Life after 'Designing'

4 funny 'Women' get a deserved, chatty 'Reunion'

Source: Daily News - July 28, 2003
Written by: David Bianculli

The appeal of the "Designing Women Reunion" airing tonight on Lifetime comes from the same place as the original sitcom did: four feisty, witty and opinionated ladies given the time and freedom to cut loose.

In the 1986-93 CBS sitcom, those female characters were created by Linda Bloodworth-Thomason (credited now simply as Linda Bloodworth, though her husband is the special's director), and embodied by Dixie Carter, Jean Smart, Annie Potts and Delta Burke.

The gang's all here for this reunion airing at 8 p.m., and then some.

Meshach Taylor, the sole male presence at the Sugerbakers design firm where "Designing Women" was set, keeps things moving as the host of this gabfest. Alice Ghostley, a frequent guest star, makes an appearance, too, despite obviously being in ill health.

In the audience for this reunion: Burke's hus- band, Gerald McRaney, and Carter's husband, Hal Holbrook, both of whom share stories about their own visits to the sitcom.

The clips shown stand up well, and work des- pite being pulled out of context. When Potts, as Mary Jo, takes some fake breasts out for a test drive, her unrestrained glee at their impact on men ("These things are power!") borders on the maniacal.

Burke, as Suzanne, defends her weight gain (and, by inference, Burke's) in a touching high-school reunion speech.

Smart, as Charlene, is shown in a nice fantasy sequence in which she's gloriously pregnant, and Dolly Parton appears in a vision to offer her blessing as her "guardian movie star."

And Carter, as the feisty feminist Julia, machine-guns her way through several long-winded, razor-edged speeches, including the "Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia" salute to sister Suzanne.

"There's never been a sitcom that has speeches that long, let alone that good," says Smart.

It's the first time the cast members have been in the same room since the series ended, and that freshness is obvious.

Smart confesses to the Machiavellian way in which she set up a lunch date with guest star, and now husband, Richard Gilliland, and poor Carter endures an embarrassing on-set moment, recounted in turn by both Potts and Taylor, that defies description in a daily newspaper but is one of the show's funniest and most ribald stories.

"If we're going to talk out of school, though," Potts adds, "we have to talk about when Delta was crazy."

And they do. There's some laughter, some tears, and the sense that these actresses share the same bonds, as well as differences, as their characters.

Even the little superimposed nuggets of information on the show, are entertaining.

"The exterior used to represent Suzanne's Atlanta home was actually the Arkansas governor's mansion," one reads.

Viewers must fill in the rest: The Arkansas governor at the time, Bill Clinton, went on to become President, and the Thomasons made his campaign biography film.

Another number notes that "Designing Women," while nominated for many Emmys over the years, won only one - for hairstyling. Carter's performance, in particular, was so good that that's a travesty, but "Murphy Brown" and Candice Bergen were getting way too much attention then.

"Designing Women," rightfully, is getting some tonight.


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