What to make of Desperate Housewives? It’s the most confusing show I’ve watched in a long time. I don’t mean the plot: while appropriately twisty, the solutions to the show’s big mysteries were telegraphed (if not outright spelled out) pretty far in advance. The wives’ individual plot threads were also quite predictable, with Lynette and Gabrielle’s stories in particular going pretty much exactly where you would expect them to. In fact, for the most part, you could have missed perhaps the entire middle half of the season, and you wouldn’t have had much of a problem keeping up with the last few episodes.

The big mystery isn’t really why the show’s interesting, though. I mean, it could have been, and perhaps should have been the big draw, but the fact that it was kind of a letdown pacing-wise obviously hasn’t stopped the show from being a huge hit. What’s interesting is seeing how the show evolved over the course of the season, as it went from being a weird, campy, semi-satirical look at suburban life to being a ludicrous, kitschy, not-at-all-satirical soap opera. After I saw the first couple of episodes, I was fooled into thinking that it was some sort of subversive, Twin Peaks-like spoof, and that ABC was somehow mis-promoting it by selling ad time for Victoria’s Secret and Van de Kamp’s fish sticks (puns aside), or comparing it to that cavalcade of catfights, Dynasty.

Shows what I know. After a few months of constant promotion, gonzo ratings, carefully managed rumors (Marcia Cross is a lesbian! Except that she’s not! The girls got into a fight at a Vanity Fair photo shoot! But not really!), and innumerable magazine covers, it’s clear to even the most pretentiously overanalytic viewer that this is a prime-time soap, and nothing more. Even if, despite all the evidence, show creator Marc Cherry keeps insisting it’s satire.

But hey, even if Desperate Housewives isn’t as smart as it thinks it is, it’s still pretty good watching. If nothing else, it’s completely changed my opinion of Teri Hatcher, who I don’t think ever got to show off much of her hidden talent for slapstick on Lois & Clark, or on those Radio Shack commercials. Felicity Huffman and “It” girl du jour Eva Longoria give their lines better readings than they deserve, and Marcia Cross just plain kicks ass in the show’s most layered role — although, since most of the characters on the show are caricatures, the fact that she has any layers at all to work with gives her a bit of an advantage. The grotesque Nicollette Sheridan is perfectly cast and fun to watch as a Patsy trapped on Wisteria Lane without an Edina, and I can’t say enough good things about late-season addition Harriet Sansom Harris, whose character is so much smarter than everyone else that it’s a wonder they let her on at all.

At any rate, the show isn’t what I wanted it to be, but for what it is, it’s just fine. It also left enough loose plot threads dangling from its season finale to make sure that I’ll be watching next fall — not to mention the fact that they’re adding the excellent Alfre Woodard to the cast. I’m just hoping that since Mary Alice’s mystery has been solved, her ghost will be put to rest and quit butting into every episode with those horrid, grating voice-overs.