Tag Archives: the golden girls episodes

The Great Golden Girls Marathon: “The Stan Who Came to Dinner” (S2, Ep. 13)

Greetings, friends! Welcome to another installment of the Great Golden Girls Marathon. Today, we’re going to be talking about the episode “The Stan Who Came to Dinner,” in which Dorothy’s ex-husband Stan (played by the inimitable Herb Edelman) has to have open-heart surgery. While he makes it through the surgery without complications, his recovery in the girls’ house causes no small amount of conflict.

Personally, I’ve always really enjoyed the episodes when Stan makes an appearance. For one thing, there is an undeniable chemistry between Edelman and Bea Arthur, so much so that one can well believe that they were once married in real life (this is what happens when you have the talents of two very great actors playing against one another). For another, Edelman just plays the schmuck character so well that it’s hard not to find him charming, even if he is also very much of a sleaze (let’s not forget that the whole reason he’s Dorothy’s ex is because he left her for a stewardess). Much as you might find Stan absolutely infuriating, and as much as you might sympathize with Dorothy’s unquestionable dislike of him, you can also recognize what it was that drew her to him in the first place, and you also realize why she still finds herself a little in love with him despite everything that he’s done.

Indeed, this episode cuts to the heart of the relationship that Dorothy has with Stan. While it would be easy for her to simply tell him no when he asks if he can stay with them during his recovery, for better or worse he is still part of her family. After all, they did share 38 years together, to say nothing of their two children. More surprising, at least initially, is Sophia’s insistence that he stays there with them. However, it’s only surprising until you realize that for Sophia, with her distinctive old world sensibility, family comes before everything else, even if she might resent the fact that he’s family at all (as she says to Dorothy, “it’s your fault he’s family”). For Sophia, family really does trump everything else, and I actually find that fact a little touching.

At the same time, the episode really lays bare some of the pain and agony that Dorothy endured as she stayed with Stan, a man hardly known for his marital fidelity. Indeed, as he makes clear the night before his surgery, he cheated on her far more than she had ever believed, and while this belated confession seems to make him feel better, it really makes her reckon with the way that she thought about their relationship and their years together. Of course, she gets vengeance in her own way (a suitcase to the groin is always a good bet for a laugh).

It’s really the concluding scene that draws all of these threads together. Upon realizing that Stan has faked his relapse so that he can continue staying with them, Dorothy responds with outrage and, though she is moved by his confession of vulnerability, she makes it clear that she can’t be his emotional crutch any longer. What I particularly appreciate about this scene is the way in which it allows Stan to be emotionally vulnerable in a way that is more authentic than at almost any other point in the entire series (one exception being the series finale). Here, we see that he is, after all, a man leaving middle age, confronting the very fact of his mortality. At the same time, we also get to see Dorothy in one of her strongest moments, reminding Stan that, although she will always love him, she isn’t his wife any longer and that he has to set out on his own. Though it is, obviously, far from the end of their adventures together, it does mark a significant turning point.

This is, all told, one of the most emotionally mature episodes of the second season. Next up, we get to what I’ve always thought was one of the absolute funniest episodes the series ever aired, in which Rose, Blanche, and Dorothy compete with one another for the attentions of a very handsome and dashing actor. Stay tuned!

The Great Golden Girls Marathon: “Sisters” (S2, Ep. 12)

Okay, I know I say this every time I begin a new blog post about The Golden Girls, but I really mean it this time. I have always loved this episode, and I can say in all honesty that it is definitely one of my favourites. In this episode, Dorothy invites her aunt Angela to come to a Miami for Sophia’s birthday, not realizing that the two of them cannot stand the sight of one another. The result is some of the funniest one-liners in the history of the show.

A big part of what makes this episode so side-clutchingly funny is Nancy Walker. After all, when it comes down to it, how can you not love Walker as Sophia’s sharp-tongued sister Angela? Somehow, she manages to come across as exactly the kind of person that you would expect to be Sophia’s sister, full of zingers and stories that are just this side of believable. There’s also an undeniable chemistry between the two women, even when they are in the midst of one of their truly epic shouting matches with one another, in which they call down various outlandish curses (such as “may you put your dentures in upside down and chew your head off!) This a fine display of not only the show’s writing finesse but also the ability of two tried and true actresses playing off of one another’s strength to exceptional comedic effect.

