The Ten Best THE GOLDEN GIRLS Episodes of Season Three

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.

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No matter what kvetching may come in the weeks ahead, this season proved the most challenging of the entire series when it came time to comfortably establish hierarchical levels of quality. The main reason for this noted difficulty comes because Season Three is an evident descent from the two years prior, particularly with regard to the writing. The effects of this considerable contrast, which we’ll dissect below, manifest themselves in several obvious ways, the primary being that the year hosts some of the show’s best moments alongside some of its worst (no hyperbole) — often within the same episode. And although there will be years hereafter with a greater assortment of moments and episodes that flat-out fail, the third year is unrivaled in its accompanying disappointment, especially because we, as the audience, aren’t yet prepared for such a monumental shift. Much of this is due to the year’s proximity to the two earliest seasons, which are so superior themselves that replication is automatically a challenge; but I don’t want to easily excuse these scripts of their problems simply because of the high quality of those that came before. Also, because the core writing staff has remained unchanged (Fanaro & Nathan, Speer & Grossman, Hervey Stallworth, Lloyd), there’s really no good excuse for qualitative differentiation, especially when — SPOILER — this lull will prove temporary.

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Let’s pinpoint exactly what ails Season Three. There are two interconnected elements that I believe are virulent: the stories and the storytelling. With regard to the former — which seems the most obvious on paper — I’m never able to shake the notion that the plots being concocted this year feel desperate. The show seems to be having trouble coming up with ideas that are both character-driven and comedic, for often times we’ll get an installment that grants us a premise that is fundamentally designed for one, but not the other. I think it “boils down” to the show’s unspoken competition with its brilliant past. After a year-and-a-half of knowing precisely who each of these four characters are, these veteran writers are now running all over themselves in their attempts to utilize the “girls” in ways that are not only unique to the series (and unlike the stuff that came before), but also in ways that can top the heights previously reached. And in this forceful quest to beat material that may be unbeatable, the show ends up not scaling mountains, but scraping the bottom of a figurative barrel. Voodoo housekeepers? TV superheroes? Rich pigs? (Please tell me what this has to do with our four core characters!) With too many episodes here predicating their worths upon ideas that are foundationally ridiculous or unrelated to character, it therefore becomes an uphill battle to reach the quality that, we can assume, these episodes were so feverishly attempting to meet. On the other end of the spectrum are ernest character dramas, like “Blanche’s Little Girl” and “Charlie’s Buddy,” which make more sense for the established personalities, but simultaneously find laughs inherently difficult to achieve. In effect, that wonderful Season Two balance — in tone, narrative, and comedy — is gone.

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Meanwhile, the other issue, which I’ll call the “storytelling,” sure doesn’t make it any easier for these corrosively conceived entries to escape their entrapments, for Season Three sees the show’s focus changing (and this also helps to explain why the show is also having story problems). Simply put: the series’ core objective has shifted from character to comedy. Now, before I attempt to explain, let’s preface this idea by noting that the four core characters are so well-established and understood that we don’t have to worry about their depictions — even in faulty episodes. Thus, character integrity is not yet the occasional problem that it will become under the show’s second team of writers, in which the broadening of the series’ storytelling scope (the kind that happens in all long-running series) can occasionally have a detrimental effect on its players. Here, the issue is simply that the focus isn’t on the characters, as it was in the two years prior; now it’s on the comedy. Yet, you may be wondering why I’d consider this a flaw, particularly because, as regular readers know, I put a lot of emphasis on the way actual laughs, specifically, are vital in the construction of a successful sitcom. But laughs can’t exist without strong characterizations in support, and while I tend to give the edge to individual installments with high humor quotients (hence all the Nathan/Fanaro love these past two weeks), I’m only able to do this when a certain level of respect is shown to the characters. In the case of The Golden Girls‘ third season, I’m not saying the characters are being disrespected; rather, they’re simply regarded as solid enough to not need the care they once did. It shows.

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But how does this translate into a flaw? Well, it comes down to the sheer force with which the show sets about going after its laughs. Once again, in an attempt to outrank all that came before, the season goes into overdrive attempting to deliver HILARITY (in all caps, yes). Could this be related to lingering Lear sensibilities? Probably, especially because the extremes between the in-your-face comedy and the overwrought melodramatics are as evident as ever. But we’ve never before had humor problems like these, for sometimes the result of these scripts’ comedic focus is overstimulation, and when too many of the utilized jokes feel unearned, gratuitous, or beneath the series and its fine characters, this then creates an unsatisfying experience. In other words, the show is now trying so hard to make us laugh that it’s resorting to hokum and tricks that have the opposite effect. Thus, instead of humor being rooted in character, we start to notice it coming more from the writers. (And the funnier the writers, the more counterintuitive their work this year! You’ll see that reflected in this list.) Because no major overhauls were made to the staff this year, I think this problem is related to the environment that reportedly existed within the writer’s room at this time, which I’ve read described as highly competitive and laugh-driven, as several teams would both be assigned the same script/scene and whichever one was deemed “better” would ultimately be used. This certainly fosters both that alienating feeling of oneupmanship — go for the laughs, logic and quality be darned — and the unevenness within individual teleplays. Some episodes stack classic Golden Girls scenes next to absolute tripe. How does one rank quality when schisms already exist within the majority of these offerings?

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Inevitably, we find our positives elsewhere. As usual, the cast is superb, and with the show not being up to its usual levels, this year really allows us to appreciate just how much each woman brings to the show, regularly elevating somewhat substandard fare into material that at least appears solid. This is particularly true of Arthur, whose ever-present talents seem to converge this season with a desire to finally win that Emmy (which had already gone to both White and McClanahan). Arthur’s deliveries, reactions, and choices are at a place of excellence that we rarely see with consistency on television, and it’s no surprise that the work she put into this season did indeed earn her another long-deserved statue. In spite of overarching textual deficiencies, she is clearly the year’s anchor. This is very much Dorothy’s season, and this focus on the series’ structural center does help boost the year’s overall appeal. Also, the show’s gradual “beefing up” of the Sophia character, particularly in regards to her relationship with Dorothy, helped Getty win a Supporting Actress Emmy for her work this season — making the entire ensemble Emmy recipients; the first cast to have that honor since All In The Family. Meanwhile, as Arthur and Getty’s awards are both justified by their efforts in Season Three, White and McClanahan remain as laudable as ever, each so attuned to their roles that they can make the ridiculous seem appropriate for the characters — most of the time, that is.

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Remember that I’m harsh on this year because the series has told me that it’s capable of better. A “razz” on this season that shares the same intensity as one I’ve given to the worst of The Cosby Show, for instance, is not commensurate when it comes to quality, because, the shows aren’t necessarily commensurate in quality. They’re only comparable when each independently viewed within their individual series’ context. Also, in spite of all this critical rigmarole, there’s still a lot to enjoy here — after all, we’re still dealing with The Golden Girls. We’ve got four talented women playing excellently crafted characters with writing that, even when flawed, is better and funnier than the average lot. And while this list is comprised of all different kinds of installments — those that have great stories and decent laughs, those that have decent stories but great laughs, etc. — I’ve still tried to select the overall strongest. As I’ve already noted, it wasn’t easy; these episodes didn’t make it a “cheesecake” walk (pun intended), because almost every excursion here does something well and something not-so-well. (So pay attention to the many different types of honorable mentions too. I try to keep them few, but couldn’t this week.) Yet the good news: this dip in quality is temporary — these problems won’t prove permanent. We’ll talk more about how the show managed to rebound next week (even though, as was the case here, it’s not always so clear; stay tuned…) But in the meantime, 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 may be a few surprises.

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Here are my picks for the ten best episodes of Season Three. (They are in AIRING ORDER.) Note that every episode this season is directed by Terry Hughes.

 

01) Episode 52: “Old Friends” (Aired: 09/19/87)

Sophia meets a new friend and Rose has trouble with a Sunshine Cadet.

Written by Kathy Speer & Terry Grossman

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No other episode here so appropriately illustrates the duality of quality within the season as this episode. While we get a terrifically funny story about a Sunshine Cadet (a Girl Scout, for all intents and purposes) — played by Jenny Lewis, the future musician and former regular of Life With Lucy — who holds Rose’s beloved teddy bear, Fernando, hostage, we also get a terribly self-important and comedically bankrupt story about Sophia befriending a man who has dementia. No matter how many people praise their scenes for their humanity or the strong performances (this is the one that won Getty her Emmy), the simple truth is that the story is far less entertaining than its companion, making for an episode that constitutes some of both the strongest and most forgettable (sorry, bad joke) material of the season. Half-a-classic.

02) Episode 53: “One For The Money” (Aired: 09/26/87)

The girls reminisce about past money-making endeavors.

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

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One of the things that most indicates the tiredness within the writing this season is the fact that there are three anthology episodes. For those who didn’t catch last week, in which the show debuted a successful anthology episode and followed it up quickly with an even better one, I’m referring to episodes that are structured around a single idea, but feature several thematically related sketch-like sequences in place of a singular story. These are easy because they don’t have to be written or shot all at once. (Taxi used to do the same thing at the end of its seasons.) It’s a gimmick, but if several of the sequences work, you tend to have a truly solid and laugh-driven (because it’s not story-driven) installment. This one has the iconic dance competition that yields many laughs and another fun moment where the girls are singing and stuffing chickens.

03) Episode 59: “Brotherly Love” (Aired: 11/14/87)

Dorothy goes out with Stan’s brother, angering both Stan and Blanche.

Written by Jeffrey Ferro & Fredric Weiss

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While I find Stan to be a strong comedic presence — mostly because of the reaction that his appearance usually elicits from Dorothy — episodes that feature him always tend to be hit-and-miss. This year, however, I note myself really enjoying every offering in which he appears and I think it’s because each Stan episode also promises to be a heavy Dorothy episode, and that’s especially an asset in Season Three. This outing has always been a sleeper favorite; that is, I forget how decent this entry is until I watch it again. Sure, I’m not thrilled with the story nor have I ever been a fan of McLean Stevenson, but the script, the first by this new duo, is occasionally strong — with several wonderful and funny moments. (Only someone like Dorothy could make a joke about Hamlet and have it be both funny and fitting!) Dark horse.

04) Episode 60: “A Visit From Little Sven” (Aired: 11/21/87)

Blanche uses Rose’s naive cousin to make her beau jealous.

Written by David Nichols

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With a script by a freelance writer, the episode’s fresh perspective helps to break some of the rut into which many of these others have found themselves. In both the teleplay’s depiction of the characters and the places it goes for comedy, this entry is one of the few here that actually feels connected to what was produced the two seasons prior. It’s primarily a Blanche story, affording plenty of material for McClanahan, who otherwise doesn’t get to shine as bright as she did last season (for which she won an Emmy). The best scene, however, occurs at the start — and this script boasts a terrific first act — when the ladies are shocked to see that Rose’s cake, which is supposed to be shaped like Florida, actually resembles a part of the male anatomy. Dorothy’s reaction is a riot, letting Arthur walk away with this entire Blanche-Rose episode.

