Thank you for being a friend
Why The Golden Girls was one of the greatest sitcoms of all-time
If you were around from 1985 to 1992 or grew up with reruns being common in your household, there's no doubt that The Golden Girls has graced your television screen at least once. This beloved series centers on four women sharing a home together as well as their lives. We have Blanche Devereaux (Rue McClanahan), Dorothy Zbornak (Bea Arthur), Rose Nylund (Betty White), and Sophia Petrillo (Estelle Getty) to thank for creating such a treasure that holds a special place in my heart as well as many others. Let's get ready to "picture it" like Sophia and grab some cheesecake as I give you the reasons why this show is perhaps the greatest sitcom of all time.
There are many, many sarcastic and hilarious jokes and/ or insults made, most of which are often clever
The Golden Girls was definitely known for its humor first and foremost. From the jabs at Rose's intelligence to Sophia's insults at Blanche's sexuality, there is no shortage of jokes to go around. Here are just some of the examples of how funny the show was.
In episode 4 of season 1, "Transplant", we find out Blanche's sister Virginia is in need of a kidney transplant, and that Blanche may be her only viable match. When Blanche breaks the news to the other three, Rose asks "Why would she need a kidney?", to which Dorothy immediately and sarcastically shouts "To feed the cat, Rose!". Sarcastic and witty for sure.
There was also comedic irony. In the season 2 episode "Forgive Me Father", Dorothy becomes interested in a man named Frank. When he agrees to meet at her house for dinner, Dorothy goes all-out on her outfit. When Blanche answers the door she sees Frank in a priest's outfit. What ensues is plenty of awkward humor as Blanche clearly cannot socially handle the situation. Another example of this comedic irony is in the season 1 episode "A Little Romance" when Rose begins dating doctor Johnathon Newman, a man who happens to be a midget. When he comes over for dinner, Blanche answers the door and upon seeing him instantly says "No thank you little boy we already take the Miami Herald" and then shutting the door in his face. Ouch, that was quite the wrong assumption. Then when everyone is gathered in the living room, Blanche realizes her embarrassment, hysterically laughs and says "God I wish I was dead".
In episode 21 of season 1, "The Flu", the girls are in the kitchen when Rose talks about how she thinks she is coming down with a little cold. Blanche very confidently says "You don't have to worry about me honey I never get sick, I take very good care of myself, I treat my body like a temple". When Sophia passes Blanche while holding a laundry basket , she replies "Yeah open to everyone, day or night" thus implying Blanche is very open sexually.
Perhaps my favorite jab is one that Blanche says towards Rose in the season 3 episode "Larceny and Old Lace". Rose asks Dorothy if she thinks Blanche is picking on her. When Blanche enters the kitchen Rose greets her, to which Blanche turns around and immediately says "Must you always be so cheerful, you empty-headed Mary Poppins knock-off?" Oof.
The show is very progressive given the time period with references to many touchy subjects and still is progressive even by today's standards
In the season 5 episode "72 Hours", Rose receives a letter from the hospital where she had her gallbladder removed. This letter informs her that the blood she received may have contained HIV antibodies. Reasonably so, this sends Rose into a heightened anxious state. Her boiling point is when she says "Hell I'm a goody-two-shoes" implying that because she is a moral person she doesn't deserve to contract the disease. Blanche very seriously looks at Rose and says "AIDS is not a bad person's disease Rose, it is not God punishing people for their sins!". Unfortunately there was not the level of knowledge and understanding about AIDS back then that we now have today. Blanche is saying that disease does not discriminate from person to person, a message which still holds true in 2021.
In the season 3 episode "Mixed Blessing", Dorothy's son Michael visits and announces that he's met someone and they are engaged to be married. He very awkwardly says "Loraine is kind of...black". Throughout this episode there is racial tension. Loraine's family comes over to visit, and when Loraine's mother sees Michael for the first time, Loraine eventually says "You sure didn't mention he was white". Another awkward moment in this episode is when Rose and Blanche come out into the living room wearing mud masks. After making eye contact with Loraine's family, Rose says "This is mud on our faces, we aren't really black". It is this reference to blackface that unfortunately led Hulu to pull the episode from its service. Given the George Floyd protests and the Black Lives Matter movement this was not a surprising move.
There are really three episodes that revolve around the topic of being either gay or lesbian. The first instance is the season 2 episode "Isn't it Romantic" when Dorothy's friend Jean comes to visit. Dorothy is apprehensive about telling Blanche and Rose that Jean is a lesbian, but Jean is completely calm about it and says "If you think they're the kind of people that can handle it I'd prefer to tell them". The conflict in this episode is when Jean realizes she is falling in love with Rose. And Rose who is often blissfully unaware of some of the most obvious of things handles it well. At the end of the episode her and Jean have a discussion in the kitchen about Jean's feelings. Rose says "I think if I were the way that you were, I'd feel honored that you felt that way". Telling Jean she hopes that their friendship is enough (to which Jean says it is), the episode ends on a happy note.
