The Ten Best THE GOLDEN GIRLS Episodes of Season Two

Welcome to a new Sitcom Tuesday and the continuation of our series on the best of The Golden Girls (1985-1992, NBC), one of my favorite comedies ever produced and perhaps my best known remedy for melancholia. Happily, for those who tire of seeing the series on any of the many cable channels on which it’s syndicated, the entire series has been released on DVD!

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A divorcée and three widows share a house in Miami. The Golden Girls stars BEATRICE ARTHUR as Dorothy Zbornak, BETTY WHITE as Rose Nylund, RUE McCLANAHAN as Blanche Devereaux, and ESTELLE GETTY as Sophia Petrillo.

**file photos** * ESTELLE GETTY DIES THE GOLDEN GIRLS star ESTELLE GETTY has died of dementia, just three days before her 85th birthday. She passed away in the early hours of Tuesday morning (22Jul08) at her Los Angeles, California home. The actress had endured a long battle with Lewy Body Dementia, a disease exhibiting symptoms similar to Alzheimer's Disease and Parkinson's. Born in New York in 1923, Getty began her acting career with a small part in 1978 comedy Team-Mates. She went on to land roles in 1982 classic Tootsie and 1985's Mask, but it was her turn as wise-cracking Sicilian mother Sophia Petrillo on 1980s sitcom The Golden Girls that made her a household name. She is also known for her stint on New York's Broadway in a 1982 production of Torch Song Trilogy. Getty later starred in movies including Stuart Little, Throw Momma From The Train, and Mannequin. Paying tribute to the star, her longtime care-giver Paul Chapdelaine says, "Sadly, today July 22, 2008 at 5:35 a.m. Pacific Time, we said our last good-byes to our little friend Estelle, who passed away and made her journey to the great beyond. Although it was a trip that she never wanted to take, she went gracefully, in the comfort of her own home, surrounded by her family and her very loving care-givers. "Estelle's legacy will live on and on through the comedy and laughter she gave to us all, which will forever keep us laughing out loud... "Estelle was a fighter. She always stood up for the underdogs, fought for equality for all, and always pictured a world filled with "Love and Laughter" - her most favourite catch phrase. "Estelle, we love you and will miss you dearly. We pray that you are met at the Pearly Gate with open arms and a warm welcome by all who have passed before you.... You have touched my life, and the lives of so many others who will never forget you." The Golden Globe and Emmy award-winning actress is survived by two adult sons from her marriage to Arthur Gettleman. He passed away in 2004. (JMA&MT/WNWCZM&WNWCUW&WNWC/IG) Estelle Getty (as Sophia Spirelli Petrillo Weinstock), Rue McClanahan (as Blanche Elizabeth Hollingsworth Devereaux), Betty White (as Rose Lindstrom Nylund) and Beatrice Arthur (as Dorothy Petrillo Zbornak) 'Golden Girls' (NBC) USA - 1985-1992 Supplied by WENN This is a PR photo. WENN does not claim any Copyright or License in the attached material. Fees charged by WENN are for WENN's services only, and do not, nor are they intended to, convey to the user any ownership of Copyright or License in the material. By publishing this material, the user expressly agrees to indemnify and to hold WENN harmless from any claims, demands, or causes of action arising out of or connected in any way with user's publication of the material. Featuring: **file photos** Where: United States When: 01 Jan 1985 ****

As teased last week, the second season of The Golden Girls is my choice for the series’ strongest. The usual reasons all apply. This season boasts a great number (if not the greatest number) of absolute classics — high praise indeed for a show of this comedic calibre — and the lowest number of misfires. The year also benefits from an elevated status quo; that is, the season’s base level of quality (the sensibilities typifying what we’d otherwise consider the “average” offerings) is better than it is in any other era, meaning that even the worst episodes of Season Two are not as bad as the worst episodes from other seasons. In fact, I’d go even further and note that every episode of this season, even the few relative duds (about which I’ll be quite outspoken if asked — including on the overrated “To Catch A Neighbor”), have something worthwhile and commendable within them — the only exception being the season finale, a backdoor pilot for Empty Nest, which was retooled and picked up a year later as an entirely different property, and understandably so. (As many of you might know, I considered discussing Empty Nest within the next couple of months, but I’ve decided to shelve that idea for now, leaving open the possibility of revisiting the series when we circle back to cover other shows I’ve skipped, such as this decade’s Newhart, which unlike Empty Nest, is already a guarantee.)

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Furthermore, and more indicative of why this season remains my favorite, the scripts in general feature the perfect calibration between big laughs and moments of logical motivation – the kind necessary to support all the comedy. In other words, these episodes can make us laugh-out-loud — and with notable regularity — but they can also do so without jeopardizing either the integrity of the characters or the audience’s common sense. (This will become a minor-league problem for the series beginning even with the following season; stay tuned for more next week…) Additionally, everyone involved seems to know how good the series is, as the high praise (and awards) definitely gives the show a sense of confidence that makes the first part of the year, in particular, a stretch of repeated excellence with delectably fruitful results — the kind that are awe-inspiring. What’s more: so much of the year’s charm is character.  In fact, all of those pesky issues we had at the beginning of last season are but a memory now, as each of the “Girls” is fully formed to the point of, one might even say, brilliance, with their individual relationships with one another each subtly nuanced and consistently interesting. It is precisely for the second season’s firm grasp of its characterizations that I prefer it — slightly, mind you — to the first, which got off to an undeniable rocky start (particularly with Rose).

