“Designing Women” peaked its fifth season, finishing #6 in the Nielsen ratings behind “Roseanne,” “Murphy Brown,” “Cheers” and “Home Improvement” (tie). And it’s worth noting that three of the top five sitcoms focused on women at a time when Third-Wave feminism was being introduced—a broader interpretation of female liberation and power that allowed women to define their own version of feminism. Third-Wave feminism allowed women to choose whether they wanted to work, stay at home and raise children, or juggle both roles. And it allowed women to define their own sexual attitudes rather than being forced to embrace a gender- and solidarity-based platform.
Set in the Atlanta, Georgia area, “Designing Women” featured Dixie Carter as the caustic and outspoken Julia Sugarbaker, a feminist who functioned as head proprietor at Sugarbaker and Associates Interior Design. Her partners included her younger sister, Suzanne Sugarbaker (Delta Burke), a former Miss Georgia World who confidently used her sex appeal and flirted openly with men . . . lots of them. Then there was Mary Jo (Annie Potts), the practical-minded but cautious divorcee who has chosen to work despite having children, and Charlene (Jean Smart), who functions as the business manager and is more easily shocked than the others, and just a little more blonde. The third episode this season finds Charlene wanting to take a year off to nurture her new baby, and then enrolling in courses at a local community college.
Fulfillment is at the core of Third-Wave feminism, and this season Julia sneaks off to secretly perform at a nightclub. Sexual satisfaction is also a part of it, and this season Mary Jo has a fling at a convention, while some of the other women on the show decide to take steps to improve themselves physically. The age at which feminism kicks in is also a topic this season, as Mary Jo forbids her 18-year-old daughter from dating a man closer to MJ’s age.
Many TV shows have a token female; this one has a token male, Meshach Taylor as Anthony Bouvier, the handyman hired to do odd jobs around the firm, which is set inside a historical old home that always seems to be needing some repair or improvement.
Twenty-four episodes are included on four single sided discs that are housed on plastic pages inside a standard-size keep case, with descriptions of the episodes printed on the inside cover:
- “A Blast from the Past.” Sugarbaker’s is put on a historical tour of homes, and Julia becomes irate at the selling of the myth of the Old South.
- “Papa Was a Rolling Stone.” Anthony’s 30th birthday brings him the opportunity to meet the father he never knew.
- “Working Mother.” Charlene wants to take a year off work to look after her baby; Sugarbaker’s newest client is a bratty 10 year old.
- “Miss Trial.” Julia may have to miss her reception with former President Carter when she is sequestered while on jury duty.
- “The Bachelor Auction.” Suzanne accidentally buys a date with Anthony in a charity auction.
- “Charlene Buys a House.” Charlene buys a residence that’s haunted by its deceased former owner, and when she hires Sugarbaker’s to decorate, the ladies have to stay the night in the haunted house.
- “Old Rebels and Young Models.” Charlene’s baby auditions for a modeling job.
- “Nowhere to Run to.” Mary Jo takes up jogging and invites Julia to come along. Soon Julia goes overboard, focusing only on running so she will get in shape for her annual physical.
- “A Class Act.” Charlene enrolls in a winter-quarter psychology course at a community college.
- “Keep the Home Fires Burning.” Missing her husband Bill, who’s been sent to the Persian Gulf, Charlene dreams back in time when the U.S. entered the war following the attack on Pearl Harbor.
- “My Daughter, Myself.” Mary Jo forbids her nearly 18-year-old daughter from dating a 34-year-old man.
- “And Now, Here’s Bernice.” Bernice gets a local public access cable television show and discusses Sugarbaker’s on the air.
- “Pearls of Wisdom.” Mary Jo switches her knockoff pearls for Suzanne’s real ones and then loses them in an all-you-can-eat salad bar.
- “High Noon in the Laundry Room.” When Anthony’s laundry room is taken over by a group of thugs, he’s afraid that confronting the troublemakers might spark a big brawl.
- “How Long Has This Been Going on?” Everyone at Sugarbaker’s is shocked when they discover Julia has been secretly performing at a local nightclub.
- “The Emperor’s New Nose.” Bernice (Alice Ghostley) gets a botched face-lift, liposuction work and a bad nose job that makes her look like a pig.
- “Maybe Baby.” Mary Jo decides she wants a baby, while Suzanne decides she’s going to smoke to lose weight.
- “This Is Art?” Julia gains a reputation as an artist when her purse is mistaken for art and sold at a local show.
- “Blame It on New Orleans.” The ladies attend a convention in New Orleans, and Mary Jo has a fling with a man who turns out to be married.
- “I’ll See You in Court.” Mary Jo sees the man who mugged her and feels disillusioned with the judicial system; Suzanne takes Bernice shopping with ulterior motives.
- “The Big Circle.” After Reese dies, Suzanne helps a despondent Julia plan a getaway cruise, only to have a former client arrive on her doorstep needing a place to stay.
- “Friends and Husbands.” Charlene’s husband Bill returns from the Persian Gulf, but Mary Jo’s visits ruin the couple’s reunion. Meanwhile, Julia tries to renew her driver’s license.
- “Fore!” Anthony is invited to join the Beaumont Driving Club, which Suzanne has long wanted to be a part of, but it turns out that he’s only wanted to serve as their token black member.
- “The Pride of the Sugarbakers.” Mary Jo and Julia coach a Little League team that Sugarbaker’s sponsors, and Suzanne’s car keeps getting hit at the game by foul balls.
Though there’s grain throughout, Shout! Factory did a nice job with the transfer once more. Colors are bold and bright as the women. “Designing Women” is presented in 1.33:1 (full screen) aspect ratio.
No specs listed, but it appears to be a Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono.
There are no bonus features this season.
I personally didn’t find the episodes to be as funny this season as the first, and a little checking online afterwards confirms that I’m not alone. Even though the audience size increased this 1990-91 season, the first few seasons remain the funniest.