Yet beneath all of the hilarious banter, there are two serious issues at stake. One is the power of memory and our ability to contort the past to conform to our own agenda. The entire episode hinges on the fact that each women recall the events of a party 30 years earlier very differently, and they’ve allowed their skewed recollections to poison their relationship to a pathological degree. Its both hilarious and a poignant reminder of the importance of checking ourselves occasionally and keeping lines of communication open with our loved ones. It is, in other words, one of those key life lessons that The Golden Girls, particularly in the episodes devoted to family, is so good at conveying.

The other important issue is, of course, family, and the complicated factors that often go into the types of feuds in which Sophia and Angela have engaged. As Dorothy says to both of them, this may be the last time that they see one another alive and, while it seems like a bit of a throwaway line, it’s one of those statements whose real profundity really hits you. Neither of these women is young anymore, and since they are separated by an ocean, they really do have to confront the reality of their own impending mortality (another recurring theme in the show). Though of course it’s no surprise that they end up reconciling (this is a sitcom, after all), it’s still a touching reminder of the power of family to overcome difference and rediscover love.

All in all, I’ve always found this episode to be both touching and hilarious and, underneath it all, startlingly profound. And, thankfully, it’s not the only time we get to meet Angela (who appears in a later episode of season two). Of course, this does also cause some problems in the series’ continuity down the line–when Angela is replaced by Bill Dana as Angelo–but, as with so many other incidents in the show, you just have to go with it.

Next up, we once again get to see Dorothy’s ex-husband Stan, who faces a health crisis. See you next time!

The Great Golden Girls Marathon “‘Twas the Nightmare Before Christmas” (S2, Ep. 11)

And so we come to that staple of most 1980s sitcoms, the Christmas episode. After exchanging their gifts, the four women are held captive by a deranged Santa while picking up Rose from her job at the counseling center. Though their plans to visit their own families out of state are ultimately foiled, they come to realize that they are more like family than they ever realized

The true highlight of the episode is, of course, the calendar that Blanche gives to the other girls, entitled “The Men of Blanche’s Boudoir.” Of course, we don’t get to see what is contained in said calendar, but that just makes it all the more hilarious when the women–particularly Dorothy and Sophia–respond to the…endowments of the men on display. Sophia’s remark is, unsurprisingly, very earthy (“I’m surprised you were able to walk in October,” she exclaims), and we find ourselves both vastly amused and very curious.

Despite the fact that we don’t get to see the men, there is something more than a little subversive about this moment. As most people will agree, it is typically women who are rendered into objects of spectacle for men, their bodies a source of erotic delight (the film theorist Laura Mulvery has a remarkable essay on just this subject). As they so often do, the women manage to flip the gendered dynamics that society so often relies upon, and it does so in a way that is all the more subversive for being played for laughs.

The real emotional center of the episode, however, occurs after they go to a diner to commiserate over their seemingly ruined holiday. The friendly waiter (played by Teddy Wilson, who would return in a later episode as a different character) remarks that, given how they were carrying on and teasing one another, he had assumed their family. This casual remark from a stranger forces the four women to recognize that, in reality, they are a family in all of the ways that really matter. This might seem trivial to some people, but to me it’s one of those moments in the series where you really start to realize how much these four women mean to one another. For queer people in particular–who often have a strained relationship with their families–there is something especially resonant about the way in which these wonderful women find such profound emotional fulfillment with one another.

Now, admittedly, there is something more than a little problematic in the scene that takes place at the counseling center, especially since it uses those with mental illness as the punchline. However, in cases like this it’s important to remember that, as progressive as it often is, The Golden Girls is still very much a product of its time.

Overall, I’ve always found this to be an enjoyable episode, even if it doesn’t pack quite the punch of some of the others in the second season. Next up, we’ll be talking about one of my all-time fave episodes, in which we finally get to meet Sophia’s estranged sister Angela (played by the inimitable Nancy Walker).