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During this year, every member of the ensemble is given Emmy-worthy material, including Betty White, who indeed won an award for her work last season, and Rue McClanahan, who would go on to win for her work this season. While the quality of Rose’s utilization here comes in fits and starts — and is particularly well-noted in the scripts written before the actress won her award — Blanche’s character continues to develop both comedically, a growth we see implemented in the season’s basic operations, and even dramatically, as McClanahan gets a couple of meaty shows into which she can sink her teeth later in the year. I, personally, believe Blanche becomes a more powerful presence in the years ahead (for reasons, of course, that we’ll discuss), but the continuing evolution of both character and actress is remarkable — and this season is a great exhibition. Actually, most of the episodes highlighted in today’s entry benefit explicitly from both Blanche’s character and McClanahan’s burgeoning portrayal, and it’s very easy to see why this was her year. Meanwhile and with regard to the other girls, Bea Arthur’s Dorothy remains the show’s ever hilarious anchor, for whom the writers seem most determined to secure a special statue (a tactic that will become even more forceful — and successful — next season), while Estelle Getty’s Sophia continues to develop closer bonds with each of her three roommates. (Sophia’s growth, and specifically the show’s self-awareness about how it uses her, will become a more prominent topic for discussion soon; stay tuned…)

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Now, I wrote at length in my commentary on Season One about the way the show navigated a desirable balance of the comedic aesthetics traceable back to both the shows produced by Norman Lear and the shows produced by MTM. Here in Season Two, which features most of the same writers from the first season, that trend is continued, but done with even more ease — so much so, in fact, that there’s no longer any need to discuss the merged styles. Now it’s just one style: The Golden Girls style, a character-driven comedy performed by four dynamic actors who make great laugh-filled material come alive on a weekly basis. It’s exactly what a good situation comedy should be and this season is one for the sitcom hall-of-fame (hey, maybe one day I’ll create and operate this joint myself). It’s one of the best sitcom seasons of this decade and any decade, so I took the construction of this list very seriously. And, as usual, I have picked ten episodes that I think exemplify this season’s strongest installments. For new fans, this list will give you a place to start. For seasoned fans, there might — no, WILL — be a few surprises.

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Here are my picks for the ten best episodes of Season Two. (They are in AIRING ORDER.) Note that every episode this season, except that rotten backdoor pilot for Empty Nest, is directed by Terry Hughes.

 

01) Episode 26: “End Of The Curse” (Aired: 09/27/86)

Blanche worries that she’s pregnant, but the truth may be worse.

Written by Susan Harris

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When a show like The Golden Girls has a smash first season, there’s even more pressure upon everyone involved to either capitalize and expand upon this success or, at the very least, find a way to maintain the level of quality. In the case of this series, that pressure is channeled into confidence, which propels them forward to humorous places heretofore unexplored. And this episode encapsulates this phenomenon perfectly, as the smart script, written by creator Susan Harris, not only gives us great, consistent laughs, but also manages to do so without skipping a beat. That is, the characters are as fresh as they were last season, but naturally, even better defined. As a result, even when a story is a bit contrived (like the mink breeding), the characters, aided by good writers, can make it work. And, as evidenced here, they do it expertly.

02) Episode 27: “Ladies Of The Evening” (Aired: 10/04/86)

The girls are arrested as hookers on their way to see Burt Reynolds.

Written by Barry Fanaro & Mort Nathan

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Writers Barry Fanaro and Mort Nathan already proved themselves last season to be the show’s funniest pair, but there’s no better showcase for their talents than the second year. You’ll notice that this list features all five of the season’s scripts credited solely to this twosome, and their elevated comedy quotient is generally the reason. In the case of this installment, which features a trite sitcom story (characters going to jail under false prostitution charges — how often does that happen to three 50-year-olds in real life?) and a gimmicky cameo by Burt Reynolds, it’s the laughs that truly excuse some of these storytelling shenanigans. The comedy here is fast and furious, and while episodes from later seasons with this design might not make the grade, the show is in such a period of excellence that the character moments indeed prevail. A hit.

03) Episode 29: “It’s A Miserable Life” (Aired: 11/01/86)

Rose feels responsible for the death of a crotchety old neighbor.

Written by Barry Fanaro & Mort Nathan

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Although I mentioned in my seasonal commentary above that there was no longer any need to discuss the MTM (or Lear) influences within the series, I have to note that this is The Golden Girls‘ equivalent of “Chuckles Bites The Dust.” This show, given that it’s centered on Miami retirees, often deals with death as subject matter, but never is the humor as biting as it is here, as the premise involves sweet-natured Rose telling a nasty neighbor (played memorably by Nan Martin) to drop dead, just before she does exactly that. The gallows humor is delicious and even speaks to that ol’ Lear principle: heightened drama can yield heightened laughs. That’s certainly proven here in the second half of the show, which takes us to the funeral home for a sequence with Mr. “Puh-feiffer” that’s a ridiculous string of big, worthwhile laughs.  Now, while it may shock many fans who, despite liking this episode, would nevertheless not pick it as the year’s best, this is the one I’m choosing as my MVE. Not only do I think it’s the funniest and best written, but it represents perfectly the ideal Golden Girls style: Lear laughs with MTM stories.

04) Episode 30: “Isn’t It Romantic?” (Aired: 11/08/86)

Dorothy’s friend, a lesbian, develops a crush on Rose.

Written by Jeffrey Duteil

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If you’ve already read that I’ve chosen the above as my MVE, you’re probably wondering why I didn’t give that honor to this outing, which many fans agree is one of the series’ best. The simple answer is that, while I do think it’s a classic, I don’t think it’s as funny as its legend would have us believe. Yes, there are many indelible moments, particularly from the episode’s MVP, Blanche, who contributes most of its humor (her Lebanese bit is a hallmark), but these big-laughs are countered by freelancer Duteil’s cautious sense of progressivism and a nobility about the premise that’s at odds with this show’s usual brashness. As a result of the script’s trepidation and simultaneous self-importance, the humor takes a figurative backseat (especially in the Jean scenes). This doesn’t keep the episode from being memorable and ultimately excellent on its own terms, nor can I pretend that this isn’t a favorite (in fact, I did almost make this my MVE — a tough call), but the above simply represents the series better. This is a very close second.

05) Episode 34: “Joust Between Friends” (Aired: 12/06/86)

Blanche is jealous when Dorothy finds success working at her art museum.

