92. "Big Haas and Little Falsie," Designing Women (1988)
Welcome to the “100 Best Sitcom Episodes of All Time,” a countdown for winter 2012. Each episode will get a separate blog post, counting backward toward No. 1. A list of the programs revealed so far is here and an introduction to the project is here.
Sitcom characters have the same impulse. But because they're expected to end each episode looking the same as they did at the beginning, their self-improvement efforts are almost always disastrous. The lesson is that we should be happy with the way we are — which is odd, considering all the commercials between scenes that tell us the opposite.
A dye job is maybe the most common method sitcom characters use to change their image (as when job insecurity causes Archie Bunker to go for the shoe-polish look and Laura Petrie tries life as a blonde), but Designing Women got a little more daring with "Big Haas and Little Falsie," in which Mary Jo considers getting breast implants. "Big breasts are always looking down on us little breasts," she complains to Julia, who isn't crazy about being included in the latter category.
Mary Jo: Didn't you feel just a little insecure? I mean, growing up around that? (points to Suzanne, in blue dress)
Julia: Suzanne's had those as long as I can remember. She was born with them. Mother and Daddy and I used to sit around and just stare at them.
Mary Jo: And it never bothered you?
Julia: No, it's just the spin of the old genetic wheel. I think I've been amply compensated.
Charlene: What's that mean?
Mary Jo: It means Suzanne got the boobs, and she (pointing to Julia) got the brains.
Suzanne: I don't think I like the turn this conversation has taken.
Mary Jo: Oh, c'mon! Big boobs, tiny brains. It's a story as old as the hills. I didn't write it.
I don't think it's a spoiler to say that, by the end of the episode, Mary Jo has decided against a boob job. She experiments with a pair of "falsies" and gets the attention of men at a bar, but her children and friends don't like her more confident (i.e., obnoxious) personality, so she abandons the idea. Still, she has made her point about the advantages of the well-endowed.
Designing Women was part of a wave of female-led sitcoms in the mid '80s and early '90s, beginning approximately when CBS successfully counterprogrammed Monday Night Football with Kate & Allie (then Murphy Brown) after the demise of M*A*S*H. There was also The Golden Girls, Roseanne, Grace Under Fire, etc. Unfortunately, this was also about the time that three-camera sitcoms started to really suffer from stale writing and unimaginative staging.
It was the height of the "very special episode" craze, which involved sitcoms hanging "This isn't funny" signs on lessons about child abuse, alcoholism, gambling addiction, etc. Designing Women did more of its share of those, most famously with its episode about AIDS. But it was always more funny and interesting when it just showed us what its characters (refreshingly Southern in an otherwise New York/California sitcom universe) talked about on a normal day.
Archie Bunker goes for the wet look:
Laura Petrie goes for the Harpo Marx look: