Series / Designing Women

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Southern-Fried Golden Girls
"And I was left only to pick up an abandoned handkerchief and savor the perfumed shadows of these women... these southern women. This Suzanne. This Julia. This Mary Jo and Charlene."
— "Dash Goff, the Writer", season 2, episode 6

A 1986-93 Work Com by Linda Bloodworth-Thomason about four Southern women who operate an interior design company in Atlanta, Georgia. The cast included:

The cast was rounded out by ex-con Anthony Bouvier (Meshach Taylor) , Bernice Clifton (Alice Ghostley), and a steady parade of children, boyfriends, ex-husbands and assorted oddballs. After half the cast left in 1991, some new characters appeared to replace them, but they were not as well-received. The series ran on CBS from September 29 ,1986 until May 24, 1993 and spawned an unsuccessful spin-off (Women Of The House).

This show contains examples of:

  • A-Cup Angst: Mary Jo gets an episode about whether or not to get breast implants.
  • Accidental Marriage: Julia and Reese go through a whopper of one in "I Do, I Don't." When she embarrassingly mistakes his anniversary gift for an engagement ring, they decide on the (... drunken) spur of the moment to get married anyway. It lasts about 24 hours.
  • Added Alliterative Appeal: Mary Jo once caused the company to lose a lucrative client when she suggested to the woman that maybe the chairs she picked out would be better suited for someone with about 50 pounds less bulk. When she's trying to justify this to Julia, she says the chairs the woman picked out were dainty little things made with peacock feathers and when the client picked them out, all she could picture was the newspaper headline: "Fat Feathered Fanny Falls Through Floor."
  • An Aesop: Frequently, and many delivered by Julia, who often served as something of a mouthpiece for show creator Linda Bloodworth-Thomason. Her fiery rants touched on all kinds of issues, from sex education and sweatshop exploitation to inane magazine editorials.
    • Mary Jo and Charlene got to handle a few of their own as well. An especially poignant plot involves Charlene deciding to leave her church, all while teaching the audience about gender equality in the clergy.
  • Arch-Enemy: It was pretty much Allison vs. Everyone during her brief tenure on the show.
  • Aww, Look! They Really Do Love Each Other: Julia and Suzanne rarely saw eye-to-eye on anything and argued frequently, but one of the show's most memorable moments proved just how much Julia loved her baby sister. Video of the speech here.
  • Babies Ever After: Charlene gave birth to baby Olivia less than a year after marrying Bill.
  • Bad Santa: In one episode, Suzanne hires a mall Santa to slip into Mary Jo's house and make her son believe that Santa is real. Santa proceeds to rob Mary Jo blind.
  • Battle of the Sexes: One of Julia's most memorable rants is on this very subject.
  • Bitch Alert: Allison Sugarbaker. As Anthony put it, Leona Helmsley in Tinkerbell's body.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Heather McFall, a one-off character who appears in "All About Odes to Atlanta." When she shows up at Sugarbaker's to help the ladies win a singing contest, she is as sweet and shy and helpful as can be. It doesn't last.
  • Big Fancy House: Julia's stately home, which doubled as the company's office, and was once even listed on the Atlanta Register of Historic Homes, right up until the tourists snapped the last of Julia's straws.
    • Suzanne's home was pretty big and fancy itself.
  • Blonde, Brunette, Redhead: Charlene, Allison, and BJ were blondes; Suzanne, Julia, and Carlene were brunettes. Mary Jo was the lone redhead, although every few episodes or so her hair would look almost dark enough to be brown, and later, every once in a while it would almost look blonde!
  • Brainless Beauty: Suzanne Sugarbaker
  • Brainy Brunette: Julia Sugarbaker
  • The Cameo: The show had a smattering of celebrity appearances over the years, although possibly the most memorable is Dolly Parton as Charlene's "guardian movie star" when she's in the hospital to give birth.
  • Can't Hold His Liquor: Mary Jo, in spades. One beer and she gets extremely loud, aggressive, and obnoxious.
    • This characteristic yields particularly disastrous consequences in "Nightmare from Hee Haw," when her yelling attracts the attention of four hillbillies spoiling for a fight ...
  • Character Filibuster: When Julia begins her "Terminator" rants, the show stops so everyone can listen.
  • Cloud Cuckoolander: While the Frazier sisters had their moments, Bernice Clifton takes the prize here. The only thing keeping her from being truly dim are her rare profound moments.
  • Coincidence Magnet: Charlene and Anthony tended to have all kinds of weirdness happen to them.
  • Cool Pet: Noel, the pig.
  • Deep South: The Frazier sisters hailed from Poplar Bluff, Missouri. This is a case of Write What You Know , as Linda Bloodworth-Thomason is also from Poplar Bluff. And the Sugarbaker's staff have several Deliverance-like encounters with the hillbilly Jones clan. Stereotypes of Southerners are frequently discussed and examined on the show.
