By People Staff
Updated September 29, 2008 12:00 AM

Marc Cherry, the creator of Desperate Housewives, took an unusual gamble in launching the new season, spinning the entire plot forward five years.

This might seem a desperate way to freshen up an aging show in need of a little Botox – even with a cyclone, last season felt slack – but it paid off beautifully with Sunday’s premiere.

Because these characters are often slightly closer to two dimensions than three, they can be twisted, bent and repositioned in their dollhouses without losing their basic shape. Cherry has done his work so swiftly and cleanly, the new storylines feel quite natural.

The highlight of the episode was the unveiling of the changed Gaby, frumpier, grumpier and with two plus-sized young daughters. Eva Longoria Parker has always been the most entertaining of the show’s stars in the past, campily playing up Gaby’s vanity and selfishness. She’s just as funny playing a Mama Gaby who’s not only lost her looks but can’t bear the thought that her daughters aren’t runway-ready Mini Me’s. There’ll be some fine scenes for her in the upcoming Oct. 5 episode.

Much of the improvements are simply a matter of housecleaning and uncluttering some familiar plots: The Scavo twins are now two tall teenagers, saving us the tedium of marking the year-to-year maturation of the earlier kids. After all their ups and downs, Susan and Mike (Teri Hatcher and James Denton) have split, although maybe not completely–for now, her new boyfriend (Gale Harold) helps redefine a relationship that had gotten tedious.

Maybe Grey’s Anatomy should leap ahead 10 years.

However, Cherry has preserved the indispensable note of womanly dread and anxiety – even now, the story is narrated in a sweet sepulchral voice by the dead Mary Alice. Edie (Nicollette Sheridan) has returned with a pink-and-blond husband (Neal McDonough) who looks like an astronaut who may have lost his marbles in outer space: He’s psycho, and he has revenge in mind for someone – but for whom? And Week 2 features a quietly unnerving confrontation between Bree (Marcia Cross), the new Martha Stewart of Wisteria Lane, and her husband, Orson (Kyle MacLachlan).

Orson, you may have forgotten, is a dangerous creep. This will remind you. –Tom GliattoRON TOM/ABC