By Peter Bowes
BBC News, Los Angeles
Desperate Housewives sees Sex and the City meet 1980s hit Knots Landing.
Desperate Housewives is nominated for five Golden Globes
It is set on an up-market street called Wisteria Lane in a picture postcard suburb where the houses are framed by picket fences and their inhabitants live, seemingly, perfect lives.
The truth - and intrigue - lies in the fact that nothing is as it seems. The lives of the four main characters are far from idyllic.
Susan, played by former Superman star Teri Hatcher, is a single mother who is desperate for a new man in her life.
Lynette (Felicity Huffman) is a frazzled mum who gave up work to look after her unruly kids.
Ex-model Gabrielle (Eva Longoria) is frustrated by her marriage and while her husband is at work takes solace in having sex with the teenage gardener.
But Bree, perhaps the most intriguing character of all, is a Little Miss Perfect.
Marcia Cross believes the show's appeal is its underlying truth
Addicted to keeping an immaculate home - and image in the neighbourhood - she drives her family crazy with her relentless attention to detail.
Their stories are told through the eyes of the show's narrator, Mary Alice, a former resident who recently committed suicide.
"It's unlike any other show that's been on the air and it has an element of very many different brilliant shows that have been on their air," said Marcia Cross, who plays Bree.
"It just covers the gamut in an innovating and groundbreaking way."
The show's tremendous impact on viewers has prompted US critics to analyse its formula for success.
It has been suggested that the tide has finally turned against reality TV in the US and that Desperate Housewives marks a return to quality, scripted programming.
Gabrielle plays while her husband is out at work
Another theory is that, however fractious, the sense of community on Wisteria Lane appeals to Americans in a post-September 11th world.
But the most popular explanation is that women viewers simply empathise with the show's main characters.
In that sense is it the natural sequel to Sex and the City.
"Women identify with someone who gave up her career and has all these children at home, or another one who's a single mum, or is hidden behind a wall of veneer and her husband wants a divorce", Cross said.
"This is life, this happens. We're going to make you laugh while you're watching it but this is the real deal."
The women gossip and confide in each other but they are not as emotionally close as their Sex and the City counterparts.
Unlike the single women of New York, the housewives of Wisteria Lane live out their fantasies largely in private.
There are also strong male characters - the eligible bachelor, husbands, a widower and the toy boy.
Former Superman star Teri Hatcher makes a return to UK TV screens
The storylines move quickly, week to week, but the loose ends are never quite tied up.
Murder, teenage drug abuse and underage sex are all ingredients in the heady mix of sub-plots.
In true Brookside tradition, there's at least one body secretly buried, if not under the patio.
"Desperate Housewives is an irresistible if imperfect blend of mystery, comedy and soap opera," said Phil Rosenthal, TV critic for the Chicago-Sun Times.
"Ultimately it succeeds because it's a great, sexy, sudsy guilty pleasure that's easy on the eyes."