05) Episode 61: “The Audit” (Aired: 11/28/87)

Dorothy is audited alongside Stan, while Blanche and Rose go to Spanish class.

Written by Winifred Hervey Stallworth

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Although more Hervey Stallworth (she added the Stallworth in between this season and the one prior) scripts are in today’s list than any other, my opinion of her contributions remain the same: she knows the characters, but doesn’t typically produce the funniest material. This episode may seem on the surface to be a very run-of-the-figurative-mill offering that’s neither fantastic nor disastrous, but on closer look, there’s much to enjoy in the bevy of strong character moments we get along the way. And because these character moments are so delectable, the comedy really lands. In fact, this may be among Hervey Stallworth’s funniest efforts, particularly because of a truly hysterical scene in which Dorothy and Stan visit the IRS agent, which is loaded with some of my favorite lines of the season. A consistent effort from an inconsistent season.

06) Episode 62: “Three On A Couch” (Aired: 12/05/87)

The ladies seek professional help to resolve their constant bickering.

Written by Jeffrey Ferro & Fredric Weiss

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The second script by Ferro and Weiss, whose one-year tenure seems all too brief (especially considering that all three of the scripts for which they’re credited have made this list — unintentionally), I consider this offering to be another anthology episode, even though there’s a more concrete story in place: the girls visiting a psychiatrist to help them settle their shortening tempers with one another. Although this antagonism comes out of nowhere (in a typical sitcom story), I nevertheless think it’s a very believable idea that people who share so much time together get on one another’s nerves, and while I don’t appreciate the threat of break-up (because we know it’s impossible), I do recognize the need for conflict. As for the comedy, the newspaper ad scene is my favorite of the reminiscences, but the shrink stuff remains tops.

07) Episode 67: “Grab That Dough” (Aired: 01/23/88)

The women go to California to compete on a game show.

Written by Winifred Hervey Stallworth

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Hervey Stallworth’s second individual script to make today’s list, this is a fan favorite that I truthfully find to be overrated. Why? It’s both a simple premise that could be done on any show, and is therefore not motivated by these four great characters, and it features storytelling beats (the switched teams) that we’ve already seen before (in Season One’s “The Competition,” to be precise), and therefore don’t feel new or interesting. However, I still enjoy the episode for the laughs it does deliver and for the care it takes in trying to make the gimmicky game show sequence ride on humor that’s specific to the characters and not purely situational. The highlight for character-driven stuff is probably Blanche’s “Better late than… pregnant” joke, but there are more than a few gems here and, thankfully, the script is able to overcome its easy premise.

08) Episode 68: “My Brother, My Father” (Aired: 02/06/88)

Dorothy and Stan pretend to still be married when Sophia’s brother visits.

Written by Barry Fanaro & Mort Nathan

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Bea Arthur won an Emmy for her stellar work in this episode, which has Dorothy and Stan (Herb Edelman, as always) pretending to still be married when Sophia’s brother, Uncle Angelo (Bill Dana), a priest — and a presence whom I incidentally find too cartoony for the series — comes to visit from Italy. Now, this is a premise that, like the above, could be done on any series (and has been done on many — for instance, episodically with The Odd Couple and in a variation, serially with Occasional Wife). But as with its predecessor, the script does a wonderful job of motivating all the story beats through established character traits, and then supporting the narrative through unbelievable comedy so that the nature of the plot is totally forgiven. Furthermore, I appreciate the elements of farce that weave throughout, with the arrival of Blanche and Rose in their nun costumes from their production of The Sound Of Music being the most comedically rewarding moment of the entire season. A hysterical classic — the least forceful entry from Fanaro and Nathan this year — and an easy choice for MVE.

09) Episode 72: “Larceny And Old Lace” (Aired: 02/27/88)

Sophia dates a mobster and the girls read Rose’s diary.

Story by Jeffrey Ferro & Fredric Weiss | Teleplay by Robert Bruce & Martin Weiss

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With a story by Ferro and Weiss, a new duo who gave this year some of its more memorable entries, and a teleplay by their replacements, Bruce and (another) Weiss, who’ll stay on board for two more years, this outing is among the most unique. While the guest appearance of Mickey Rooney threatens to be a gimmick unto itself, the installment crafts an interesting character for the actor that is driven by substantive material (and not his simple star power). Additionally, Sophia gets what is clearly the A-story — her second of the season and a novelty in these early years; this won’t actually be a conscious occurrence until after Getty’s Emmy win. Meanwhile, there’s an easy but amiable subplot with Dorothy and Blanche reading Rose’s diary, but it’s fascinatingly plotted — concluding right in the outing’s middle. Not perfect, but fun and fresh.

10) Episode 74: “Mixed Blessing” (Aired: 03/19/88)

Dorothy’s son gets engaged to an older woman — an older black woman.

Written by Christopher Lloyd

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Of all the episodes on this list, I struggled most with this one, because the premise is an odd mix of character-ignorant social relevance and outlandish gaggy humor that’s so broad it almost makes us cringe. But by a strange chemical reaction, the final product is more shockingly rewarding than most. (Maybe because the idea is so risky and calls for extreme reactions, it simply stands out from the honorable mentions.) Also, this entry seemed to warrant inclusion here because it’s a Christopher Lloyd script — his first to be singled out in my coverage. Since The Golden Girls, Lloyd (Frasier, Modern Family) has gone on to have an incredible career, and I think it’s fair to say much of his success can be attributed to lessons learned here. Frankly, his episodes on this series don’t work with regularity, but this is his funniest entry of the season.