The second reference to being gay is when Blanche's brother Clayton comes to visit in the season 4 episode "Scared Straight". Blanche knows Clayton was still a bit touchy about his broken marriage but she continually tries to set him up with dates, all of which are unsuccessful. On the way home from one of those fails, Clayton and Rose run into each other at the park. When Clayton tells Rose that Blanche is way off about his type, Rose says she bet she can figure out what it is. Two different women pass by, both of which Clayton has almost no reaction to. When a man passes by, Clayton's interest is immediately piqued and this makes Rose laugh until she realizes that Clayton is gay. He tries to tell Blanche this once, but ends up saying him and Rose slept together instead. After apologizing to Rose, Clayton finally manages to tell Blanche that he is gay. She takes this as a joke at first, but when she realizes Clayton is serious, becomes angry. Eventually she says at the end of the episode that she will respect Clayton’s lifestyle.
The third reference is the season 6 episode "Sisters of the Bride". Clayton comes to visit but has a man with him named Doug. He says Doug is his “special friend” which makes Blanche’s feelings from “Scared Straight” resurface. Blanche is even further disturbed when Clayton tells her that him and Doug are going to get married. Throughout the episode, Blanche questions why Clayton wants to do this. While sitting at the kitchen table with Sophia, Blanche says “I don’t understand why he has to go and put a ring on this guy’s finger.” Sophia asks her “Why did you marry George?” (her late husband). To which Blanche replies “We loved each other. We wanted to make a lifetime commitment, we wanted everybody to know”. Sophia then says “That’s what Clayton and Doug want too. Everyone wants someone to grow old with, and shouldn’t everyone have that chance?”. Those are some very powerful words considering that gay marriage wasn’t going to be completely legalized for several more years.
The reference to weed is very brief and often goes unnoticed, but is indeed there. In the season 3 episode “Blanche’s Little Girl”, Blanche’s daughter Rebecca comes to visit. The other plotline in the episode is that Sophia is dealing with the unfairness of some of the rules at her job. She rallies up her coworkers and is speaking with Edna on the phone when discussing the plans. Sophia says “And Edna, bring some sherry no one bought that glaucoma story when you whipped out that reefer last time. No, you can’t put it in brownies. I said no reefers okay?”. This is a clear reference to weed as it has shown to help glaucoma and is commonly ingested via edibles.
In the Season 3 episode, “Mary Had a Little Lamb”, a 16 year old girl whose family is friends with the household comes to visit. While sitting on the couch between Blanche and Rose, Sophia walks in and says “So Mary, when’s the baby due?” Mary eventually shakes her head to signal that Sophia guessed correctly. Dorothy says “Ma how did you know?” Sophia says “Because you had the same look of panic on your face when you got pregnant. Kinda like a deer caught in the headlights of a car”. Mary’s dilemma is that her dad has kicked her out and she needs to prepare several things in order to be ready for her baby. The girls help her by taking her clothes shopping and trying to sign her up for lamaze classes.
I often find this episode difficult to watch. In the season 5 episode “Not Another Monday”, Sophia and her friend Martha have just come back from their friend Lillian’s funeral. Martha tells Sophia she has come up with a plan that will change everything. Over a ritzy dinner, Martha tells Sophia that she wants her to be there for her when she kills herself. Sophia struggles with whether or not to be there for Martha when she does this but agrees to just so Martha won’t have to be alone. Sophia tries to talk Martha out of it, but Martha while holding the bottle of pills says “Lillian looked so peaceful”. Sophia yanks the bottle away from Martha and says “We’re not in this life for peace”. The two realize they are both crying, and Martha says “I don’t know what to do”. Sophia says “That’s the point, if you aren’t sure what to do you can’t change your mind tomorrow. You wanted me to be there for your death, how about letting me be there for your life?” Martha says “Like a friend?” Then Sophia says “Like a best friend.” This is a wonderful and beautiful example of showing kindness and compassion towards someone who is suicidal and often an episode that wells up some tears in my eyes.
Finally, we come to the season 4 episode “Brother Can you Spare That Jacket?”. Rose brings home some lottery tickets, where Dorothy’s turns out to be a $10,000 winner. Blanche puts this ticket in the pocket of an old jacket, and when three of the girls go to freshen up before a fancy celebratory dinner, Sophia hands the jacket over to a man from the thrift store that comes by. Not realizing what she has just done, the girls come back from their dinner to realize the jacket is missing. When Sophia tells them where it went, they rush to the thrift store to find it. They see a big, intimidating body guard has snatched it up for (who we can obviously tell is) Michael Jackson to wear at a sold-out concert. After the concert, it is auctioned off and then donated to a local homeless shelter. Figuring that they have already come this far, the girls stay the night in the shelter so they can find the jacket. Before everyone is asleep, each of the girls speak with different people about the struggles of homelessness. While the girls split up and search for the jacket, the song “Brother Can You Spare a Dime?” plays. Here are just a few lines from that song.
“They used to tell me I was building a dream. With peace and glory ahead. Why should I be standing in line just waiting for bread?”
These are definitely some profound words that paint the experience of being homeless.
By morning, Blanche has found the jacket. The girls all agree in silence about what they must do next. Sophia hands the winning lottery ticket to the priest standing at the doorway and says “Thanks for everything.” The chorus of the previously mentioned song plays just one last time and the episode fades to black.
The Golden Girls manages to talk about an array of often controversial issues often lacing humor in between so as to not make the episodes too dark. The show manages to ever so touch these issues with compassion and understanding, never judging anyone for the decisions they have made. Often times you will see shows that are afraid to proclaim their stance on these issues for fear of losing popularity, but The Golden Girls clearly does not give a damn while being respectful to those communities, and manages to also make people laugh in the process. It is no doubt impactful and one of the greatest sit-coms of all-time.