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Designing Women: The Complete Sixth Season DVD Review (1 Viewer)


Senior HTF Member
Apr 19, 2000
Salinas, CA
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Julia Sugarbaker (Dixie Carter), Mary Jo Shivley (Annie Potts) and Anthony Bouvier (Meshach Taylor) find themselves with two new partners in their Atlanta design firm: Julia’s obnoxious cousin Allison Sugarbaker (Julia Duffy) and Charlene’s cheerful, recently divorced younger sister Carlene Dobber (Jan Hooks). After a controversial cast turnover, Designing Women still displays the same level of acting ability as before, while the scripts remain strong and funny, though one wishes they had done more to develop Duffy's character. Shout! Factory’s DVD of the sixth and penultimate season looks and sounds as good as the five sets that preceded it.

Designing Women: The Complete Sixth Season (1991-1992)http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0...=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=B006UKX628

Studio: Shout! Factory (produced by Columbia Pictures Television)

Year: 1991-1992

Rated: NR

Length: 540 Minutes

Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1

Languages: English 2.0 Stereo

Subtitles: None (closed-captioned for the deaf and hard-of-hearing)

MSRP: $44.99

Season Premiere Date: September 16, 1991

Disc Release Date: April 3, 2012

Review Date: May 5, 2012

The Movie:


Designing Women took time to become a hit, almost getting cancelled in its first season when CBS moved it between multiple time slots. But its loyal fans stuck up for it, persuading CBS to keep it and let it grown on Monday night. By its fifth season, it was the 11th highest-rated show on TV and one of the era’s best sitcoms. However, the show’s tightly constructed ensemble started to crack that season as Delta Burke was let go after a bitter dispute with the producers, while Jean Smart left to spend time with her husband, Richard Gilliland, who played Mary Jo’s boyfriend J.D. Shackleford, and their son. How were they going to fill the void?

Outspoken interior designer Julia Sugarbaker (Dixie Carter) is short of staff at Sugarbaker & Associates now that her sister, Suzanne, is living with their mother in Japan trying to take advantage of their economic boom, and her secretary, Charlene, has joined her husband Bill in England. While Charlene’s recently divorced younger sister Carlene Dobber (Jan Hooks) has taken her place, the firm needs a new business partner. Enter Julia’s cousin Allison Sugarbaker (Julia Duffy), who failed to make it in New York and needed her father’s money to buy Suzanne’s interest. Meanwhile, Mary Jo Shivley (Annie Potts) and Anthony Bouvier (Meshach Taylor) are still around, with the eccentric widow Bernice Clifton (Alice Ghostley) still showing up from time to time.

Designing Women is far from the first sitcom to have to deal with cast changes, and it wasn’t the last. From Bewitched, Three’s Company and Cheers in the three-network era to The Office and Two and a Half Men today, TV history is littered with examples of “new kids in town.” But the very public shake-up put increased scrutiny on the show’s future from the press, CBS, Columbia and, most importantly, the show’s audience. Inevitably, whoever replaced the two departing stars would find themselves compared to them. Luckily, they found two talented actresses to complete the ensemble. Julia Duffy certainly earned the accolades she got as Stephanie Vanderkellen, the spoiled maid at the Stratford Inn on Newhart (another replacement character, taking the job from her kinder, less funny cousin Leslie), and then some. And Jan Hooks is no slouch as a comic actress either, as her roles on Saturday Night Live and Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure (and later, The Simpsons) proved. Ironically, they both got their new jobs after walking out on other shows: Duffy’s first post-Newhart role was a ABC sitcom called Baby Talk, a critically eviscerated show “inspired” by the success of 1989’s Look Who’s Talking (in turn, she replaced Connie Sellecca), while Hooks got tired of the endless grind on the male-dominated SNL.

Though it is tempting to draw parallels between these new characters and the ones they replaced—even series creator Linda Bloodworth-Thomason admitted at the time there was nothing radically different about them—there are still differences. Whereas Suzanne simply said whatever she wanted and just didn’t give a damn, the Wellesley-educated Allison is cold, condescending and aware of what she is saying and doing at all times. The others frame their opinion of her through the way she treats them. She is dislikable because she was written that way, and Duffy has a firm handle on the role. She should, as it has at least as much in common with Stephanie Vanderkellen as it does with Suzanne Sugarbaker. However, unlike Stephanie, a spoiled rich girl who became a maid after her family cut her off, it’s hard to like Allison because she uses her position of power to lord it over everyone. As the season progresses, the writers give little opportunity to flesh out her character beyond her sense of entitlement, her neurosis, her abrasive personality and her ill-informed strawman political statements that sounded like Suzanne lines. Wisely, the Minneapolis-born Duffy has chosen not to affect a fake Southern accent. On the other hand, Carlene is endlessly enthusiastic and cheerful, though a bit more naïve than her big sister, and has no trouble blending in. Jan Hooks is a delight in the role. The characters don’t make one forget their predecessors, but the two actresses prove they have the chops to match their established co-stars, who can perform these roles in their sleep by now.

