The Ten Best THE GOLDEN GIRLS Episodes of Season Five

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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Season Five is often regarded as the beginning of the series’ final era, as the departure of the foursome who had been running the show for the past four years (Speer, Grossman, Fanaro, and Nathan) to start their own production company (KTBM), along with veteran Christopher Lloyd, left only two pairs of writers with previous experience on the series — Bruce and Weiss, who joined in the rocky third year, and Vaczy and Gamble, who came aboard in the fourth. This complete dismantling of not only the series’ core writing staff, but the core writing staff who had been responsible for the development of the series (along with Winifred Hervey Stallworth) since the very beginning, does make for a significant change. Those writers had a history with the show and its characters, and although they were as much responsible for some of the prior two years’ weakest entries as they were the first two’s most sublime, the institutional knowledge they created always allowed for more of a fidelity to both character and tone — a lot of which, as we’ll see in these remaining weeks, will be altered irreparably. But, unlike some viewers, who associate the many aesthetic changes that are implemented by this almost entirely new staff with the show’s downward trajectory, I take less of an absolutist position, and I am as interested in recognizing the unique strengths of this new era as I am the weaknesses.

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After all, while I’ve already expressed my staunch belief that the best years have already passed, I see the series’ creative descent as inevitable, even (and, perhaps, especially) if the KTBM quartet had remained. If anything, the series being forced to overhaul its creative resources makes said descent more complicated, giving us different things to appreciate along the way. But as I often say, this is still the same show, and the reason that I specifically hold The Golden Girls in such high esteem is that I find the difference between the series’ base level of quality in its best season and its base level of quality in its weakest season smaller than in so many of the other series I’ve covered here (including our two direct predecessors — The Cosby Show and Night Court). That’s as much a reflection on the inherent charms of the weakest moments as it is on the fluctuating nature of the highest moments (due in large part to the aforementioned quartet, who aren’t, at all, the strongest writers ever featured on this site, but could indeed create magic on occasion). Also, it’s naturally easier for the early years to be superior to the later ones — on any series — because both the characters are newer, and therefore can inspire more stories (they’re not yet over-tapped wells) while being molded with greater creative license, and the stories themselves remain closer to the show’s thematic origins, meaning there’s a stronger episodic connection to the series’ basics and a nod to what the audience has been told is important. In this regard, the earlier company had the easier job. I always try to keep this in mind when evaluating the work of those who came after them, giving the newbies credit for what they do well.

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But, first, know that none of this is intended as a means of downplaying just how different the sensibilities became in these later seasons directly as a result of this new staff — and in many cases, how these sensibilities were less conducive to material of the calibre that we’ve seen before. In fact, a survey of this new crew’s backgrounds gives handy insight as to how these two “eras” differ (and keep in mind the argument made in this series’ opening post about its great mix, specifically, of MTM and Normal Lear principles). On this new crew we have Marc Sotkin, whose previous credits include Garry Marshall’s slapstick-inclined Laverne & Shirley and Witt-Thomas’ own non-spectacular It’s A Living; Tom Whedon, who worked on everything from Dick Cavett’s talk show, to Lear’s diluted All’s Fair, to the mindless Alice, during which two of Lucy’s old writers were producers, to the pre-KTBM days of Benson, and then onto It’s A Living; Phillip Jayson Lasker, who wrote a few early episodes of the sketch-to-sitcom Mama’s Family and a short-lived Danny Arnold series called Joe Bash; the team of Jamie Wooten and Marc Cherry, two young writers with no series credits — the latter of whom would go on to create the dramedy Desperate Housewives; and Gail Parent, the only female on this new staff, who wrote one early script of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, two early Rhodas, one episode of Susan Harris’ Fay (shared last month), but earned the bulk of her credits writing for Lear’s Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman and the early seasons of The Carol Burnett Show.

