TV-Guide Couch Critic Review

Source: TV Guide - February 11, 1995
Written by: Jeff Jarvis

This should be the perfect time to make a sitcom about members of Congress -- because they're so funny just now, playing their games of "Finders keepers, losers weepers" and Sticks and stones my break my bones...." It's too bad for voters and viewers that the real people are funnier than the show meant to mock them -- Women of the House.

In the new series, Delta Burke returns to her Designing Women role of Suzanne Sugarbaker, who's now an over-the-hill beauty queen filling her dead husband's seat in Congress. The show harbors pretensions of becoming TV's Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, going so far as to drag Jimmy Stewart, the star of the beloved film, for a cameo. This wants to be a show about common fold who confront a Capitol that no longer represents them. But, in Burke, the show portrays those plain folk -- us -- as uncultured, loud, overbearing, dumb. She meets the President and lectures him about hair. She makes tea and frets, "Hope I didn't overboil the water." To paraphrase Women of the House's overexposed promo -- in which Burke struts her cleavage as a co-star growls, "This town hasn't seen a pair of boobs like that since Haldeman and Ehrlichman" -- she is a boob.

Too bad. I was one of the folks who kinda liked Burke's last sitcom, Delta. But here she acts and sounds desperate, like a hyena with its tail tied in a knot. I've always liked her costars. Teri Garr, who plays Burke's press secretary (in a photcopy of Markie Post's role on Hearts Afire), is my favorite talk-show guest, though I'm beginning to wonder whether she's destined to just be a guest, never a star -- a Peggy Case for the 90's. Patricia Heaton, so charming in Room for Two, is sadly turned into a pillar of salt here as she gamely portrays Burke's crusty aide. Only Northern Exposure's Valerie Mahaffey seemed at ease playing a dizzy receptionist -- but she left the series. It is a rich cast. But they are directed as if Women of the House were a skit in the local hospital talent show, all of them firing punch lines like bazookas, with every ounce of effort evident in the bulges in their necks. Even politicians give subtler performances.

Surprisingly, most of the show's gags aren't even about Congress. A few try ("I gave Bob Packwood a little pat on the butt," one of the women says of Washington's alleged sexual harasser). But if you strip away those token jokes, this is really just a show about some women sitting on couches all day, talking. It's a down-on-its-luck Designing Women. It's sad.

So if you're craving a good laugh about the state of the union, avoid Women of the House. Try C-SPAN instead.


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