“Designing Women” — Season 1

Designing Women

By Jae-Ha Kim
May 26, 2009

The mark of a great sitcom is whether the jokes and tone stand up to time, despite any outdated hairstyles and fashion. Designing Women is a great sitcom.

The first season–which aired during 1986-1987–capitalizes on the leading ladies’ charm and chemistry. Sure, the clothes may give away the era, but the dialogue is consistently whip-smart and funny.

Julia Sugarbaker (Dixie Carter) owns an Atlanta interior design firm. She is a proper, well-mannered lady, but if you get on her bad side, watch out: Her words cut through like a knife, as evidenced in an episode where a clueless man thinks Julia and her friends might be flattered by his unwanted attention. Julia’s sister Suzanne Sugarbaker (Delta Burke) is the polar opposite of her feminist sister. A former beauty queen, Suzanne has been married and divorced more than a handful of times. Though shallow and blunt, Suzanne also has a heart of gold when it comes to things that really matter–like friends and family. Mary Jo Shively (Annie Potts) is their petite, red-headed colleague. Divorced from a doctor who she put through med school, Mary Jo isn’t sure how to navigate life as a single mom.

Then there’s Charlene Frazier (Jean Smart), whom Suzanne once referred to as a “big old donkey girl.” Naïve and hopeful, Charlene sees the good in everyone–even Suzanne.

The beauty of Designing Women is that while somes of the plotlines revolve around each character’s insecurity, the writers also tap into what the women really want–even if they aren’t aware of it.

For instance, Suzanne volunteers to foster a child whose adoptive parents can’t take her for a month. Never mind that this isn’t the way foster parents or adoption works. The way Suzanne fusses over the little girl–even allowing Li Sing to wear one of her prized tiaras to bed–is as touching as it is funny.

Meanwhile, Julia has a difficult time watching her 19-year-old son engage in a romance with a woman her own age. This season also tackles sexual harassment, racism, and cancer.

There are some ridiculous premises–such as Charlene’s being involved with a possible escaped criminal and Suzanne being worried that her maid cast a voodoo spell over her. But overall, Designing Women still manages to make viewers laugh, think, and even cry a bit.


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