Shout! Factory // 1991 // 555 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // December 14th, 2011
The Windy City never sounded so sweet.
Meet Atlanta, Georgia's very own Designing Women! If your place is in need of some sprucing up, Sugarbaker Designs is exactly where you need to be. The firm is run by two polar opposite sisters: elegant, level headed Julia Sugarbaker (Dixie Carter) and the self-centered former Miss Georgia World beauty queen, Suzanne Sugarbaker (Delta Burke). Their employees include designer and recently divorced Mary Jo Shively (Annie Potts, Ghostbusters), the air-headed office manager Charlene Frazier Stillfield (Jean Smart) and former falsely accused convict -- and the only male team member -- Anthony Bouvier (Meshach Taylor, Dave's World). The Sugarbakers and their team of goofy but lovable workers encounter all sorts of day-to-day issues; including finding long lost parents, having their home turned upside down as a museum, bachelor auctions and realizing that the most important fabric in human existence is (get ready to gag)...LOVE!
The episodes on this four disc set include:
* "A Blast From The Past"
* "Papa Was a Rolling Stone"
* "Working Mother"
* "Miss Trial"
* "The Bachelor Auction"
* "Charlene Buys a House"
* "Old Rebels and Young Models"
* "Nowhere To Run To"
* "A Class Act"
* "Keep The Homes Fires Burning"
* "My Daughter, Myself"
* "And Now, Here's Bernice"
* "Pearls Of Wisdom"
* "High Noon In The Laundry Room"
* "How Long Has This Been Going On?"
* "The Emperor's New Nose"
* "Maybe Baby"
* "This Is Art?"
* "Blame In On New Orleans"
* "I'll See You in Court"
* "The Big Circle"
* "Friends And Husbands"
* "The Pride Of The Sugarbakers"
Designing Women is not a show I'm very familiar with. In fact, it's something I have almost no knowledge of. Here are the top three things I did know about the show before watching this fifth season:
1) Delta Burke was sassy, with a capital "S."
2) Meshach Taylor was the grossly stereotypical gay man from Mannequin and Mannequin 2: On the Move.
3) Designing Women had something to do with interior designers with southern accents.
Not surprisingly, I wasn't the demographic for this late '80s series; thirteen year old kids aren't really drawn to sitcoms starring Dixie Carter. Now, had the Crypt Keeper made an appearance...
But I digress.
I can recall seeing the show in passing, but little else stuck in my memory. After sitting through all of Season Five, I've come to realize the show hasn't aged very well. Wallowing in sitcom clichés, Designing Women is standard TV fare that features 'sassy' women spewing only mildly amusing one-liners at those unlucky enough to walk through the Sugarbaker's doors. It's sort of a carbon copy of the much funnier The Golden Girls, except with women in their 40s and 50s instead of their 60s and 70s. Don't even get me started on the horribleness of the laugh track, a concept that died years ago (though even today viewers have to deal with the horribleness that is "canned laughter").
The writers never really take the material places you haven't been before. For example, one episode features one of the girls finding Anthony's long lost father and setting up a meeting. It goes terrible. Then there is remorse. By the end of the episode, everyone has figured out what the real meaning of family is -- did I just hear a collective yawn from the audience? -- and happy smiles abound. Each episode follows this same idea. When Charlene decides that she wants to quit work so she can be at home more with her child, she suddenly finds herself defending the fact that being a mother is a real "job." In another episode the Sugarbaker employees discover that Julia has been moonlighting as a singer at a nightclub. Oh my! Yes, folks -- this is what passed for storylines twenty years ago. While there are some amusing zingers to be heard, the banter is mostly banal and feels like time filler.
The actors all do well enough with their roles, which is what makes the series mildly bearable. I enjoyed the late Dixie Carter's take on Julia; Carter had a way of delivering a line with clipped, precise attitude and perfect comedic timing. For my money Carter (who was also featured in the later seasons of the classic '80s sitcom Diff'rent Strokes) was the show's standout. If memory serves, Delta Burke's Suzanne was the one who ended up being the breakout star; her brassy overbearing Suzanne is often given the best lines, but her grating character wears out her welcome when she's on screen too long. Potts and Smart more or less play second banana to Carter and Burke; Smart is the Betty White of the show, while Potts receives the thankless task of playing straight man (err, woman) to the rest of the cast. Getting the short end of the stick is Meshach Taylor as the sole recurring male character, whose job is to a) endure some cringe worthy jokes made at the expense of his race, and b) mug for camera when the ladies do anything even halfway amusing.
Designing Women was not a groundbreaking show and does not stand the test of time. It's a shame these actors weren't able to find a better vehicle for their talents, as these were some truly gifted comediennes. If you have fond memories of the series, I won't begrudge you the desire to revisit Season Five. Just don't expect it to hold up half as well as your memory believes.
Presented in its original 1.33:1 full frame aspect ratio, the show looks about as good as it will, which translates to "just okay." The transfers are better than their original broadcast run, but the kitsch doesn't add much to their charm. The Dolby 2.0 audio is exactly what you'd expect from an early '90s sitcom -- flat and uninspired. The dialogue, treacly music, and canned laughter are all easily understood, which is all that's needed. No alternate subtitles or soundtracks are available, nor are their any bonus features.
God bless Shout! Factory for releasing this forgotten season on DVD, but the fact remains Designing Women: The Complete Fifth Season is for die hard completists only.
Review content copyright © 2011 Patrick Naugle; 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)
Running Time: 555 Minutes
Release Year: 1991
MPAA Rating: Not Rated