What can I write that will give appropriate reverence to Herb Edelman and his alter-ego Stan Zbornak?
For starters, Stan is easily one of the more memorable recurring characters in any sitcom. As popular as he was, and clearly the writers made space for him in future episodes, I do think he got a little too cartoonish. True, part of that is the trajectory of any American sitcom which seem universally to get loose from any anchor of realism it had, however much of a paperweight as it was to begin with, but Stan later on really became a caricature of the mid-life-crisis-suffering male. It’s really to Herb Edelman’s credit that, no matter how unhinged the character got, he was still fundamentally sympathetic, in spite of all of Dorothy’s razor (yet completely justified!) barbs.
This episode’s entire plot is pretty minimalist in a “that Chinese restaurant episode form Seinfeld” kind of way. Dorothy and Stan’s daughter Kate is getting married – to a doctor, no less (setting up one of this episode’s best gags, when Dorothy and Sophia expose their disappointment that the groom is a foot doctor) – and Dorothy convinces her to hold the wedding reception at Blanche’s house. What is it with sitcoms having weddings or at least receptions in people’s private homes? I mean, I get that it’s to save the expense and trouble of offering up a whole other set, but at least do more to explain why. At least when Marcy was getting married in Married With Children the wedding and reception was held at the Bundys’ house because the Bundys were running a con on poor Marcy. Where was I? Oh, right; anyway, the whole plot is driven by the fact that Dorothy is still furious with Stan divorcing her for a young stewardess named Krissie.
Here Stan is still something of an actual person you might run into at a tropical liquors bar ogling the sorority girls. Also it’s a surprisingly realistic touch that what really hurts Dorothy isn’t so much what Stan did, but the fact that she learned about Stan’s plans for a divorce through a phone call from his lawyer. This sets up the finale, where Dorothy gives a monologue on exactly why this one act pained her more than the divorce itself. It’s slightly undercut by the fact that you can see a camera, but this is the price we pay for living in the age of DVD and HD.
Of course, Bea Arthur totally sells the monologue, and it gives the Dorothy-Stan relationship a depth that really gets lost in later seasons when Stan devolves into a bald man-child. It’s also a bit jarring, at least by modern standards. It’s a type of dialogue you don’t really see in sitcoms anymore and is more of a relic of a time when theatrical tropes still held more of a sway over television than they do now.
But that’s not to say this episode doesn’t have some great gags. The pilot had more rapid fire jokes, but at least this episode shows it’s not afraid to poke fun at Bea Arthur’s “manliness” via Dorothy, who at Blanche’s invitation takes out her stress by “gently” squeezing Blanche’s hand…
And then we close with Dorothy clutching a memento of the first of many unwanted visits by Stan the man.
You’ll be fine. Won’t you, Dorothy?
Not until I taste his blood!