Desperate Goodwives: From Hysterical to Historical
The nights are cold, we’re skint and the tv beckons so my thoughts turn again to some more historical recasting. I've eaten too much cake to want to think about skinny Manhattan glamazons and, having played both mother and daughter this holiday (one with delight, one a work far too long in the progress) I’m turning my attention to families and the portrayal of mothers.
Family, a word to make you smile or shiver depending on how many Christmas casualties you counted up – if you’re still wondering what happened, Guy Browning’s very funny article might help. Sitcoms/dramas (horror shows?) based on the family with a mother as the central character are legion and have changed as much as any other genre – actually I’m saying that but then you fall into the time-warp that is Mrs Brown’s Boys (I’m not linking it, you’re too good to go there) and you do wonder if evolution is going backwards.
I digress – there’s a world of difference between the 50s housewife of my childhood favourite Bewitched, the muddling slightly insane mother in Malcolm in the Middle and the vision that is Gloria in Modern Family. Actually there isn’t: all the mothers are stereotypes. Spot them: the out-of-control crazy, the sex bomb, the ‘good wife’ and, of course, the neurotic - step forward again Modern Family and Claire who needs a large drink, a decent meal and a life.
I could have a huge rant about this type of stereotyping – I’ll avoid it and direct you to a piece of research ‘Feminism Ain’t Funny’ which you can find on my website. Instead I've decided to embrace the madness and turn my recasting eye to a show that managed to include every stereotype going while pretending somehow that it didn't, it’s time for Desperate Goodwives!
Let’s start with the easy one: Lynette Scarvo, bright, ambitious yet landed with a drip of a husband and an unfeasibly large family (seriously, birth control works, try it) who she tries to control with as much success as Cnut calming an ocean. She gives up work on hubby’s say so (don’t ask, that’s the only explanation) because that always leads to happy families and loving marriages… I bet Eleanor of Aquitaine (for that is my casting choice) would have had some sage advice. There she was, one of the most powerful women in Western Europe and then she goes and marries Henry II, provides him with 8 children (with medieval pain relief people, he should have been down on his knees in worship) and what does he do? He sticks her in prison. As for the kids – Richard the Lionheart, King John of Magna Carta fame, what a bunch. If you haven’t seen the Lion in Winter, treat yourself.
Gaby Solis was my next stop. Let’s be honest, she was never meant to be a ‘wife’ – she is consistently presented as a traditional mistress character, dressed by the Jessica Rabbit House of Fashion, obsessed with shopping, presents and using her sexuality to get her own way. On the plus side, she does get some of the funnier lines. She’s trickier – it’s hard to imagine a royal bride or a female ruler lasting too long if they played Gaby's games, it’s easier to imagine her tied to a stake than perched on a throne. So a royal mistress then – lots of choice there but let’s go with rags to riches (the only bit of Gaby’s back story that resonated) to match the beauty, step forward Nell Gwyn. From Covent Garden’s Coal Yard Alley to Charles II’s bed was no mean leap but the woman apparently had wit, charm and cunning. She could survive Wysteria Lane.
Along with wasps and things pretending to be food that are actually made of soap, I have to confess a borderline phobia when it comes to Wysteria Lane’s most cultured-vulture Bree van der Kamp – the plastic skin, the dead eyes, she’s what I imagine a serial-killer Stepford Wife would be like. Every-time she appeared at someone’s door with a basket of muffins I expected them to wither like a wicked step-mother’s poisoned apple. I toyed with Catherine the Great – steely, politically-resolute and a patron of the arts – but she just lacks that suitably malevolent touch so instead I’m going for everyone’s favourite poisoner Lucrezia Borgia. Dressed as Angelina Jolie in Malificent. I need a lie down.
And finally, Susan. My first thought was Joan of Arc – seriously has there ever been a more martyred (actual translation of ‘hopeless romantic’) character? How social services never removed that strange little boy is anyone’s guess. But Joan’s a bit virginal so that’s no good. I considered Catherine Of Aragon – she’s frequently described as a misery and she certainly never knew when to give up – but still not quite there. And then I got it – constantly tearful, a brilliant manipulator, a martyr in her own making, welcome to Wysteria Lane Princess Diana. Don’t grimace, you know I’m right.
There’s my little group – imagine them sipping mead, swapping needlepoint tips and plotting like Machiavelli on valium and then imagine how Susan would cope if we could send her back...