Shout! Factory // 1989 // 600 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Sandra Dozier (Retired) // September 14th, 2010
"Hey, I sell stuff, I'm the front-end person. You're supposed to deliver stuff, you're the rear-end people!" -- Suzanne Sugarbaker
Welcome to Sugarbaker Design, an interior design firm located in the heart of Georgia. This is the setting for Designing Women, a half-hour sitcom revolving around the lives and loves of four Southern ladies.
Owner Julia Sugarbaker (Dixie Carter, That Evening Sun) is outspoken, fiercely intelligent, and very proper. Her airhead sister Suzanne (Delta Burke, What Women Want) is her partner in the business, and has lived a sheltered life of ease with the money left to her from previous husbands. Joining them are designer Mary Jo Shively (Annie Potts, Ghostbusters), a divorced single mom with two kids, and receptionist Charlene Stillfield (Jean Smart, Youth in Revolt), an expectant mother who had a whirlwind romance and marriage at the end of the previous season.
Other regulars include Anthony Bouvier (Meschach Taylor, Mannequin), a former prison inmate who provides a male perspective that attempts to balance the strong female focus, and daffy but sweet family friend Bernice Clifton (Alice Ghostley, Bewitched), who occupies an odd position of comic relief in a comedy show. Her appearances are generally purely for fun, or to befuddle a situation for comic effect with her spacey, not-sure-what-is-going-on-here behavior.
The four-disc set includes these episodes:
* "The Proxy Pig"
Suzanne's pet pig is gone and she's looking for a new project.
* "One Night With You"
An old classmate of Julia's has one dying wish: to spend the night with her.
* "There She Is"
It turns out Suzanne did not win Miss Georgia USA afterall!
* "Nightmare From Hee Haw"
Don't anger the hillbillies...you wouldn't like them when they are angry.
* "The Girlfriend"
Anthony's new girlfriend has quite a head for business.
* "The Rowdy Girls"
Charlene's cousin may be hiding a terrible secret.
* "Bernice's Sanity Hearing"
A gold-digging niece is not a good thing.
* "Julia Gets Her Head Stuck in a Fence"
Gag photos don't always have a happy ending.
* "Julia and Suzanne's Big Adventure"
The girls go to Tokyo and stay in a capsule hotel...zaniness ensues.
Mary Jo reluctantly allows Suzanne to help her find a boyfriend.
* "They Shoot Fat Women, Don't They?"
Landmark episode where Suzanne goes to a high school reunion, only to be ridiculed for her weight.
* "You've Got to Have Friends"
Mary Jo takes a job at a fast food restaurant after her ex fails to pay support.
* "The First Day of the Last Decade of the Entire Twentieth
Charlene goes into labor with her friends by her side
* "The Mistress"
The ladies must design two homes: one for the client's wife, another for his mistress.
* "The Fur Flies"
Suzanne is assaulted by animal rights activists while modeling fur.
* "Oh, What a Feeling"
Time to get a new delivery van, and maybe more than they bargained for.
* "Anthony and Vanessa"
Vanessa loves Anthony, but her wild side needs some taming by Suzanne.
* "Payne Grows Up"
Julia's son announces his marriage and his parenthood, making Julia feel old.
* "Tornado Watch"
A tornado traps a motley crew together at Sugarbaker's.
* "Tough Enough"
Are the girls macho enough to win a bowling alley remodel?
* "It's a Wonderful Life"
Charlene suspects Bill is having an affair.
* "Suzanne Goes Looking For a Friend"
A former friend from her beauty pageant days shows up and Suzanne is surprised to learn she is gay.
* "Foreign Affairs"
Consuela needs to apply for citizenship, and Suzanne wants Anthony to impersonate her.
* "Have Faith"
Mary Jo dates a minister, but is unsure she is worthy.
* "Their Finest Hour"
Mid-Run clip show time! Runs for an hour, with Ray Charles singing "Georgia" over the credits.
* "Anthony's Graduation"
It's time to graduate from college, and not even getting shot by Suzanne will stop Anthony.
* "La Place Sans Souci"
The girls go to a posh health spa and square off in dieting wars.