Written by Scott Spencer Gordon

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Last week I wrote about some of the difficulties that sitcoms, and even this series, have with putting its regulars in conflict, as the means for doing so often contrive situations into which the characters ordinarily wouldn’t enter of their own doing. This particular installment finds Dorothy and Blanche at odds, but the reason that I think it manages to avoid feeling like a writer-imposed-conflict is that the drama is really one-sided, as both Blanche’s jealousy over Dorothy’s proficiency and a natural misunderstanding about a secret project lead the southern belle to pick an argument with her best friend. It’s understandable, especially for Blanche’s character, and because Dorothy’s motivation is to avoid the same antagonism, the dynamic therefore feels authentic, thus allowing the heightened comedy to play unencumbered.

06) Episode 36: “‘Twas The Nightmare Before Christmas” (Aired: 12/20/86)

The ladies’ plans to spend Christmas with their families are thwarted.

Written by Barry Fanaro & Mort Nathan

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Another well-liked installment by the fanbase, this is an offering that ends up being greater than the sum of its parts. In other words, this episode isn’t consistently enjoyable, but because of both the moments of supreme comedy and the sense of good-will the outing manages to engender, it ultimately remains a classic. Of course, the seminal scene from this entry is the gift-giving sequence, in which Blanche surprises her roommates with a racy calendar filled with pictures from “The Men of Blanche’s Boudoir.” It’s as hilarious in execution as it sounds on paper, and it manages to overcompensate for some of the foolish shenanigans that follow, specifically when the women are temporarily held hostage at the grief center. (I rolled my eyes after typing that sentence.) Fortunately, the episode ends on a welcome note of holiday cheer.

07) Episode 39: “The Actor” (Aired: 01/17/87)

Dorothy, Rose, and Blanche all fall for the lead in their community play.

Written by Barry Fanaro & Mort Nathan

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Lloyd Bochner, whom we’ve been discussing lately in our Dynasty posts, guest stars in this episode as a famous actor who comes to town to star alongside the women in the community play. Of course, they all fall for him, and he decides to secretly see each one. It’s surprising how well this episode works, given that so much of the material is actually thrown to a guest star instead of the regulars, but once again we must look to the strength of this Fanaro and Nathan script, which seemingly justifies any moment of slight artificiality and also supplies the offering with enough big moments that mitigate all those that aren’t commensurate. The highlight of this outing, without a doubt, is Blanche’s audition, in which she amplifies herself with an inflated bosom that pops during her reading with Bochner. It’s a Lucy-esque gag that McClanahan sells.

08) Episode 44: “Long Day’s Journey Into Marinara” (Aired: 02/21/87)

Sophia’s sister moves to Miami while Rose cares for a piano-playing chicken.

Written by Barry Fanaro & Mort Nathan

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The second and final episode to feature Nancy Walker, whose character would have been a great recurring presence on the series, this entry is probably even funnier than her first appearance (which almost made this list). Now that we’ve gotten the story-oriented conflict between them out of the way, we can explore their lingering rivalry through a more character-driven lens. Also, this story melds beautifully with a hilarious subplot involving Rose and a chicken, Count Bessie, who can play the piano. The scene where the girls believe that Angela has killed and cooked Bessie is a supreme moment — one of the best from the entire series — and illustrates a sense of mastery within the storytelling, something not always displayed in these two-story-per-episode scripts. A favorite and a mini-classic, there’s a lot of stuff to enjoy in this one.

09) Episode 45: “Whose Face Is This, Anyway?” [a.k.a. “Whose Face Is It, Anyway?”] (Aired: 02/28/87)

Blanche considers plastic surgery and Rose makes a home movie.

Written by Winifred Hervey

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In the writing and researching of these posts, I’ve noticed that many of the scripts written by prolific staff member Winifred Hervey have often been good-but-not-great, just narrowly evading my lists in favor of other “must include” offerings. This is only the second episode for which she’s credited individually that I’m highlighting here and one of the reasons that this outing, in particular, felt worthy of inclusion — over the two most pressingly enjoyable honorable mentions featured below — is that it’s incredibly solid. From the beginning to the end, the level of humor is evenly distributed, and because each member of the ensemble is fairly well-utilized, this episode becomes almost an ideal example of the series. I’m not sure it could be called outstanding, but it’s great. Simply great, and emblematic of the show’s “golden era.”

10) Episode 50: “A Piece Of Cake” (Aired: 05/09/87)

The women reminisce about memorable birthdays.

Written by Kathy Speer, Terry Grossman, Mort Nathan, and Barry Fanaro

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This is the second of what I like to call the series’ “anthology episodes,” in which a script takes a singular idea and crafts a couple of sketches that are thematically relevant and can be strung together with wraparound “remember when” segments. (It’s different from a flashback show, which is usually concerned with just one event from the past, or a clip show, which is comprised of stuff we’ve already seen.) It’s a gimmick, yes, but the elimination of exposition allows the show to focus on the “meat” of the episode: the comedic sequences. And this offering, unlike the first “anthology episode” (an honorable mention listed below) is more equitably enjoyable, although the sequence with Dorothy at Mr. Haha’s Hot Dog Hacienda is without a doubt the installment’s high point, and another candidate for the season’s funniest moment. Classic.

 

Other notable episodes that merit mention include: “The Sisters,” the first episode with Nancy Walker’s Angela, which has a solid script by Christopher Lloyd, and very nearly made the above list, and “Son-In-Law Dearest,” which features a heavy main plot that’s surprisingly well-handled alongside a great subplot that appeals to me, naturally, as an I Love Lucy fan. Both of these episodes are good enough to appear with the above entries and I wish I could choose 12 because this season is that good. Other installments of “honorable mention” quality include “Big Daddy’s Little Lady,” which features that classic “Miami, You’ve Got Style” song, and “Bedtime Story,” the first of the anthology episodes and the one that features an incredible scene with all four ladies in bed. (If only the rest of the outing was as good!)

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*** The MVE Award for the Best Episode from Season Two of The Golden Girls goes to…..

“It’s A Miserable Life”

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Come back next Tuesday for the best from the third season! And tune in tomorrow for a new Wildcard Wednesday post!

