Sunday, July 27, 2014

Sunday Best: Sitcoms of All Time #16 - The Golden Girls

7 SEASONS (1985-1992)

This show should not work, at least demographically.

Targeting hip, young viewers has always been a mainstay of television.  And yet here was a show that was about 4 single women who were in the golden years of their lives.  On paper, this show should be a boring disaster.  And yet it works so well.

The main reason is the chemistry between the characters and the actors.  They play off of and against each other so well.  Betty White's Rose is such a ditzy sweetheart.  Rue MacClanahan's Blanche is an odd contradiction of sophistication and slutty.  Bea Arthur's Dorothy is a though, no-nonsense, liberated woman.  And Estelle Getty's Sophia is matronly without being matriarchal.

I remember being in high school and mentioning to the guys at my lab table that I watched Golden Girls and they teased me for enjoying the show.  I thought that I was just strange.  But then I mentioned this to Rick O. and he said, "Are you kidding?  That show is hysterical.  I could listen to Sophia all day."  It was then that I knew I wasn't crazy.  (or maybe it just meant both of us were crazy)

The producers of this show understood that what would make this show so great was allowing this fantastic comedic actresses the space they need through the plot to let their different personalities clash against each other in comedic explosions.  How much laughter was mined at Dorothy's exhaserbated expressions as Rose went on and on about St. Olaf?  How many witty zingers were lobbed at Blanche by Sophia because she was the only one not polite enough to be candid?

Each episode's plot is, in the end, unimportant.  Yes, they did raise many "issues" in this show like Alzheimer's, homelessness, sexual harassment, and the like.  This tended to be actually where the show was weakest.  There are very few things on television as tedious as being preached at by a show.  But the show never forgot to keep bringing the funny and mine even the most serious topic for the greatest of laughs (more on this later).

The other biggest detriment was the surprisingly loose morals of the women in the house, particularly Blanche.  What's strange is that the show would often address things like her illicit behavior and how bad it was.  But then it would completely throw out the lesson for the next episode.  The characters, for the most part remained static.

But even in that static state, the comedic energy was palpable.


"The Way We Met" (1x25)
The first season was the roughest for the show.  As with most series, the writers and the actors were still trying to find their rhythm.  There is a lot of mediocrity in that first season, filled with every kind of TV trope.

But the season finale is told mostly in flashback about how the girls all met each other and came together.  At that point, if you are not bowled over by their chemistry, you will never be.

"There Goes the Bride pt 2" (5x17)
Dorothy's ex husband Stan (Herbert Edelmen) had been a recurring character on the show and was always the butt of jokes a no good lout.  He still was a no good lout, but Dorothy was falling for him again.  At this point, the show started to lose its shine because they began to run out of story ideas.  They had hit tons of serious issues twice, like homosexuality and artificial insemination.  Blanche, in fact, had twice, in two different episodes, accidentally began dating men before realizing that each was physically handicapped.  And by this episode, the futility of this story was apparent from the start.  It became difficult to get invested.  And at this point, it began to feel like that the show was not trying as hard as it should.

"Not Another Monday" (5x07)
This is hands-down, the best episode.  The plot is another "very special" topic: Sophia has a friend that wants to commit suicide and she wants Sophia to be there with her.  But this show highlights the show's strengths.  While struck with her moral dilemma, Sophia turns to her roommates.  Even in the midsts of the seriousness, the funniest jokes fly.  Particularly Rose's monologue:

Gunilla Olfstadter was a nurse at Cedars of St. Olaf hospital. She was taking care of Sven Bjornson and he asked her if she would get him some mouth moisteners and then kill him.  She got the mouth moisteners right away, but well, the killing thing, it seemed to go against everything she'd been taught.  He begged and begged and, by her coffee break, she pulled the plug.  She was racked with guilt.  Not only had she parked her car in a doctor's spot, but she was never sure if Sven's pleading was the pain talking, the medication talking or the guy in the next bed talking.  You see, the guy in the next bed was Ingmar Von Bergen, St. Olaf's meanest ventriloquist.

Golden Girls is a nice, pleasant distraction of a show.  It is a lesson in comedic chemistry and can still be enjoyed years later.

1 comment:

  1. You have written a wonderful article. I really enjoyed reading. Especially I like the concept of ‘Golden Girls’ in the best sitcoms of all time. It is really informative to me.