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As you can see, this new staff has an erratic background. With so few of them having had any time with either Lear or MTM (the only exceptions being Parent, and to a lesser extent, Whedon), these writers come from other genres, like talk and variety — or in Mama’s Family‘s case, a variety sketch masquerading as a series (which I still love, by the way) — with sitcom experience existing from shows inferior to the substantive fare typically produced by the two most potent forms at the time, Moore’s and Lear’s: the slapstick cutesy stuff of Garry Marshall, the unappealingly cartoony and old-hat Aliceand the we’re-better-than-a-sitcom trappings of Danny Arnold, just to name a few. These scattershot sensibilities are mirrored throughout the last few seasons of The Golden Girls, as no longer can the series ever claim to be a specific type — or the balance of two specific types; rather, anything goes with this crew, whose lack of creative restraints yields fruits both sweet and sour. Sweet: fresh ideas. Sour: because so many of these writers come from shows that didn’t well-utilize the “Character + Logical Motivation = Story” formula to seek comedy, we find the relationship between character and story reversed. If in an MTM show — and even a Lear show, when it was functioning correctly (read: somewhat like an MTM show) — stories were only the logical product of character exploration, shows like Laverne & Shirley and Alice started backwards, creating scenarios for exploration and contorting the characters to get there, thus essentially refocusing what was important. In the case of The Golden Girls, the characters here are so rich in comparison that they always retain their prominence, but the way the writers use them does change…

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Now the series’ emphasis is on exploring chosen ideas — even, as is often the case, if that idea is simply comedy — and because the new writers are aware that they’ll never be able to know the characters as well as the original team did, they simply decide not to fixate on the characterizations beyond how they can help the show meet its weekly narrative and comedic goals. To this end, the characterizations can’t help but alter as a result of how they’re being utilized — and the results vary for each of the girls. Before discussing each one in particular, I also want to note the simple fact that every single character is broadened during the fifth season, and while this happens on all long-running series and had absolutely occurred to each character under the “previous administration,” the changes here are accompanied by sweeping alterations in tone. In the quest for bigger, bolder, and newer, there’s a movement towards extremes in every direction — starting with the way the show employs its humor. Never again will The Golden Girls be content with abject realism — now there’s going to be a perennial wink at the audience (which, it should be noted, is a sitcom trend from around this time that we’ll be exploring over the next year), as the show uses its own identity, and the identity of the characters, to build to higher laughs. In this sense, the show at times becomes a burlesque, with considerable camp in play. The result is often laughs that are loud and proud, and if that’s what you’re most seeking, you’ll certainly find them with frequency during this era.

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Personally, I don’t mind the modulated “wink” as a stylistic choice unto itself… unless this goes directly against either the integrity of the show or the integrity of the characters. To the former, although the series didn’t begin with a wink, I don’t think a baroque sense of self-awareness is counter-intuitive to its comedic objectives; the audience can still derive the same pleasures. I do, however, think this wink proves problematic to our understanding of some of the characters — and this is where I take my primary issue with the final seasons. Those who don’t bode well under this new aesthetic regime are Dorothy and Sophia. With Dorothy being the series’ structural anchor, she was, by design, the most grounded presence out of the foursome. But in this systematic broadening of style and substance, her character isn’t opened up for new stories; just the opposite: she’s limited — as the removal of her character’s concreteness destroys all the definition she ever had. Great Dorothy episodes in these last three years are much harder to find than they were in the beginning, and it’s because her character can’t exist in broad abstractions. (I also maintain that, being the show’s center, Dorothy problems are the worst kind of problems for this series to have.) Sophia, meanwhile, is hampered not just by her association to Dorothy, but also by the thinness of her portrayal — in comparison to the others. The show’s long-time fourth wheel has always been given the least attention, meaning that these new writers have a harder time expanding her possibilities; instead, they choose to broaden what’s already in place — specifically, her sharp-tongue and lack of self-control — to the point that it’s unrealistic. So while Dorothy is lost, her mom becomes a caricature, and neither is ripe for story.

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At the same time, these new writers do wonders for the characterizations of both Rose and Blanche. With regard to the former, I believe that in addition to being the hardest character to define, Rose has heretofore been the hardest for which to create story. She’s not as grounded as Dorothy, but she’s certainly not as broad as Blanche (or Sophia), so finding the happy medium where she can exist peaceably is a challenge, especially when caught in the middle. Mostly we’ve seen her become cartoony and one-note as the show became laugh-driven, and, frankly, we’ll see more of that over the next two years. In this season, however, the writers seem to be making a concerted effort to discover how Rose can be made more receptive to stories — and in focusing their eyes on what her character is being given to do, she also becomes more human and believable in the process. (It’s shocking, actually, when viewed next to what’s being done to Dorothy.) In addition to differences in the way the character is written (the biggest is finding her in possession of a slightly elevated sense of self-awareness), Rose gets both a new job and a new boyfriend, each of which provides worthwhile fodder for story. Although the new job isn’t terrifically evocative for comedy (or the use of the other characters), the addition of Miles (Harold Gould) as a recurring love interest — the show’s first — is incredibly smart. Neither Dorothy nor Blanche could have a permanent beau because the show would lose jokes; Sophia couldn’t have a permanent beau because that would be all jokes. Rose is the perfect character to benefit from a regular relationship, for the show only gains: more story for Rose, and better material for White. It doesn’t last, but it’s noted and appreciated.

