Season Seven, 1992-1993
The first lines of the season's opening episode set the tone for the entire year: "I can tell by the look on your face, you have P.M.S. don't you?" "You'd better believe it!"
The final season begins with Allison having bailed out on Sugarbaker's to buy a Victoria's Secret franchise, and a drunken Julia almost losing her shares of the company to wealthy widow B.J. Poteet in a card game
-- gaining them a new friend and business partner.
Unlike last season's cast changes, the refreshing addition of B.J., while warmly received by the audience, changes the overall dynamic of the ensemble. With B.J. inheriting the dry sarcastic role once played by Julia and Mary Jo, the core characters are now forced to become more outlandish in order to maintain a balance.
Mary Jo takes on a rather drunken personality this year, completely shedding any maturity she has displayed in the past. Not once this season do we see the witty yet dignified Mary Jo of previous years. Her entire behavior is extreme, right down to her slacken body language and
disregard for responsible behavior. She butts heads with Julia on several occasions and flaunts her cliched inability to handle too much of things like alcohol, gambling, and even driving a sports car without losing her self-control. Julia, too, becomes sillier and more cliche this year, though the writers try to attribute her changes in personality to menopause.
Much of the year focuses on Anthony and his impromptu wedding to Vegas showgirl Etienne, whom he accidentally marries after being dumped by Vanessa Chamberlain.
As one story goes, actress Sheryl Lee Ralph, who plays Etienne, ran into Harry Thomason at a fundraiser for Bill Clinton, grabbed him by the lapels and said right in his face, "After seven years, I cannot believe
you can't find a Black woman to befriend those women in Atlanta."
Two months later, in steps Etienne Toussant, who after her drunken nuptials with Anthony, decides she wants to be his wife with a vengeance. Initially, Anthony isn't sure if he wants to stay married to the strong-willed Etienne, but the
two develop a fun chemistry which replaces the antagonistic relationship he had with Allison last year and the Suzanne/Anthony bond established in years prior.
Other changes brought on by the new dynamic on the show include bringing Bernice on as a regular -- appearing in 14 of 22 episodes. Her character is added primarily for her shock value, having become more over-the-top in the past two seasons with her insane remarks and her jealousy of Anthony's girlfriends. With several new writers on the series, the show that was once the feminist's advocate is now becoming more crass with base-level breast jokes (made mostly by Bernice) and shock-level humor.
Sugarbaker's itself, which last season was dubbed one of Atlanta's premiere design firms, seems to have fallen on hard times. Without the backing of B.J. and Poteet Industries, there doesn't seem to be much of a business left. Uncharacteristically, Julia is actually ready to close
shop after Allison pulls her money out of the business. The attempted corporate takeover of Poteet Industries in the finale again puts Sugarbaker's in jeopardy, reaffirming that B.J. is their primary financial backer.
Carlene's character, who was very loud and boisterous last year, is wisely toned down this season. She actually takes exactly the opposite direction that her sister Charlene took over the years -- becoming more refined and less jarring. Though Carlene is used mostly as a supporting player this season, she does reconnect briefly with her ex-husband -- using him strictly for sex, and later has the ladies try to teach her how to behave as a man after she finds out her current beau likes to dress as a woman.
Julia begins dating a symphony conductor this season, which becomes complicated as she starts going through the 'change of life' and all of the accompanying symptoms. Later, she discovers that a former college art instructor whom she idolized has painted a nude portrait of her from his imagination which is displayed for the world to see.
Mary Jo, thinking that she is not spontaneous enough, drags Julia and Bernice on a 'Thelma and Louise' style road trip, leases a fancy red sports car, and starts dating a not-so-bright underwear model. In addition, she finds a shovel in her garage with the image of Elvis on it, leading her to believe she has been 'chosen' and given the power to heal.
Other episodes this season include an overzealous Anthony making a fool of himself in small-claims court when Mary Jo is sued, the Sugarbaker's gang getting stranded in a series of mishaps on their way to President Clinton's inauguration, Bernice mistakenly thinking that Julia and Mary Jo intend to 'put her to sleep,' and everyone's desperate attempts to get rid of Julia's abrasive former headmistress who has moved herself into Sugarbaker's.
Unfortunately, the series loses much of its audience after CBS moves it from its comfortable Monday time slot to a fatal Friday spot. So as a result, the hour-long season finale where each of the ladies imagines herself as Scarlett O'Hara ends up becoming a rather mediocre close to the entire series run.
But even as Designing Women makes its exit from prime-time and stops producing new episodes, the first five seasons are enjoying their second explosive year in syndication -- bringing the series a whole new recognition and making it the number one syndicated show nationwide. Before long, LIFETIME Television, a fledgling network with programming directed at a female market, gets an exclusive contract to air the entire series and uses Designing Women as one of the cornerstones of its new line-up, airing it several times a day and drawing a whole new audience to the network and the series -- which continues to build a massive new audience years later.
Designing Women Online, Designing Women Tribute, Women of the House Magazine
and Belled Online ©1998-Present. All Rights Reserved.