Shout! Factory // 1986 // 535 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Brett Cullum // May 26th, 2009
Julia: Excuse me, aren't you Marjorie Leigh Winnick, the current Miss Georgia
Marjorie: Why, yes I am.
Julia: I'm Julia Sugarbaker, Suzanne Sugarbaker's sister. I couldn't help over hearing part of your conversation.
Marjorie: Well, I'm sorry. I didn't know anyone was here.
Julia: Yes, and I gather from your comments there are a couple of other things you don't know, Marjorie. For example, you probably didn't know that Suzanne was the only contestant in Georgia pageant history to sweep every category except congeniality, and that is not something the women in my family aspire to anyway. Or that when she walked down the runway in her swimsuit, five contestants quit on the spot. Or that when she emerged from the isolation booth to answer the question, "What would you do to prevent war?" she spoke so eloquently of patriotism, battlefields and diamond tiaras, grown men wept. And you probably didn't know, Marjorie, that Suzanne was not just any Miss Georgia, she was the Miss Georgia. She didn't twirl just a baton, that baton was on fire. And when she threw that baton into the air, it flew higher, further, faster than any baton has ever flown before, hitting a transformer and showering the darkened arena with sparks! And when it finally did come down, Marjorie, my sister caught that baton, and 12,000 people jumped to their feet for sixteen and one-half minutes of uninterrupted thunderous ovation, as flames illuminated her tearstained face! And that, Marjorie -- just so you will know -- and your children will someday know -- is the night the lights went out in Georgia!
Designing Women: The Complete First Season is a long overdue set of episodes from a sitcom that broke all kinds of social stereotypes for Southern women. The four ladies featured were smart, sassy, driven, and above all else brilliantly comic. Most people remember Designing Women as the show that ran back-to-back with Murphy Brown, giving CBS a night dedicated to strong women being funny. Designing Women ran for seven years, racking up just over a hundred and sixty episodes. The first year saw the show getting okay ratings, but it was almost canceled when CBS moved it from Monday to Sunday early on. Fans created a vocal campaign to save the series, and CBS decided to keep it rolling where it found a home in the top twenty in ratings for nearly all its run.
Two sisters named Julia (Dixie Carter, Desperate Housewives) and Suzanne (Delta Burke, Delta) Sugarbaker launch an interior design firm in Atlanta, despite being polar opposites personally and professionally. Suzanne is a rich, flashy, self-centered ex-beauty queen, while Julia is an elegant, outspoken liberal. One runs the company, while the other bankrolls most of it and pretends to sell accounts. They bring in two additional investors including a down to earth designer named Mary Jo (Annie Potts, Ghost Busters) and a sweet but ditzy office manager (Jean Smart, 24).
Designing Women had several things going for it, and when you look at the cast list four things loom larger than most. Mixing together Delta Burke, Dixie Carter, Annie Potts, and Jean Smart was the smartest thing sitcom creators could have ever come up with. Marry those four comediennes with the whipsmart writing of Linda Bloodworth-Thomason, and you have an excellent series that transcends the common sitcom. The main writer went on to many prominent things including advising President Bill Clinton on speeches and his campaign, and she wrote most of the first thirty-five episodes of this series while having strong input on the others. Honestly, season one is a treasure for this reason alone. Even though this first year was the infamous season CBS canceled the show in spring of 1987, Designing Women was strong from the start. It captures a unique voice that is still refreshing decades later.
Shout! Factory gives us Designing Women: The Complete First Season after many years of fans waiting for an official release. Previously the show had only been featured on DVD as a "Best of" set which pulled five episodes from the entire run. So here are the twenty-two episodes which made up the critically acclaimed first year. You get it all from the pilot to the first appearances of Mesach Taylor and Alice Ghostly ("Perky's Visit"). There is one major extra which is a reunion special from 2006. It's a panel discussion with the female quartet of original stars and writer talking at The Paley Center for Media. Also included is an essay by series writer and creator Linda Bloodworth-Thomason in the insert book. Between these two extras we get a nice sense of the series and how it was created.
Technically this is not a great presentation. The pilot looks a mess and sounds even worse, and little has been done in the way of remastering. The picture is dark and grainy, and colors are murky. The sound is very muffled and strangely mixed where sound effects are sometimes clearer than dialogue. I know this is from 1986, but I have seen pilots from 1966 that look to be in better condition. Things get better as the set moves on through the series, but the entire show looks dated and in need of a cleaning up. The twenty-two episodes don't look much better than VHS copies with the look of older generations of media, and the only real attraction is having a DVD copy that doesn't wear out as easily as video tapes. Hopefully as future seasons get released we will get a better technical presentation as well as more extras. As far as TV on DVD goes, this is not a great example of how good a beloved old production can look.
Originally Designing Women's arrival on DVD was held up in part due to a struggle with the music rights which were going to prove costly to release intact. Shout! Factory has kept the Doc Severinson version of "Georgia On My Mind" for the opening theme, but there are trims made to episodes to either get rid of or replace musical cues. "Isn't She Lovely" was originally used in the second beauty pageant episode, but it doesn't appear on the DVD.
Designing Women was a rare sitcom that created four distinct women, and allowed them to live and breathe through comedy. What made the show special was a cast who had incredible chemistry, great timing, and smart scripts to play off. It's an interesting chapter in the history of the sitcom where we have a series revolving around Southern women who talk about touchy topics and defy stereotypes at every turn. The characters were allowed to make speeches, go on tirades, and do unexpected things that were more devices of drama rather than the half hour comedy. Most of all, the women were explored to great depths, and we got to know and love them as the shows rolled on.
Guilty of being smart, sassy, and still funny after twenty-something years.
Even though the technical presentation is rough, it's nice to see these shows
finally on DVD.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Shout! Factory
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 535 Minutes
Release Year: 1986
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* 2006 Cast Reunion
* Designing Women Fan Site