 

As noted above, there are several different honorable mentions here. There are episodes that feature admirable attempts at comedy, but unfortunately can’t break the bonds of humorless and unenjoyable non-character-driven stories — “Letter To Gorbachev,” a Fanaro/Nathan outing that I sometimes try to convince myself is funny enough (Dorothy is killer here) to overcome its topical, unfunny premise, and “Dorothy’s New Friend,” a clear “homage” (the generous term) to an entry from The Mary Tyler Moore Show that marks a solid premise-elevating first try by Bruce and Weiss. Then there’s an installment that utilizes a broad, ridiculous story, with bold humor that follows suit — “Nothing To Fear But Fear Itself, a flighty Lloyd script that tries to be too conveniently tight and thus just misses the mark. And then there’s a middling entry with a couple of BIG funny moments — “And Ma Makes Three,” which includes a truly riotous St. Olaf story involving a crack and a crow, and also points toward the heavier Dorothy-Sophia material we’ll see in the years to come (this was the closest to making the above list). Lastly, although I don’t consider it very honorable, I’d be remiss not to mention Alice Ghostley’s hilarious turn as Stan’s mom in the season finale, “Mother’s Day,” an uneven anthology episode (that’s not unlike last season’s “Bedtime Story.”)

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

“My Brother, My Father”

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

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26 thoughts on “The Ten Best THE GOLDEN GIRLS Episodes of Season Three

  1. It’s a sloppy season, to be sure, although I’m surprised that I disagree with so many of your choices here. (However, we agree about Baby, Marguerite, and Mr. Terrific. Ugh.) The most glaring omission for me: “Strange Bedfellows,” a funny Chris Lloyd script that spreads the laughs around (“Silly putty, Rose!”) and hints that Blanche may not be as promiscuous as she’s led her roommates to believe. (If memory serves, this is the episode the producers submitted for the Best Comedy Series Emmy in ’87’-’88.) What’s your beef with it?

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

      I think the overrated “Strange Bedfellows” is like last season’s “To Catch A Thief” in that it’s story-driven and hangs too much on guest characters, specifically John Schuck’s Gil Kessler and the big “secret” that’s supposed to be comedic, but neither offers a humorous pay-off nor material of merit for the core characters.

      I too appreciate the final scene’s implication with regard to Blanche, but I don’t think the construction does much for the women (or the humor) beyond the idea itself — that Blanche is the slut who, in this particular case, isn’t one. The execution here needs to be more than adequate, and every time I try to convince myself that I’ve underestimated the outing’s power, I’m let down.

      (And incidentally, I feel the same way about Lloyd’s “The Artist.”)

      • Fair enough. I don’t rate “Strange Bedfellows” a series classic. But in a season of so many weak and joke-driven episodes, I’d recommend it over “The Audit,” which I dislike enough to skip when I rewatch the DVDs, or “Larceny & Old Lace,” which is badly plotted and more antic than it is amusing. I’d also rate “Mother’s Day,” which affords the series a chance to tell a story — well, four stories — that it was uniquely qualified to tell, over “One for the Money,” a silly, intermittently funny episode that has the women behaving in ways that I don’t recognize or believe.

        I enjoy “Dorothy’s New Friend” and “And Ma Makes Three” more than you. I too frown when I consider that both stories had been done before (MTM and CHEERS, respectively, for starters). But as one of your commenters said last week, I could forgive this when GOLDEN GIRLS did it better, and in these cases they did.

        I agree that Ferro & Weiss’ scripts (well, the first two) were notable and have wondered why they were let go in the middle of the season. TV Guide reported that their dismissal was due to “creative differences.” (I’ve also wondered whether a fourth-season joke about MR. BELVEDERE “telling stories that have already been told” was a knock at Ferro & Weiss, who worked on that show before and after their GOLDEN GIRLS stint. But that may just be me looking for trouble where there is none.)

        • Interesting. I find “The Audit” consistently rendered and notable specifically for both Arthur’s performance and the material given to Dorothy. However, I completely understand and recognize your criticism of “Larceny And Old Lace” — although I actually consider the atypical plotting a selling point (along with the decision to give Sophia an A-story). It has a completely different energy than the rest of the season, and in this collection of episodes, that’s pretty much a compliment.

          In contrast, I find “Dorothy’s New Friend” by the numbers in terms of its structure, even though the teleplay does an admirable job of finding smaller moments to make the proceedings occasionally funny outside of its responsibilities to the story. And while the final product never gets fully afloat (for me), it does make a great case for paying more attention to Bruce and Weiss next season. Like Hervey Stallworth’s “And Ma Makes Three,” it’s a solid honorable mention in my figurative book.

          Now, “Mother’s Day” always bedevils me, and I waver on my favor for it each time I try to adjudicate it honestly. Ultimately, I find it to be a lesser version of “Bedtime Story” in terms of its structural success. In both cases, the first scene in the anthology design is outstanding… and then the rest falls comparably flat. I do feel the Mother’s Day theme inherently makes all the sequences more rooted in character than those within “One For The Money” (that’s for darn sure), but as with several outings this year, the comedy is improperly calibrated with the drama, so the script’s non-hysterical tone therefore remains unjustified. I specifically find the Rose memory painful, and I’m generally anti-Sophia/Dorothy flashback in all cases, especially because I don’t think we’re ever treated to ample laughs in these scenes or enough new information to warrant the gimmick.

