“‘Most men lead lives of quiet desperation’ … Really, and what do women lead? Lives of noisy fulfillment?” Susan Mayer (Teri Hatcher) asks. Such desperation takes many forms, leading down many paths, all of which are intriguing and riveting. Desperate Housewives is like nothing currently on the air right now, so it makes telling you what to compare it to rather difficult. Part (murder?) mystery, part soap opera, and part dark comedy, I imagine that the pitch meeting for it went something like “think Twin Peaks meets The Stepford Wives meets Melrose Place, with the dark humor of Heathers.” That may be a little too much, but you get the idea. ABC, network television, is taking a chance with a different type of show that’s both smart and deals with adult themes.

The show basically asks “how much do you really want to know about your neighbors?” The problem is that, as Susan Mayer says, “Sometimes people pretend to be one way on the outside when they are totally different on the inside.” That’s something true of everyone on the show. The denizens of Wisteria Lane are an interesting and varied (though not that varied) lot. Mary Alice Young (Brenda Strong), our narrator, spent her day as she did everyday, “quietly polishing the routine of my life until it gleamed to perfection.” That is, until she kills herself before the first commercial break. Don’t worry, though she leaves behind a husband, son, and family secret, she still narrates the show. Susan Mayer, recent divorcee, enjoys a Gilmore Girls type relationship with the daughter she has custody of while pursuing romantic possibilities. Lynette Scavo (the long-underappreciated Felicity Huffman) plays an uber-mom who sacrifices her fast track career for the sake of being a stay at home mom. The cheating Gabrielle Solis (Eva Longoria) is a model who “enjoys” more of a business relationship with her husband than a marriage. Bree Van De Kamp (Macia Cross), a “plastic suburban housewife” does everything that people think a perfect wife and mother should do, except connect with her husband and kids.

Everyone has things going on beneath their perfect surfaces. In a lot of ways, all the ways we’ve come to identify success, these women have everything anyone could ever want. And yet, there is still something missing: a (desperate) search to connect, to find something meaningful in their lives. When asked “Don’t you just love being a mom?” Lynette Scavo reminds herself, and us, that “for the person who asked it, only one answer was acceptable.” So she lies. Life is full of such encounters. We struggle with our longing to be genuine versus our need to present ourselves as having things together. In other words, we often sacrifice the realness of our relationships in order to cultivate the surface ones we’ve come to depend on. There is a constant longing to share, but the need to maintain their image usually wins out.

“We all have moments of desperation,” Mary Alice Young narrates. Desperation points to a hole within us, a hole we want to fill by any means necessary. Stephen King once wrote a book titled Desperation whose main theme was that if you weren’t in a state of faith, you were in a state of desperation. It all boils down to the conversation that Gabrielle has with her gardener-turned-lover (who as she says is “far too young to smoke”). When asked why she married her husband, she answers “Because he promised to give me everything I ever wanted.” Since the husband, in fact, gave her all of those things, yet he still finds himself in bed with her, he logically asks “Then why aren’t you happy?” She tells him that it “turns out that I wanted all the wrong things.”

The drama shows remarkable promise, and like its characters, there is a lot going on. So much that it may be difficult to sustain (and they may wish to learn from the mistake that Twin Peaks made and not try to keep the show going once the mysteries have been solved). Deliciously funny and engaging, this is definitely one of the bright spots of the new television season.