Release Date: July 17, 2012 (Shout! Factory)
Packaging: Viva Case
Number of Discs: 4
Number of Episodes: 21
Running Time: 507 minutes
Running Time of Features: N/A
Audio: English Stereo
Subtitles and Captioning: Closed-Captioned
Special Features: None
All good things come to an end, and the end of the 1991-1992 season marked the end for many of our favorite TV series which began in the mid '80s. At the end of the 1992 season, we said farewell to sitcoms like Growing Pains, The Cosby Show, Who's the Boss?, Night Court, and The Golden Girls. But there were a few lucky series which managed to squeeze out just one more season after that, and Designing Women did just that... albeit with a slight retooling of the series (the second one to happen in a span of just a little over a year).
Already gone by the beginning of the previous season were the familiar characters of Suzanne (Delta Burke) and Charlene (Jean Smart). They were replaced with Charlene's sister Carlene (Jan Hooks) and Suzanne and Julia's cousin Allison (Julia Duffy). The series reached an all-time high in the ratings during that season, but the rumor has it that everybody hated the obnoxiousness of Julia Duffy's character of Allison. So, at the end of the season, her character is written off, and in comes the seventh--and final--season of the series where Judith Ivey joins the cast as B.J. Poteet. B.J., however, was not simply a "new version" of Suzanne as Allison was. Instead, B.J. was a wealthy Texas widow who was friendly, intelligent, and also outspoken... the first character on the series to be a true match for Julia.
The rest of the cast, of course, returns just as we remember them, including Julia (Dixie Carter), Mary Jo (Annie Potts), Carlene (Jan Hooks), Anthony (Meshach Taylor), and more than ever before, Bernice (Alice Ghostley). These episodes, which mark the end of the series (for good), bring us the last sagas and adventures of the ladies (including Anthony) of Sugarbaker's.
The season begins with "Of Human Bondage," where Allison has left the firm (and taken all of her money with her), leading Julia in desperation to infuse cash into the business... but in typical sitcom fashion, they are saved by their latest client (and partner beginning with this episode), B.J. Poteet. It isn't just men who use women, as Carlene admits when she spends the night with her ex-husband in "Sex and the Single Woman." In "Mary Jo vs. the Terminator," Mary Jo is at odds with Julia after proofreading a letter goes a bit too far. Mary Jo, Julia, and Bernice decide to take a girl's trip to Nashville, but naturally it doesn't go as expected, in "On the Road Again." In "Screaming Passages," Julia begins to go through the change of life. Anthony goes to Las Vegas to clear his mind after his fiancé Vanessa calls of their wedding in "Viva Las Vegas," but he ends up coming back from Vegas with a showgirl... who is also his new wife!
Anthony tries to get out of his new marriage in "Fools Rush In." In "Love Letters," B.J. finds out some secrets about her late husband which might be a bit hurtful to discover. Anthony and Etienne get a (belated) wedding shower in "The Vision Thing," and Etienne is determined to be the perfect wife. Anthony decides to test his law school skills in "Trial and Error" by helping Mary Jo in a court case involving her defective freezer, but he finds the court room to be much colder than the coldest freezer. Nobody can seem to understand Mary Jo's latest boyfriend (played by Patrick Warburton in his first appearance in the series; he reappears again in the final episode) in "Too Dumb to Date." In "The Odyssey," B.J.'s contribution to the Democratic Party means that everybody is going to get to go to Bill Clinton's Inaugural Ball... if they can manage to get to DC after facing disaster after disaster (it is worth noting, by the way, that creators Linda Bloodworth-Thomason and Harry Thomason have both been very close personal friends and supporters of the Clinton family since Bill Clinton first became governor of Arkansas, so it is no surprise that they would create an episode about his inauguration!).
Mary Jo has to put her dog to sleep, but a confused and paranoid Bernice barricades herself inside the store room after she hears selective parts of this conversation and thinks that she is the one they're planning to put to sleep in "Oh Dog, Poor Dog." Anthony and Etienne decide to have a proper wedding (at last) in "Wedding Redux." Sherman Hemsley and Della Reese play the role of Etienne's parents. In "Nude Julia, New York Morning," a trip to an art gallery ends with the ladies discovering a painting of somebody who looks very familiar to them. Julia decides to give B.J. a man for her birthday in "Sex, Lies and Bad Hair Days." Mary Jo experiences a divine miracle (sort of) when she finds the face of Elvis in her snow shovel in "Shovel Off to Buffalo." In "It's Not So Easy Being Green," Anthony becomes jealous of Etienne's successful writer friend. A séance gone wrong ends with an overbearing former schoolmistress (Pat Carroll) of Julia's leaving (and not going away) in "The Woman Who Came to Sugarbaker's." In "The Lying Game," Carlene's latest boyfriend happens to be a cross dresser, so she decides to spend a day dressed as a man to better understand him. The series ends with the two-part episode "Gone With a Whim," where Julia is struggling to save a historic mansion which Sugarbaker's has been charged with decorating, but things become a bit more grim when it is discovered that the client is planning to take over Poteet Industries, and in turn Sugarbaker's.
