Thanks, Shout Factory; now Judge Sandra Dozier can't stop talking with a slight Georgia drawl.
Our reviews of The Best Of Designing Women (published March 13th, 2004), Designing Women: The Complete First Season (published May 26th, 2009), Designing Women: The Complete Second Season (published September 2nd, 2009), Designing Women: The Complete Third Season (published March 10th, 2010), Designing Women: The Complete Fifth Season (published December 14th, 2011), Designing Women: The Complete Sixth Season (published April 11th, 2012), and Designing Women: The Final Season (published August 12th, 2012) are also available.
"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.
Facts of the Case
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"
• "One Night With You"
• "There She Is"
• "Nightmare From Hee Haw"
• "The Girlfriend"
• "The Rowdy Girls"
• "Bernice's Sanity Hearing"
• "Julia Gets Her Head Stuck in a Fence"
• "Julia and Suzanne's Big Adventure"
• "They Shoot Fat Women, Don't They?"
• "You've Got to Have Friends"
• "The First Day of the Last Decade of the Entire Twentieth
• "The Mistress"
• "The Fur Flies"
• "Oh, What a Feeling"
• "Anthony and Vanessa"
• "Payne Grows Up"
• "Tornado Watch"
• "Tough Enough"
• "It's a Wonderful Life"
• "Suzanne Goes Looking For a Friend"
• "Foreign Affairs"
• "Have Faith"
• "Their Finest Hour"
• "Anthony's Graduation"
• "La Place Sans Souci"
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.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
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!
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Shout! Factory
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