          With regard to the sudden axing of Ferro and Weiss, it could have been a case of “last hire, first fire.” I’d like to give the show credit for noticing its slipping quality, so perhaps the staff used the new duo as a scapegoat for some of these issues. Little changed between this season and last outside of the addition of this pair, so maybe the others wanted to believe that correlation was causation…

      • I love these posts and the discussion here. I agree with you about “Mother’s Day” and how the first scene is the strongest. It’s a sentimental favorite for me but it doesn’t supply the laughs of the other anthology shows this season.

        What do you think of “Rose’s big Adventure”?(FYI: I hate it! )

        • Thanks for your kind words — I love it too!

          I’m not a fan of “Rose’s Big Adventure” either: it’s a C-level excursion from conception, and very much fits into this sense that surrounds the season’s final post-clip-show offerings, in which the series seems to know it’s not as good as it once was, so it’s just resolved to muddle through and save the bulk of its “fix it” efforts for the fall, with the writers picking and choosing their battles in the meantime.

  2. I always forget how bad this season is! There are very few episodes I really like, but you included the few ones I do, particularly the MVE which is great. I have never understood the appeal of “Strange Bedfellows” either and I don’t know why so many people seem to like it but I’m okay with “The Artist”. It’s like an inferior redux of last season’s “The Actor” and doesn’t have the laughs of “Three on A Couch”, but theres much worse this year. Like I hate the one with Blanche’s daughter. Not a laugh in site!!!

    • Hi, Elaine! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      I think “Blanche’s Little Girl” is a big missed opportunity. If it had even half the humor of last season’s “Son-In-Law Dearest,” which also utilizes a dramatic family story but balances it with great character comedy, you’d have seen it highlighted here!

  3. Count me as NOT a fan of “Strange Bedfellows either. Easy comedy, like so much this season. I am surprised about your inclusion of “Brotherly Love” though, as that’s one I always tend to overlook. I’ll have to check it out again. I tend to like the Dorothy-Stan episodes (aside from their half hearted reconciliation in S6), so we’ll see…

    • Hi, Julie! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      I too am surprised that I enjoy “Brotherly Love.” I never would have suspected that it would make this week’s list, and I screened it several times over the past few months to make sure it wasn’t a fluke. Maybe it’s all due to Arthur’s performance — it wouldn’t be the first time she singlehandedly made an average teleplay click!

  4. Ive never been down on this season as much as u but there are fewer classics. I like the game show one and ur MVE. My brother loves the one wit Blanche & the politician but I think it among the worst [although not as bad as mister terrific!

    • Hi, BB! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      I generally cite “Mister Terrific” as being among my least favorite of the entire series, but “Strange Bedfellows” is generally well-liked. I’m surprised to note that a few commenters here aren’t up on it as well, because I always assumed that I was in the minority!

    • Well, I typically find Lloyd’s scripts to be story-heavy, with the premise guiding the action more so than the characters, and “Mixed Blessing” is no exception. I don’t feel that character is the most important factor in any of his entries this season, and the only reason this episode (of his generally good-but-not-great output) is included is because it’s the most bold with its humor, which at least gives it a few moments of bolstered appeal. (But, frankly, this is one of those years that would have been more accurately represented with a shorter list…)

      Interestingly, one of my favorite Lloyd scripts is “Second Motherhood” from Season One, which only got bumped due to the high number of stellar outings that first year. (The same is true of “The Sisters” from Season Two.) You may see more of his work next week though…

  5. Well I do happen to like “Strange Bedfellows” (better than your honorable mentions at least) but it’s not a favorite either and I can understand why you don’t like it so much. That’s how I feel about “Nothing To Fear…” That’s also a Lloyd script too I see, so thank you for pointing out a pattern. I can see it.

    I wanted to ask when was MURPHY BROWN going to come up here? I loved that show when it was good and hated it when it was bad. So I can’t wait till you cover it!

    • Hi, Nat! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      For the record, I don’t actively dislike “Strange Bedfellows,” I just think it’s more middling than it’s often credited as being, even for this season’s standards. In fact, an early draft of this post had it as an honorable mention alongside “And Ma Makes Three,” but I opted to trim! (I try not to highlight more than three honorable mentions per list — four if the season is 26+ episodes.)

      As for MURPHY BROWN, it’s coming up here right after MARRIED… WITH CHILDREN. Look for my thoughts on the first season to go live during the second Tuesday in February. I’m currently in the middle of the series right now, and like THE COSBY SHOW and NIGHT COURT, it’s often more fun to discuss than watch. Studying the series — while certainly calling to attention its many issues — has also increased my appreciation for its strengths. I hope it’ll do the same for others! Stay tuned…

  6. When it comes to The Golden Girls, I always find myself remembering very specific moments rather than the episodes themselves. I could rattle off fifty of my favorite quotes and not be able to say which episodes most of them came from. It’s unfortunate that season three was such a comedown. For goodness sakes, what series resorts to doing a two-parter clip show in its THIRD SEASON? One thing that I just realized today is that from the looks of it, the series was shot on videotape. I don’t know how I never noticed that before. What do you think about tape vs. film when shooting sitcoms?

    P.S.: Thrilled to see that Murphy Brown will be covered soon! I happen to be making my way through the series as well (I’m midway through season three).

    • Hi, George! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      That’s a good question. I actually think the difference between videotape and film is overstated in discussions about how the decision itself impacts enjoyment, because it’s not something with which the average audience member concerns him/herself. However, the two formats do (or did, before tape could be digitally manipulated to resemble film) have a very different look — conventional wisdom has always cited film as being vivid and realistic, with tape being stagebound and intimate — and they can therefore suggest things subliminally to an audience about a show’s identity.

