A few of the things I learned about Eva Longoria when I typed the actress’s name into Google News recently: She was devastated last fall when she discovered hundreds of text messages from another woman to her then husband, San Antonio Spurs point guard Tony Parker. She regards the lawsuit filed against her by former business partner Mali Nachum to be meritless (Nachum, with whom Longoria opened the financially troubled nightclub/restaurant Beso in Las Vegas, has accused her of violating California usury laws in a loan Longoria extended to her in 2009). She acknowledges that starting over after her divorce from Parker is difficult, but she is praying for “strength, courage and wisdom” on her “new journey.” Part of that journey would appear to involve Penélope Cruz’s younger brother, Eduardo, with whom she was seen “canoodling” at a Super Bowl party in South Beach in February. Also, Longoria wore a black-and-white Ashi dress with a Sergio Rossi clutch and Brian Atwood shoes to this year’s Grammy Awards.

For some modern performers, it’s easy to pinpoint the moment when their celebrity eclipses their artistry and they can fairly be described as famous for being famous. Jennifer Aniston is jilted by Brad Pitt, Lindsay Lohan is arrested for DUI, Katie Holmes agrees to marry Tom Cruise—and suddenly the paparazzi appropriate these people’s personal lives, treating even the most mundane details as breaking news. But for the Corpus Christi–born Longoria—who emerged from a forgettable career in soap operas and landed a star-making part on ABC’s instant smash Desperate Housewives in 2004—the process has been a slower and steadier one. Her tabloid-friendly marriage to Parker, in the summer of 2007, seemed to be the first step on this slippery slope, when she sold the photo rights for the wedding to OK! magazine for a reported $2 million. Then there were the calamitously bad acting choices (the 2008 comedy Over Her Dead Body earned her a Razzie Award nomination for worst actress), the badly misjudged business deals (Beso was sited inside Las Vegas’s ruinous CityCenter development), and the frivolous-sounding side projects (she launched her own perfume in 2010 for women who are allergic to perfume).

By the time her personal life caved in—Parker was alleged to have been texting for more than a year with Erin Barry, the wife of his former Spurs teammate Brent Barry—Longoria was already on her way to becoming an object of kitsch derision. What’s curious is that, on some level, she seems to have cultivated that trajectory, through endless red carpet appearances and periodic diva hissy fits (at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival, gossip columnists reported that she insisted a private beach be closed so that she and Parker could eat lunch). Even her celebrity friends, like Extra host Mario Lopez and singer Sheryl Crow, seem to have been chosen according to a media-friendly playbook, famous but not so famous that they might rob the spotlight. As Desperate Housewives winds down its seventh season, a number of tantalizing new endeavors offer hope that Longoria might yet do something to get people to take her seriously (see “Working It”). Right now, though, she seems all too content to accept her fate as fodder for blogs like Perez Hilton and Celebitchy, which published the following in the aftermath of her split from Parker: “At the very least, Eva is getting headlines, right? That must make her happy.”

The disappointment here is that, back in 2004, it seemed as if Longoria’s career might take a far more intriguing turn. I won’t make any great claims for Desperate Housewives, a winking throwback to nighttime soaps like Dynasty and Falcon Crest that ran out of steam after its first season, or for Longoria’s performance as the bombshell gold digger Gabrielle Solis, which basically just requires her to play either “sultry” or “devious.” But with flawless skin and a wily glint in her eyes, Longoria—who studied kinesiology at Texas A&M University–Kingsville before winning the Miss Corpus Christi USA pageant—seemed to be the newest iteration of an age-old icon: the Texas starlet. Just like Farrah Fawcett, she was the small-town girl who rode her good looks to Hollywood and landed the role of a lifetime. Another trait she shared with Fawcett, whose come-hither pliability on Charlie’s Angels launched countless adolescent daydreams, was a gift for not taking herself too seriously. Just look at the short film she made with Perry Hilton for Funny or Die, titled Eva Longoria Sex Tape, a clever, 65-second goof on celebrities’ predilection for creating X-rated videos and the public’s unchecked obsession with them.

But Fawcett eventually left Charlie’s Angels and tackled thorny roles in movies like The Burning Bed, Extremities, and The Apostle; no matter how tabloid-friendly her personal foibles, her critics couldn’t deny her ambition. Longoria’s work outside Desperate Housewives, on the other hand, has mostly revealed a performer with limited range and dreadful taste in material. Over Her Dead Body was an awkward replay of sitcom-ish ghost movies from the eighties like Hello Again or Kiss Me Goodbye. In the rote thriller The Sentinel (2006), she played a Secret Service agent-in-training opposite Michael Douglas and Kiefer Sutherland, and she was even less convincing than you’d suspect. Cynical as it might sound, her only truly authoritative work has been as a spokesperson for L’Oréal Paris. If nothing else, she’s mastered the art of looking imperious in Voluminous Million Lashes mascara and Colour Riche lipstick.

To be fair, Longoria has consistently used her celebrity to champion larger causes. She’s been outspoken about the importance of increasing Latino representation onscreen. Her Twitter feed is a litany of shout-outs to charities. And if you Google her long enough, you occasionally stumble upon something that relates to her acting, such as the recent news that Maya Entertainment, a distributor that targets Latino audiences, will be releasing her new film, Without Men, this summer. It sounds like a smart vehicle for Longoria, a magical realist comedy set in a Latin American village where all the men have decamped to fight in a civil war. Will it be enough to set things right for her? Will she again earn attention for not just the wrong reasons but some of the right ones too? Only time will tell, but until then you can keep busy by checking out OKmagazine.com, which posted a thirteen-picture gallery of Longoria, arriving for a trip at LAX in February, “looking very cozy” in a white tracksuit and UGG boots.

WORKING IT: Tabloids aside, Longoria is as busy as ever

Credit where credit is due: Eva Longoria does seem to be trying to get her creative house in order. Industry observers expect that, after holding out for a pay raise, she will sign on for at least one more season of Desperate Housewives. In addition to Without Men, she has also already wrapped production on two other independent features: Cristiada, a drama set against the backdrop of the Cristeros War, co-starring Andy Garcia and Peter O’Toole, and a Mexico-set, Spanish-language thriller called Days of Grace. (Look for both to turn up at festivals later this year.) Even more promising-sounding are three projects she has in development with her production company: Sendera, a soap opera set in a Texas border town; a sitcom called Parenting by Committee; and a miniseries about the conquistador Cortés and his lover Malinali. No word yet on if or when any of them might actually see the light of day.