Let the backlash begin! Actually, it already has.

It isn't hard to find criticism of "Desperate Housewives" (Sunday, 8 p.m., ABC/Ch. 4) this season — a lot of it coming from the same people who fell all over themselves praising the show last season. It's all decidedly predictable.

Everyone involved in the show — from the stars to creator/executive producer Marc Cherry — had seemingly steeled themselves against it before the show's second season even began.

"As long as we keep the quality up, I don't worry about backlash," Cherry said. "The moment the quality drops the vultures will come swooping in."

Well, vultures can now at least be seen in the distance. But do they have reason to be eying the show if not swooping in and picking it apart?

No. At least not yet.

Predicting that "Desperate Housewives" was going to be criticized in this, its sophomore season, was about as bold as predicting that the sun will rise in the east tomorrow. Any time a show is a breakout hit in its first year, this sort of thing happens. Particularly when a show's stars are plastered all over magazines and entertainment TV shows.

An obvious comparison can be made to "Friends," which went through exactly the same thing. As did its stars. And — while some seasons of that show were better than others — the show remained popular and successful for a decade.

The fact is that, for a lot of people, the only thing more popular than building something up is tearing it down. And nitpicking has become a way of life.

I am reminded yet again of what Matt Groening said when his series "Futurama" launched in 1999 — that "The Simpsons" would still be in production 1,000 years from now "but the fans on the Internet are complaining that the past 500 years aren't as good as the first 500 years."

Perhaps some of those criticizing "Desperate Housewives" right now have never watched prime-time soap operas before. Looking all the way back to shows such as "Dallas," "Dynasty" and "Knots Landing," they spent the first few weeks of each season setting up the plot lines that would carry through the end of the season. That's what Cherry and his team have been doing on "Housewives."

Which is not to say that they're immune to criticism or that their show is perfect. If you look back at Season 1, there were flaws — most notably that some plot lines were left hanging, suddenly all but disappearing. Like . . . what about those threats Bree's son made to get back at her last spring? For that matter, what about Bree's son, who has disappeared altogether the past couple of episodes?

A former sitcom writer, Cherry's soap inexperience shows. As it has from the beginning.

But that's nitpicking. "Housewives" is still fresh, funny and entertaining. Let's send the vultures after shows that really deserve to be picked apart.

Like "Lost."

THE GUY IN THE BASEMENT on "Housewives" is about to disappear altogether. At least the actor who plays him is.

Page Kennedy, who starred as Betty Applewhite's (Alfre Woodard) son Caleb — who (apparently) killed someone and has been locked in her basement — has been fired for "improper conduct." Nobody at ABC or Touchstone Television is commenting any further.

The role will be recast.

E-mail: pierce@desnews.com