      For instance, tape suggests the performative nature of television and can be used as such to point not just towards theatre (as is the case with all the Lear shows, of which I consider SOAP and THE GOLDEN GIRLS to be descendants), but also to artifice, like in THE LARRY SANDERS SHOW, which used tape for the title character’s “show” and film for the off-stage moments. Today, I think audiences associate the non-enhanced tape look with an “old-timey” aesthetic and therefore could use it as an excuse to disconnect from such works.

      Film, meanwhile, is cinematic by nature and therefore projects a sense of professional, well-produced polish. At the same time, it’s also more familiar to us, and that’s an asset in this day and age, in which realism is prized. Furthermore, film — rightly — looks more expensive, and because audiences don’t want to feel like something they’re watching has been cheaply produced, it’s easier to consider a filmed show to be “high quality,” an adjudication that is now often associated with cinematic sensibilities anyway.

      For studied viewers, the differences between the two formats also seem directly correlated to the schism between MTM’s shows, its forebearers, its descendants and Lear’s shows, its forebearers, its descendants. So more than anything else, the decided look suggests a chosen lineage, and that can be a means of contextualizing our analysis of a show’s objectives and its resulting successes/failures. That’s the only palpable reaction I personally have to differences between the two, for if a show is in command of its identity (and therefore knows how it wants to look), film vs. tape has no bearing on what I think of its quality — that’s going to be derived from the text and the performances.

      Incidentally, I find kinescopes to be the only visual source that can directly impact my personal thoughts on quality, and that’s because usually the productions captured were first broadcast LIVE — and I consider liveness to be television’s unique raison d’être, making these shows the most effective use of the medium (as far as I’m concerned).

  7. This series of posts has been one of your best yet, Jackson. Although I most often agree with your seasonal commentary and you always support your episodic choices with an explanation that sometimes even makes me rethink my own opinions, I usually have one or two episodes which I would replace on your lists. Because enjoyment is always subjective. But not this week — I agree with all your selections.

    The season is so difficult to rank because of its fluctuations in success (and the difficulty in finding whole episodes that work) but I wouldnt change a thing on your list. And I’m kind of surprised because I just watched both “Brotherly Love” and “The Audit” and was impressed, while, two other episodes that I used to like, “Strange Bedfellows” and “Nothing To Fear But Fear Itself” disappointed me. I expected to see these reversed TBH. But I’m glad they weren’t because the list does reflect what ends up being I think ultimately most satisfying.

    Frankly I find all the Lloyd scripts of honorable mention quality here, with “Mixed Blessings” working the best due to its having the best success rate with its humor. If you were going to pick one of his contributions, you picked the right one.

    I also find the “Dorothy’s New Friend” episode to be decidedly average. There’s humor to be found but the story is more than just routine — it’s self-indulgent and non charactery. At least “And Ma Makes Three” has several whole scenes that are killer and works for the ladies . (If only it wasn’t inconsistent — that writing process tidbit explains a lot!). And I’m not bothered by them being rip-offs. I just think they don’t work as well as they should. both are honorable mention quality for me.

    As for “Mother’s Day”, I think it is the weakest of all the anthology shows. Tired unfunny (aside from Ghostley’s scene)with off-putting sentimentality. Just because each of the sequence’s stories are interesting or well-plotted doesn’t make them comedic or enjoyable. That has to be supplied by the way the characters can naturally deliver humor! At least “One for the Money” makes up for its shortcomings with laughs and fun and creativity. I think too much emphasis on story is counterproductive to character comedy and it happens a Lot this season.

    Oh and I LOVE “Larceny and old Lace.” That’s one of the year ‘s best. And I think “Little Sven” is totally underrated too — very much a throwback to the earlier seasons.

    The only thing we might disagree on is that I do really like”Blanche’s Little girl.” It’s not funny, but it’s a great showcase for Rue! (Much better than “Strange bedfellows” anyhow.), so I might have made it an HM.

    Anyway, looking forward to next week!

    Please excuse typos. I’m on my phone!

    • Hi, Joey! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      I too was surprised that “The Audit” and, in particular, “Brotherly Love,” left such favorable impressions on me when I wrote this post several months ago — if you’d asked me last year to guess the episodes that would be included, the latter would have probably not crossed my mind at all. Instead I may have cited “Dorothy’s New Friend” or “And Ma Makes Three,” the latter of which is my favorite of the listed honorable mentions. (But I struggled to ensure that I made the right decisions here, and, as always, even pitted certain episodes up against each other to determine how I truly felt — ultimately going with the ones that proved more enjoyable.)

      Incidentally, I agree with you; I’m not bothered by the fact that those latter two’s stories are similar to stuff we’ve seen elsewhere — all three of my MVEs thus far have had obvious similarities to offerings from other series (“A Little Romance,” “It’s A Miserable Life,” “My Brother, My Father”), so it’s clearly not a problem for me personally — but I simply think these two specific entries ultimately fail to satisfy at the level required. It comes down, in part, to expectations: some offerings set them lower and come across better by their ability to meet them, while outings like “Dorothy’s New Friend,” in using a difficult story, have a harder trek in making themselves meet foundational metrics. And even when they do, the need for some sort of overcompensation necessitates higher standards… which here, go unmet.