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51 thoughts on “The Ten Best THE GOLDEN GIRLS Episodes of Season Two

  1. Hi, Jackson!! I couldn’t wait to see this week’s list! Bold move not to choose everybody’s favorite as your MVE. I must admit that “Isn’t It Romantic” is my favorite (like most fans prob) but I watched some of the season this weekend and I can see why you chose “Its a Miserable Life” It probably is a more representative episodie of the year and your reasoning makes a lot of sense. I’m thinking about the episode differently now myself. But I think others are going to be upset and disagree with your choice for the year’s best –even casual fans quote the Danny Thomas scene!!!

    ANyway I admire your boldness for going against the norm (and making sense as always-that’s something I love about your reviews!)

    • Hi, Elaine! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      As usual, I appreciate your kind words. When I selected “It’s A Miserable Life” as my MVE several months ago, I braced myself for pushback, because I knew “Isn’t It Romantic?” is many fans’ favorite episode from the entire run. In fact, I actually went into my chronological survey of the series anticipating the latter being this season’s MVE. But “It’s A Miserable Life” just seemed to embody the best of THE GOLDEN GIRLS in a more cohesive and less presumptive manner; the tone is consistent, the characterizations are equitably well-formulated, and the storytelling honors the show’s sensibilities without too much self-awareness – none of which I can say without some qualification for “Isn’t It Romantic?”

      Again, however, I do like this episode a WHOLE LOT, and in spite of my above nitpicks (most of which, I’m sure, are due to the fact that the script was not written by a member of the staff), I do appreciate what it offers, particularly with regard to that much-beloved scene. (Heck, McClanahan sells the whole episode, as far as I’m concerned!) So, as mentioned, above, I consider it the year’s second best outing – although, for what it’s worth, I almost wavered. I almost did make it the MVE. But I knew if I changed my mind, I would have been doing it mostly for my audience’s sake, and not my own. So I went with my gut – and I think the benefit of readers knowing my true POV outweighs the risk of some viewers discounting my entire coverage of the series over this one single pick (which I know has happened before).

      Ultimately, it’s a testament to this season’s strength that the decision wasn’t an easy one!

  2. Yes, “To Catch a Neighbor” is overrated. Thank you for saying it. And I’m pleased to see one of my favorites, “Son-in-Law Dearest,” get an honorable mention. It’s an overlooked gem and gives Arthur some meat to rip into. (I’ve always been troubled by the show’s inconsistent treatment of Stanley, though, whose relationship with the girls takes on the tenor that best suits his current appearance, past developments be damned.)

    You’re right that this is the best season of the series. I’ve read and heard that there was a bit of a struggle internally early on about the overall tone of the series. Susan Harris, who was minimally involved day-to-day (and seldom visited the writers’ room, even when her script was being reworked) preferred the more grounded, occasionally topical tone of her stories (last year’s “Break In” and “Heart Attack,” this year’s “End of the Curse”) while the Emmy-winning showrunners and writers had a fondness — and a gift — for the wilder comedy abundant in Nathan & Fanaro’s scripts. At this point the two forces are in a perfect, delectable balance.

    • Hi, Red Herring! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      “Son-In-Law Dearest” is a supremely well-done offering and I think it specifically highlights the year’s perfectly achieved tonal balance. (If only next season were as strong! Stay tuned…)

  3. A testament to the professionalism of the stars is your inclusion of The End of the Curse. All three were animal welfare activists and they hated the way the mink plot was written. They also thought the juxtaposition of the minks’ sex lives with Blanche’s menopause was tasteless. They complained about the script, but it was one of the few written by Susan Harris, and no changes were made or approved. Depending on the interview, they considered going on suspension for not making it or they just decided it wasn’t worth the fight. Despite their feelings, they did their very best with it, and that shows a lot about how they worked.

    It’s a great year for the show, and you named many of my favorites. The only one missing for me is The Stan Who Came to Dinner. Admittedly, there is some repetition in the plots and relationships in Stan’s appearances, but they aren’t repeating yet and I really never tire of watching Bea Arthur and Herb Edelman together.

    You’ve discussed the tonal elements borrowed from MTM. This may be the year we have to acknowledge the more tangible borrowings. All sitcoms occasionally visit the same story pool, but The Golden Girls had their floaties in some very specific ones. That is to say, it’s one thing to do a show where two characters get stuck somewhere together; it’s a whole other offense to do a show where the lead’s friend is a priest she thinks is leaving the clergy to declare his love for her. Forgive Me, Father does vary from the MTM episode at the very end, but it stays dangerously close until then. It’s not the last time they borrow so directly and it’s an unfortunate choice for a show that clearly didn’t need to lift plots.

    • Hi, Lee! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      Yes, I remember the brouhaha about “End Of The Curse” detailed in Colucci’s book, and I too have problems with the mink storyline (but not for the women’s animal rights concerns) — rather, I think it stretches common sense (and frankly, seems to belong more to the third season than the second). But, again, we excuse because the laughs come through, thanks in large part to the performances.

      Interestingly, I find “The Stan Who Came To Dinner” to be one of the year’s most adequate installments, comedically paling in comparison to the season’s many classics. (Heck, I even like “Take Him, He’s Mine” better.) I also enjoy Edelman’s appearances — generally — but goodness knows the stories thrown to his character are hit-and-miss!

      As for “Forgive Me, Father,” I also dislike that offering. I didn’t think the story was especially comedic on Moore’s series, and I don’t think it was especially comedic here either. Furthermore, I don’t appreciate the two renderings’ obvious similarities, and that stance will also apply to next season’s “Dorothy’s New Friend,” another MTM “homage” that (SPOILER ALERT) also won’t be highlighted here. Stay tuned…

      • Of course, I think they submitted The End of the Curse as Rue McClanahan’s Emmy submission, so sometimes producers are right…

        In fairness, I think The Golden Girls sometimes did better episodes than the originals when they borrowed plots. “Dorothy’s New Friend” is not a jewel, but it’s much better than the MTM original. “My Brother, My Father” was borrowed from The Odd Couple, and I think The Golden Girls came out with a better show there also. But it still feels wrong on some level.

