Golden Girls is not a show you select as your in-flight entertainment as a means of falling asleep so you’ll arrive in Italy rested. In fact, it’s the opposite. It’s a show you watch religiously and take notes on, in hopes of one day breaking Ken Jennings’ record on Jeopardy! with the answer to who the fourth roommate in the house was before Estelle Getty joined the cast (it was gay chef, Coco). And with the release of the 25th anniversary COMPLETE collection – that comes with playing cards, a DVD trivia game, montages of each of the girls’ funniest moments and commentaries with Bea Arthur, Rue McClanahan and Betty White – it’s clear the girls have left little room for us to enjoy any other television show.
But, why? Why did Golden Girls impact our lives so tremendously? On paper, it doesn’t look like something that would appeal to everyone – it was about four women who were old and living in Florida. They had thick glasses and jackets with shoulder pads and plastic coverings for their furniture. They had grown up kids, were done with staying out all night at clubs, and were fans of that device for people that make TVs louder without being too loud for the people with good hearing. Some people probably skipped over Golden Girls entirely because they thought the ages of the Rose, Blanche, Sophia and Dorothy meant they wouldn’t be able to identify with the ins and outs of their lives. Others probably couldn’t conceive of Golden Girls being more entertaining than a show that was blatantly and directly targeted to their demographic, like 90210. But everyone who watched the show knows their addiction to it was actually rooted in the women’s ages! The show functioned around the idea that these women were older than everyone but still suffered from young people problems, like finding sex and having sex. In other words, they were just like us! They too had nothing to wear to the Senior Dance and were totally sick of men cheating on them. Fans found themselves hoping that they’d grow up to have Rose’s innocence, Blanche’s insatiability, Dorothy’s wit and Sophia’s bluntness.
Though the sitcom was billed as and won awards as a comedy, it wasn’t afraid of depicting topics heftier than how to fix the runs in a pair of control top hose. Among the tough issues broached were infidelity, HIV scares, drug addictions, estrangements from children, gangsters, the FBI, cross-dressing family members, sexism, domestic violence and artificial insemination. The decision to darken an inherently light comedy series about sweet old ladies with these issues was risky, but it was ultimately a beneficial one – the heavier moments were the realism that rounded out the show, and made it more than just a program that glorified the bonds of friendship and living with your friend’s mom in a warm climate.
But possibly the main reason we loved Golden Girls so much was because the actresses’ love for each other was so obvious. Over the course of the seven seasons, the characters bonded in such a way that the only explanation for its believability was to assume that Betty White, Estelle Getty, Bea Arthur and Rue McClanahan had grown extremely close, too. This is not an uncommon phenomenon when a series consists of 180 episodes (especially when the actresses had to share their characters’ embarrassment of going to a drug store for condoms and having the checkout person make an announcement asking for the price of Rose’s desired black condoms – that’s the beginning of a bond). But more generally, their camaraderie brought texture to a great series that was already structurally worthy of recognition. As a group, they were truly unforgettable, and their contribution to the entertainment industry will never be forgotten.