Although it’s clear the show is closer to the end of its life than the beginning, it still has signs of life. The writing is still sharp, funny and believable, although a bit broader than before, with the same emphasis on politics, women’s issues, motherhood, popular culture, and the South, as well as the human frailties and eccentricities that lend these characters credibility and keep one enthralled. The characters even grow a little this year. Anthony, who was made a partner in the firm last season, is now in law school, directs a little theater production of Mame, and even clashes with Julia over her reaction to a racial profiling incident with mall security. Meanwhile, Mary Jo decides to attempt artificial insemination (the same year their 9:00 lead-in, Murphy Brown, earned the ire of VP Dan Quayle for giving birth to a baby out of wedlock) and goes on the warpath after Clarence Thomas’ confirmation to the U.S. Supreme Court. Even Allison shows she has at least one redeeming characteristic when she creates a scholarship to pay for Carlene’s college education. It starts to lose steam towards the end of the season, but not before generating a number of memorable moments and episodes, including the riotously funny “Mary Jo and Julia Get Stuck in a Bed.”

While the show got its best ratings ever, ranking 6th place for the year, Allison didn’t win over the audience. It also did not help that CBS was rerunning the first five seasons on weekday mornings while Columbia was selling the show to syndication. Duffy would be gone by season’s end, with Judith Ivey brought in as rich Texas widow B.J. Poteet for the show’s seventh and final season.

This season’s guest stars include Marla Maples (the future Mrs. Donald Trump), Jerry Lacy (Julia Duffy’s husband; they met on the set of the CBS soap Love of Life), Blake Clark (the voice of Slinky Dog in Toy Story 3, which, coincidentally, didn’t feature Annie Potts’ character of Bo Peep), Charles Nelson Reilly (the 1970s Match Game), Amy Yasbeck (Wings) and Jackée (227).

The Video:


Presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1, the picture quality can best be described as “it is what it is.” The process of tape-based post-production for filmed shows—this was one of the few 1980s sitcoms shot on film to begin with—was common practice by now. It was more convenient for broadcasters, but it locked 35mm shows into a 480i resolution for eternity. Within those limitations, the picture is decent. The image is colorful, warm and nicely saturated, owing to the lighting needs of the three-camera set-up. The contrast is strong, blacks are deep and dark without getting crushed, while highlights are kept under control. The main downside is that slight dot crawl on the credits can be jarring on a very large screen. Moire is largely under control, and compression artifacts are minimal; limiting the discs to no more than six episodes each helps. But MPEG-2 is simply not an ideal format for compressing analog tape sources, and it wasn't designed to be one. Nor were NTSC signals designed to be enlarged beyond 36 inches.

The Audio:


While the previous season was inexplicably in mono, though CBS had started broadcasting in stereo no later than the fall of 1988, this season maintains the original stereo soundtrack. While it is mainly a dialogue-driven show, the tracks exhibit a good balance of frequencies, no distortion and noticeable stereo separation. For this season only, Ray Charles sings the show’s theme, “Georgia on My Mind.”

The Extras:


Just as it has been with every season since the second, there are no extras.

Final Score:


In its sixth season, Designing Women tries to make the best out of a difficult situation. I had seen very few of these episodes before now, but I found myself pleasantly surprised by how enjoyable most of them were. While the whole idea of having relatives step in and take over seems a bit convenient, and is a common sitcom trope, somehow it seems organic here. While Allison and Carlene won’t make anyone forget Suzanne or Charlene, the two talented actresses playing them can match wits with the existing ensemble. While the writers could have done more to make these new characters more distinctive, especially Allison, they still provide a number of memorable stories, emotionally resonant moments and sparklingly funny situations. Shout! Factory’s set matches the quality of the five preceding ones, with serviceable picture, good sound and (presumably) unaltered episodes.


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