        • As you’ll see next week, I agree about the strength of “My Brother, My Father,” which is itself a standard sitcom plot — two singles pretending to be married — that goes back even before THE ODD COUPLE brought in the ex-spouse/visiting relative angle. In fact, whole series have been predicated on this theme, and we’ll be exploring a few of those next summer… (Nice tease, huh?)

  4. Jackson, what do you know about (or what can you surmise from) the disappearance of the Angela character after Season Two? I enjoyed Nancy Walker in the role and always hoped she’d turn up, at least annually, thereafter.

    • From everything I’ve read, the producers wanted to make Walker recurring, and at one point were even considering a spin-off for her character (reported in early ’87, as “Empty Nests” was going into production). That show turned into MAMA’S BOY, a half-hour comedy (not a spin-off) produced by Witt-Thomas-Harris that was supposed to air monthly on NBC the following season. It was pulled after a few episodes and burned off that summer. I’m not sure why she wasn’t used afterwards on THE GOLDEN GIRLS (maybe it was a bad experience?), but by early ’90, Walker was committed to TRUE COLORS, so the show had missed its window of opportunity.

      • Oh yes, MAMA’S BOY. I remember it too well (which is to say at all) and can see how that may have left her sour. (No evidence here, just speculation.) It really is too bad because Walker was very good and finally had me believing she was someone other than Ida Morgenstern.

  5. I’ll go ahead and say it: Susan Harris might have created TGG, but her scripts for this series are the ones I enjoy the least — and “End of the Curse” is no exception. To me, it just feels too issue-heavy for a series with strengths that lay elsewhere.

    • Hi, Rashad! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      I too think Harris’ scripts for this series generally tend not to strike that desired tonal balance (due precisely to her chosen subject matter), but I think “End Of The Curse” actually delivers its needed laughs and is stronger for having done so with the odds stacked against it: a potentially pedantic main plot (menopause) and a potentially ridiculous subplot (mink breeding).

      The characterizations are on point too; Arthur’s Dorothy is especially sarcastic (Harris wrote Dorothy better than she wrote the other characters — maybe it was their MAUDE connection), and McClanahan sells her whole story both emotionally and comedically. It really was Blanche’s season in many ways, and this episode is one of several great examples as to why…

  6. Awesome picks for season two, Jackson! I feel like a kid on Christmas, stumbling upon a new Golden Girls Sitcom Tuesday post early on a Monday night. It’s like I’m shaking the presents trying to figure out what’s inside, but I get to open one early on Christmas Eve. Apropos considering “‘Twas the Nightmare Before Christmas” features in this knockout of a season, and I swear I’m not attempting another pun!

    Continuing on from your dialectic on MTM/Lear from your season one post, you summed it up so concisely here: “Lear laughs with MTM stories”. Nailed it! I agree that the show is now firing on all cylinders, mastering the classic formula from the very start with “End of the Curse”, building from the momentum that the latter (Terry Hughes) half of the first season had. It remained grounded, but everything got sharper and tighter and more consistent.

    Throw me in with the camp who adores “Isn’t It Romantic” — that would be my pick for season two, funny enough another Rose-centric episode (although Blanche gets all the laughs this time around!) and coincidentally with a variation of the word “Romance” in the title (a la “A Little Romance”).

    I am obsessed with Rue as Blanche, no matter the season (in fact, she may be my favorite actress of the four ladies, but it’s almost impossible for me to say), but the Emmy was definitely hers this particular year for all the reasons you described. A personal favorite episode of mine is “Diamond in the Rough” with Donnelley Rhodes as Jake the caterer. Between that episode and the poignant phone call Blanche makes to her daughter Janet at the end of “And Then There Was One” (comparable to, but in my opinion even more strikingly effective than the one she makes concerning her grandson Jacob in season one’s “On Golden Girls”), Rue is so true and authentic in the role. I’m so pleased that she was consistently given those weighty moments to complement her countless scenes of hilarity throughout the series’ run.

    How neat is it that Lucille Ball attended the taping of “Joust Between Friends”? The legend herself, among legends! I can’t believe there was a time in television history this damn good. I had no idea what other sitcoms Lucy herself liked (other than Three’s Company), so between hearing about that in Golden Girls Forever and the I Love Lucy b-plot in Son-In-Law Dearest, I was delighted, too.

    No one can deny that “It’s A Miserable Life” is ace! That and the riotous, irresistible “Ladies of the Evening” would be my runners-up if I had to choose. I love the parallel you drew there between “It’s a Miserable Life” and “Chuckles” — I had never thought of that connection before, but this is how gallows humor is done, yes! Fanaro and Nathan strike again. Those guys are brilliant. Do you possibly have any information on what they’re doing now? I know from researching on IMDB that they worked on a couple other shows together after leaving The Golden Girls (The Fanelli Boys and Platypus Man, both of which seem to have only lasted a single season — have you seen either show, and are they worth checking out?), and that they had worked on Benson prior, but it always baffles me that so many brilliant writers from the greatest sitcoms in American history seem to drop off the face of the earth after such massive hit shows. They should still be working in sitcoms today, and the landscape would be better for it. It baffles me that they seem to be forgotten.

    • Hi, Izak! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      I believe Fanaro and Nathan are both working in features now.

      Regarding Lucille Ball, in addition to THE GOLDEN GIRLS, she voiced favor for both THE COSBY SHOW and CHEERS, the latter of which had tried to convince her to play Diane’s mother in its first season, before Glynis Johns got the role. (THE GOLDEN GIRLS too had hoped to write something for Ball in its first season, but she wasn’t receptive to playing anything outside of the established Lucy character — a fact proven by LIFE WITH LUCY, which was in production at the time she attended the taping of “Joust Between Friends.”)

