The Great Golden Girls Marathon: “The Engagement/The Pilot”

Well, here we go. After a great deal of deliberation, I’ve decided to start this mammoth undertaking. I am going to write a short (400-500 word) review of each and every episode of The Golden Girls. I have no idea how long it’s going to take (I’m still working on a similar project for The Lord of the Rings), but I consider it an act of fan devotion. Since I may never get to publish a monograph on the series (that pesky Dissertation is still in progress, as well as my creative projects), this series of blog posts seemed more manageable. And who knows, maybe it will turn into a book? Stranger things have happened.

Anyway, the episode. The series rather begins in the middle, with debutante Blanche becoming engaged to her most recent boyfriend Harry. Acerbic yet witty Dorothy is happy for her, while somewhat dim, prudish Rose begins by feeling worried about where they will live after Blanche gets married, and gradually comes to distrust her fiancee. Meanwhile, Dorothy’s mother makes an appearance, her retirement home having burned down. As it turns out, Harry (the fiancee) is a bigamist, and the women recognize that their relationships with one another are far more meaningful, and lasting, than any they might have with men.

I’ve always thought that this episode in particular is one of the most perfectly executed pilots. Right from the outset we get a strong sense of the relationships among the women, as well as their key characteristics. The comic timing is spot on, with both Sophia and Dorothy really hitting all of the right notes.  At this stage, Rose’s character hasn’t quite gelled into coherence yet (though it will by the end of the season and certainly by the beginning of S2), and Blanche is still slightly rough around the edges. All in all, though, the pilot does what any good pilot should do, which is help us understand these characters and what makes them tick.

And then of course there is Coco, the gay cook who never reappears. I’ve always thought he was one of the great “what might have beens” in the history of television comedy. Would his continued inclusion have spoiled the pitch-perfect dynamic that the four women established with one another, or would he have been an invaluable addition, a nice complement to Bea Arthur/Dorothy’s acid wit? It’s hard to say, and he remains one of the most compelling enigmas of the series.

I’ll close this review by mentioning that this episode is the first of several that would feature the deferred engagement. As my good friend Bridget and I have frequently noted, this not only enhances our impression that it is the friendships among the women that matter most, but also opens up many fascinating avenues for viewers to enjoy and exploit the implicit queerness of such relationships. (Don’t worry. I’ll talk much more about that very queerness in subsequent entries).

Next up, we meet Dorothy’s ex-husband Stan, as well as her daughter Kate.

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