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Friday, May 25, 2012

Killing All The "Right" People

Before I continue with today’s blog entry, I just wanted to remind you all of the contest that I’m holding in celebration of the first anniversary of the Pop Culture Addict’s Guide To Life.  It can be found in the entry dated May 24, 2012, but you can find the link if you go under ADDITIONAL LINKS.  Remember what the prize’s the chance to assume almost complete control of my blog, as well as the chance for you to do a guest blog of your very own.  The contest ends JUNE 30, 2012, and please send all entries to to be considered.  Good luck!

Now, onto today’s subject.

I’ll admit that there are some television shows that have aired over the years that for the most part, I’ve never cared for.  Whether it was the lack of chemistry between the cast members, the contrived plots, or the preachy writing, for whatever reason, the show just did not click with me.

But then you would see one episode of this show that you normally don’t like, and you would be blown away by how good the episode really is.  For a moment, you forget about the reasons why you hated the show in the first place because you’re so mesmerized by the subject matter of the episode, and how good the acting is.  After the episode airs, the show goes back to being mediocre in nature, but that one episode always stands out as a winner.

This blog entry talks about a show that had that reaction in me.  For the most part, I was always indifferent to the program.  For one, it originally aired when I was between the ages of five and twelve, so I was a bit too young to really understand it completely.  By the time I was old enough to watch the program in reruns, I wasn’t exactly blown away by it.  But, again, part of that could have been because the show was marketed towards a female audience, of which I am not.  But one particular episode of this program made me stand up and take notice, and it’s this episode that we’ll be discussing today.

That show is the CBS sitcom “Designing Women”, which ran for seven seasons between 1986 and 1993.  The sitcom detailed life inside the offices of an Atlanta interior design firm known as Sugarbaker’s.

The show’s original cast included Delta Burke, Dixie Carter, Annie Potts, and Jean Smart.  Meshach Taylor would join the cast midway through the show’s first season, becoming the only male regular cast member.  Over the years, Burke and Smart would leave the program for other projects, and the last two seasons featured Julia Duffy, Jan Hooks, and Judith Ivey.

Now, I don’t doubt that the show itself was groundbreaking for a number of reasons.  The show covered a wide variety of hot button issues, such as domestic violence, censorship, sexism, racism, and political discussions.  And the four original cast members of the show became huge names (or in the case of Carter and Burke, already were), and were given critical praise for their roles.

Yet, for whatever reason, I found that I couldn’t really find anything about the show that I absolutely fell in love with.  It wasn’t that I had absolute disgust for the program and wished for it to be cancelled.  It wasn’t like that at all.  But, I didn’t go out of my way to watch every single episode either.  I was more or less indifferent to the designing women.

That is until I watched one particular episode, which left me open-mouthed in astonishment.  The episode had clever and relevant writing for the time period, and powerful performances by all.

The date was October 5, 1987.  At that time, “Designing Woman” was already three episodes into its sophomore season, and was about to air its fourth episode.

The episode was entitled “Killing All the Right People”.

Do you know how the episode came to be named?  It was inspired by a comment overheard by series creator Linda Bloodworth-Thomason inside a hospital waiting room, in which someone made the following callous remark.

“The good thing about AIDS is that it’s killing all the right people.”

Keep in mind that back in the 1980s, AIDS was a huge deal in that not a lot of people knew a lot about the disease.  The first cases of AIDS began appearing in the summer of 1981, and back then, people automatically assumed that it meant an instant death sentence.

Today, we’ve made remarkable breakthroughs in regards to AIDS and treatments for people who have the disease.  New treatments have been successful in helping people who have been diagnosed as HIV positive live longer and more meaningful lives.  We still have a long way to go in regards to finding a permanent cure for AIDS, but we’ve come a long way in treating the disease, as well as learning how the disease is transmitted.

In 1987, however, many people were absolutely ignorant about AIDS, and many believed that it was contagious.  Back in 1987, people who had AIDS were subjected to acts of cruelty, violence, and ignorance by people who didn’t fully understand AIDS.  Linda Bloodworth-Thomason was particularly disgusted by the criticism and prejudice towards people who had the AIDS virus, and for good reason.  Linda’s mother had passed away from complications brought upon by AIDS after a blood transfusion infected her with the virus.  Linda was shocked at the amount of prejudice that gay men had to face from the public (back in the 1980s, gay men were among one of the first demographics where the virus first appeared in back in 1981).

And that was the story behind “Killing All the Right People”.

