Monday, November 26, 2012
12 things I learned from The Golden Girls
I spent a good deal of this past year with the Golden Girls. In the winter, when early sunsets and hibernating friends precipitated a hardly thrilling evening routine, I turned to my complete series collection. The collector's item, a gift from my brother, is housed in a replica of Sophia's wicker purse, as if its contents weren't fabulous enough.
Through hours on my couch I really got to know Dorothy (Bea Arthur), a cranky no-nonsense divorcee, substitute teacher and oversized-frock-wearer; her mother Sophia (Estelle Getty), a diminutive, wise-cracking Italian mama with her family's best interests at heart; Blanche (Rue McLanahan), a southern belle who prides herself on her appearance and enjoys the company of gentlemen from time to time; and Rose (Betty White), a naive if-not-too-bright Minnesota native with a heart of gold.
From start to finish I experienced the highs and lows of these independent women of a certain age, who share a house in Miami. They work, they go on dates, they fight, they have sex. They live life just like any self-respecting single woman might even though they're -- gasp! -- past mid-life.
Though a TV show starring four normal-looking older women probably wouldn't make it to air today, Golden Girls solidified its place in TV history with seven successful seasons between 1985 and 1992, and 11 Emmy Awards, including one for each of its four main stars.
Just as much as the show was considered groundbreaking, it remains hilarious and heart-warming, without pandering to its audience.
Need proof? Well, okay. Here are 12 lessons I gleaned from the fab four.
1. Gay is good
Way before GBFs were trendy, the Golden Girls took on gay issues head-on. Case in point: the season one episode in which Dorothy's lesbian friend Jean visits Miami, and develops a crush on Rose. It results in the emotional (honest, hilarious) heart-to-heart between Dorothy and Sophia, above, which just might be my favourite damn scene in the whole series.
See also: Dorothy's brother's a cross-dresser; Blanche's brother is gay; Rose might be HIV positive, even though she's not gay or promiscuous
2. Love yourself or leave him
It's no secret Blanche Deveraux enjoys the company of a gentleman from time to time. And what's wrong with that?
As she explains to her suddenly boy-crazy niece who shows up in a season one episode, sleeping with dudes shouldn't be about getting them to like you. If you like yourself first, it's a lot more fun.
"If you don't like yourself then you can't respect yourself. And if you don't respect yourself neither can anyone else," she so aptly explains.
So yes, Blanche Deveraux loves getting a man into bed. But don't you ever forget she loves herself even more.
3. Age ain't nothing but a number
Just ask Sophia Petrillo. In the classic season four episode The Days and Nights of Sophia Petrillo, while the other Girls are sitting around the kitchen table gabbing about the things they should be accomplishing, the eldest Girl is out making a difference. She's helping her friend return a rotten peach; She's conducting a jazz band of seniors on the boardwalk; she's even volunteering at the hospital, passing along the gift of hope (in nectarine form) to a young boy with HIV. Is there nothing she can't do?!
In a slightly less heavy handed season three episode, Sophia falls in love again with a kind-hearted gentleman at the boardwalk ... who turns out to have alzheimer's and is forced to move away to a home, leaving Sophia heartbroken.
Still, it's better to have loved and lost, right? Especially at that age?
3. b) That age thing applies to sex too
How great to learn that sex doesn't stop when you get older. In fact, it seems the older you get the more time you've got for it.
Of course, that's why it's important to ensure you're always prepared. Safe sex is good sex, kids.
4. Don't discriminate based on age/looks/height/ability to see/being a priest
A harsher critic might blast the Golden Girls' writers for the amount of times one of the ladies goes on a date with a man, only to find out he bears some characteristic they find a challenge.
Rose dates a little person; Blanche dates a blind man; Dorothy tries to go on a date with a priest, until she finds out he's a priest and what she thought was flirtation he thought was friendship.
Even though each of these dates only lasts one episode, the lesson is clear: Don't be a superficial prick.
5. Sing it out, dance it out
Like any good sitcom, the Golden Girls take many an opportunity to sing and dance together. I can't get enough of the girls' harmonizing in the above video, as they sing a baby to sleep.
That performance is perhaps only rivalled by Dorothy and Sophia's turn as Sonny and Cher, when they perform I Got You Babe in full costume.
The lesson here? Have some damn fun once in a while.
See also: The Golden Girls perform Chicken Little; Rose and Dorothy sing about Miami; The Golden Girls compete in a dance-a-thon; Blanche and Rose tap dance.
6. There's life after menopause
Okay, this one's pretty irrelevant to me, as I don't have ovaries and don't plan on marrying anyone with them. But based on Blanche's initial negative reaction to the big change (and eventual phoenix-rising approach to life), I've got season two episode one flagged for the future.
You know, just in case any of my straight girlfriends mistake menopause for a late-in-life pregnancy, and need a little support accepting it for what it is.
7. Stand up to bullies
She may not be all that bright, but Rose Nylund has a lot of things going for her. She's honest. She's a hard worker. And she tells one helluva St. Olaf story.
On top of that, she's what most fans would call the kindest of the Golden Girls, offering her sweet, naive, ill-informed advice at any opportunity.
That's not to say Rose will let herself be walked all over though. Exhibit A (above): When a little girl tries to take Rose's much beloved teddy bear, that girl gets what's coming to her.
8. Eating your emotions in the middle of the night is a-okay
I'm an emotional eater. I eat when I'm happy. I eat when I'm sad. I eat when I'm pissed off.
So do the Golden Girls!
They turn to cheesecake, I turn to Lays' ketchup chips. Whatever the ammo, I'm glad we can all do it together.
9. Forgive and forget
As someone who's known to hold a grudge, I find it inspiring and a little unbelievable the extent to which the Golden Girls are able to forgive each other and move on as fun-loving roommates.
Remember the time the Girls refused to believe that Blanche didn't sleep with the city council candidate, after he threw her under the bus to save his campaign?
Or the time Dorothy tried to keep Blanche from dating an abusive man, and Blanche repaid her by accusing her of being jealous?
Or the time Rose, Blanche, and Dorothy were arrested for prostitution, and Sophia left them in jail so she could take advantage of their tickets to meet Burt Reynolds?!
In my books, some of these acts are just unforgivable. And yet so often one of the Girls chooses to be the bigger person, forgive and move on. I wonder what that's like ...
10. Bea Arthur is a comedy God
I don't often capitalize the G in God, but jesus christ, when you're talking Bea Arthur and comedy it's so damn deserved.
11. You can be friends with your ex
While the other three Golden Girls are widowed, Dorothy Zbornak is a divorcee. Her former husband Stan cheated on her for years, clearly under-appreciating her greatness.
Still, this doesn't stop her from loving him. Stan makes appearance after appearance throughout the series, and Dorothy proves herself to be a caring woman who can't help but look out for the man with whom she spent the better part of her life.
She coaches him through relationship woes; she entertains the idea of going into business with him; she goes to therapy with him; she co-owns an apartment complex with him.
And oh yeah, she sleeps with him on and off for a season.
Hey, she might as well get something out of it too, right?
12. Be a good friend, and grateful for those you have
The Golden Girls' central message is right there in the theme song: "Thank you for being a friend."
Through ups, downs, boyfriends, husbands, cheesecakes, career transitions, illness, drug addiction, birthdays, weddings, funerals, and bizarre fashion choices, these four women stand by each other. They're not just roommates, they're family.
Equally important, they acknowledge their fortune and share their gratitude. As Dorothy says in the final scene of the series, "You're angels. All of you."
Decades later, we can only assume they each still show up at each other's birthday parties with biggest gifts in tow.