This series was a welcome surprise for several reasons. It had an agreeably vicious bite to it, in the way the main characters could fight back in the end of each episode. It showcased Cybill Sheppard in her finest comic role (even better than her "Mattie Hayes" in MOONLIGHTING). It really introduced a talent that existed but had not been able to shine before: Christine Baranski, as Cybill's friend (one can almost say spiritual sister) Maryann. Finally, it took a harsh, but realistic look at the way men control the world - and in particular how hard it is for single female parents to cope.
The story is simple: Cybill Sheridan is an attractive actress in Hollywood, who really has never had the success you would expect. Week after week we watch Cybill getting jobs in commercials, episodes of questionable television series, and third rate movies. Of course, as we watch the acting gigs we get a series of spoofs of typical television and movie fare that we swallow all the time. In fact, one of the best set of episodes were obviously planned as a commentary on Shepherd's initially rewarding, but gradually disillusioning work with Bruce Willis on the earlier successful series MOONLIGHTING. In any event, true stardom constantly eludes our heroine, usually due to decisions that are in the hands of producers or directors (usually male). Occasionally it is due to a female rival, but that is a rarity.
Cybill's problems are compounded by having to raise two daughter, Rachel Robbins (Dedee Pfeiffer) and Zoey Woodbine (Alicia Witt), by herself. Rachel is the daughter from Cybill's marriage to stuntman/actor Jeff Robbins (Tom Wopat) and Zoey is the daughter from a second marriage to novelist Ira Woodbine (Alan Rosenberg). Both daughters consider their mother an eccentric disgrace who interferes with them, but the two sisters are unable to make a really united front, as Rachel is conscious of her attractiveness (as the series progresses she gets married and has a baby), and Zoey - while not adverse to sex or love - is more cerebral (being the daughter of a novelist this makes sense). The two ex-husbands are realistically drawn. While they and Cybill can have arguments at the drop of a hat, both men share intimate histories with her so that they can also remain fairly decent friends.
Cybill's war with the male controlled systems is mirrored by that of her friend Maryann Thorpe. In some ways Maryann (as fleshed out so well by Ms Baranski, who garnered several Emmy Awards for her performances) is "the Fonz" in CYBILL (though not in total effect: Henry Winkler's subsidiary character took center stage of HAPPY DAYS, whereas Cybil Shepherd maintained shared central stage with Ms Baranski in CYBILL). Originally Maryann was a neighbor who drank and pill popped too much. But gradually we learned that this sophisticated and sexy lady turned out this way due to the misfortune of marrying Dr. Richard ("Dr. Dick" as she sharply, memorably calls him) Thorpe. We never see Thorpe (we hear his screams several times). A successful surgeon, he married Maryann (who was a first rate nurse) and then constantly cheated on her with other women. This drives her to the oblivion of booze and pills, but she also lives for occasional acts of vengeance against the Doctor, who finally divorced her. They also had a son, who appears occasionally in the series.
The humor of the show was actually sophisticated and high, despite the actual grimness of the situation for the heroines. The series only lasted four years - the bitterness at the base was just too much for it to become a permanent popular series. But for those four years it managed to be as successfully subversive in demolishing television stereotypes as more successful shows like ROSEANNE had. To the end it remained subversive - the last image of the series was of Cybill and Maryann being under arrest for murder. We never learn what was the outcome.