Season Five, 1990-1991
As Season Five opens, the series continues to gain popularity in the ratings, even as a battle wages behind the scenes that causes changes in the dynamic of the show and threatens its future.
Linda Bloodworth-Thomason does not write any of the episodes this year -- most of the writing duties falling upon Pam Norris and a crew of new writers. As a result, the series continues to move away from its original concept of dealing with women's issues, relying more and more on sharp-tongued insults and comebacks to get laughs -- something the show has always been known for in its dialogue.
The focus also moves away from Suzanne, with less reliance on Delta Burke during a period of very public tension between the actress and the show's producers. Many of this season's scripts revolve around Mary Jo and Charlene, which changes the balance of the show significantly but allows for Suzanne's lines to be written out or redistributed easily any time Delta is unavailable for taping. But in spite of less screen presence, Suzanne remains the most identifiable character with audiences.
Charlene struggles this season with her commitment to Sugarbaker's and her need to be a full-time mother with Bill away in the Persian Gulf. She joins a support group and connects with a man whose wife is also at war, but feeling as though she is cheating on Bill in her heart, she ends the friendship. Charlene also goes back to college this season where she gets sexually harassed by a nerdy professor. Other Charlene highlights include her trying to break baby Olivia into commercials
and buying a 'haunted house' which she hires Sugarbaker's to redecorate.
After finding that her own house is built on the foundation of a Civil War house, Julia innocently allows Sugarbaker's to be put on a tour of historical homes, opening her home and family to inconsiderate tourists and outlandish scandals. She is also placed on a sequestered jury, which threatens her dinner engagement with former President Jimmy Carter and his wife, plus she becomes obsessed with jogging and starts living a secretive double life as a lounge singer. Later in the year Julia is forced to deal with the sudden death of her longtime companion Reese, (because of actor Hal Holbrook's
commitment to Linda Bloodworth-Thomason's Evening Shade). At the same time, she takes in the bratty, out-of-control Randa Oliver for a few weeks, which helps her cope with her grief over Reese by giving her a glimpse of the circle of life.
Meanwhile, Mary Jo considers a marriage proposal from a platonic old friend, finds herself in competition with her own daughter for the attentions of a man, and takes a chance on a romantic sexual escapade with an old acquaintance only to discover afterward that he is married. She also gets manipulated and humiliated by a master womanizer this season whom she 'outs' on public access television, and she is forced to go to court after she sees the man who mugged her last year. Much of the season puts Mary Jo and Charlene redefining their friendship, with Mary Jo feeling left out after Bill returns from the Gulf. Charlene's struggles with motherhood and career cause Mary Jo to reassess her own life and consider having another child on her own.
Bernice gets herself involved in some crazy stunts this season -- starting by getting some plastic surgery that ends up making her look like 'Miss Piggy,' and then becoming a host of a public access television show where she implies on the air that Sugarbaker's is actually a brothel.
The friendship bond between Suzanne and Anthony grows deeper in spite of Suzanne's annoyance at his becoming a partner in Sugarbaker's. In one episode, Suzanne accidentally 'buys' Anthony at a charity bachelor auction and finds herself in fear that he will want her to 'follow through' on their date. In another show, she becomes
frustrated after the country club that she is so desperate to belong to offers a token membership to Anthony, who milks it for all it's worth. In the meantime, Anthony also comes face to face with the father who abandoned him, plus has to deal with a bully in his apartment building laundry room.
Other fun episodes include Mary Jo switching her cheap pearls for Suzanne's expensive set -- then losing them, Julia becoming a hit in the art world after her purse is mistaken for art in a contemporary art show while Suzanne accidentally glues her mouth shut, and
finally an episode where Julia and Mary Jo butt heads on how to manage the little league ball team that Sugarbaker's is sponsoring. Charlene and Suzanne become all-night party animals in New Orleans, hitting the voodoo shops and a funeral party and culminating with Suzanne challenging a female impersonator to prove that he is really a man.
This is also the last season for both Jean Smart, who leaves the series to pursue other projects and focus on her family, and Delta Burke, whose contract is not picked-up following the much publicized tension on the set.
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