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Narration Nation

A who’s who of TV tour guides.

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Desperate Housewives, ABC
Narrator
Mary Alice Young, played by Brenda Strong.

Sample Remark
“The worst lies are the ones we tell ourselves before we fall asleep.”

Literary Analogue
Our Town’s Emily Webb.

Effect
A housewife who committed suicide, Mary Alice provides deadpan posthumous perspective—The Lovely Bones meets Twin Peaks (or possibly an undead Carrie Bradshaw).

Gastineau Girls, E!
Narrator
New York doorman Lou.

Sample Remark
“In New Yawk City, everyone seems to have a therapist!”

Literary Analogue
The repressed servant in The Remains of the Day. But not repressed, and from the Bronx.

Effect
The blue-collar analogue to Joe Millionaire’s snooty butler, Lou lends faux–New York flavor to the G-girls’ vapid adventures.

Arrested Development, Fox
Narrator
Ron Howard, the show’s executive producer.

Sample Remark
“Tobias was a never-nude, which is exactly what it sounds like.”

Literary Analogue
Simon Wheeler, narrator of Mark Twain’s “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.”

Effect
As the sitcom’s uncredited narrator, Howard provides a flat, vaguely midwestern twang that sounds a wry note of composure—kind of like God, with a dash of Richie Cunningham.

Scrubs, NBC
Narrator
J.D., the show’s protagonist.

Sample Remark
“How low is my self-esteem that I’m the sidekick in my own dream?”

Literary Analogue
Dr. Holden Caulfield.

Effect
Like Mary Alice, J.D. weaves disparate story lines together, flipping comic plots to reveal poignant undercurrents. Unlike Mary Alice, he’s prone to neurotic Walter Mitty–ish fantasies.

Wife Swap, ABC
Narrator
An anonymous confidante.

Sample Remark
“The most important thing to Jodi is ‘me time.’ ”

Literary Analogue
The undercutting friend in Zoe Heller’s What Was She Thinking?

Effect
Jaunty and judgmental, the narrator joins forces with the music to let us know where to slot the show’s hapless swappees—as control freaks, religious nuts, hippies, slobs, snooty rich folks, or all of the above.


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