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Wednesday, March 7, 2012

'Designing Women" is to "Sex in the City" What "Friends" is to "How I Met Your Mother"

"Designing Women," which was part of CBS' Monday night comedy lineup during the era that that block batted a 1,000, is another example of a witty series that Shout Factory has made available to classic comedy fans. Shows from that lineup included "Newhart" and "Murphy Brown."

"Women" centers on four modern Southern women who own an Atlanta interior design firm. The humor comes from the cast discussing everything from stereotypical flaws of men to members of both sexes who are oblivious about presenting a humiliating and/or thoroughly inconsiderate face to the world.

A print interview in which Jean Smart, who played sweet and somewhat naive country gal Charlene, stated that the amount of dialogue in an episode of "Women" often required slightly speeding up the rate of speech demonstrated that this show was special. 

I am annoyed that many current shows draw out bits and/or have undue placement shots. This is on top of the content of most shows being a few minutes shorter than programs from "Women's" era of the late '80s and early '90s. 

In thinking of my review of the DVD set of the fourth season  of "Designing Women," "Sex in the City" came to mind. Both shows involve four liberated primarily single women who speak candidly among themselves. "Women's" Charlene is a true Charlotte down to having the perfect husband, and Delta Burke's Suzanne is a much classier and full-sized Samantha.


The primary difference between the two series is that "Women" is a funnier and less raunchy version of "Sex." A conversation in "Women" is much more likely to center on bad combovers than a kinky fetish.


The humor in "Women" is also great in that it relies on more subtlety than anything on television today. One of my all-time favorite television moments was Dixie Carter's well-educated, successful, intelligent, and out-spoken Julia Sugarbaker remarking that there were no female-to-male sex change operations because they could not find any donors.


The fourth season had some of the best episodes of the series mainly because I, despite being a man, can still relate to them and because the "very special episodes" were not too heavy handed. 

A prime example is a handful of episodes that season, and others, that dealt with highly unreasonable, and sometimes criminally cheap, "one-percenter" design clients.


One of my favorite fourth-season episodes was one of the dramedy installments with a wonderful emphasis on the comedy and involved bright and talented middle-aged working mom and Southern spitfire Mary Jo, played by Annie Potts, having to take a second job flipping burgers when her doctor ex-husband, played by dreamy Scott Bakula, fell behind in child support. 

Mary Jo did not become a shrew, as she justifiably could have been. She just responded reasonably regarding every aspect of the sit in that com. That episode was also good because it presented a still timely topic in a humorous manner. 

Another hilarious episode had cast members competing with a car salesman's sexism to not get ripped off buying a new car. Despite being a man, I openly admit that I am going to ask a friend who is a former car dealer to negotiate on my behalf when I buy my new Subaru in the next year or so. Male pride goeth before the sports package.

My fellow television historians will also enjoy the episodes that center on Burke's weight gain that played a role in her leaving the series after the fifth season. However, the best Suzanne episode involves her naivety regarding a lesbian's crush on her. This one alone is worth the price of the set.

As always, please feel free to email any comments or questions regarding "Women."