Even after thirty-years, The Golden Girls remains one of the funniest sitcoms in television history
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As ?stay-at-home? orders continue and a full return to normal seems a distant reality, many of us are turning to television to help us cope. While some have been binge-watching the latest ?must-watch? selections on streaming services like Netflix or Hulu, others are turning back to their nostalgic favorites as a source of comfort. At a time when we can?t visit our family and friends, spending time with our favorite TV characters is a small consolation.
For me, The Golden Girls is my sentimental favorite. If I?m being honest, long before we were in the midst of a pandemic, spending time with Rose, Sophia, Dorothy, and Blanche was something I did often. If I had a bad day at work, was down in the dumps, or just needed a laugh, I nearly always settled on spending some quality time with the four ladies from Miami.
Being a child of the 1980s, The Golden Girls is one of the first shows I remember watching. Being the only child in a house of adults and teenagers, 80s sitcoms like Cheers, Perfect Strangers, Who?s the Boss, Night Court, and Empty Nest were mainstays over programs geared toward children.
I had forgotten all about The Golden Girls until I was in high school and a local TV station began showing daily reruns of the series during summer break. I was hooked, and to this day, it remains a sentimental favorite. I know every episode, and know so many punchlines by heart, that I can usually find a quote from the show that is relevant to almost any situation ? just ask my friends!
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The surprising thing about the show is how few bad episodes there are. Most TV series have their fair share of stinkers. When you?re producing more than twenty episodes a season, not every one will be a winner. While The Golden Girls did occasionally resort to clip shows, a common practice in the 1980s when most episodes were only repeated once during the summer hiatus, the series only had one terrible episode ? ?Empty Nest? the original pilot for the sitcom of the same name. Even in the show?s duller episodes, there are always some good laughs and entertaining moments.
Coming up with a list of the funniest episode of the series was more challenging than I expected. But if you?re going to just watch a small number of episodes of The Golden Girls, these are the ones you should check out:
?A Little Romance?
Season 1, Episode 13
Though Rose has been dating Dr. Jonathan Newman for three weeks, she is reluctant to introduce the girls to him. When Blanche invites him over for dinner without consulting Rose first, they see why; he is a tiny person. Blanche mistakenly believes that Rose is pulling a prank because she was mad at Blanche for inviting Jonathan without her permission. When she realizes that it?s no joke, Blanche makes a fool of herself due to her discomfort with Jonathan?s height. After a rocky start, the evening goes swimmingly, and Jonathan tells Rose that he has important news for her; she assumes he is going to propose and frets over how to respond.
Although The Golden Girls had a strong first season thanks to strong writing and its talented cast, when you judge it by the quality of later seasons, you can tell the show is still finding its feet. The first season of the series, perhaps unsurprisingly, feels the most dated. The show debuted at a time when sitcoms were transitioning from the slower-paced ?stage play like? scripts of the 1970s to faster-paced storytelling of the 1980s and 90s. ?A Little Romance? is the funniest episode of the first season, and one of the funniest of the whole series. Every short joke you can think of is thrown into this script, and yet it?s respectful as it never directly attacks Jonathan?s appearance with the humor stemming from the girl?s own discomfort. Betty White has stated over the years that this is her favorite episode of the series.
?Three on the Couch?
Season 3, Episode 11
After weeks of tension and constant bickering, the ladies seek professional counseling from a psychiatrist. Through a series of flashbacks, they recount events in the house that have led to their falling out. Dorothy, annoyed with Blanche?s self-centeredness, recalls a time when she was forced by Blanche to go on a double-date with her despite being sick with the flu. Next, the girls, at their wits end with Rose?s naivety, tell a story about a time that Rose inadvertently placed Dorothy?s job-seeking ad in the personals column of the newspaper that stated Dorothy would do anything for $10 an hour. Finally, Sophia expresses her annoyance at always having to give the girls advice and not being paid for it. When the psychiatrist advises that they are too different to be living together, the girls have to make some tough choices.
During its first four seasons, The Golden Girls would occasionally have episodes centered around flashback stories; the girls recounting previous events in their life. This concept originated after the writers found they had numerous ideas that wouldn?t necessarily be conducive to a full episode. Rather than throwing them out, the writers would create flashback episodes. While these episodes have their moments, they were rarely as funny as a more traditional episode. ?Three on the Couch? is one of the instances where the format works well. The three flashback stories are all equally funny, though the ?personal ad? story is one of the best bits of comedy that the series ever performed. Despite the off-screen tension between Betty White and Bea Arthur, the rare one-on-one scenes between them are often comedy gold given both actresses? fantastic comedic timing.
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?The Case of the Libertine Belle?
Season 7, Episode 2
While vying for a promotion, Blanche organizes a murder mystery weekend for the Museum she works at to impress her boss. To get the group rate at the hotel (?Don?t hotels always give you the group rate?? Sophia asks) the girls come along. Dorothy excels as a keen amateur sleuth and solves the mystery within minutes. But when the show is over and the case is solved, there is a real stabbing, and Blanche is the prime suspect. Now, it?s up to Dorothy to prove Blanche?s innocence.
This episode was meant as a parody of the CBS series, Murder, She Wrote, starring Angela Lansbury, who was a close friend of Bea Arthur. By the final season of the show, episode plots had become increasingly surreal; not uncommon in long-running sitcoms which often have to make the jokes bigger to get laughs since audiences have come to know what to expect. This final season of The Golden Girls is probably the show?s weakest but does have some ?golden? moments. This episode is one of them, and features one of the most iconic lines of the who series due to Bea Aurthr?s hysterical delivery: ?Not now, Ma!?
?Sister of the Bride?
Season 6, Episode 14
Blanche?s brother, Clayton, is coming to Miami, with a big surprise. Blanche believes that her brother has finally met a nice woman and is getting married. Dorothy reminds her that Clayton is gay (having come out in season 4?s ?Scared Straight). When Clayton arrives, he introduces Blanche to his ?very special friend? Doug, whom he plans on marrying. Unable to cope, Blanche risks being estranged from her bother forever. Meanwhile, Rose has been nominated for a Volunteer of the Year award and as absolutely determined she is going to win it after having lost it for eight years in a row.
It?s no secret that The Golden Girls had (and continues to have) a massive gay following. When the show was on the air (airing on Saturday night), gay bars across America often held viewing parties for the latest episode. Each of the four actresses had long been staunch advocates for LGBTQ+ rights. Airing in 1990, this episode marks one of the first times the notion of gay marriage is mentioned on prime time television. Sophia?s ?everyone wants someone to grow old with? speech became part of internet culture as the same-sex marriage debate gained traction in the 2000s. Again, Bea Arthur comedic abilities are on full display during the infamous ?sometimes I just love to hug my mommy? scene.
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?Journey to the Center of Attention?
Season 7, Episode 19
Tired of seeing Dorothy spending her Saturday nights on the couch watching TV, Blanche invites her to a night out at the Rusty Anchor, Blanche?s favorite bar. Initially uncomfortable, Dorothy attracts a crowd of adoring men after she beings to sing a song at the behest of the bar?s piano player. She repeats her performance a few days later and quickly becomes the most popular woman in the bar. Jealous, and fearing she?s loosing her sexual prowess, Blanche takes her obsession with being the center of attention to an embarrassing new level.
Over the years, Rue McClanahan cited this as her favorite episode of the entire series. While the episode shows off Bea Arthur?s singing abilities, it also gave McClanahan to display her talent for physical comedy. Blanche?s number, ?I want to be loved by you,? is one of the most memorable and funny scenes of the entire series.
?Ladies of the Evening?
Season 2, Episode 2
The ladies are excited when Blanche wins tickets to the premiere of Burt Reynolds? new movie and the after-party. However, Blanche?s win only includes three tickets, and Sophia is not invited, hurting her feeling. The girls decide to make a weekend out of it and book a hotel on the beach. On the night of the premiere, Blanche, Rose, and Dorothy decided to stop for a drink at the hotel bar. While drinking, Rose notices that all the people in the lobby are men, and after a few awkward questions by some random patron, the girls quickly release that the hotel is actually a brothel. But before they can leave, a police raid takes place, and the ladies are charged with prostitution. Locked in jail, their only hope is a bitter Sophia to bails them.
By the show?s second season, as often happens with many shows, the writers had ironed out some of the show?s kinks and found the show?s footing. The season season is one of the show?s best and this episode is a classic. The three ladies in prison is comic gold along with Dorothy?s line: ?I teach in the public school system, this isn?t much different.?
?Isn?t It Romantic??
Season 2, Episode 5
Dorothy?s friend Jean comes to visit after her longtime partner, Pat, dies. Not sure how the other ladies would feel, Dorothy fails to mention that Pat is actually short for Patricia. After meeting Rose and Blanche, Jean, Dorothy, and Sophia decide to keep her sexuality a secret. Rose and Jean learn that they have a lot in common and strike up a fast friendship. As the two ladies begin to spend more time together, Jean confesses to Dorothy that she is falling in love with Rose.
The next time you are at an event with a lot of gay men and you hear one of them say ?lesbian?? in a slow, deep, and shocked voice, they are referring to this episode. The scene where Dorothy and Sophia out Jean to Blanche, is one of the most iconic and funny moments in the show?s entire seven-year run.
Season 5, Episode 3
Blanche?s visiting daughter Rebecca intends to become a single mother through artificial insemination. Blanche objects; her friends share unusual details about their children?s conceptions, but Blanche still considers it unnatural. To try and allay her mother?s fears, Rebecca takes the girls to a sperm bank but fails to convince Blanche. Blanche now faces the choice of having to accept her daughter?s right to make her own decisions or risk never meeting her grandchild.
?Accurate Conception? is cited as Bea Arthur?s favourite episode of the series, and for good reason, it contains some of the show?s biggest laughs. The girls talking about how their children were conceived, and the visit to the sperm bank are simply comedy gold. This episode highlights how much The Golden Girls got away with during its run. It is unlikely that had the show centered around women in their 20s or 30s, that they would be able to make such explicit sexual references.
Daryl Bruce is a freelance writer, blogger, and writer of flash fiction. Writing across an expansive range of topics, he specializes in freelancing, the craft of writing, LGBTQ+ issues, and politics. He is the owner of the Top 3 Publication on Medium. When he?s not writing, Daryl can be found in the kitchen or at the local movie theater. He holds a BA with Specialized Honours in English from York University and is currently working on his first novel. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.