  7. Here’s my problem with “It’s a Miserable Life”: The scene in which the girls go to arrange Mrs. Claxton’s funeral is largely lifted, jokes intact, from a 1983 episode of “Benson” (“Down the Drain”), also written by Nathan & Fanaro. The plot is similar — Benson reluctantly pops for the funeral for a grouchy plumber who dies under his sink — and some of the lines (“We are bereaved on a budget!” “We’re not burying Superman. How much?”) are reused verbatim. Heck, even the set is the same. I will say, though, that the material is much funnier on “Golden Girls.”

    Also, in 1998, Nathan & Fanaro would create a short-lived, controversial sitcom for UPN entitled “The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer.” And no, the P was not silent.

    But hey, at least they stole from themselves.

    • You’re right about the connection, but oh, no, no, no — it’s much, much, much funnier on THE GOLDEN GIRLS (in part because it’s more character-driven). I tried watching some of BENSON earlier this year in the hopes of cultivating enough interest to cover it here (particularly because of THE GOLDEN GIRLS), and I screened a bunch of Fanaro and Nathan episodes, including the installment in question; aside from their habit of recycling themselves in both story and joke (which you can even see in that episode of HAIL TO THE CHIEF I posted last week — there are several lines there that would soon pop up on THE GOLDEN GIRLS), you wouldn’t know that the folks who made THE GOLDEN GIRLS so funny were behind those arduously hackneyed episodes of BENSON. I discounted “Down The Drain” right then because, even with similarities recognized, it wasn’t at all in the same league as “It’s A Miserable Life.”

      It reminded me, actually, of THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW’s “The Curious Thing About Women,” which I find to be among the strongest episodes of that series; that installment was lifted (by the same writer, again), from an episode of I MARRIED JOAN that has recently popped up on YouTube. I screened the I MARRIED JOAN episode a few years back at UCLA and considered discussing it here, but there was really no comparison in terms of quality between the two shows (again), even though it was obvious that another “homage” had occurred.

      • It’s an interesting lesson in TV-making: same jokes in a similar story from the same writers and producers — with wildly different results. Robert Guillaume handles the material well (though no one can top Bea Arthur, IMO). But BENSON was so poorly constructed that it’s a wonder the show was ever funny. The cast is fine, especially Swenson and Auberjonois, but someone early on decided to eschew the in-house madness of SOAP (that Benson presided over with insight and humor) and opted to forgo the obvious opportunities for political satire. Instead, the show settled for being another tepid sitcom about a weakly-knit extended family populated with flat, dull characters. It’s really remarkable how many laughs BENSON managed to generate given its serious structural flaws. Lots of props to the writers.

        And yes, I noticed some recycled (or precycled?) jokes in HAIL TO THE CHIEF. Just remember: gravy is not a beverage.

        • I agree wholeheartedly about BENSON’s conceptual flaws. The series always seemed to be on faulty footing — even within its weekly stories. For instance, one of the reasons “It’s A Miserable Life” clearly bests “Down The Drain” is that “Miserable Life” is structured better, knowing precisely how to maximize its laughs. Using the set-up of sweet-natured Rose facing off against an antagonist who literally dies in an argument (after being told to do just that), we’re already on a better foundation than Benson vs. the dead plumber with whom he shared mild banter.

          And then the BENSON script, after the joke-sharing funeral arrangements scene, focuses its comedic energy on Benson’s specific behavior during the funeral, a la “Chuckles Bites The Dust” (but again, that’s an unholy comparison from which no series would come out looking better), and then sort of becomes a bit like a memorable first season episode of MURPHY BROWN, which I’ll be discussing here this upcoming February (because that show surprisingly does it well)…

          As for broader comparisons between THE GOLDEN GIRLS and BENSON, I think the strength of the former resided not just in its exceptional cast, but also in its low-concept, which weakened the power of story constructs and really pushed the relationships to the forefront. I’ve always been a proponent of “less is more” in terms of premise and the difference between THE GOLDEN GIRLS and BENSON is a fine case study, especially when examining scripts that shared the same writers.

      • Awesome, I liked “Murphy Brown” in it’s first few years so I’ll b looking forward 2 that! (I know which episode you are thinking of!)

        • Yes, I’m right in the middle of the series right now and it’s been a unique show to discuss (yet another one with many MTM connections) — very much a series that, like THE COBSY SHOW, justifies being worthy of our attention by a few really strong years at the start of its otherwise prolonged run.

      • Jackson, you are a titan among television historians and scholars, and your taste in excellent (because I usually agree with you). But you have a gargantuan task ahead in trying to convince me that MURPHY BROWN was a fine show and deserves mention alongside MTM, GOLDEN GIRLS, et al. However, if anyone can persuade me, it’s you. Looking forward to your trying.

        • Well, I don’t consider MURPHY BROWN of the same quality as THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW or THE GOLDEN GIRLS either. But if I were only covering shows of that calibre, I’d have been done blogging a year after I started. (You’d have never seen — this year alone — THE JEFFERSONS, MAMA’S FAMILY, NIGHT COURT, or THE COSBY SHOW. And next year’s line-up simply wouldn’t exist. I’d just cut right to FRASIER, which is now scheduled for early 2018). However, I think the variety makes the better shows stand out even more.

          I try to treat each series as an individual entity that sets its own level of merit. My rule of thumb is that I need to derive both an individual (and substantial) appreciation for the show and its entertainment value, along with a unique and specific point-of-view (something to say). If I can do that, then a show is worth discussing. I usually hem and haw about shows of the MURPHY BROWN variety (because I tend to be very discerning about where to put my time), but I’m always glad — once the decision is made — for doing a critical evaluation, because it just makes me a stronger and sharper viewer moving forward. I’m so glad I did THE COSBY SHOW and NIGHT COURT. I certainly don’t enjoy them as much as I do CHEERS and THE GOLDEN GIRLS, but my work is better for having studied them. (Also, I pick up new and different readers with each show!)