      In both cases, it’s — irrespective of nebulous originality — a basic story problem, because the plot gets in the way. In fact, with regard to story sometimes being “counterproductive to character comedy,” I agree with you in the sense that a “story” itself is merely a means to an end — a structured way of exploring established characters comedically. When I feel that a premise becomes the script’s driving focus, or even more broadly, that the results imposed directly by the narrative don’t fulfill the super-objective of entertaining the audience, it’s particularly problematic — more so than any issues with plotting or structure, because those are more easily allayed by both character and comedy, which always supersede story.

      As regular readers here know, I’m always decidedly less enchanted with works that give themselves a lot of plot to handle, because I find it supererogatory to the genre’s own ideals. You know, one of the reasons I love the JELL-O years of THE JACK BENNY PROGRAM, which I’m covering on a bi-monthly basis on Wildcard Wednesdays, is that, while the “situation comedy” as we know it is still essentially being created, the series knows precisely that its strengths exist entirely in the established personas of its regulars. There are no situations worth utilizing without these characters being expertly defined, and the best moments on the radio program often occur independently of any formal narratives, when these characters are simply on display without any other goals (aside from evoking laughter, of course).

      That noted, story should always be an entertaining (which means, in part, believable) way of both focusing characters — the importance of said focus can’t be overstated — and elevating an audience’s understanding of who these figures are. This in turn should heighten the potency of the humor, an incredibly important ingredient that nevertheless isn’t enough on its own to drive an episode or a story. (That’s why Season Three of THE GOLDEN GIRLS has such trouble). So when story is applied, or better yet, developed properly (a subjective determination) for defined characters with known humorous potential, the situation comedy is firing on all of its figurative cylinders, operating as intended, and there’s little else I find more enjoyable. Thus, in this regard, story is vital — and not something worth undervaluing!

  8. So glad “My Brother, My Father” was this season’s MVE. I have never forgotten Blanche’s line, “we’re collecting lingerie for needy, sexy people”. Rue’s delivery is the best.

  9. Hi! My favorite episodes this season are “One For The Money” and “My Brother, My Father.” I also love “A Visit From Little Sven”, “The Audit” and “Grab That Dough.” I don’t like any of your honorable mentions very much, but the uneven Mother’s Day clip show has its moments. There are a few good jokes in the Barbara Thorndyke episode but it’s overall a clunker.

    The end of the season is really really rocky, do you think the season got worse as it went along? I notice this happens sometimes in sitcoms of this time period. The only one I like from the last quarter is “Mixed Blessings”

    I love your blog btw – I’ve got it bookmarked! :)

    • Hi, Eboni! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      I appreciate your kind words — be sure to subscribe too, so you can get automatic email updates with each new post!

      I do think the third season concludes at a particularly low level of quality — due in part to evident fatigue (that “let’s just muddle through” mentality), along with the fact that the WGA went on strike in March 1988, just as most shows were finishing up production for the season. So we’re probably seeing a few rough and hastily written drafts at the tail end of the year — particularly those last three scripts: “Mister Terrific,” “Rose’s Big Adventure,” and “Mother’s Day.”

  10. Hey there, Jackson! As always, thank you for sharing your voice with us week after week. No matter the topic, your pieces are so consistently perceptive and rhetorically mindful that as far as I’m concerned That’s Entertainment should be the go-to blog for (at the least) in-depth historical analysis of the American sitcom.

    Regarding season three, I have never been able to quite articulate or pinpoint what it is, exactly, but there IS something inherently lesser about the third year. Your diagnosis: glaring inconsistency (both tonally and comedically), shortsighted/joke-driven scripts (forgoing the truth of the characters for big laughs), and stories bordering on the absurd. That about sums it up! I agree with you that it’s the least outstanding of the first four years. I find it exceedingly difficult to compare the first four years with the last three, considering the contextual shift in tone and style the new writing team brought to the series. Needless to say I look forward to consuming your assessments over the next few weeks! All I know is that whenever I re-watch The Golden Girls, I find that I like spending my time in the world of season three the least. I also end up rediscovering the wonders of season five. I think it gets such a bad rap — I’m curious as to what you make of season five, actually, as I feel it’s the most underrated season (especially considering the creative transition, I think there are some, if never classic, very funny episodes that year).

    The third season has always left me conflicted, because no matter its shortcomings in premise and consistency, there are still so many laugh-out-loud moments that I end up going deaf, dumb, and blind as to why, despite those laughs, I don’t feel as warmed to these episodes. You’ve illuminated it here: no longer are the laughs so much anchored by these characters, but rather, they’re elicited from the silliness of the situations themselves. With this third season, you do see that who these characters are is getting lost and alarmingly irrelevant as the writing debases itself to one-liners and goofy or rehashed plotlines.

    It’s hard for me to cite many episodes from season three as particularly memorable for their premises, and yet, so many of those episodes (“Larceny and Old Lace”, “One For the Money”, “And Ma Makes Three”, “Three On a Couch”, “Rose’s Big Adventure”) ended up making my list simply because there were still so many punchlines and moments that made me laugh my butt off. And yes! It is undeniable that the apex of The St. Olaf Saga is “THAT’S WHAT THE CROW SAID!!” (paired with Dorothy’s visceral response, “GET OUT!”) Same goes for Dorothy’s personals ad sequence in “Three On a Couch”: “History professor seeking non-smoking Oriental woman who is into Wesson Oil and bears a resemblance to Florence Henderson”. I can’t disregard those episodes simply by virtue of those strokes of absurd, genius writing (I think that’s an oxymoron..such is season three!). I think that forgetability, as it were, of the episodes, but the unforgetability of the moments is what differentiates it more than the seasons that surround it. For example, even though “The Audit” houses some priceless scenes, I don’t cite the episode off the top of my head in such a manner as, “oh, remember the one where Stan and Dorothy get audited?”. However, I would be able to do that for any number of episodes from any of the other seasons.

