I feel like very few sitcoms have become as engrained in my life like THE GOLDEN GIRLS did. It is certainly one of the few series I have seen every episode multiple times over and over again (though I did tend to skip a few whenever they would be shown on TV…such as Vacation, Empty Nests, Fiddler on the Ropes, Brother Can You Spare a Jacket?, and I suppose most of the clip shows).
THE GOLDEN GIRLS is an interesting case because it has a very well deserved fan base and it is always hilarious but the show also suffers from strange and erratic continuity errors that completely upend what we knew about the characters and their histories while also being heavily reliant on pop culture references from the 80s and early 90s.
I have always considered myself to be pretty good at understanding references but even I would have moments watching where I would have to think about a joke and look it up because, to name an example, I didn’t even know who Susan Anton was.
As it stands though, I still greatly love the show and I particularly have a fondness for the late Bea Arthur and her portrayal of the acerbic divorcee Dortohy Zbornak. The following list, much like the one I did for THE SIMPSONS, will be five honorable mentions and then my top 10. I feel a little more confident about this list than I did for THE SIMPSONS because very few shows had as many homeruns as that show did.
-Letter to Gorbachev (Season 3)
-Sick & Tired (Season 5)
-Mrs. George Devereaux (Season 6)
-Mister Terrific (Season 3)
-It’s a Miserable Life (Season 2)
#10-Journey to the Center of Attention (Season 7) Written by Jamie Wooten & Marc Cherry
This is the only Season 7 episode I will be mentioning…and honestly, after Season 4 the show started to lose some of its magic after losing several strong writers and then despite getting a respectable new staff, this is when a lot of the issues with continuity errors and changes in character backstories became more readily apparent.
Airing not long before the series finale, this episode taps into the Dorothy and Blanche relationship which always seemed the most strained out of any of the others.
When Dorothy accompanies Blanche to one of her favorite spots, The Rusty Anchor, she ends up charming the men of the bar with her singing and they turn all of their attention to her instead of Blanche which makes her extremely jealous.
Blanche has always relied on her confidence and sensuality to woo men but she seems very put off by how Dorothy has this one thing she can do to get EVERY man in that bar on her side: a good singing voice.
I feel like Blanche does deeply respect Dorothy despite all of the nitpicking about her homely looks and failed marriage…and this episode takes a glimpse into the humanity of Blanche by the end.
This was written by the then showrunners Jamie Wooten and of DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES fame, Marc Cherry. They were able to provide solid footing in the later years but it still never came close to the strength of the first 4 years.
#9-The Way We Met (Season 1) Written by….basically the whole writing staff
As I said in my SIMPSONS writeup, flashback episodes can end up being classics or failures. However, if you are focused on one particular topic and it is of something that could shed light on the dynamic of the show, then you have a winner.
In the case of The Way We Met, we are able to find out just exactly how Dorothy and Rose came to live with Blanche in her home (at the time, Sophia was still in the infamous Shady Pines Retirement Village) as when the series first began, they had been living together already for a few months.
I think one of the more ironic bits of information we learn in this episode is that after a rather tense trip to the grocery store that leaves the threesome wondering if the living arrangement will work, it takes one of Rose’s stories about St. Olaf, her rather eccentric hometown in Minnesota, to bring all of them together in laughter and friendship…and considering how they will soon become a point of disdain, it shows how it is bizarrely the thing that started to truly bring them together and also for them to discover their mutual love of cheesecake.
#8-Til Death Do We Volley (Season 4) Written by Richard Vaczy & Tracy Gamble
Perhaps something of an unusual choice but I have always loved this episode and it leads to a fantastic climax.Dorothy’s friend Trudy comes into town and they both seem to have a rather strange relationship that is based around snide comments, practical jokes, and an intense rivalry.
However, things take an abrupt turn when while playing a particularly intense round of Tennis on a very hot day, Trudy ends up dying and it leaves Dorothy feeling responsible.
The next issue? There was to be a big party at the house for welcoming Trudy in town but it leaves Dorothy having to explain to the group how she died…only after Sophia eases it out by bluntly telling them “Trudy’s dead”.
Bea Arthur kills in this scene doing a perfect comedic interpretation of despair as she wails “Welcome to the Dorothy Killed Trudy Party!!” and then rushing out of the room in a huff.
The twist? Trudy isn’t dead…and Dorothy knows this and convinces Trudy’s husband to come out with the secret and they stage a revenge by getting into bed and shocking Trudy when she arrives making for a hilarious final scene.
Sadly, no short clips exist of this episode on YouTube so I can’t include anything here, but Bea Arthur’s outburst is one of my favorite moments on a sitcom ever.
#7-Grab That Dough (Season 3) Written by Winifred Hervey Stallworth
Much like flashback episodes, I feel like sitcoms having their characters go on a game show is quite common and normally can make for classic or disastrous results.
