Ages of Golden Girls

Ages of Golden Girls: Season 1, “Rose the Prude”

As a cultural anarchist who genuinely doesn’t believe that there’s anything substantial that makes, say, Thomas Pynchon “better” than Stephen King, I’ve made some statements that have gotten me weird, if not hostile, looks.  One of them is my sincere declaration that The Golden Girls was revolutionary television.  How dare I say such things about a mere sitcom?  And if it is possible for a sitcom to be “revolutionary,” it’s usually for envelope pushing and delving into the taboo, like with Married…With Children.  

And yet, can you imagine even today a sitcom deal with post-menopausal women talking about sex – and talking about seeking and enjoying it, natch – so casually?  Maybe that’s not so surprising, precisely because The Golden Girls had the impact it had, but just try to imagine how Chuck Lorre would address the topic and maybe you can appreciate how The Golden Girls was ahead of its time – and perhaps even ahead of our time as well.

“Rose the Prude” is the episode I would say is when the show hits its stride, the first one to hit a rhythm suiting its medium and to try to convey an issue that would be difficult to address in a feature length film, much less a half-hour show.  Rose is going on a cruise to the Bahamas with her boyfriend Artie (played by the late Harold Gould, who in later seasons would, confusingly, play Rose’s long-time boyfriend Miles), but she’s worried because Artie would be her first lover since the death of her husband – and because her husband died from a heart attack in the middle of coitus.  (There’s a really slight b-plot too, involving Dorothy boycotting her own games of gin rummy with Sophia until she realizes that chatting over the cards is how they catch up on family gossip.  It’s an early illustration of how natural Bea Arthur and Estelle Getty are together, but not much else).

rosetheprude1I imagine that this plot might have not worked as well in later seasons, when Rose is Flanderized from a naive ditz to a…well, to put it nicely, someone who seemed to have a fundamentally different form of consciousness.  Here Rose just comes across as someone who is relatively conservative but still open to new experiences and relationships.  She doesn’t really feel like she’s betraying her dead husband, or that her boyfriend will be killed by the power of her libido, but she can’t help but be held back by the fact that she spent decades taking her marriage – and the concept of monogamy itself, really – very seriously and by a strong association between the act of sex and her husband’s life, as well as his death.  The moral might like most sitcom morals be too pat (although “Would your deceased spouse want you to be trapped in miserable celibacy until your own death?” is a cliche exactly because it is an excellent point), but the problem is one that’s handled deftly without hammering in the sorrow and the pity (something that, unfortunately, can’t be said for how the show will deal with Important Issues in the future).

Golden Quotes

“Back off, Blanche.  Not all of us are classified by the Navy as a friendly port.”  -Unless I’m forgetting something from the pilot and the first episode, I do believe this is the first of many, many “Blanche is a slut” jokes.

“I’m afraid if…we make love, I’ll kill you.”
“If you haven’t made love in 15 years, that’s a possibility.”

“WHO CARES, ROSE?!  DID YOU AND ARNIE HIT THE SHEETS OR NOT?”

Miami Facts

Rose’s husband Charlie died of a heart attack during sex, something that gets revisited again.

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Ages of Golden Girls

Ages of Golden Girls: Season 1, “Guess Who’s Coming to the Wedding?”

What can I write that will give appropriate reverence to Herb Edelman and his alter-ego Stan Zbornak?

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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.

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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…

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And then we close with Dorothy clutching a memento of the first of many unwanted visits by Stan the man.

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Golden Quotes

You’ll be fine.  Won’t you, Dorothy?
Not until I taste his blood!

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