Tag Archives: the great golden girls marathon

The Great “Golden Girls” Marathon: “Big Daddy’s Little Lady” (S2, Ep. 6)

For today’s installment of the ongoing marathon of The Golden Girls, we come to another of those episodes that has become iconic. In the episode, Blanche has to contend with her father’s decision to marry a much younger woman, while Dorothy and Rose decide to enter a songwriting contest and, in the process, create one of the most iconic moments in the entire series.

This episode has some of the most memorable (and quotable) moments in the entire series. Whether this is Rose and Dorothy’s banter about whether “thrice” should be used in a word, or their attempts to find a word that rhymes with Miami (Rose suggestions include a skewed pronunciations of salami, hootenanny, and mammy). To my mind, this is some of the most brilliant writing in the entire series. Just as importantly, it also allows Betty White and Bea Arthur, so opposite in temperament and personality, to really spark off of each other. The result is pure comedy gold.

In the end, of course, the two of them do end up producing a song, one arguably as memorable as the theme itself. And, though they don’t ultimately get win the contest (coming in second place and, as Dorothy says, treated badly), they do get to perform it for our pleasure and their own. Indeed, the resulting number–which features all four of the women singing together–is one of those moments of pure, unadulterated joy that The Golden Girls seems to have had a particular knack for creating. If you don’t emerge from that finale with a smile on your face, then I think you might want to confirm that you are actually human.

On the more serious side of things, Blanche’s grappling with her father’s marriage to a younger woman reveals a great deal about her relationship with her father. This Big Daddy is a very different iteration than his appearance in the first season, in which he was much more the rascally old man that is such a key part of many of Blanche’s stories about him. David Wayne’s portrayal gives Big Daddy a certain gravitas that he lacked, and this makes him a perfect incarnation of the southern gentleman. It’s clear from the outset that he dotes on Blanche and that she, likewise, idolizes him. At least, she does until his new bride-to-be shows up, after which she (once again) tries to reign in her father’s behavior.

Of course, Blanche’s response to her father’s amorous adventures make sense, even if she does go about expressing it in a very abrasive and disrespectful way. Who wouldn’t feel at least a little bit suspicious if their elderly parent was marrying a much younger person? As always, I find it striking that it is Blanche of all people who takes it upon herself to judge what other people do sexually. It’s a big part of what makes her such a rich, complex, and compelling character.

This is one of those episodes of The Golden Girls that stands the test of time, one of those that you can watch again and again and have it be just as funny as the first time that you watched it. Next up, we get to meet Dorothy’s son Michael, as well as Rose’s daughter Bridget.

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

“Isn’t it Romantic,” the fifth episode of the second season of The Golden Girls, is one of the most famous (and, for some, infamous), since it deals with lesbian desire. In the episode, Dorothy’s college friend Jean (played by the warm and divine Lois Nettleton), reeling from the death of her partner, finds herself falling in love with Rose.

First of all, let’s talk about Lois Nettleton. For years before she guest starred in The Golden Girls, Nettleton was a well-regarded character actress, appearing in a wide variety of television series throughout her long career. As a result, she brings to Jean an earthiness and a warmth that renders her utterly believable as a woman who has lost the love of her life and is trying to find a way of moving forward. It would be very easy to make her an object of pity or ridicule, but the writers, and Nettleton, chose instead to portray this is a very human response to grief. Nettleton has an effortless charm that allows her to inhabit the role, and you find yourself loving Jean from the moment she appears on screen.

Some, I’m sure, will feel uncomfortable with the way in which the series plays into the myth that gay people are always aiming to seduce straight people. Others have also criticized the episode for reaffirming Rose’s heterosexuality. These critiques, in my view, grossly overlook what the episode actually accomplishes. It allows us to see Jean as fundamentally human, as prone to mix-ups and awkward feeling as the rest of us. More importantly, in my view, it also gives Rose the chance to talk maturely and seriously with Jean about her feelings. Although, she says, she doesn’t understand these feelings, she tries to imagine what it would be like, and she tells Jean that she would be proud that she was the recipient of them.

It’s important here that it is Rose, simple, naïve Rose, with whom Jean falls in love. Of all the women, it is Rose who seems to have the best heart and the sweetest nature, and it is exactly these things that allows her to respond to Jean’s overtures not with disgust but with warmth and love and generosity. This response fits in with the overall ethos of the episode, which can be summed up in Sophia’s pithy remark that she’d rather live with a lesbian than a cat, which is not only funny but a remark strikingly ahead of its time.