    There’s always been something about “Old Friends” that’s never clicked with me. Of course, the Fernando B-plot is a delight (and it feels like it should be the A-plot? Maybe it’s because I love my teddy, too, I don’t know). Even though I thought the whole ‘rummage sale’ set-up reached greater comedic heights with the haggling on the lanai in “Blind Ambitions” (which made my season one list pretty much soley based off of those scenes), you can’t beat Rose pushing that little monster out the door! Despite the fact that I am usually one who’s all for those heavier, more meaningful sequences to balance out the comedy in sitcoms, the Alvin & Sophia story is just too bleak for me. While the topic of Alzheimer’s is more than relevant in a show that expressly shines a light on issues the elderly face, and while Estelle deserved that Emmy, I just cringe when I put that episode on. I feel a similar way about season five’s grapple with assisted suicide, “Not Another Monday”, despite the classic “Mr. Sandman” sequence. I think season one’s “Blind Ambitions” handled a story comparable to “Old Friends” in a much more profound way, although that, too, was a heavy one that didn’t feel quite tonally appropriate at times (the stove scene, etc.) Same goes for Virginia’s kidney transplant in “Transplant”, or Sophia’s scare in “Heart Attack”. (But again, season one remains the gold standard for me, so my shameless bias is at play here!)

    There does seem to be a fair bit of appropriation in season three, as it could be argued that “Old Friends” takes more than a few cues from the general storyline of “Blind Ambitions”, and then of course there’s the infamous “Dorothy’s New Friend” AKA “Some of My Best Friends are Murray Guttman”. Then again, I’m one to talk — I didn’t mention it in my season two comment, but I can’t help but thoroughly enjoy “Forgive Me, Father” (“I look like the mother of a Solid Gold dancer!”) Maybe it’s because I was raised Catholic (there’s also Blanche’s “man of the cloth” story, which I eat up every time, although it’s a rushed, pale imitation of her “A Little Romance” senior prom tale), but I actually greatly prefer it (and the way its outcome is handled) to its Mary Tyler Moore Show counterpart/’inspiration’. Oh, but then there’s “Lazlo: Tastes (Not So) Great, Less Filling Patrick Vaughn.”

    What bothers me most about that episode, actually, is how quickly the girls turn on each another. Although the premise is reasonable enough in its logic, I’m still unsettled by any episode where the girls lose trust in one another at the drop of a hat. It really rocks the foundation of their friendship too easily without a strong enough impetus, which bothers me. That’s exactly why “Strange Bedfellows” drives me up the wall. (Is this really a fan favorite? It’s next to “Mister Terrific” for me as a series low, which pains me to say as I do have a soft spot for John Schuck) Season four’s “Little Sister” is in that same camp. Getting on each others’ nerves, however, like in “Three on a Couch” and “The Flu (Flu Attack)”, or heated rivalry like the kind we see in “Yes, We Have No Havanas”, “The Actor”, and “The Competition”, not to mention the late-series highlight “Journey to the Center of Attention” all really work for me. On the topic of competition, I’m actually not a fan of “Grab That Dough”. It just feels tired and I don’t find the cyclone tube bit funny in the least (I look to season seven’s “Questions and Answers” for my GG game show goodness! Grant’s Tomb, anyone?)

    On the brighter side of things, we have “Mixed Blessings” and “My Brother, My Father”, the only two truly exceptional offerings I feel could stand proudly alongside the best of the best in the Golden Girls Hall of Fame. Coming into my most recent re-watch, I had thought for certain that “My Brother, My Father” would also end up being my MVE, but upon reappraisal, “Mixed Blessings” had the edge. I think what kills me most about both of those episodes are the similar Blanche/Rose gags, although the nun bit is the mightier, for sure. I’m with you about Christopher Lloyd’s efforts on The Golden Girls — of the many episodes he contributed, the only half-hours that really do it for me are “Second Motherhood” and “Mixed Blessings”. Every second of “Mixed Blessings” had me rolling; god, what a script!

    I also must say that I’ve always counted “Blanche’s Little Girl” as a personal favorite of mine. Perhaps it’s because I’m so partial to Rue, or maybe it’s because we get to see Joe Regalbuto so believably play a total creep just before landing his signature role as the affable Frank Fontana (I am over the MOON that you are covering Murphy Brown here after all, Jackson! I can’t wait for February!), but I can’t help but be completely arrested every time Rue gets to play to her strengths as a dramatic actress as Blanche. So many colors and shades to her. But this was Bea’s time. She deserved to win for either “My Brother, My Father” or “Mixed Blessings”. Actually, as far as I’m concerned, any one of these ladies could have won more than one Emmy, but I understand that they have to spread the love. It would be impossible to argue that Kirstie Alley and Candice Bergen didn’t deserve their wins, but I do question why the nominations stopped cold for Rue and Bea after season four.

    It’s probably more than obvious (embarrassingly so), but I am hanging on every word of your Golden Girls coverage — you have so enriched and deepened my understanding, perspective, and appreciation for my favorite sitcom, and breathed all the more life into it for me. Thank you so much. By the way, snazzy new profile pic! The lighting is beautiful, and B&W is always divine.

    • Hi, Izak! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      I appreciate your kind words and I enjoy reading your thoughts. I’m looking forward to sharing my sentiments regarding Season Five — that’s a season with a lot to discuss!

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