Tag Archives: the golden girls marathon

The Great Golden Girls Marathon: “Isn’t it Romantic?” (S2, Ep. 5)

Now we come to what I think is one of the finest episodes of the entire series (yes, I know I’ve said that before, and I’ll probably say it again). Both bittersweet and joyful, “Isn’t it Romantic?” exemplifies the best that The Golden Girls has to offer.

In this episode, Dorothy’s friend Jean (played with inimitable charm by Lois Nettleton) comes for a visit. While warm and delightful and quick to make friends with Rose and Blanche, Jean also harbors something of a secret. Her recently-deceased partner Pat was not, as everyone seems to assume, a man, but a woman. And, on top of that, she gradually finds herself falling for Rose, whose farm-girl cuteness appeals to Jean’s own loneliness and vulnerability. While Rose must ultimately let Jean down easily, the two agree that they can remain friends.

Part of what makes this episode work is the sheer charm exuded by veteran TV actress Lois Nettleton. She’s one of those people that you know you’ve seen on some TV show from the ’60s or ’70s, though you may not be able to say what it was or who she played. Regardless of the role, however, Nettleton always manages to convey the inner warmth and goodness of her characters.

Some, I’m sure, will see in Rose’s repudiation of Jean’s feelings a warning about the the futility of queer desire, but to my mind it’s a very human and natural storyline portrayed in a very sympathetic light. Jean is not rendered into a stereotype or a pathetic figure, but is instead simply a woman who found herself falling for another woman whose kindness and goodness of spirit are some of her most attractive qualities.

As always, Sophia leads the way when it comes to the perspective the viewer is meant to take on Jean’s sexuality. While everyone (including Dorothy) makes a big deal out of it, Sophia accepts it without question, commenting that some people prefer cats over dogs, and some women prefer women over men. It is the blunt simplicity of Sophia’s statement that always stands out to me, as she reveals the folly of overanalyzing human desire and emphasizing the things that we share as fellow human beings.

Yet even Rose, who seems quite befuddled about the whole affair, ultimately concludes that, were she gay, she would proud that Jean felt that way about her. This might seem a little trite to some, but it always resonates with me. Let’s be real; we queer folk have a tendency to fall in love with the straights, and for many of us that is one of the most painful experiences we have as we come into our own as queer people. Far too often, our feelings for our straight friend is met with contempt, if not violence. Isn’t an expression of pride and compassion better than disgust and revulsion? Let’s remember that this is the 1980s, when the Reagan administration was still doing everything in its considerable power to make sure that queer folk stayed invisible. Jean’s visibility, and the girls’ acceptance of her, is a well-deserved slap in the face to that repressive ideology.

But of course no discussion of this episode would be complete without mentioning the uproariously funny jokes that emerge, foremost of which is Blanche’s confusion of “lesbian” with “Lebanese,” with a bit of Danny Thomas thrown in for good measure. The best part is that Blanche is mortally offended that Jean would prefer Rose over her, though she also admits that it’s fine, even if she doesn’t understand it. There is an irony here, given Blanche’s later outrage at her brother’s homosexuality, but that’s a post for another day.

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The Great “Golden Girls” Marathon: “The Operation” (S1, Ep. 18)

In today’s installment of “The Great Golden Girls Marathon,” we get to see both a moment of vulnerability from Dorothy and a truly spectacular dance scene between Dorothy and Rose. When Dorothy accidentally injures herself during a tap dance, she is forced to contend with her fear of hospitals and of surgery, while the other two must decide how they are going to perform without her (they eventually dub themselves “The Two Merry Widows”).

It’s rather nice to see Dorothy manifest something other than the sort of steely strength that is normally her way of being in the world. She is clearly quite frightened about the fact that she has to go through a fairly major surgery (and who wouldn’t  be scared, when even the doctors blurt out the truth that they can’t really guarantee that something won’t go amiss). While the whole scene in which the doctors act like complete idiots is played for laughs, it has just the slightest bit of edge to it, and that gives Dorothy’s determination to see the surgery through–but only after briefly escaping from the hospital.

Yet the episode also takes pains to show that, to a degree at least, she’s being just a bit ridiculous about the whole thing. When she meets her roommate, Bonnie, played by the inimitable Anne Haney, famous for her roles in both Mrs. Doubtfire and Mama’s Family), she realizes that her own crisis is rather small potatoes compared to Bonnie’s survival of breast cancer. While the particularities of women’s health issues wouldn’t really take full shape and get full treatment until later seasons, the fact that it is brought up in this early episode indicates how deeply this concern runs in the show’s ethos.

The highlight of the episode, in my opinion, is the spectacular tap-dancing scene between Rose and Blanche. There is something uniquely pleasurable in general about seeing the human body engaged in the beauty of the dance, and it becomes even more so when it is two characters that we have already begun to love. Rue and Betty seem to have a particular bond with one another that exists in that pleasurably intimate space between intense friendship and romantic desire, and this is frequently expressed in their ability to be physically intimate with one another.