  • Drop-In Character: Bernice did not work at Sugarbaker's, nor did she have a financial stake in the company, yet she spent much of her time there (much to the annoyance of the others, particularly Anthony).
    • Lampshaded in that Perky, Julia and Suzanne's mother, asks them to keep an eye on her friend Bernice, since Perky herself is always out of the country.
  • '80s Hair: Thankfully toned down by the end of the series.
  • Five Woman Band: For the first five seasons...
  • Foolish Sibling, Responsible Sibling: Suzanne and Julia, respectively, fit the trope in assorted ways.
  • Fur and Loathing: Spoofed in an episode when unapologetic fur-wearer Suzanne sports a mink coat in a fashion show, runs afoul of protesters, and gets her arm broken. She has to spend a week in the coat and never wants to see a mink again.
  • Gay Aesop: Combined with AIDS to boot, and Julia chewing out a client.
  • Genius Ditz: Every once in a while, when Julia, Charlene and Mary Jo were confused by something, Suzanne would be the one who figured it out, leaving the other three to wonder how they'd missed such an obvious fact.
  • The Glorious War of Sisterly Rivalry: Surprisingly averted; Julia and Suzanne may snipe at each other occasionally, but they are absolutely devoted to one another. It probably helps that Julia was twelve years old when Suzanne was born, so they went through puberty at different times and Julia in many ways was as much of a parent as a sister.
  • Grandma, What Massive Hotness You Have!: The episode in which Julia's son gets married, and she's feeling her age. In response, she gets drunk and sings a very sexy "Sweet Georgia Brown" as seen here. Then she wakes up with his college roommate.
  • Happily Married: Charlene and Bill; Julia and her now-deceased husband were also this.
  • Heroic B.S.O.D.: In "There She Is," Suzanne's locked into this upon learning she must relinquish her 1975 Miss Georgia crown.
  • Horrible Judge of Character: Charlene was naive to a fault, and so was the target of quite a few sleazes, including the con man who tried to sell the firm stolen furniture, and the "promoter" who was going to make her a country star. She had terrible taste in men too, until she met her husband.
  • Humble Pie: Julia occasionally had to eat a slice or two. For instance, the time she strutted down a fashion show runway with the back of her dress tucked into her pantyhose.
    • And then there was the time she got her head stuck in a banister at the governor's mansion.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Allison was so obnoxious that everyone hated to give her the satisfaction of agreeing with her, but her no-nonsense New York cynicism was occasionally right.
  • Middle Child Syndrome: An unusual example. The episode "Oh, Brother" introduces the audience to Clayton, the half-brother of the Sugarbaker sisters; the sisters are twelve years apart in age and Clayton falls almost exactly in between. He explains to the other characters that most people don't know he exists because when he was conceived, the girls' parents were legally separated and their father became involved with his mother for a time, but later reunited with his wife and had Suzanne. In addition to this trope, Clayton has a history of mental illness and being The Alcoholic, but his sisters are clearly very fond of him and vice versa.
  • Miscarriage of Justice: Naturally, Anthony was completely innocent of the crime that caused his "unfortunate incarceration". He spent the entire run of the series getting his life back in order (earning his GED, going to college, becoming a partner in Sugarbaker's, etc.) and trying to put his past behind him. This fact did not stop Suzanne from constantly expressing her displeasure with having a black ex-con around the office, and generally using any excuse to bring up the fact that Anthony served time in prison. She did get better about it as the series progressed and and she and Anthony developed a more meaningful relationship.
  • The Mistress: Spoofed in an episode aptly titled, "The Mistress." Sugarbaker's is hired to decorate both the home of a wealthy married man and the condo where he keeps his mistress. The women are eventually so disgusted by the mistress that they tell her off in an attempt to defend the wife, but it turns out they have the situation entirely wrong, and so Hilarity Ensues.
  • Mood Killer: When Bill returns from serving in the Gulf War, Charlene emerges from their bedroom wearing a silky negligee and a large yellow ribbon tied around her waist, which she teasingly invites him to remove. Then Mary Jo lets herself into the house, destroying the moment - and proceeds to do so several more times over the next few days, because Charlene can't seem to find a good way to tell her that she and Bill want to be alone. (Why Mary Jo herself couldn't figure out that Charlene would want to be alone with her freshly-returned husband is another matter entirely.)