The Great “Golden Girls” Marathon: “Joust Between Friends” (S2, Ep.9)

Moving right along with our episode-by-episode breakdown of The Golden Girls, we come to another of those episodes where two of the women square off agains each other. In this case, the catalyst is Dorothy’s employment at Blanche’s museum. When it looks like she is going to outdo Blanche, the latter quits in a huff, not realizing that Dorothy has been put in charge of planning a party in her honor. Meanwhile, Rose adopts a dog, much to Dorothy’s chagrin.

This episode falls squarely into that set of Golden Girls episodes that explores the fraught territory of female friendships. This time, though, there’s no middle ground, since it’s pretty clear from the beginning that Blanche is in the wrong. Dorothy, as their therapist remarks in a later episode, cannot be blamed for being competent. And, of course, Dorothy takes the high road, even when it would be easier to give in to her baser instincts and just tell Blanche the truth. It’s also worth noting that the scenes of confrontation between the two of them–including and especially when Blanche pleads for forgiveness and Dorothy tearfully responds that she doesn’t know whether she can give it. As comedic as these scenes ultimately are, they still showcase just how extraordinarily talented these women were.

And yet, one can’t help but feel at least a bit of sympathy for Blanche and her plight. As she says to Dorothy, she’s been working at the museum for a number of years by this point, and to see Dorothy come in and do her job in such a short time is incredibly disorienting. Maybe it’s just my innate sympathy toward Blanche (to say nothing of my own fragile ego), but I can see where’s coming from, even if I think that her reaction to the situation is a bit overblown.

One of the things I like most about this episode is the fact that it’s Sophia that tells Blanche that Dorothy has been planning her surprise party, thus quite thoroughly shaming her. As biting as Sophia can be when it comes to interacting with Dorothy, incidents like this show that her loyalty to her daughter is deep and true. It’s one thing for her to insult Dorothy, but when someone else does–even if it’s someone who is like a daughter–she will definitely come out swinging. It’s one of those wonderful moments when we get to see just how strong the bond is between the two of them.

Of course, there are a number of continuity questions that this episode raises, particularly in the sequence where Blanche is describing Dorothy’s experiences (this is, I think, the only time that we hear about Dorothy’s study abroad experiences). Likewise, Dorothy’s reluctance/hostility to dog ownership is somewhat at odds with what happens in later episodes but still, it is touching to know that it stems from her deep, and ultimately devastating, love for a former schnauzer that lies at the root of her current antipathy toward pet ownership.

Overall I found this to be a very entertaining episode, even if it falls more into the category of filler than some of the others in this season. As always, we emerge reassured that Blanche and Dorothy have made peace with one another, at least until the next blow-up threatens their friendship.

Next up, Blanche and Dorothy concoct a clever (if ultimately rather silly) plan to make Rose feel better about her barren dating prospects.

The Great Golden Girls Marathon: “Vacation” (S2, Ep. 8)

Hello, fellow Golden Girls fans! Since I’ve now made a commitment to finishing up this marathon fairly soon, I wanted to jump right in with another installment. In today’s episode, “The Vacation,” Dorothy, Blanche, and Rose decide to go on a much-needed vacation to the Caribbean. Once there, however, they find that the advertisements were, to put mildly, misleading, and that they have to share their room with a trio of surly and spoiled young men. Sophia, meanwhile, takes this time to finally pursue a little dalliance with their Japanese gardener.

There are some truly funny sequences in this episode, and the sparring between the three women and the men are particularly amusing. The highlight of this portion, however, comes near the end, when the three of them are sitting on the beach, having survived the wrecking of the men’s boat. This incident brings out the best and the worst in the women, as each of them confesses some of their dark secrets that they’ve been hiding from one another (including the fact that both Dorothy and Blanche slept with Rose’s cousin). This sequence also features a very funny bit where Rose asserts her dominance over her squabbling fellows, one of those hilarious instances where Rose reveals that, beneath the midwest nice persona there’s a core of iron and badassery.

Now, admittedly, the sequences that actually take place on the island are more than a little problematic, perpetuating as they do the idea that places in the Caribbean are full of corrupt bureaucrats, decadent politics, and violent revolution. Now, I know that it’s played for laughs, but it’s worth emphasizing that, as progressive as it often was, there were times when The Golden Girls was problematic. It’s important to remember that there was substantial unrest in the Caribbean at the time, including notably the uprising that toppled the president of Haiti (an incident that Sophia alludes to in another episode), so it’s hardly surprising that this would have some impact on the series’ storylines.

