7 Things: My Favorite Episodes #3 – Designing Women

This show makes me so damn happy. It did when I was a kid, and it remains true today. The original cast was one of the best in TV history and the writing was simply stellar. Like other sitcoms of the time, Designing Women often dealt with issues that sitcoms today wouldn’t dare touch. None did it better, though. Also, Julia Sugarbaker will forever be one of my favorite characters.

Counting down my favorite episodes from Designing Women. Some of the best writing. Some of the best moments. The best overall. Per me.

Of course, there will be a few spoilers. Nothing too spoilery, I don’t think.

7 – This is Art 5.18

The plot is pretty simple. Julia sets her purse down for a moment at an art gallery. People think it’s a work of art. Patrons want to buy her work. She is treated like the second coming of Rodin.

It’s the mocking homage to modern art that makes this episode so brilliant. Because modern art sort of makes a mockery of itself.

Hey, I’m all about trying new things, and I encourage people to express themselves, but I’ve been in an art museum where wads of paper on the floor were supposed to be representative of something or another, and last year multiple people walked through an exhibit at an art museum in Rotterdam – an exhibit which consisted of over forty feet of peanut butter spread on the floor – so I’m not sure all expression should be on display. Because, to me, getting 40-feet of floor space in an art museum and using it to spread peanut butter on the floor just makes you an asshole.

The episode also has one of the show’s most amusing physical comedy bits. Suzanne glues her lips together, and her wild gesturing gets her mistaken for a mime.

6 – The Rowdy Girls 4.6

Along with Killing All the Right People, an episode dealing with AIDS that just barely misses this list, The Rowdy Girls is perhaps one of the most serious episodes of the series. When Julia, Suzanne, Mary Jo and Charlene need choreography for an upcoming talent show, they go to Charlene’s cousin Mavis for help. When Charlene overhears Mavis’ husband verbally abusing her – and Mavis later shows up with a black eye – Charlene tries to convince Mavis to leave.

There is nothing funny at all about the abuse storyline in this episode, which may seem like a bad script for a sitcom. However, the subplot of Suzanne being convinced that they cannot enter a talent show as The Supremes without blackface is one of the funniest of the show’s entire run.

5 – Julia Drives Over the First Amendment 3.22

I realize just how much I love this show by seeing how far down on my list this outrageously fantastic episode appears.

When Julia – not exactly known for keeping her opinions to herself – disapproves of the porn display on the side of a newsstand, she runs the stand over with her car. Then, she does it again. Then, she gets sued for violating the magazine owner’s First Amendment rights. The twist at the end of the episode, you could see coming, but it’s not so much the events of the episode, but Julia’s reasoning for her actions, that make the episode. The takeaway message isn’t that pornography is wrong, though I think a casual observer may see it as such. It’s that women should be treated like any other group, which means we should never have to see ourselves wearing dog collars unless we choose to buy the magazine.

4 – The Big Circle 5.21

I’m not sure what it is about this episode that has always stood out so much for me. It does have some memorable lines, and the depth of heart is definitely on display, but, compared to the others on this list, The Big Circle is a really quiet, subtle outing that isn’t trying to make a major splash.

Maybe that’s why it does.

After Julia’s boyfriend dies unexpectedly, she’s in a place where no one wants to be. Then, the daughter of clients’ gets dropped off on her doorstep and she has to play babysitter to the brattiest of brats. Of course, the brat is a brat for a reason – largely because her parents would rather drop her off with a near-stranger than take her with them – and may be the only person to whom Julia can connect.

It’s not a happy-go-lucky episode by any means, but you simply haven’t lived until you’ve seen Dixie Carter holding a child in a headlock with one arm, while chowing down on a burger with the other.

3 – The First Day of the Last Decade of the Entire Twentieth Century 4.13

When it comes to Designing Women, I feel that I can’t stress the greatness of the writing enough. Though, it helps that so many of those lines were delivered with such confidence and passion. This particular episode of Designing Women brought a lot to the table – a guest appearance by Dolly Parton, a ridiculous dream-sequence with the gang as babies, even a fighter jet doing a celebratory spin – but nothing in it could come close to this scene –

2 – Bernice’s Sanity Hearing 4.7

As far as quirky recurring characters go, Designing Women‘s Bernice may be one of the best. She’s a friend of Julia and Suzanne’s mother, and after Julia, she’s my second favorite character. Bernice is nutty in all the right ways and you just want to spend an afternoon with the woman, trying to guess what she might say next.

The Designing Women clan are not unaware of Bernice’s quirks – like when she wears a Christmas tree skirt as a real skirt – but when Bernice’s niece tries to have Bernice declared legally incompetent because of them, the clan isn’t about to let that go down without a fight. The twist to the episode is that, during the competency hearing, they all keep getting caught doing things that make Bernice seem downright normal.

The takeaway quote is this retort by Julia: “This is the South. And we’re proud of our crazy people. We don’t hide them up in the attic. We bring ’em right down to the living room and show ’em off. See, Phyllis, no one in the South ever asks if you have crazy people in your family. They just ask what side they’re on.”

1 – They Shoot Fat Women, Don’t They? 4.11

I imagine this was not an easy episode for ex-beauty queen Delta Burke to film, considering it was inspired by her real-life weight gain. It is written with such sensitivity, though, that I would hope she’s glad she did.

Suzanne goes to her high school reunion, where she overhears people discussing her weight. The next day, she meets a boy who is in the U.S. to help bring attention to the hunger crisis in Africa. Which leads to this line that Suzanne delivers in front of all her ex-classmates.

“I met a little boy from Africa tonight whose family died of starvation. And I realized that I spent the whole day at home worrying about the fact that I had too much to eat.”

Honorary Mention – The Candidate 3.2

Like Killing All the Right People, The Candidate is an episode that just misses this list. In the ep, Julia runs for office against a man whose politics and beliefs grate against her own. I’ve been thinking about this particular scene of this episode a lot lately, because it’s incredible how relevant it still is. Maybe even more relevant.

If a Julia Sugarbaker were to emerge in American politics, she’d have my vote.

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One Comment

  1. I agree it was a fantastic show ..but without delta burke .it was never the same I wouldn’t watch after that

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