But of course, no discussion of this episode would be complete without the incident in which Blanche confuses “lesbian” with “Lebanese” (when told that Jean is a lesbian she responds, “Isn’t Danny Thomas one?”) For Blanche, the more upsetting part of the entire revelation is that Jean prefers Rose over her, and her histrionics are yet another testament to how profoundly talented Rue McClanahan was as a comedic actress.

All in all, I tend to come away from this episode feeling positive about the ways in which it affirms the power of acceptance. For a show produced in the 1980s, when the religious right was on the ascendant and a staunch Republican was in the White House, this was more than a little radical. That’s why, even all of these years later, I still find its message of warmth and generosity so powerful, so moving.

Next up, we get to meet (again) Blanche’s father Big Daddy, and Dorothy and Rose pen one of the series’ most famous songs.

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.

The Great “Golden Girls” Marathon: “It’s a Miserable Life” (S2, Ep. 4)

Despite the sporadic nature of my updates to this series, I’m hoping to be a bit more consistent going forward. I’ve still got quite a few episodes to cover, after all. So, onward we go into season two.

In the fourth episode of the second season, the girls confront the malice and profound misanthropy of Frieda Claxton, their neighbor who does everything in her power to ensure that the old oak tree on her property is cut down by the city in its efforts to widen the street. When Rose loses her temper during a meeting of the City Council and shouts at Mrs. Claxton, the old woman dies on the spot, and the four women ultimately decide to pay for her funeral.

What is most striking about Mrs. Claxton is that she is unrepentantly misanthropic. Unlike the four stars of the show–who spend much of their time committed to social good–she straight up doesn’t like people. While the show doesn’t necessarily see this as a good thing (quite the opposite, in fact), it is refreshing to see a woman who doesn’t make any bones about the fact that she doesn’t feel the obligation to be nice to people just because that’s what she’s “supposed” to be like. Fun fact? She is basically what my Mom is going to be like when she gets to be that age.

The real highlight of the episode, though, is the scene at the funeral home, in which the four women have to contend with Mr. Pfeiffer (the “p” is not, in fact, silent). The scene is pure comedy gold, from Sophia’s threatening to give the funeral director a punch in his “pface” to the girls attempting to get the cheapest funeral and casket, since none of them really want to invest that much money into honouring a woman that none of them liked. The sequence also contains a sly reference to the popularity of The Cosby Show and indeed the centrality of television to the lives of those who lived in that far-off time before DVR. The whole thing is, quite simply, a hugely hilarious bit of comedy.

What I really like about this episode is that it shows us that Rose truly is a good, decent person. Sure, she has her moments when she lets her anger burst out inopportunely. However, her genuine devastation at the lack of attendees at Claxton’s funeral reveals how deeply Rose feels about the world around her, how she is determined to believe, despite all of the evidence to the contrary, that there is something good in the heart of even the most despicable person.

Indeed, this episode (like so many) contends with the incontrovertible fact of death and its increasing proximity. As mean as Frieda Claxton was, Sophia points out, she still deserves at least a measure of a funeral. Though she claims it’s good luck to pay for the funeral of someone you hate, one suspects that there is a recognition on Sophia’s part that death waits for all of them, and that it might be in all of their interest to save up some goodwill with the Almighty.

Next up, we come to one of my very favourite episodes, in which Dorothy’s gay friend comes for a visit.

The Great “Golden Girls” Marathon: “Take Him, He’s Mine” (S2, Ep. 3)

Special Note: This is my 500th post on this blog. Wow. We’ve come a long way, baby!

And so we come at last to the third episode of the second season, and the establishment of a pattern that will come to play such a prominent part in Dorothy’s life: her fraught and contradictory relationship with Stanley.

When Stanley comes by to ask Dorothy to go out with him to help salve his broken heart, Dorothy pawns him off on an unwilling Blanche. Unfortunately, the two of them bond more than she had expected, and this sparks yet another round of recriminations and feuding between Blanche and Dorothy. Meanwhile, Sophia and Dorothy go into business together trying to sell sandwiches.