As hilarious (and problematic) as the main plot is, to my mind the more significant aspect of the episode is Sophia’s little love affair with the gardener Mr. Mitsumo. The scenes between two of them are actually incredibly sweet, as they somehow manage to overcome the language barrier (he speaks only broken English and she, of course, doesn’t speak Japanese) to find that there is something deeper between them. The part of the scene where they kiss is incredibly endearing and I, for one, love seeing Sophia just as prone to feeling the prick of Cupid’s arrow as the rest of the girls.

Overall, this is a very enjoyable episode of The Golden Girls, though I would probably rank it in the bottom third overall. There’s not much significant political or emotional heft to the episode as a whole, and the humor is a little simplistic. It’s pretty average sitcom fare, and that’s perfectly okay.

In our next outing, we get to see yet another conflict between Dorothy and Blanche as they compete for accolades at the art museum.

The Great “Golden Girls” Marathon: “Family Affair” (S2, Ep. 7)

Sorry for my extended absence. I’ve been pretty swamped with a variety of projects, so I haven’t had as much time to devote to this blog (and this Golden Girls marathon), as I would like. Rest assured, I’m going to really try to publish at least a couple of these episode analyses per week, in the hopes that I can get all the way through the show within the next several months. That’s a tall order, but I do love a challenge.

This episode marks the first appearance of Scott Jacoby as Dorothy’s son Michael (woh would go on to appear in two other episodes as the same character). His visit to the women happens to coincide with a visit from Rose’s daughter Bridget, and while she is a future Oxford student, Michael he is a struggling musician. This doesn’t stop them from having a little afternoon delight, however, leading to a brutal fight between Dorothy and Rose that puts an intense strain on their friendship.

It’s hard to deny that Scott Jacoby is a very cute young man, and he has a fair amount of charm (certainly more than his brother, who played Blanche’s grandson David in an earlier episode). As a character, however, Michael exhibits the same sorts of frustrating behavior that so often bedevil the women’s children. Michael’s essential flaw is that he refuses to take life seriously; unlike his no-nonsense mother, he bounces through life, from job to job, with nary a care in the world. What’s more, he seems to have no sense of common decency, since he has sex with his mother’s best friend’s daughter. Hardly the behavior of an upstanding young man, is it?

The emotional center of the episode, however, is the vicious argument that breaks out between Dorothy and Rose regarding which of their two children was responsible for their liaison. Rose, in a rare show of aggression, declares that Michael is nothing but a loser, while Dorthy responds that Bridget is a tramp. The tension between White and Arthur has been noted (most especially by White herself), and I suspect they might have been channeling some of that into this emotional confrontation, which helps to give it a raw intensity that it might have otherwise lack. In the long annals of fights between and among the women, this one is right up there. It’s hard not to feel uncomfortable watching it, precisely because it feels so real and immediate.

What’s more, it allows the show to explore the often fraught space between one’s friends and one’s family. In this case, neither of the women is comfortable accepting uncomfortable truths about their children and, as a result, they start to take it out on one another. Usually, family strife in The Golden Girls is restricted to one of the women and whichever family member they happen to be feuding with (daughter, son, brother, etc.), so this change is actually quite refreshing.

Ultimately, of course, both Dorothy and Rose overcome their differences fairly easily. It’s not so easy, however, to come to grips with their children’s foibles. On Dorothy’s part, she has to recognize that her son, as much as she loves him, is never going to be the responsible adult that she wants him to be. Rose, on the other hand, in her innocence and naïveté, has to grapple with the reality that her daughter is an adult with sexual desires. Ironically enough, it is Rose who actually has the harder time accepting the reality that her daughter is now an adult.

Next up, we come to one of the more problematic episodes of the second season, in which three of the women take an ill-fated trip to the Caribbean.