  • No Bisexuals: In one episode, Suzanne mentions that she told some guy's parents that he was bisexual, adding, "I always tell the parents. And I'm not sorry. I don't believe in bisexuals. I figure the rest of us have to choose, so why shouldn't they?"
  • Not What It Looks Like: Anthony has walked into the Sugarbaker's at inopportune moments quite a few times.
  • Odd Couple: For a time, Allison and Anthony reluctantly share Suzanne's home after her departure and attempt to force each other out. Hilarity Ensues.
  • Odd Friendship: Despite their many differences and occasional unpleasant encounters (including an accidental shooting), Suzanne and Anthony become very close friends during the series - so close, in fact, that Anthony once refers to himself, somewhat confusedly, as Suzanne's "best girl friend." They even had a reunion on the spinoff.
  • The Old Convict: T. Tommy Reed, legendary former cellmate of Anthony's during his "unfortunate incarceration." He was so menacing and had been around so long he exerted a weird kind of authority over the cell block, which he used to enforce strict etiquette rules and occasionally force the other inmates to partner him in ballroom dancing.
  • Prepositions Are Not to End Sentences With: If someone calls on you for this, correct the sentence with calling the Grammar Nazi a fitting name.
  • Pretty in Mink: Except for the instance of the other trope, Suzanne wore furs with no comment. And, on rare occasions, so did the others.
  • Put on a Bus: Suzanne moved to Japan and Charlene moved with her husband to England at the start of season 6, due to Delta Burke being fired and Jean Smart deciding to leave the show. Suzanne's departure was only mentioned, while Charlene stuck around for just one more episode to unceremoniously drop the news of her leaving.
    • Cousin Allison withdraws all her money from the business and runs off to buy a Victoria's Secret franchise in between seasons 6 and 7, and thereafter is never mentioned again.
  • Raven Hair, Ivory Skin: Suzanne.
  • Rules Lawyer: One of the reasons Allison alienated both other characters and many viewers; she was extremely uptight and rigid about procedures.
  • Shoo Out the New Guy: Julia Duffy replaced Delta Burke at the start of the 6th season as the Sugarbaker's prissy cousin, Allison. The character was very poorly received and was gone by the 7th season premiere. Creator Susan Bloodworth-Thomason blamed herself and the writers for not creating a more multi-dimensional character for Duffy to play. Jan Hooks was more successful as Jean Smart's replacement and was kept around for the final season.
  • Smurfette Principle: Inverted, with Anthony as the only male character in the main cast.
  • Soapbox Sadie: Julia Sugarbaker's soapbox tendencies continued well past her teenage years. Also subverted with Suzanne's monologues about such things as beauty and proper Southern values.
  • Southern Belle: Suzanne Sugarbaker especially and in particular, but really, all of the female main characters fit the bill one way or another.
    • The show puts a button on this in an episode spoofing Gone With the Wind, when each lady imagines what she'd be like as Scarlett O'Hara.
  • Spin-Off: Women of the House, in which Suzanne's latest husband — a Congressman — has died, and she moves to Washington to serve out the remainder of his term. It ran for one season in 1995.
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Carlene Dobber for Charlene Frazier-Stillfield. Their similar first names are even lampshaded by Mary Jo in the season 6 premiere.
  • Theme Tune: "Georgia", by Ray Charles, and done as an instrumental in some versions.
  • This Is for Emphasis, Bitch! : Mary Jo gets one in the pilot. Suzanne starts dating Mary Jo's ex. Mary Jo says "Have a wonderful time," as Suzanne is running out the door. She adds "Bitch," after the door closes.
    • During another episode, Charlene tells an old Southerner joke. It goes like this: "A woman says to a Northerner, 'Where y'all from'? The Northerner says, 'We're from a place where they don't end a sentence with a preposition.' The Southerner says, 'Where y'all from, bitch?'"
  • Upper-Class Twit: Tony and Cassandra Hall, or a Mary Jo likes to call them, "The Most Repulsive Couple in Atlanta." They are nouveau-riche white trash imports from Beverly Hills, who frequently employ Sugarbaker's. If there's an especially tacky piece of decoration hanging around the office (say, a piano with the faces of the Beatles painted on it), you can bet it was ordered by Tony and Cassandra Hall.
  • Vacation Episode: Quite a few, sometimes together with all the love interests to boot.
  • Wholesome Crossdresser: One of Carlene's boyfriends is this.
  • Widow Woman: Julia Sugarbaker.
  • You're Drinking Breast Milk: Suzanne did this in one episode, unwittingly helping herself to some of Charlene's breast milk in Julia's refrigerator.

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