Of course, it’s worth pointing out that the strongest bonds (particularly physical) exist in distinct pairs:  Dorothy/Blanche; Dorothy/Sophia; Blanche/Rose. I am not exactly sure what to make of this as of yet, though I suspect part of it has to do with the rather vexed relationship that existed between Bea and Betty when they weren’t in character. There’s no denying that there is powerful affection between all of the women, but there’s also truth to the observation that it’s definitely stronger between some of them than others.

In the next installment, Blanche meets yet another man who wants to make her a permanent part of his life, while Dorothy and Rose attempt to take on that most gargantuan of household tasks:  the installation of a toilet.

The Great Golden Girls Marathon: “The Heart Attack” (S1, Ep. 10)

In today’s installment of the Great Golden Girls Marathon, it appears that Sophia may be having a heart attack, and the four women must cope with the fact that one of their number may be staring death in the face.

While this episode does not have the political bite of some of the other episodes of the first season, it does show the dexterity and depth with which the series is able to engage with the deeply personal. It’s one of the first times that we get a deep glimpse into the strong bond that exists between Dorothy and Sophia. It becomes clear, even at this early stage, that they are more than just mother and daughter; they are actually friends. There is an undeniable chemistry between Bea and Estelle, one that shines through in all of their performances together.

While a rather understated episode, it has its moments of genuine pathos, such as when Dorothy recognizes that she may well lose her mother. As someone who has a very deep and powerful relationship with my own Mom (and my Grandma), this scene always affects me. Embedded within this very personal trial is also a reflection on the way in which we must always contend with the fact that those we love, especially in a generation older than hours, are that much closer to the end of their lives. As such, it is a powerful reminder to make the most of the time that we are given.

This is also the first time that we learn that Rose’s husband Charlie died while they were in the middle of making love. This has always struck me as one of the more heartbreaking aspects of Rose’s character, and it remains a key part of her character development throughout the first season (and indeed throughout the series as a whole). More than any of the other characters, Rose seems to have the hardest time moving beyond the memory of Charlie, a testament to the extraordinary love that they clearly bore for one another.

Of course, everything is neatly resolved in the end with the revelation that the “heart attack” was in fact a gall bladder attack brought on by overeating. However, this doesn’t entirely efface the fact that death is an ever-present fact for these four women, especially Sophia. While The Golden Girls is certainly one of the finest-written comedies to ever grace television, it doesn’t shy away from the fact that, as one gets older, death becomes an increasingly prominent part of daily life. And that, I think, has always been one of its greatest strengths.

Next up, we get reacquainted with Dorothy’s infamous ex-husband Stan, and the beginning of a series-long arc in which the two briefly rekindle their failed relationship. Stay tuned!

The Great Golden Girls Marathon: “Guess Who’s Coming to the Wedding?”

In this episode, the women celebrate as Dorothy’s daughter Kate gets engaged to the handsome doctor Dennis, a cause of great celebration for her mother and grandmother. Right away, we get a sense of the powerful relationships that exist between the various mothers and daughters that will occur throughout the series. Dorothy clearly loves her daughter, and she wants the very best for her.

This episode also marks the first appearance of Dorothy’s ex-husband Stan, the man who will occupy so many episodes and so many failed romances. There’s an undeniable chemistry between Bea Arthur Herb Edelman, one that lends a certain frisson to their barbed relationship with one another. They really seem to inhabit the bodies two people who have shared 38 years together and who ended on less than perfect terms. Yet there is clearly a measure of affection left between them, which helps to explain in part the on-again/off-again dynamic that they maintain for the duration of the series.

The real highlight of the episode, however, is the final, climactic scene, in which Dorothy at last gets to tell Stan everything she feels as a result of his decision to divorce her in absentia. Arthur really shows her powerful acting ability, as she bites the words off and lashes Stan ruthlessly with his failures as a husband. Again, one can really believe that this is a woman who has been betrayed by the man with whom she sought to build a life. And while she clearly has a lot of anger and hatred (there is an absolutely hilarious scene in which she begins barking at him), there is also a mingled sense of loss and sadness. She knows she has to say goodbye, but she knows that it will tear her heart out to do it.

This is what makes this one of the truly greatest comedies in television history. Certainly, there is a great deal to be said about the show’s progressive politics (which I will not extensively as I work through this marathon), but it is equally skilled at negotiating the fraught and turbulent depths of human relationships. We’re not invited to hate Stan, though we are definitely invited to vicariously experience Dorothy’s rage. Edelman has a certain charm about him, and we can see how Dorothy would spend 38 years with him. This episode, as well as the many that follow it, show us just how messy and imperfect human relationships are. Further, the series shows how even the people we think we hate the most continue to exert a pull on our lives.

Next up, Rose faces the possibility of engaging physically with the first man since her husband’s untimely passing.