The Great “Golden Girls” Marathon: “Ladies of the Evening” (S2, Ep. 2)

As I’ve said several times, the second season of The Golden Girls is, in my mind, the point when the whole thing starts to gel. The writing amps up–both in terms of the comedy and the political commentary–and the chemistry among the leads also seems to really hit its stride. You finally get the sense that these are four women who may disagree with one another in many significant ways, but deep down they truly love one another. Their friendship will endure many trials, but it will always emerge stronger than before.

In this episode, Blanche happens to win tickets to see Burt Reynolds and, as part of their celebration, they opt to spend the evening at a lovely hotel in Miami Beach. Unfortunately, the hotel they choose is a den of prostitution, and they are taken to jail. Hilarity ensues, particularly when Sophia snatches the tickets in retaliation for having been left out of their Reynolds plan.

To my eyes, at least, this is one of the funniest episodes of the entire series. The sequence in jail–particularly Rose’s dismay at losing Butter Queen in her youth–the appearance of Burt Reynolds at the end of the episode, the squabbling amongst the inmates. All combine to make this a riot from beginning to end. There’s even a nice little dig at Richard Nixon (courtesy of Blanche), which is splendidly funny. There are times in a good comedy when the writing and the performances all come together, and this is one of those episodes. What’s more, it once again shows the women come together in the end, all of their differences put aside.

There are also a few little comedic gems that are worth mentioning. When Rose reads off a litany of the other celebrities that will be present with Burt, she mentions that Charles Nelson Reilly will also be there. While the girls are less than impressed, the canny viewer will no doubt recognize that he appeared with Betty White in a number of game shows throughout the 1970s. It’s just another one of those little touches that the show frequently uses to highlight the exemplary careers of its leading ladies.

One also can’t help but wonder if the Sophia strand of this episode’s plot is a rather sly and self-aware gesture toward the fact that she wasn’t originally intended to be a key part of the series. She is justifiably upset that she is being left out of the plans that the four women make, and one can hardly blame her for her desire to finally take a little bit of pleasure for herself.

All in all, I think this is one of the most uproariously funny episodes in the entire series. The surprise appearance of Burt Reynolds at the end might be brief, but it is hilarious. The man somehow has the knack of commanding the camera regardless of what he is in.

In the next episode, we’ll see what happens when Stan returns and goes on a date with Blanche, much to Dorothy’s chagrin.

The Great “Golden Girls” Marathon: “Big Daddy” (S1, Ep. 23)

Since its been ages since I published a post about The Golden Girls, and since I needed something to distract me from some personal grief, I thought I’d write another one. In today’s episode, we meet Blanche’s father “Big Daddy” who, unbeknownst to her, has sold the family mansion and taken up a career as a country singer.

While Big Daddy will appear in another episode, this iteration is a rather earthier, more homespun charmer than his later incarnation. It’s clear that Blanche has a very close relationship with her father, yet it is equally true that she cares just as much about the dignity of the family name (for anyone who is from the South, this should sound and feel quite familiar). Unfortunately, as the episode progresses, she finds that her interest in maintaining the latter conflicts with the former.

There are truly some golden comedic exchanges, as when Big Daddy asks Dorothy to promise him that she won’t “fret none.” Dorothy, with her typical dead-pan delivery, says she would so, only she doesn’t know what “fret none is.” Of course, part of the humour in this situation arises from Dorothy’s ever-present skepticism and indeed dismissal of the peculiarities of southern culture.

Despite the episode’s focus on the personal relationship between Blanche and her father, there is also an ever-so-slight feminist element that springs from the conflict between the women and their cantankerous neighbour who refuses to repair the damage done by his tree.

The Great “Golden Girls” Marathon: “Blind Ambitions”

Since it’s been quite a while since I posted about my dearly-beloved Golden Girls, I thought I’d take a minute and post about one of my favourite episodes from the first season. In this episode, we meet yet another member of the extended family, in this case Lily, Rose’s sister, who has recently gone blind and struggles to make it on her own.

As my Boyfriend recently pointed out, it’s an interesting fact that the women that hail from St. Olaf (with the exception of Rose) seem to be a bit quicker on the uptake than Rose herself. This is distinct from the men, such as Rose’s cousin Sven or the three men who come to determine whether Rose will be eligible for the St. Olaf Woman of the Year Prize, all of whom are quite as dense (if not more so) than Rose. Lily seems to have escaped the veil of idiocy that surrounds almost all of the other inhabitants of this small Minnesota town.

