together or don't, People cheat, abuse alcohol/drugs, lose their jobs, get new jobs etc.....so the show was about LIFE. No one forced anyone to watch Desperate Housewives.....it was "campy" i.e how many families are truly like "Father Knows Best"...."Leave it to Beaver"...."Happy Days".......many of us are more like "Everyone Loves Raymond".
    It was time for Desperate Housewives to close...they were running out of stories....I only wish it closed more believably.

    May 16, 2012 at 4:05 pm |
  7. AGuest9

    Teaching Faith and Fantasy Fiction in an Ivy League Classroom – need you say more?

    May 16, 2012 at 9:25 am |
    • WobbleBob

      I'm thinking her book is the Guiness Book of World Records holder for "Least Copies Ever Sold Of A Book That Actually Got Published."

      May 16, 2012 at 11:08 am |

    Just another moronic show, with a bunch of retard viewers. Might as well watch Jersey Shore. I really wish they'd start putting reality show "stars" to death. The same goes for all the morons that buy trash gossip magazines about celebrities. Don't we still have camps in place for those kinds of people?

    May 16, 2012 at 6:50 am |
    • Miss Trixie

      Something tells me that your "massive balls" are itty bitty.

      May 16, 2012 at 3:40 pm |
    • Erica

      Desperate Housewives was NOT a reality show...please only talk about things which you know about.

      May 16, 2012 at 4:18 pm |
    • Mark

      Better to be thought a fool, Mr. MB, than to open your mouth (or in this case, keyboard) and remove all doubt. DHW was not a reality show. Two seconds of research would have indicated so.

      May 16, 2012 at 6:20 pm |
    • Uncouth Swain

      I see we have a fine group of retards that enjoy watching the show and have come running with pitchforks in defense of this show. Idiots. No wonder you morons are all single.

      May 17, 2012 at 6:33 am |
    • Kalessin

      Gotta love the crazy name stealers in the morning 🙂

      May 17, 2012 at 6:37 am |
  9. Reality


    Then there was the real Henry VIII, the first Episcopalian, whose many wives suffered from "bad cooking" and were "justly" rewarded. 🙂 🙂 🙂

    May 16, 2012 at 12:12 am |
  10. Bill

    If Desperate Housewives provided lessons for Christians to learn from, how about accepting and loving thy gay neighbor? Also, no children were ever molested on the show. Catholics could learn from that.

    May 15, 2012 at 8:00 pm |
    • Mary

      Catholics do not molest children. Evil, vile and corrupt men molest children.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:50 pm |
    • Bill

      Evil, vile, Catholic priests you mean.

      May 15, 2012 at 11:04 pm |
    • Barry Manilow And His Syncopated All-Squirrel Accordion Band!!

      Now Bill, don't burst Mary's little Catholic fantasy. Those priests weren't true Scotsmen, uh, Catholics, now were they?

      May 15, 2012 at 11:57 pm |
    • dx2718

      Actually, children *were* molested on the show. First Gaby, then her stepfather's new stepdaughter. They didn't show the molestation (what show does?) but they talked about it. There may have been other references too throughout the show. Not sure why it matters, though.

      May 16, 2012 at 1:42 am |

      ALL catholics bang kids. It's the cult's way of life.

      May 16, 2012 at 6:51 am |
    • lisa

      Their was a gay couple on the Lane for the past several seasons. Very well liked and accepted. And Gaby was abused by her stepfather as a child leading to her husband killing him.

      May 16, 2012 at 1:58 pm |
    • jaybird

      Yes, Mary, and so do "evil, vile and corrupt women. I know, one got me at 5 years old, sweetie. Next...

      June 3, 2012 at 3:08 am |
  11. CarolAB

    We watched Desperate Housewives weekly because it was silly and fun. As to life lessons...Please, give me a break...the main lesson is to enjoy, play and laugh. Making a sermon of Desperate Housewives is not only contrived, but also a lesson in how over analysis can just put a big damper on the party. Hers, not mine! I hope the author will come to terms with her own purient interests and allow that those can be enjoyed, whether you are an ordained priest or not.

    May 15, 2012 at 7:56 pm |
    • what

      I don't think there is anything wrong with finding a positive message from entertaining TV shows. There's a reason why they lasted for 8 seasons, and it wasn't because it was JUST all silly and fun. It is just her take on what anyone can take from it. Personally, I think it's great to reflect on shows like these even if it's just to make ourselves feel better that we just aren't mindlessly consuming entertainment.

      May 16, 2012 at 12:49 pm |
  12. xeno

    Meh....maybe it was just a show.

    May 15, 2012 at 7:43 pm |
  13. Oki

    'Danielle Elizabeth Tumminio is an ordained Episcopal Church priest'
    stopped reading. The land of make-believe has no business on a news site.

    May 15, 2012 at 7:42 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.