Designing Women is, at its core, a story about the inner lives and stories of women. The four main characters are independent, opinionated, and very feminine. It's no surprise this show drew a strong demographic of loyal female fans. Along with the humor, there was drama and issues that women cared about. In terms of relating to the characters, there is a little something for everyone. Julia is known for her liberal views and impassioned speeches; Suzanne can be as narrow as they come, but has a surprising charm and depth at times; Mary Jo is petite, feisty, and down-to-earth; and Charlene is a bit dumb, but she is sweet and caring, and a loyal friend. Add to this the particular cultural and regional charm of the South, and you have an engaging quartet. How they navigate life is what viewers tuned in week after week to watch.
Despite being dated by events current to the late '80s, the humor of this show keeps it timeless; women are interested in the same issues no matter what their age or the time they live in. The sitcom format tends to lend itself to easily solved situations and a lack of depth, but even with only 30 minutes, issues great and small are addressed on the show, from the silly (Julia getting her head stuck between banister rails at a mansion) to the serious (spousal abuse and how to escape it). No matter how heavy the situation, though, there is always a dose of humor to break the tension. At it's heart, Designing Women is a feel-good show.
A few episodes stand out in this season:
"The Rowdy Girls" -- Charlene finds out her cousin is the victim of spousal abuse, and wants to help her escape. Guest star Kim Zimmer as cousin Mavis and Smart as Charlene turn in stellar dramatic performances and make this one of the more memorable shows of the season.
"They Shoot Fat Women, Don't They?" -- Suzanne goes to her high school reunion. Her normal self-confidence takes a dive when she over hears comments about her weight. Suzanne delivers a moving speech when accepting the gag award for "Most Changed." Her performance in this episode won Delta Burke an Emmy nomination.
"Payne Grows Up" -- Overwhelmed by the announcement that her son is graduating, getting married, and expecting a baby, Julia has a little too much champagne and sheds her inhibitions, getting up on stage and doing a bawdy singing and dance number to "Sweet Georgia Brown" for the crowd, and then wakes up in the room of her son's college roommate. Shockingly hilarious!
"Suzanne Goes Looking For a Friend" -- Suzanne meets up with an old friend and doesn't realize she is gay until the girls point it out. As open minded as they think they are, they are all uncomfortable when they think they've been invited to a gay bar. It's a showcase of misconceptions and half-truths that are a mirror held up to the viewing audience -- couched in humor and therefore safe, it is still an eye opener.
"Their Finest Hour" -- While most clip shows can be a tedious reminder of the need to fill an allotted timeslot cheaply at the end of a season, this one has some choice moments from all previous seasons.
In terms of watchability and video quality, the episodes in season four are somewhat uneven -- many episodes are clean and have good color and depth, and others are fuzzy and appear washed out. Overall the video quality is quite watchable. The audio, while predictably not very remarkable in terms of dynamic sound, is consistently clear and crisp. The DVD packaging is quite nice -- full color, with two slim boxes to contain the four DVDs, so the entire box set only takes up the room of a normal DVD box. There is also a nice episode guide insert with brief synopsis of each episode, as well as an episode list printed onto each box. Unfortunately, Season Four does not come with any extras to speak of -- in fact, the only options on the disks are "Play All" and "Episodes." This is disappointing, especially since this is considered to be the season of landmark episodes.
Generally speaking, this show is probably not going to make the "favorites" list for men. Even with the presence of Anthony, the spouses, and boyfriends of the girls, the estrogen level is quite high, and many of the storylines are written for a girls club. The first discussion about menstrual cycles, and most men will likely check out.
If you are looking for light entertainment and laughs with a strong female focus, this is a great choice. The only drawback to this set is the deplorable lack of extras. It would be great to see some cast follow-ups or creator commentaries, but fans will just have to make do with a good box presentment and good laughs.
I say Not Guilty. If you'd like to argue, I'll get Julia to plead my case!
Review content copyright © 2010 Sandra Dozier; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Shout! Factory
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* English (CC)
Running Time: 600 Minutes
Release Year: 1989
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Wikipedia: Designing Women