Throughout the episode, brief as it is, we get a good sense that Lily has really struggled to adapt to life as a blind person. She is clearly a woman who is used to doing what she wants when she wants, and her physical disability has made it difficult for her to adapt to a different kind of life. As a result, she finds that she has to rely on Rose to an extraordinary degree and, unsurprisingly, she asks Rose to come life with her. As happens so often in the series, Rose finds herself torn between various competing personal loyalties.

I’ve always thought that The Golden Girls was fairly progressive in its articulation and representation of disability. The disabled persons who appear in the show are, in many ways, treated just like any other characters. For the most part they aren’t just magical figures that sweep in for a very special episode, only to serve as a message. Now, admittedly, Lily doesn’t really appear again in the show, but it is true that she has a richness and a depth that one rarely sees in a one-off sitcom appearance. We get a real sense of her, both as an individual as well as part of Rose’s very large family. Just as importantly, we also get a strong, almost gut-wrenching sense of what she has lost, when she breaks down and confesses that she yearns for the days when she could still see.

It is thus refreshing that the episode ends with Lily taking control of her own life and deciding that she can, indeed, be independent without Rose’s assistance. Rose’s decision to force Lily to be independent is certainly heart-wrenching for her, but in the end it enables Lily to prove to herself and to her sister that she is capable of leading a life of her own without assistance from others.

Of course, the episode is also full of some truly hilarious moment, as when Rose rediscovers her old teddy bear that was almost sold at the garage sale. The high-pitched voce that she adopts when talking with that teddy bear engenders a screech of dismay from Dorothy, and it is hard not to erupt into laughter at the banter between these two.

Next up, we meet Blanche’s father Big Daddy. Blanche, like her fellow women, must contend with the various pressures of a family.

The Great “Golden Girls” Marathon: “Job Hunting” (S1, Ep. 22)

In today’s entry of the marathon, I want to talk about “Job Hunting,” one of the final episodes of the first season. In this episode, Rose loses her job at the counseling center and, faced with financial insolvency, embarks on a job search that proves less than fruitful.

This is one of the first episodes that starts to address the broader cultural issues of the 1980s head-on. In this case, one of the primary thematic interests of the episodes is the fact that many employers will refuse to hire a person simply because they have reached a certain age (this will be a recurring issue in later episodes as well). Rose has to face the unpleasant realization that the late 20th Century workforce is incredibly hostile to those over 50, particularly women. So great is her shame at this, indeed, that she conceals the full extent of her futile search from her friends, until the futility of it makes it impossible to hide any longer.

Furthermore, it is also striking that Rose, perhaps more than any of the other characters, has had to contend with the economic realities of being a widow after being a housewife. When Dorothy pointedly asks her what she did after Charlie died, she had to pick up the pieces and try to forge an independent identity for herself. However, she also reminds Dorothy that she was younger then and Dorothy’s response–which hilariously points out that both she and Blanche have also gotten older–is not only uproariously funny but also a reminder that the women need each other’s strength to get through these difficult times.

The issue of elder poverty is one that will recur throughout the series, as each of the women must contend in one way or another with the fact that their lives are predicated on a certain scarcity. Though it is easy to forget, part of the reason that they live with one another is because it was too expensive to live on their own. The economic realities of the world they live in are rarely far outside the frame, a perpetual reminder of the precariousness of each of their lives. It is also noteworthy that the women continually support one another in these pinched financial times, for they understand that it is only through their collective emotional and financial strength that they can manage to withstand the curveballs that their culture continually throws at them.

It is striking that the job that Rose eventually attains is one which Blanche roundly criticizes as being beneath her. Yet, as Rose passionately responds, it’s better than sitting around feeling sorry for herself. The chance to work again, even if it as at a diner, represents for her an opportunity to reclaim her lost agency. (Of course, it’s worth pointing out that she eventually returns to being a counselor at a grief center, though whether it’s the one that recently closed or another one is never clarified).

In the next episode, we meet Rose’s sister, and Rose has to face a perilous choice about that sister’s disability.