One of the great strengths of The Golden Girls is the way in which it really helps shed light on the messiness of personal relationships. It would have been far too easy to paint Dorothy and Stan as mutually hating each other, and it appears that was indeed the goal in the first episode in which he appears, there’s clearly a lot of chemistry between Bea Arthur and Herb Edelman. One can actually imagine the two of them as a couple that once loved one another (even if their marriage came about in less than auspicious circumstances). The series shows us instead that the ties that bind a couple together during 38 years of marriage cannot be so easily dissolved or snapped; however much we might want it, there is rarely is such a thing as a truly clean break.

Dorothy’s flare of jealousy at Blanche’s budding relationship with Stan also speaks to the complicated relationships that exist between women. I know that I, for one, can completely understand Dorothy’s feeling of betrayal  and jealousy at the thought that her best friend might be sleeping with her ex-husband. I mean, who wouldn’t feel that way? Even if you are divorced from someone, even though they might have betrayed you in the worst way possible (remember that Stan left Dorothy and married a woman half his age), you still can’t let those feelings go.

But, this being a sitcom, balance has been restored by the end. Blanche jettisons her relationship with Stanley, correcting understanding that to persist in it would put an irreparable strain on their friendship. It’s rather touching, really, to see how they privilege their feelings for one another over their ones with men. It’s a dynamic that will be one of the constants in the entire series, and for me it’s one of the most enjoyable things about it.

Lastly, we should make at least passing mention of the Sophia/Rose part of the story. Admittedly, it lacks the gravitas of the other, but it is definitely hilarious. The “Bacon-Lettuce-and-Potato” bit (they run out of tomatoes for the sandwich) has to be one of the most hilarious segments in the second season.

Next up, we get to take a look at the strange case of Frieda Claxton in what is arguably one of the funniest episodes of this second season.

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: “End of the Curse” (S2, Ep. 1)

As it’s been ages since I wrote anything about The Golden Girls, I thought I’d take a bit of a break from my novel and dissertation stuff to write a brief entry in The Great Golden Girls Marathon. Here, we move at last into the second season, wherein Blanche has to confront the fact that she is moving into the next phase of her life, when she is told that she has begun menopause.

To my eye, this episode marks a definitive turning point in the way that the series works. Whereas Season 1 focused primarily on the familial and the personal–conflicts with grandchildren, nephews, sons, daughters, etc.–the second begins to really break out in an explicit way into the broader political questions that will become one of the series’ hallmarks.

Further, it also marks some significant shifts in tone. As I noted several times in my discussion of the first season, the characters had not quite gelled yet, though they came pretty close by the season finale. Rose is the character that shows the greatest change from the first season. By this episode, she has largely shed the prude persona–so conspicuously on display in the episode in which Dorothy has an affair with a married man–and has slowly morphed into the naive, slightly dim-witted, yet incredibly sincere and lovable Rose that will be her incarnation for the remainder of the series. Her funniest moment in this episode comes from her fundamental understanding of what an aphrodisiac is, leading to an absolutely hilarious interchange with Dorothy about “African what?,” the singular or plural form of Spanish fly (or beetle); and whether minks can be induced to mate.

The real center of the episode, however, is Blanche’s body and her relationship to it.

There’s no question that the subject of women’s bodies and their functioning is one of the most vexed in western (and perhaps global) culture. This is particularly true of Blanche, who sees herself as, first and foremost, both an object of desire for men and, I would argue, as the agent of that desire. The accumulated myths associated with menopause (or “The Change,” as it is menacingly referred to throughout the episode) suggest to her that with this biological shift she is losing an essential part of her femininity that renders her into that desirable and desiring subject/object.

Fortunately, the episode goes out of its way to inform Blanche (and us), that there is nothing unnatural about this shift. As her psychologist tells her, she will still be the same Blanche that she has always been, the same desiring, fun-loving woman with an uninhibited sex drive. Rather than seeing her as deranged–which Rose seems to, quite problematically, believe–he helps de-escalate her psychological state. As a result, she goes from seeing in her face the shade of her mother to hitting on the veterinarian who comes to examine the minks. She has emerged triumphant, back to being the love goddess that we know and love.

It is also worth noting that the series other major plotline, the breeding of minks for their fur, also expresses (albeit more subtly) one of the other semi-consistent political issues of the series: the ethical treatment of animals. Fortunately, the minks don’t end up being fur coats.

Next up, we come to one of my favourite episodes, in which the women’s plans to meet Burt Reynolds go terribly awry…

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.