Every episode appears to be unedited from the original broadcast, with runtimes around 23:33 per episode, though some run a bit longer and some run a bit shorter. Most episodes have the original Columbia Pictures Television logo intact, although the final episode has (for the first time I can remember on these sets, oddly enough) the current Sony Pictures Television logo. The episode "Shovel Off to Buffalo" actually even has an alternate Columbia logo on it, with the audio being replaced with Elvis' voice (or most likely a voice impersonator) saying "thank you very much." The runtimes for all episodes are as follows:
1. "Of Human Bondage" (23:33)
2. "Sex and the Single Woman" (23:33)
3. "Mary Jo vs. The Terminator" (23:34)
4. "On the Road Again" (23:33)
5. "Screaming Passages" (23:36)
6. "Viva Las Vegas" (23:34)
7. "Fools Rush In" (23:37)
8. "Love Letters" (23:48)
9. "The Vision Thing" (23:33)
10. "Trial and Error" (23:34)
11. "Too Dumb to Date" (23:36)
12. "The Odyssey" (23:35)
13. "Oh Dog, Poor Dog" (23:34)
14. "Wedding Redux" (23:34)
15. "Nude Julia, New York Morning" (23:33)
16. "Sex, Lies and Bad Hair Days" (23:44)
17. "Shovel Off to Buffalo" (23:25)
18. "It's Not So Easy Being Green" (23:33)
19. "The Woman Who Came to Sugarbakers" (23:33)
20. "The Lying Game" (23:36)
21. "Gone With a Whim" (47:55)
The packaging used for this set is similar to the previous releases, using the Shout! Factory standard of Viva cases. The cover art has a photo of all of the cast members (well, the female leading stars, of course) with a picture of the Sugarbaker's office (and Julia's home) underneath them. The set uses a teal color scheme this time. On the back, there is a cast photo (including Anthony) along with several episode snapshots. There is also a brief description of the season here. Inside, you'll find the four discs, along with a listing of all episodes with descriptions. Disc 1 has a photo of Julia on it, Disc 2 has a photo of Carlene, Disc 3 has a photo of B.J., and Disc 4 has a photo of Mary Jo. Disc 1 contains episodes 1-6, Disc 2 contains episodes 7-12, Disc 3 contains episodes 13-17, and Disc 4 contains episodes 18-21.
Menu Design and Navigation:
The menus on this set are basically identical to the menus from the previous release. The main menu has artwork similar to the cover art (without the lines separating the photos of the women), and the theme song playing in the background. Of course, they used the version of the theme song from the seventh season, which wasn't really a theme song but just music played during the title card at the beginning of the episode. So you only get about 10 seconds of music on the main menu, and thankfully it doesn't loop because that would get annoying very fast. I kind of wonder, though, why they didn't use the lengthier closing theme music, but it doesn't matter a whole lot. Main menu options include Play All and Episodes. Selecting Episodes takes you to a text only list of episodes on the disc, and once you select an episode, it plays immediately. Chapters are placed throughout each episode.
Video and Audio Quality:
For the most part, the episodes on the set look fine, but not great. The focus of the video always seems to be off (although it has been that way in syndication as well) and the colors seem a bit off, but nobody should be too disappointed with this set. However, there is something that just isn't quite right on one of the episodes. The episode "The Vision Thing," starts out fine, but something quite literally snaps right around the 15:18 mark in the episode. The colors become very dark (almost with a reddish tinge) and there is some odd waviness in the video. It is hard to describe, but it really and truly looks like something that is VHS quality recorded from an over the air broadcast, and everything is fine up until those last eight minutes of the episode. I didn't observe any issues like this on any other episodes. The audio on each episode is decent, though, with each episode presented in not just stereo, but as the bug at the beginning of each episode indicates, "CBS StereoSound" (yes, they left that in). The episodes are also closed-captioned.
No special features, again. The past two seasons really should have had interviews from some of the new cast members. Honestly, I don't think I've ever heard Jan Hooks, Judith Ivey, or Julia Duffy (even though Duffy was gone this season) ever talk about the show, at all. In fact, we even seem to hear more often from Delta Burke, who was in fact fired from the show and had some painful memories (which were obviously reconciled), about positive memories of the series than the "new" cast members. Perhaps it is just because the sixth and seventh seasons just aren't what people remember about the series, but some sort of interview would still be nice.
This is definitely not the "classic" Designing Women that is loved by most fans. That ended in the fifth season when the cast changes began. However, this season actually is definitely enjoyable when those first five seasons are taken out of the picture, and I'd certainly say that the series improved significantly from the previous season. It is still a shame that the series didn't get a proper final episode. The two-part episode which concludes the series actually has some of the makings of a series finale (after all, they're about to lose the entire business), but it utilizes sitcom conveniences to work its way out of that problem, and things are back to normal by the end of the episode.
Fans of the series are definitely going to be satisfied with this release, and even more satisfied with the fact that all seven seasons of the series have in fact made it to DVD over the past three years. It is a shame that it took so long for the series to just get started on DVD, but it is great that Shout! Factory not only started it, but even completed it, soon after they acquired it. It would be nice if things could just be completed with a release of Delta Burke's short-lived spinoff Women of the House. Mill Creek had planned a release of it a while back, but some issues ended up arising and it was indefinitely postponed, and at this point, it doesn't look like we'll be seeing it, at least not from Mill Creek. But the important thing here is that you can now get plenty of southern comfort from all seven seasons of this classic series on DVD.