          In the case of MURPHY BROWN — just like THE COSBY SHOW — the early years are strong enough to cement the needed appreciation, while the bumpy trajectory thereafter is what really gives me something to say. I’m actually excited for it (but, don’t go only by me — I tend to be excited about everything that comes up here, otherwise, it wouldn’t be coming up here)…

      • Yeah very few shows come close to MTM or THE GOLDEN GIRLS but I really enjoyed your look at THE COSBY SHOW and NIGHT COURT which can be enjoyed in different ways. I’m really looking forward to MURPHY BROWN. The show I’m least exited for on the coming attractions page is WINGS, which was CHEEResque but so far below in terms of quality, although I’m sure if anyone can make it interesting, you can!!

        • Thanks, but remember that very few shows look good when asked to stand next to CHEERS (as WINGS often is, for obvious reasons that I can’t and won’t avoid either). Tangentially, I’m eager to devote attention to WINGS in a more critical nature than I have in the past because I have a feeling that, like other shows I’ve covered here (including MAUDE, THE COSBY SHOW, and the upcoming MARRIED… WITH CHILDREN), my preconceived sentiments are going to refine, and perhaps, change in an increasingly formal study. So I’m prepared for surprises…

        • I had underestimated MAUDE’s comedic potency and didn’t fully realize the show’s somewhat brilliant change in directive that occurred in 1974, when the writing shifted from solely issue-based stories to those that were more character-driven. I came away loving the series (even with its faults), after having gone in with low expectations (and a guess that my only interest would be Arthur’s performance).

          With THE COSBY SHOW, I simply wasn’t prepared for the uneven quality — specifically with regard to seasonal fluctuations. I assumed the show’s descent was going to be easily traceable (essentially, that every season after the first would be a little bit worse), but that wasn’t the case at all.

          As for MARRIED… WITH CHILDREN, I don’t want to spoil anything, but I was able to find more moments than anticipated of considerable enjoyment in eras that I’d otherwise discounted, revealing that, again, the show’s qualitative trajectory wasn’t so simple. I came away liking more of the series than ever before, with the best and worst episodes both magnified in intensity. Stay tuned…

  8. I love The Golden Girls and I for one also find the lesbian episode overrated! I love the miserable life show though.

    What do u think about the “vacation” episode?

    • Hi, BB! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      I like the final scene of “Vacation” between the three women on the beach, but it’s rough going until we get there — surprisingly cartoony for this point in the run. Not as believable, both in story and characterization, as the other standouts from the season.

  9. I tried to watch some of BENSON on Family Net this year and I saw the “Down The Drain” episode — I agree that there was no comparison between this and THE GOLDEN GIRLS’ take, which I agree is a strong showing.

    However, the MTM episode rip-offs were much more blatant, as that not only led to similar lines but also similar plotting. It was very by the numbers. And I find that much worse!

    Also, maybe I’m crazy, but I also think “Isn’t It Romantic” is overrated, but I still like it. The one episode you didn’t mention here that I like is “Diamond In the Rough” with Dutch from SOAP. What did you think of that one? Not enough laughs?

    • Hi, Nat! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      I think the performances in “Diamond In The Rough” are generally truthful, but I also think the script pushes for an emotionality that’s not supported by the necessary number of laughs to make either the comedy or the drama truly worthwhile. It’s not a bad episode, it’s just not a great one. What do you like about it?

    • Hi, Julie! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      Absolutely. Stay tuned for my thoughts on — and favorite episodes from — THE GOLDEN PALACE on the last Wednesday in October, right after coverage of THE GOLDEN GIRLS concludes. Studying the series made for a fascinating piece and I look forward to sharing it.

  10. Rita Moreno also trashed the Empty Nest episode in her Archive interview.

    Do you like the pop-culture references and celebrity jokes or do they pull you out of the show? I heard Bea Arthur didn’t like them because they dated the show. MURPHY BROWN did the same thing with political jokes and it was tiresome and likely why it died in syndication.

    • Hi, Jake! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      No, I don’t mind at all. Every work aimed to entertain is a period piece: a product of the time in which it was first produced and designed specifically for the audience of that particular moment. I find it fundamentally unfair to fault a work of the past — that we individually seek out — for existing in a singular time and place (and letting its viewers know it), because I don’t consider “timelessness,” which doesn’t actually exist, part of any work’s function.

      Furthermore, I think the fact that these shows can stand as figurative time capsules should be as much a means of contextualizing quality as it should be an additional source for our enjoyment. I, personally, love that a sitcom episode from 1986 is decidedly from 1986 — and I don’t know why anyone would watch an episode from 1986 and expect anything different.

      However, I don’t doubt that many viewers automatically disconnect from works they do indeed feel are “dated,” or more often, rights-holders keep these works less seen because they are afraid that audiences will disconnect from works that are perceived as such, because most consumers are less invested in this material than I am. They therefore aren’t interested in making significant attempts to connect with a piece that obviously wasn’t designed to speak directly to them (without any effort on the viewers’ behalf), and it’s easier to just tune out.

      In the case of MURPHY BROWN, like MAUDE, the series wasn’t a hit in initial syndication precisely because it had a reputation for being heavily politicized, and these types of shows never fare well when the subject matter is neither current enough to be enjoyed as “modern” nor distant enough to be seen as historical. (In some ways, I think ALL IN THE FAMILY was always seen as historical, particularly to those within the industry.)

      Regarding MURPHY BROWN’s quality, it’s not the political humor or topical jokes that hurt the show — that’s actually vital to the premise’s successful operation — it’s the times in which the politics are either intentionally or unintentionally treated as paramount over character-driven comedy. Unfortunately, this happens with increasing regularity as the run progresses.

      So I never have an issue with topicality itself; it’s usually the way a show uses its topicality, and the eventual effects this has on its overall quality, that gives cause for concern. (And this is something with which THE GOLDEN GIRLS, unlike MURPHY BROWN, very seldom struggles. That’s just one of the many reasons it’s remained more visible since its initial run.)

      • You know I was just saying myself I hate the term dated and I feel people can be short on attentive span on that. With a show like Murphy Brown, whole one might say a show like that is dated with the political aspects others might say it’s satire in its own right. That’s why Maude’s later seasons were more successful when it comes to storytelling. However one might quickly look at clothing despite how traditional sitcom can be. Primes examples are WKRP IN CINCINNATI and The Facts of Life (well later season, you know)

        • Performance is the most interesting art form. It features movement, so we think it’s alive. And because we think it’s alive, we expect it to be aware of contemporary notions and needs. This is somewhat understandable in the case of live theatre, which to be enjoyed in full, must be presented as moments that have never existed before and will never exist again. Thus, there’s a greater urge to discover how every piece can “speak” to its present audience — wherever and whenever that may be — and to mine the text to find exactly how that can be made possible. Everything is still a period piece, but those mounting a play have a responsibility to find what makes it PRESENT.

          Yet television and film are mediums consisting of moments that have already happened. It’s not life; in fact, it’s more like death — filled with moments that can be recalled, but are fundamentally over and gone. So I’m against faulting any work that simply reinforces these truths. Ideally, characters and themes should be universal at the core (just as we ask of them in both literature and live theatre), but it’s not the job of a film or show itself to pretend that it’s not locked into the specific moments in which it was first captured on film/tape/etc, because it is. The audience should already know this… and maybe even be prepared to enjoy the show BECAUSE of it.

          If an Anita Bryant reference alienates viewers of 2016, that’s not THE GOLDEN GIRLS’ fault. It’s the fault of the passage of time — which is inescapable. (An easy joke? Maybe, but topical jokes themselves aren’t inherently easy; it’s how the show uses them that warrants discussion.) Frankly, the only thing for which I think it’s right to hold a sitcom responsible is not delivering what it promises: effective situational COMEDY predicated on established CHARACTERIZATIONS. To me, an Anita Bryant joke (used in reference to Dorothy) is part of the show fulfilling its function, and if that is a disconnect to a viewer in 2016 or 2093 or 2275, that’s on the individual, who either has to “come down” to the show’s time and space or go find something more contemporary, and thus less intellectually demanding.

          In the case of MURPHY BROWN, that’s a separate conversation, because the show uses its topicality differently than THE GOLDEN GIRLS (and at times, quite problematically). I’ll have lots of thoughts to share here next year on this topic; stay tuned…

  11. Season two and three are my favorite seasons. They are just so funny. I can’t put my finger on it but there does seem to be a difference in quality between the two. What do you think? Can’t wait for next week! I wanted to know if you’d ever consider The Doris Day Show although I pretty sure its not something that interests you. I just caught a clip from the show and its not bad. Miss Day is quite good and certainly brings star power to the formulaic material.

    • Hi, Matt! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      THE DORIS DAY SHOW will probably never be covered here, but I am committed to trying once again before making that claim definitive.

      As for the difference between Seasons Two and Three of THE GOLDEN GIRLS, my thoughts on the latter will be made exceedingly clear next week! I’ll warn you now, however, that Season Three is NOT one of my favorites, and I think there are indeed foundational variances between the two years…

  12. I am just now discovering this blog and am enjoying it. I promise that I would never disagree just to be ornery but I am surprised you consider season two to be the best season for the show. To me it’s the weakest season; only “End of the Curse” and “Isn’t It Romantic?” are great episodes. Many a show has the sophomore curse (season two of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” was undoubtedly ITS weakest) and TGG (my opinion) has it. Of course since I think that TGG’s best season is season six you and I are bound to disagree on many aspects of the series, I think. We’ll just have to agree to disagree and remain friends.

    • Hi, Mark! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      I’ll warn you now: I consider Season Six to be one of this series’ lesser periods, although one that’s not without its individual merits — stay tuned…

      As for the second season, while I also consider the sophomore year of THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW to be that series’ least rewarding (although I have issues with the first and seventh, as well) particularly in terms of the way the era uses its comedy, I don’t think THE GOLDEN GIRLS had a similar trajectory AT ALL. The former was always more understated in its comedic aims and rarely based its humor (early on, anyway) outside of the ensemble’s established characterizations. Thus, the series was entirely committed to myopically exploring character at the time, and was still taking pains to hone and develop its players in Season Two, benefiting comedically — as the run progressed — from the more definition afforded them.

      In contrast, THE GOLDEN GIRLS not only had gotten firm control of its regulars mid-way through Season One, but also, as discussed in my initial post — because the writing was equal parts Lear and MTM — its comedy was both more forcefully applied than in an MTM show and more subtly (at first, anyway) dependent on factors beyond the characters; stories were going to matter more. Thus, humor was, from the start, never going to be the show’s prime undoing; character-driven storytelling would be — once it would eventually become difficult to derive ideas organically. And that was always going to be inevitable.

      So the difference between the two shows’ second seasons can be traced back to how they’d been launched in each of their firsts; to use a tortured metaphor, one decided that it wanted to be cooked slowly, while the other was already on fire (and inevitably soon to char). The reason? Story vs. character. Now, I do think half of THE GOLDEN GIRLS’ successful recipe can be traced to THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW, but they were entirely different entities from their respective inceptions, and, as a result, their trajectories don’t mirror one another and I couldn’t link the two, even if I felt the same about each of their second years.

      That noted, I find different things to enjoy in the later seasons than I do in the early ones, and I’m equally looking forward to discussing them. I am not of the opinion that the difference in quality between the two delineated eras is really as pronounced as some fans believe…

  13. This is a fantastic blog. As a long-time fan of the show, I’ve always sought someone to give the show the critical praise that it deserves. Couldn’t agree more with your episode choices. How did you feel about “Family Affair”? I found the script to be rather insulting given how the characters normally act when it comes to dates and sex.

    • Hi, Justin! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      I think the characters are contorted to allow for the preordained conflict, while the teleplay itself is narratively and comedically inferior to a lot of what was produced during the second season. It’s not a travesty in comparison to the missteps that would come, but by our Season Two standards, the installment is easily not worth mentioning alongside the year’s finest.

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