In this case, our foursome gets a rather abrupt chance to go on a fictional game show called Grab That Dough but the process of getting to the taping is a disaster which leads them to not having a hotel room, the airline losing their luggage, and having to go on the show in the same clothes they slept in the night before (although they don’t look the least bit disheveled).
When at the taping, Blanche convinces Dorothy that Rose and Sophia are “dead weight” and that they should team up with two brothers who have had great successes with winning money on various game shows.
This leads to their being a rivalry between the foursome on two different teams and a back and forth between them of triumphs and failures. It is a perfect storm of hilarity.
The final scene in which Blanche and Dorothy, after a come-from-behind victory to win the game, may be one of my favorite scenes from the show and as a young kid, I bowled over laughing as it unfolded. Blanche insists on giving up the money against her team’s wishes and exchanging it for a prize behind a door (sort of like Let’s Make a Deal) and after missing out on a new car and a brand new living room suite, they end up winning…a skillet and a years worth supply of soup. The reaction to it is priceless and you can’t help but laugh at it all.
#6-Not Another Monday (Season 5) Written by Gail Parent
Like most sitcoms, every now and again you get one of those “And now, a very special episode of…” ordeals where things take more of a turn towards the dramatic.
GOLDEN GIRLS was typically a little better with these episodes than others but they had their fair share of misfires. However, my favorite of these would probably be “Not Another Monday”, which may be just a smidge heavy-handed but I think it is still handled quite well.
In this one, writer Gail Parent (who had come from such illustrious gigs like MARY HARTMAN, MARY HARTMAN and THE TRACEY ULLMAN SHOW) manages to combine the ideas of birth and death into one episode. While Dorothy, Blanche, and Rose end up babysitting a young infant, Sophia is left with a more pressing dilemma: her friend Martha is wanting to commit suicide but she wants Sophia to be there to hold her hand as she dies.
The moment when Martha tells Sophia her intentions, there are no hints of comedy….in fact, the show evens uses its more dramatic and tense music motif that it only pulled out if a moment was going to be darker.
However, the episode does give us one classic comedic scene in which Dorothy, Rose, and Blanche attempt to sing Mr. Sandman in hopes to get the baby to sleep:
Despite loving that scene, I feel like the final scenes pack quite the emotional punch. Thankfully, I have Sophia’s final scene with Martha to share that goes into her convincing her that it isn’t her time to go:
There are two quotes from this scene that stand out to me:
“You wanted me to be here for your death…how about you let me be here for your life?” along with “We’re not in this life for peace”.
This scene shows us what range Estelle Getty had in what was often just a one-note role. Martha decides to remain alive and then in the final moments of the episode, they have Sophia encounter the baby and she decides to give it a little advice that it won’t understand but is a beauitful message nonetheless. Below is a full clip that shows both scenes:
#5-The Flu (Season 1) Written by James Berg and Stan Zimmerman
These four women are very close friends and we know they have a deep love for each other…but it is always fun when they get competitive and take stabs at each other.
The episode is set up that Dorothy, Rose, and Blanche are all contenders to win the “Friends of the Friends of Good Health Award” and they are intending to go to the ceremony only for all three of them to come down with the flu leaving Sophia as the only healthy roommate.
In what was already a tense rivalry is now made even more bitter while the three of them are sick.
Perhaps my favorite moment would be when Rose is looking for orange juice in the fridge, but Dorothy has the pitcher sitting with her at the table:
ROSE: Do we have any orange juice left?
DOROTHY proceeds to pour the rest of the pitcher into her own glass
DOROTHY: No, we’re all out.
#4-In a Bed of Rose’s (Season 1) Written by Susan Harris
Susan Harris, the creator of GOLDEN GIRLS, didn’t want to be directly involved in the process like she had been on her pet project SOAP a few years prior so she only has about 8-9 episodes credited to her throughout the entire run with most of them confined to the first season.
My favorite of her first season episodes would have to be ‘In a Bed of Rose’s’, in which Rose has the unfortunate distinction of having a second man die after spending the night with her…the first being her husband Charlie.
This is a rather dark storyline but it is amazing how well the humor comes across. At first, Rose is understandably freaked out by this and she knows she must call her suitor’s sister with whom she knew was his closest relative…only to find out her suitor lied: it is his WIFE.
However, the wife isn’t the least bit upset with Rose when the secret comes out. Apparently Al, the suitor, was a nymphomaniac who slept around constantly and she reassures Rose to not feel guilty for this act.
Rose is especially scared to be with another man after this second incident but she does agree to go on a weekend retreat with Arnie, a man she had seen earlier in the season (and he didn’t die in that instance but whatever).
When she comes back, we get our final scene of the episode and it is another classic:
#3-End of the Curse (Season 2) Written by Susan Harris
While I would definitely say Susan Harris’ SICK AND TIRED from Season 5 was very personal to her (and contained some of Rue McClanahan’s best comedic work), this episode showcases a fantastic script from Harris, which is probably my favorite of her work, and it also has what might be the best acting from McClanahan.
Blanche is a character that I used to like a lot less compared to the other three. I always felt that she was simply the weakest and was also too mean at times…but the older I’ve gotten, the more that I have grown to adore Blanche and I especially love the nuances McClanahan brought to the role.
There was always more to Blanche than met the eye and despite the bravado and the confidence, she was essentially a woman afraid to grow old and a woman who longs to find the same connection she did with her dead husband George.
At first, Blanche thinks she is pregnant but it turns out to be menopause…something that the other ladies view as not a bad thing but Blanche views it as the end of her life.
Perhaps the best scene of the episode is when Blanche is talking to a psyschiatrist that the others recommend she see, and while in there, she brings up something that is often a moment of concern for any person: there are starting to look like their parents. She mentions how she caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror and saw her mother’s face…”and it scared me to death”.
I wish a clip were available of the scene on YouTube but chances are if you are reading this, you will know that scene.
#2-Isn’t It Romantic? (Season 2) Written by Jeffrey Duteil
Jeffrey Duteil was just a freelance writer and this was his only credit on GOLDEN GIRLS…but for the love of God, he basically soared with this script. Frankly, the rest of my top 10 could be mixed around or maybe even switched out with a couple of episodes but my top 2 are definitive.
This episode was particularly bold for its time because while there had been SOME portrayals of gay men on primetime TV, there really wasn’t much said about Lesbians.
Dorothy’s friend Jean, who is a Lesbian who recently lost a partner, comes to visit and while in town, she connects with Rose and then admits to Dorothy that she might be falling in love with her.
At first, only Sophia knows about the fact that Jean is a Lesbian so Dorothy decides to confide in her about Jean’s proclamation about Rose, which leads to one of the best scenes of the entire series and also one of the truly defining moments of Blanche, who enters the room:
Eventually, Jean does confess to Rose (who ends up pretending to be asleep as she cannot even begin to decipher the news), but the two resolve the situation and Rose offers friendship which Jean happily accepts.
It should come as no surprise to anyone that GOLDEN GIRLS was the show to tackle such an episode in 1986…and despite the fact that LGBTQ characters are common and more accepted nowadays, the episode still holds up both as a script and as a snapshot of that time.
#1-A Little Romance (Season 1) Written by Mort Nathan & Barry Fanaro
The first half of the first season of THE GOLDEN GIRLS was sort of erratic. That isn’t to say it was bad but it sort of had to find its tone and look and energy. With the season’s 13th episode, they managed not only to avoid bad luck, but the show basically found its groove in the best way possible.
‘A Little Romance’ is a near-perfect script that has moments of great charm and pure hilarity. First, the episode begins with Sophia about to leave to attend her grandson’s Graduation in New Jersey, something she is not looking forward to but her leaving is key to a moment that will occur later.
After Sophia leaves, Rose is also on her way out because she has a date with a man, Dr. Jonathan Newman, but she seems incredibly apprehensive about the girls meeting him.
Finally, behind Rose’s back, Blanche calls Jonathan and invites him over for dinner which upsets Rose. Why the drama though?
Jonathan is a little person…which may certainly raise a few eyebrows.
At first, Blanche mistakes him for a child and slams the door in his face expecting that he is trying to sell them the Miami Herald.
Dorothy lets him in after asking him if he is “absolutely sure” he is Jonathan Newman…which leads to a series of great moments for Blanche:
Jonathan ends up charming the trio with his wit and intelligence and then, in what is suspected to be another rough moment, Sophia abruptly returns from New Jersey and sees Jonathan. Expecting her to make a comment, Dorothy and Blanche get very tense but Sophia excuses herself to her bedroom.
Rose is also convinced that Jonathan is going to ask her to marry him which leads to her having a rather hilarious dream in which she is visited by her dead father played by dwarf actor Billy Barty (Blanche, in the dream: “DADDY?! You mean your dead daddy?!) and psychic Jeanne Dixon who offers no help whatsoever.
Rose does eventually decide that she will keep seeing Jonathan and accept any possible outcome, until the final scene when Jonathan drops a bombshell:
He can no longer see her because she isn’t Jewish. Rose is understandably upset by this but Rose being Rose, she is willing to let it go and accept that this is just a relgious preference (ugh……)
It does lead to one of the best lines of dialogue to end an episode though. A waiter approaches:
WAITER: How’s the shrimp?
ROSE: Sadly, I’ll never know. You see, he’s Jewish and we can’t see each other anymore.
Classic line and and classic episode. It just feels like such a great mix of comedy and heart and cynicism and whimsy…and it was the episode that made me fall in love with the show.
CONCLUSION: I do have quite a fondness for the show and I will often revisit it from time to time when I am in the need for Comfort Food TV…although oddly enough, I haven’t revisited it during the current pandemic that is happening as of this writing. Maybe I will change that today. And just for a good finale, here’s this gem: