What do you feel when hear the beginning notes of 'Thank You For Being A Friend' the iconic theme song for the classic sitcom 'The Golden Girls.' For me, I'm transported to a place where friends can tease one another but at the end of the day will always have your back. A place where insults can be exchanged without lasting harm. What happened to this place, and why does no other show make me feel this way?
One of the things I noticed about the show, is whether or not the women all got along off screen it did not effect the characters relationships on screen. All four of the woman who brought to life these legendary characters were professional to the nth degree. I doubt however that they did not get along off screen though, after reading Rue McClanahans book 'My First Five Husbands...and the ones that got away' it painted a portrait of a family, there were disagreements but they always huddled together during a time of crisis. Sound familiar? If not it should if you have ever watched an episode of Golden Girls.
Betty White, Rue McClanahan, Bea Arthur, and Estelle Getty all had a sense of humor about themselves and their flaws. Often times the insults that flew on the show seemed so real, because we could see the flaws that were being pointed out. Rose's (Betty) unnatural hair color (I still can't that shade of blonde anywhere), Blanches (Rue) less than ample bossoms (which earned it's very own story), Dorothy's (Bea) height, Here it must be noted that Bea was a good sport as often times the insults flew her way and she took them all in stride. Sophia's (Estelle) height, shortness was addressed in many many ways. With the good spirit in which the actress' took the jabs, it felt as though the characters transcended the usual sitcom set up, joke, punchline.
But punchlines and insults do not make a classic show. The stories, even when a writer change was afoot were derived from characters not plot. When a con man comes to town claiming to have been friends with her deceased husband Charlie, of course Rose would trust him, we wouldn't expect anything less of her. Sophia and Blanche would fight over a man as both are fighters, competitors in their own way so it made sense to pit them against one another in a love triangle. No other combination would have made sense and would have been entirely plot driven. Dorothy staged a production of Henny Penny for the first graders where she was subbing, and it showcased what viewers already knew about her; she was a passionate advocate for reading.
Continuing with the plot point (see what I did there LOL) Golden Girls was probably one of the best shows to deal with 'social issue stories.' Who could blame Blanche at being shocked upon learning that her baby brother Clayton was gay? Or having a difficult time accepting that he would be marrying a man. Blanche reacted as many families have upon finding out that a loved one is gay; with utter shock. She tried to rationalize why he would say such a thing, he didn't want to be hooked up with anymore women ect. What we did not see was Blanche turning her back on her brother or decrying that she hated him instead she realized that it was something inside of herself. Dorothy got sick with a flu but no one could figure it out what was wrong with her. She visited every doctor possible, and they all told her that there was nothing wrong with her, the illness was in her head. However one doctor finally diagnosed her with chronic fatigue syndrome. She didn't look sick, she just acted sick and really drove home the fact that the symptoms aren't always visible.
Current and future sitcom writers take note. If you have a sitcom on air right now, it may be a hit but by no means does that make it a classic. Write the archetypes and cast actors or actress' that aren't afraid to go that extra mile for the show. Don't go for the cheap laugh, if you need a lesson go Buy The Golden Girls on DVD and enjoy your lesson in comedy.