After waiting more than a year since Season 4, Shout Factory finally announces Season Five of "Designing Women" on DVD. This is the last year to feature the original cast before Jan Hooks and Julia Duffy stepped in to replace the departing Jean Smart and Delta Burke.
I have a personal affinity for this season, since this is when I originally discovered the series in prime-time, having been a latecomer to it. It was only because it preceded the Sharon Gless drama "The Trials of Rosie O'Neill" that I was finally exposed to the fabulous ladies of Sugarbakers.
Season Four is probably the season that most fans consider the series peak, and this collection of 24 episodes (which originally aired on CBS over the course of the 1990-91 TV season) carries on in the same vein. Slowly, the soapbox/message scripts of seasons past are phased out in favor of quirky but classy high-comedy. This is never more evident than in "Pearls of Wisdom", in which Mary-Jo and Charlene rip apart a salad-bar Lucy and Ethel style, in hopes of finding the expensive necklace of Suzanne's that Mary-Jo's lost somewhere in the restaurant.
The season-opener "Blast From The Past" features my favorite Julia rant of the entire series when she goes off on historical-homes tour guide Mary Ann Mobley in Scarlett O'Hara style (much funnier than her "Night-the-Lights-Went-Out-In-Georgia" speech). Dixie Carter also gets to rip people to shreds as Julia in "Miss Trial", when she's sequestered with a bunch of hick jurors causing her to miss out on a dinner with Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter.
Alice Ghostley (Bernice) gets more screen time this season; first with a cable-access talk show and later with a botched nose job. But she still hasn't yet taken up singing her catch phrase to Anthony ("Black Man, Black Man...where did you come from?"). That doesn't happen 'til next season.
Delta Burke's feud with the producers was ferociously exploited by the tabloids during this season making her exit one of the most-publicized cast changes in TV history. At the time, speculation reached a boiling point as to who her successor would be. Loni Anderson, Jackee, and even Bette Midler were some of the names tossed around. Although Delta missed a few shows and scripts were hastily re-written to exclude Suzanne, the remaining cast members held their own despite the absence of the show's breakout character. None of the episodes this season have "clunker" stamped on them. Suzanne's just as funny and outrageous as she was in Season 4, whether she's accidentally glued her lips shut, setting her wig on fire while smoking or ripping it off to challenge a drag queen, it's quite evident Delta Burke's comedic talents were in full bloom.
A bittersweet season, being the last one with the four ladies who began it all, but a must-have for anyone who's loved the releases that have come out so far. The cover art features an early cast photo, but I won't nitpick since it's such a relief that my favorite season featuring the original cast is coming out after all. Shout, please don't abandon the series at this point. Seasons 6 and 7 featured a lot of talent in the form of Jan Hooks, Julia Duffy and Judith Ivey and deserve to see the light of day on DVD, even if it's only through the Shout Select program.