Left to my own devices, I would probably never watch anything on television but BBC mysteries and costume dramas--well, and Rachel Maddow's program on MSNBC. However, beloved husband and I find that when there's a show we can enjoy together, it's a companionable thing to do. (We couldn't be more different, I'm afraid. He's sports, I'm arts, basically. This is marriage maintenance.) So we've watched, with much laughter, the pseudo-soap opera Desperate Housewives since the beginning. It reminds us of the fantastic program from long ago, Soap, with Billy Crystal.
This season the writers of Desperate Housewives have done something rather daring, I think. Between the end of last season and the beginning of this one, they jumped a period of five years. We watched the first episode scratching our heads, trying to figure out what happened. The recent episode, which is three weeks into the series, begins to fill in those five years, and it's a lot of fun to see. What strikes me is that the writers trusted their viewers enough to play with their heads a bit, if you will, confounding them, having faith that the viewers would come along for the ride to figure out just where the various soapish plot lines were going.
Greg Bear said once about his novel Moving Mars that he felt his readers would tolerate a long info-dump (narrative section setting up the world in which the action would take place) because he had established his credentials as a writer. I loved that novel (and used it in my own, The Glass Harmonica) and I felt he was right. There is an info-dump in the opening, but because the writer is Greg Bear, and because he does it so well, it was not a problem.
I wonder, though, if less established writers or programs can get away with this sort of thing? The writers of Desperate Housewives must have felt that the show was secure enough in its viewership that they could have fun with a sort of backward plot device--and it really is clever. Greg felt his info-dump was the right way to set up his story. I'm not sure I would dare to do the same. My novels begin in media res, in the beginning of things, always in the hope that the reader will be impelled through the story. It's interesting to see different approaches. And the writers of Desperate Housewives, though I had my doubts at the beginning of the current season, have doubled down on the fun.