In the episode, the women of Sugarbaker’s meet with a young man named Kendall Dobbs (played by Tony Goldwyn).  Kendall has been a friend of the firm for years, and the women like and respect him very much.  The reason why Kendall is there is because he has a special request for the women. 

He wants them to design his funeral.

You see, prior to this episode, Kendall ended up contracting the AIDS virus, and despite the fact that he appears as though nothing is wrong with him, he is living on borrowed time.  The women of Sugarbaker’s are saddened by the news, but agree to help Kendall achieve his dream.

In the episode’s subplot, Mary Jo (Potts) is attending a PTA meeting which discusses the idea to distribute birth control options to students at school.  Most of the parents are opposed to bringing in condom machines into the schools, but Mary Jo is for the idea, arguing that they will not only prevent the spread of HIV, but also teen pregnancies as well.  But as Mary Jo is the only person in the meeting to have this stance, she is asked to argue her point at a public debate the following week. 

So, while Mary Jo is feeling a bit nervous about making her speech, Kendall meets with the Sugarbaker’s crew to make the final arrangements in regards to his funeral plans.  Julia (Carter) and Suzanne (Burke) are very warm and friendly to Kendall, and Charlene (Smart) even takes Kendall’s hand as she leads him to the sofa, a gesture that shocks even Kendall himself, as he admitted that some nurses wouldn’t even go inside his hospital room.  But Charlene and Mary Jo freely admitted that they had nothing to fear, for they read up on AIDS, and knew that they couldn’t catch it by simply grabbing someone’s hand.

Really, that’s a great life lesson right there...that you should never make judgments on anything until you get the facts behind it. 

It’s too bad that Imogene Salinger didn’t understand that life lesson.

Imogene Salinger just happened to be inside Sugarbaker’s at the same time that Kendall dropped by.  Imogene was a long-standing client of Sugarbaker’s, and was an acquaintance of Julia’s.  She couldn’t help but overhear the conversation that Kendall was having with Charlene and Mary Jo, and she felt that she had to say something.  She felt that Kendall’s situation was what he deserved, and that the disease had one thing going for it.  That it was killing all the right people.

That awoke the fury that was sleeping inside of Julia Sugarbaker, and Julia let Imogene have it.

Now this wasn’t much of a shock.  From doing my research on this show, Julia Sugarbaker called out people’s ignorance and stupidity with her razor-sharp tongue at least twice a season.  But the fact that Julia launched into such a tirade against Imogene really said a lot about Julia’s character.  Julia didn’t like bullies, and she wasted no time in telling them what she really thought.  And Kendall probably cheered Julia on silently while all this was going on, thinking that he was lucky to have such loyal friends who would stick by him despite the fact that he was dying of AIDS.

The little cameo appearance by Alice Ghostley was fantastic as well.

At any rate, Imogene was never seen on “Designing Women” ever again, and Kendall continued to work with the women to tie up the loose ends for his final design project.  But while the Imogene situation was dealt with, Mary Jo still had the debate to worry about, and she wasn’t sure exactly how to bring her points across.

When the PTA meeting began, Mary Jo pulled off a valiant effort to present her points, but kept getting cut off by the opposition.  Mary Jo was losing patience, and was sure that she would end up on the losing end of the argument.  But then Anthony (Taylor) walked into the meeting with Kendall tagging along behind him.  And when Mary Jo’s eyes fixated on Kendall, she got her nerve back, and she issued this eloquent statement.

“I think that it really shouldn’t matter what your personal views are about birth control, because, you see, we’re not – we’re not just talking about preventing births anymore, we’re talking about preventing deaths.  25,000 Americans have died, and we’re still debating.  For me, this debate is over.  More important than what any civic leader or PTA or board of education about thinks about teenagers having sex or any immoral act that my daughter or your son might engage in, the bottom line is that I don’t think they should have to die for it.

And with that, the crowd erupted with a thunderous applause, and Mary Jo smiled at Kendall one last time.

The last scene takes place at Kendall’s funeral, with all of Sugarbaker’s in attendance.  It was one of the most elaborate funerals Atlanta had ever seen, and everyone in that room was proud to have called Kendall a friend.

Just as Kendall was proud to have a group of friends who never gave up on him or left him, when so many turned their backs the other way.

I really loved this episode of “Designing Women”.  The message was a fantastic one for anyone to learn, and although a lot has changed in the 25 years since the episode aired, it still has its relevance today. 

It’s funny how before I watched this episode, I never really thought much of “Designing Women”.  But after watching this wonderful episode (which was nominated for several awards including two Emmy Awards), I might be tempted to watch other episodes in the series, just to see if they hold up as well.

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