Picture it. The Bronx. 1986. A young, sexually inexperienced (read: virgin) teenage boy who harbors a vaguely erotic fantasy of being chased down a dark alley by the charter members of Duran Duran, sits down to watch the following scene of The Golden Girls: Blanche Devereaux is telling the girls a story about how she got caught with Bobby Jo Porter at Ms. McGuyver’s all-girl finishing school.
“Well, I tried to be ladylike”, Blanche explains, “so I waved to Ms. McGuyver over Bobby Jo’s shoulder…with my foot”.
Delayed reaction. The boy didn’t understand why the studio audience was howling. In his naivete, he had to break it down and really “picture it”. And when he did, he doubled over in laughter. Shocked and mildly horny all at the same time, the young man wondered, “Could they say this on TV? How can they get away with this? And why the hell are Simon and Roger doing calf stretches at the end of that alley?” Folks, that boy was me, and that’s how my love affair with four old ladies began.
Susan Harris, creator of The Golden Girls, must have had a lot of doors slammed in her face when she first approached the networks to pitch a sitcom about four elderly women living together in Miami. On paper it sounds like a disastrously boring concept. Much to Lifetime TV’s delight, however, NBC picked up the show and gave it a Saturday evening audience for seven seasons from 1985 to 1992. The Golden Girls had it all: whip smart writing, side splitting humor, fantastic chemistry and loads of heart. Add pastels and boffo shoulder pads, and an instant 80’s classic was in the making.
The overtly sexual humor coming from four old ladies was no doubt a rich source of laughs. But whatever situation or wacky adventure the writers concocted, almost 100% of the show’s comedy was mined directly from the chemistry between its four lead actresses.
The characters played fantastically off each other; their timing sharp as a whip crack. There’s irreverent mother hen Sofia (Estelle Getty), who never says anything without a witty insult attached. Her daughter, the cynical and world weary Dorothy (Bea Arthur) is equally witty, but no less funny. Southern hellcat in heat, Blanche (Rue McClanahan), can’t live without the company of men and simpleminded Rose (Betty White) never passes up a stroll down St. Olaf lane, her stories always venturing into the absurd and bizarrely hysterical.
The first season of the Golden Girls DVD was released in late 2004 and to further capitalize on Generation X’s love for nostalgia, the second season was released soon after (May 2005). The first season of any new sitcom is always tentative. Even with great shows out of the gate like the Golden Girls, one can still witness some of the awkwardness, the subtle missteps in structure and the general growing pains as the actors align their chemistry, fine tune their characters and sharpen the dialogue.
The Golden Girls is no exception and fine and solid as its first season was, it’s the second season where this series hits its comic stride. The characters become more lived in, their backgrounds are more fleshed out as supporting characters like Dorothy’s ex-husband Stan or Blanche’s father, Big Daddy, make regular returns. It’s also in the second season that Rue McClanahan perfects Blanche’s seductive Southern purr, while Betty White’s Rose cements her status as the lovable airhead. Sofia’s tongue gets sharper and Bea Arthur deepens Dorothy’s cynicism with just the right touch of acid humor to not render her too depressing or bitter. Take for instance, the episode where the girls are wrongly arrested for prostitution. To fend off an attacker in jail, Dorothy warns the inmate to back off. When Blanche asks her how she managed to do that, Dorothy blithely replies, “I work in a public school system, it’s not that different from this.”
There isn’t one stand out episode in this DVD collection. Each one is chock full of hilarious one-liners or catty swipes. When Dorothy and Rose team together to write a song about Miami, their fighting over what words to use in the lyrics veers into the delightfully absurd as Rose quizzically sings, “Miami, you’re cuter than an intrauterine.”
I suppose I should list and briefly summarize the plot of all the episodes, but a) I’m too lazy and b) I’m not interested in boring you. Suffice it to say that the box is a metallic powder blue and it houses all 26 episodes of the 1986-87 season in a three disc set. The re-runs in syndication have been edited for longer TV commercial breaks so it’s a pleasant surprise to find the DVD episodes lengthened to an extra 30-90 seconds with extended scenes.
The video transfer is adequate so that one can appreciate the swaths of pastel accoutrements, ruffly peplums and oversized baubles that passed for 80’s fashion. The sound transfer is just as fine and each disc can play all its episodes continuously with a really neat “play all” feature. With the exception of a Trivia Game, there aren’t any standard extras in the form of voice over commentary, interviews, deleted scenes or outtakes. Not to say this is a bad thing. Sometimes fewer options means leaving only the work to enjoy and the “play all” feature definitely plays up to that. However, I wouldn’t mind if they put something extra in future DVD releases.
As you can tell, I have a special affection for this sitcom. The Golden Girls undoubtedly shattered stereotypes about the elderly, and this timely theme was crucial especially since the Baby Boomer Generation was – and still is – veering closer to retirement. Ultimately, the audience market proved farther reaching than the aforementioned demographic. And while it was never one to shy away from other controversial issues of the day (poverty, AIDS, homelessness, homosexuality, teen pregnancy, drug addiction), The Golden Girls never placed political or social agenda above the laugh track. The show was scathingly funny and ribald first, with a message second. Because of this, it showed me the possibility of humor in all aspects of everyday life, of its existence in unlikely places, including the oppressive confines of a teen age boy’s closet.
So break out the cheesecake and get ready to “Play All”.