DESIGNING WOMEN Top 30 Countdown on getTV
On June 19, we welcomed Designing Women to getTV and celebrated its 30th anniversary with a countdown of our 30 favorite episodes from the first five seasons. In case you missed the fun, here are the shows that were chosen and the reasons behind them!
On with the countdown...
Episode: “Designing Women” written by Creator/Producer Linda Bloodworth-Thomason
Why it’s a favorite: The pilot episode clearly sets up most of the characters and relationships for the rest of the series. We meet the Designing Women themselves - Julia Sugarbaker (Dixie Carter), Suzanne Sugarbaker (Delta Burke), Mary Jo Shively (Annie Potts), and Charlene Frazier (Jean Smart). It’s also got hunky pre-Quantum Leap Scott Bakula as Mary Jo’s ex-husband and Julia’s infamous Ray Don showdown during a gals’ night out at a local restaurant. It was just the beginning of many a speech to come.
Episode: “Julia’s Son” written by Linda Bloodworth-Thomason
Why it’s a favorite: Steady character actress Natalia Nogulich (perhaps most known for her recurring stint in Star Trek: Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) is a worthy nemesis for Julia as a snooty middle-aged professor having a fling with Julia’s college freshman son Payne. He's played by George Newbern – future groom in the Father Of The Bride movies and assassin on the current ABC hit Scandal.
Episode: “Mary Jo’s First Date” written by Cheryl Gard
Why it’s a favorite: Gard’s script tenderly tackles Mary Jo’s reentry into the dating pool as we’re introduced to Richard Gilliland as J.D. Shackelford. In real life, Gilliland ended up meeting and marrying co-star Jean Smart. DW also succeeds comically whenever it sets up embarrassing situations for the always proper Julia – and this episode features the return of Ray Don, the man she annihilated with her takedown in the pilot (which opened our countdown).
Episode: “This Is Art?” written by Steven and Deanne Roth
Why it’s a favorite: One of the best episodes of Season 5, this one nicely features all the cast members while also successfully poking fun at the snooty art world. Plus, it’s true comedy when Suzanne accidentally glues her mouth shut, getting as many laughs out of simple facial expressions than she could have gotten with actual dialogue.
Episode: “Full Moon” written by Linda Bloodworth-Thomason
Why it’s a favorite: The whole cast is featured in an episode packed with crazy – a rare appearance from Suzanne’s pet pig Noelle, Julia humiliating herself at a fashion show, and Anthony Bouvier (Meshach Taylor) dressed as a convict while helping new gun owner Suzanne protect her turf (with a semi-automatic rifle, no less).
Episode: “Fore!” written by Pam Norris
Why it’s a favorite: With Anthony’s entry into a prestigious, but previously all-white local golf club, this second-to-last episode with the original cast sensitively and humorously handles discrimination in a way that remains relevant today.
Episode: “Bernice’s Sanity Hearing” written by Linda Bloodworth-Thomason
Why it’s a favorite: Two words – Alice Ghostley. After a long career on stage (winning a Tony), in film bit parts (including To Kill A Mockingbird and The Graduate) and most often as a TV guest star (known for her recurring Esmeralda on Bewitched), Ghostley landed her most consistent and ongoing screen role as the Sugarbaker sisters’ hilariously wacky family friend Bernice Clifton in DW. She appeared in 48 episodes over the course of the series, followed by another recurring role on Bloodworth-Thomason’s Evening Shade after Designing Women ended and every appearance is a delightful, off-center surprise.
Episode: “Julia Gets Her Head Stuck in a Fence” written by Pam Norris
Why it’s a favorite: It’s actually more of a bannister than a fence, but the series again strikes comic gold by putting sophisticated Julia in an embarrassing situation in an episode that is ‘issue-free’ and purely about the funny.
Episode: “Stranded” written by Linda Bloodworth-Thomason
Why it’s a favorite: One of the most unexpected but also popular character relationships in the series was the ultimately warm one between put-upon Anthony and snooty Suzanne, the one who put the most upon him. This Season Two episode, in which they are forced to share the same motel room in the middle of a blizzard, is the first to focus on this unique friendship.
Episode: “E.P. Phone Home” written by Linda Bloodworth-Thomason
Why it’s a favorite: Designing Women always finds the heart inside of what could seem like the tackiest of Southern traditions, from beauty pageants to Mary Kay cosmetics to, in this case, the circus that surrounds Elvis Presley die-hards visiting Graceland. When this episode boils it down to the core essence of Presley’s music - and how music bonds people together - it really sings.
Episode: “Old Spouses Never Die” written by Linda Bloodworth-Thomason
Why it’s a favorite: This one-hour episode takes up two slots on our countdown with another heartfelt story about Mary Jo’s growth in her relationship with boyfriend J.D. Both divorced with kids, Mary Jo and J.D. represent so many American women and men, making this well-performed storyline feel particularly universal. The serious secondary plot about Charlene’s breast cancer scare is also smartly handled, and both storylines are still relevant today.
Episode: “The Candidate” written by Linda Bloodworth-Thomason
Why it’s a favorite: Made over 25 years before our current political season, this episode about Julia running for local office proves that the more things change, the more they stay the same!
Episode: “The Wilderness Experience” written by Linda Bloodworth-Thomason
Why it’s a favorite: The gang (including Anthony dressed as a woman) ends up on an all-female camping retreat. Proper Julia faces a tough girl nemesis in Saturday Night Live vet Denny Dillon’s Big Edie and Bernice gets a chance to shine. Fun Motown reference - Anthony identifies himself as ‘Cindy Birdsong’, which is the name of the relatively obscure one-time member of The Supremes and Patti Labelle & the Bluebelles.
Episode: “How Great Thou Art” written by Linda Bloodworth-Thomason
Why it’s a favorite: This smart episode expertly allows Charlene to question organized religion while still remaining true to her God. In addition, it’s been reported that politically conservative Dixie Carter, who played ultra liberal Julia, had a behind-the-scenes tradeoff - for each of Julia’s political tirades with which she did not personally agree, she was granted the opportunity to sing in a nearby episode. Well, there was no better episode to showcase Carter’s lovely singing skills than this one, where she nails the gospel spiritual for which the episode is named.
Episode: “There She Is” written by Pam Norris
Why it’s a favorite: Vain and materialistic Suzanne is lampooned throughout the series for her superficial ways, but her proud identity as a beauty pageant winner was always supported by her fellow characters and by the attitude of DW overall. This episode gets a peek inside Suzanne Sugarbaker’s “truth.”
Episode: “Miss Trial” written by Dee LaDuke and Mark Alton Brown
Why it’s a favorite: Both the A and B plots are winners in this episode. If you have ever served on a jury, you know we’re in for some fireworks when Julia ends up sequestered with a jury of her “peers.” And if you are old enough to remember CDs and cassettes, and the record stores devoted to them, you’ll have fantasized about a shopping spree just like the one Charlene wins in a contest.
Episode: “The Rowdy Girls” written by Linda Bloodworth-Thomason
Why it’s a favorite: This is a serious episode in which Charlene’s cousin Mavis experiences spousal abuse. Rarely has it been conveyed so powerfully as it was here through a simple overheard shouting match with no actual visuals. The episode retains a needed dose of levity, however, through one of the series’ most daring comic moments – when a gleefully lunatic Suzanne outrages her colleagues by joining them for a Supremes lip sync number while wearing blackface. Immersed in her performance, she completely and shamelessly pulls it off.
Episode: “Foreign Affairs” written by Cheryl Bascom
Why it’s a favorite: Anthony is put through many an embarrassing outfit or situation over the course of DW, but perhaps none more humorous than when he is talked into impersonating Suzanne’s oft-mentioned, but never-seen immigrant housekeeper, Consuela. Like “The Candidate,” this is an episode that feels like it could have been created as a commentary on contemporary news/politics.
Episode: “Big Haas & Little Falsie” written by Linda Bloodworth-Thomason
Why it’s a favorite: Perhaps Mary Jo’s funniest episode of the series, this breast implant episode truly feels like an intimate conversation among women, something very few sitcoms up to that point had ever achieved.
Episode: “Dash Goff, The Writer” written by Linda Bloodworth-Thomason
Why it’s a favorite: The first appearance of Gerald McRaney as Suzanne’s ex-husband Dash Goff famously landed Delta Burke her real-life husband (McRaney and Burke have been married since 1989). The episode, via literary Dash Goff’s writings, served as a fond appreciation of each of the four main ladies, and made McRaney one of DW’s most intriguing and popular guest stars.
Episode: “Come On and Marry Me, Bill” written by Linda Bloodworth-Thomason
Why it’s a favorite: Everyone always roots for the naive and innocent one to make all their dreams come true – and on DW, this means rooting for romantic-at-heart Charlene to meet and marry her ideal man. This joyous episode is short on plot and long on creating a celebratory party atmosphere that makes you feel like you were there, too.
