A seemingly happy wife and mother named Mary Alice puts a gun to her head and pulls the trigger ... and an idyllic neighborhood is never the same.

Not since “Knots Landing” have television viewers been so enraptured by the weekly dramas of a bunch of cul-de-sac-dwelling suburbanites. For the past seven years, Wisteria Lane on ABC’s “Desperate Housewives” became a ground zero for soapy fun. It quickly became a place where secrets – along with several criminals – are harbored, where wealthy former models sleep with their gardeners, where neglected wives go off their rockers and shoot up supermarkets, where accident-prone single moms get kidnapped by vengeful ex-cons, where on-the-lam families hide out from eco-terrorists, where shady politicians get skewered by picket fences during tornados, where airplanes crash into holiday parties, where serial killers hold pregnant women hostage, where bitchy real estate agents get electrocuted by telephone poles, where ...

You get the idea.

Debuting on Oct. 3, 2004, “Desperate Housewives,” in a way, filled a void left by four sexy women who used to chat and gossip over lunch and see each other through some juicy trials and tribulations. If “Sex and the City” celebrated the comedic dramas of female, urban singles, then “DH” went further and celebrated the comedic dramas of female, suburban marrieds (and divorcées). Instead of sitting around a table and supporting each other while sipping cosmos at a trendy Manhattan hotspot, Susan Mayer, Lynette Scavo, Gabrielle Solis and Bree Van De Kamp sat around a kitchen counter supporting each other over cups of coffee.

However, while brushing up on the history of femme-centric television, one might discover that gathering around a table to dish about love, lies and life in general was originally an art perfected by four Miami seniors named Dorothy, Blanche, Rose and Sophia. “The Golden Girls” essentially invented the TV girl-talk forum the moment they broke out the cheesecake and sat down to vent their problems. So it may come as no surprise that Marc Cherry, “Desperate”’s creator, had been a writer on the classic sitcom during its last two seasons. The “Golden” influence on “Housewives” is evident.

“DH” also filled another void in prime-time television. It brought back the nighttime soap to small screens and tweaked the genre in a way that made it more easily digestible for the savvy audiences of the 2000s. It introduced three-dimensional characters we grew to love, placed them in sudsy situations in a believable way and recognized the absurdity of some of them through delicious one-liners and tongue-in-cheek dialogue that remained consistent throughout the years.

While many complain that the show never regained its mojo after that stellar first season – especially after sitting through the much-maligned second season (Alfre Woodard’s got her son locked up in the basement!) – I pity those who were quick to give up and tune out. Having learned their lesson, producers delivered a third and fourth season that reminded loyal followers why they kept coming back to the Lane (new gay neighbors, back-from-the-dead spouses and Dana Delany, oh my!).

Then came the high-profile stunt for the show’s fifth season, that five-year jump into the future. Partners swapped, children grew up and a new villain moved in (Neal McDonough’s bent-on-revenge Dave). As for season 6, fans were given a double dose of mystery when the Bolen family arrived in town (See “Torchwood”’s John Barrowman get blown up in a Prius!) and the Fairview Strangler terrorized the neighborhood (Poor Eddie!). And the writers must have been getting a little nostalgic when they brought back first-season Man of Mystery Paul Young for the seventh and penultimate season (More revenge! This time with a switched-at-birth twist!).

Clearly the show is a liberal dressed in a conservative’s clothing. The fictional and picturesque town of Fairview is located in the conveniently ambiguous “Eagle State” (Anywhere, U.S.A.). It’s neither red nor blue but a bold shade of purple, maintaining its appeal to moms in Missouri as well as party boys in West Hollywood. This couldn’t be exemplified any more than in Marcia Cross’ Bree, who was modeled after Cherry’s very own mother. Bree may be an uptight, church-going, gun-toting Republican with a penchant for pie-making, but she’s got a gay son and a less-than-perfect daughter she loves with all her heart.

And now that the groundbreaking dramedy’s eighth and final season has kicked off, I’m sure a retrospective of sorts is being planned for what will most likely be a drawn-out farewell. I look forward to seeing how this season’s mystery, in which all the ladies have implicated themselves in the murder of Gaby’s evil stepfather, will be resolved. In a nifty twist that brings everything full circle, they all find themselves in the same sticky situation Mary Alice was in so many seasons ago.

Like many suburban satires before it (American Beauty, The Ice Storm), the “Housewives” have made their case: Small-town life can be just as scandalous (and dangerous) as any crime-ridden metropolis. Rapists, drug dealers and murderers aren’t downtown – they’re residing in that nice three-bedroom behind your hedges.

"Desperate Housewives” airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on ABC.

For more pop cultural ramblings, visit thefirstecho.com and hotterinhollywood.com.