Episode: “Oh Suzannah” written by Linda Bloodworth-Thomason
Why it’s a favorite: This episode plays with a funny Three Men And A Baby concept – what would happen if selfish Suzanne became a foster mother to a Vietnamese orphan? The episode is executed flawlessly as Suzanne turns adorable child actress Connie Lew into mini-me. In the process, she actually melts viewers’ hearts and makes them momentarily wonder what might have been if Suzanne had ever had a child.
Episode: “Killing All the Right People” written by Linda Bloodworth-Thomason
Why it’s a favorite: In a show dedicated to her own mother who had passed away from AIDS, Bloodworth-Thomason takes on perhaps the series’ most controversial subject. She gives it a sympathetic face via guest co-star Tony Goldwyn, who would later appear in Ghost and more recently as the U.S. President on Scandal. Annie Potts delivers a heartbreaking speech, Dixie Carter delivers a withering takedown, and the episode itself pays tribute to the too many lives that have been lost to the disease.
Episode: “The First Day of the Last Decade of the Entire Twentieth Century, Parts 1 & 2” written by Linda Bloodworth-Thomason
Why it’s a favorite: Originally aired, as the episode title notes, on January 1, 1990, this double episode went big and succeeded. It poignantly tackled the circle of life via both the birth of Charlene’s daughter Olivia and the final moments of a reflective elderly African-American woman the ladies meet in the hospital (played by Oscar nominee Beah Richards of Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner). This episode’s not about the funny moments (though there is Bernice wearing that Christmas tree skirt), but about the contemplative emotional ones. Those are highlighted by Dolly Parton’s angelic turn as Charlene’s “guardian movie star.” Honestly, who on earth wouldn’t want Dolly Parton as their guardian movie star?
Episode: “Bachelor Auction” written by Pam Norris
Why it’s a favorite: Creator Bloodworth-Thomason had at one point suggested that the characters of Suzanne and Anthony would end up married someday. That was never to be when Delta Burke (along with Jean Smart) left the series after Season 5. But this endearing episode from that final season together, in which Suzanne unintentionally wins a date with Anthony at a charity auction, puts a nice exclamation point on all the Suzanne/Anthony hijinks through the years. It allows the two characters to finally express, with sincerity, the warmth and friendship they feel one final time.
Episode: “They Shoot Fat Women, Don’t They” written by Linda Bloodworth-Thomason
Why it’s a favorite: For anyone over 30, who hasn’t felt some anxiety about attending a high school or college reunion and contemplated how you might be judged? In an art-imitates-life scenario, Bloodworth-Thomason took the well-known tabloid coverage of actress Delta Burke’s personal weight struggles and infused it into Suzanne’s reunion attendance experiences. When Suzanne accepts her class reunion award for “Most Changed,” she allowed Burke to deliver a magical speech showcasing the true heart inside Suzanne Sugarbaker (in an Emmy-nominated performance). She also allowed us as the audience to identify with Suzanne via our own inadequacies and worries about being judged. At the same time, she politely shamed us for our own tabloid curiosities about Burke herself and for our own gossip about others’ looks.
Episode: “Reservations for Eight” written by Linda Bloodworth-Thomason
Why it’s a favorite: Reportedly this is Linda Bloodworth-Thomason’s own favorite episode of the series she created – and it delivers on all her intentions to showcase the series brand of “men-loving feminism.” When the Sugarbaker colleagues (and their male partners) all escape together for a weekend getaway, they get snowed in – and the cramped quarters lead to tension, arguments, and “gender wars.” But ultimately the episode taps into that age-old truth that all adults involved in relationships grow to understand – the arguments are inevitable, but the making up makes it all worthwhile.
Episode: “Beauty Contest” written by Linda Bloodworth-Thomason
Why it’s a favorite: With the pilot (ranked #30 on our countdown) and this episode (the second episode of the entire series), it was clear that Designing Women had found a lot of its sitcom footing very early. Our top-ranked episode took on female beauty standards, a topic the series regularly revisited. And this episode made clear the relationship between older sister Julia and the younger Suzanne. While Julia herself would be allowed to insult Suzanne, the swords were drawn if anyone else came after her sister. And this episode firmly established, in perhaps the series’ most famous and celebrated Julia ‘Terminator’ tirade, that for her, words were her swords: “And that, Marjorie --- just so you will know --- and your children will someday know --- is the night the lights went out in Georgia!”
Designing Women is now part of getTV's regular weekday lineup - Monday through Thursday starting at 11 am ET. Whatever favorites you may have missed in the countdown, you can be sure to catch up with them now that we are airing the series from the very beginning.