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However, the real beneficiary of this new creative direction is Blanche, whose character is already perfectly in tune with the campy, theatrical  nature in which the show is moving. Because Blanche has been practically winking at the audience for years, her presentation, while certainly heightened in every direction, doesn’t change in the same way that the others do. It’s different in that it’s more extreme than last year, but the character is still the most recognizable. Additionally, the writers have an easier time crafting stories for her — probably, again, because she’s the most broad, and is therefore in more familiar territory than her cohorts for some of these realism-eschewing writers. But I’m not going to knock the writers for having the best understanding of Blanche due to their backgrounds; it’s precisely because Blanche fits the new staff’s style and is given the best stories that her character transcends the outrageous stereotypes associated with this exaggerated form of comedy and becomes a more multi-faceted character than she’s been since the second season (if even then). For in addition to giving McClanahan most of the year’s funniest material, and maybe the best stuff of her career — and let’s note that a lot of it is jarringly bold and works only because she sells the heck out of it — she also gets a counterbalancing emotional depth from earnest character dramas (“Ebb Tide” is the most exciting of this lot) which examine Blanche in ways, again, we haven’t seen in years. And these episodes generally work better than other similarly rendered dramas BECAUSE of the way the writers know Blanche and can weave in her comedy throughout the substance.

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But character dramas aren’t the only dramas being explored in Season Five, for the year boasts the series’ highest rate of topical issue-oriented narratives. (And again, this is because the show is now idea-based and prone to extremes.) Given that this is a Susan Harris show, it’s always had a leaning to social relevance. These aims have been present since the pilot, became more prominent last season during the mix of the “old” and the “new,” and are now part of the series’ identity in a manner more explicit than we’ve seen before (or, thankfully, will see again). In Season Five alone, there are stories about artificial insemination, age discrimination, animal rights, assisted suicide, homelessness, teen pregnancy, heart problems, illegitimacy, HIV, infidelity, and gambling addiction. Heck, the year begins with a dreadfully unenjoyable PSA two-parter helmed by Susan Harris — her first scripts since the Season Two premiere, and the last she’ll write for the series — about Dorothy suffering from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, which begets the seasonal trend. This episode, like many of these topical entries, get preachy, over-delivering the message with all the fervor of the show’s new comedic exaggeration… but without the resulting laughs. As always, the fault exists within the way the message is delivered — the way things are said: with a desire to instruct. Yet lessons aren’t heard, they’re learned.

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Furthermore, another big problem is the relationship these stories have with humor; while these scripts make careful note to find a way to counterbalance the premise’s seriousness with moments of great levity, they usually exist only in subplots and small exchanges, leaving the bulk of these lofty primary stories to operate with a level of self-importance that negates potency. In these cases, the drama doesn’t work and therefore ruins the episode. You see, that pesky desire to instruct gets in the way of the show’s promise to the audience: entertainment. And in this regard, these new writers still aren’t able to deliver the fleeting balance that was once achieved in late Season One and early Season Two with regard to tone. For although every episode this season has laughs — and there seems to be an unspoken rule that there can be no tears here if there aren’t laughs too (for which I’m grateful) — the individual calibration of how they’re used in relation to each other isn’t consistent enough to be lauded. In this regard, Season Five is a lot like Season Three, for there are many stories that don’t work, but scripts that do a great job of trying — and that’s another thing for which I’ll commend the year: it’s really trying its best.

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An idea may be improperly conceived (flat-out gimmicky, like the Van Dyke installment) or have devastating consequences on the characters — making it an abject failure — but this comes without the faux-pride of Season Three, which was an utter disappointment and, in my mind, makes Season Five — the last season with Terry Hughes (we’ll discuss more next week) —  a success story. For while the former failed without having a good excuse, the latter proves that the series can survive adversity and still be, at certain costs that must be individually adjudicated, delightful. So I have picked ten episodes that I think exemplify this season’s strongest. 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 Five. (They are in AIRING ORDER.) Note that every episode this season is directed by Terry Hughes, except the two-part clip-show that closes the season.

 

01) Episode 105: “The Accurate Conception” (Aired: 10/14/89)

Blanche’s single daughter considers artificial insemination.

Written by Gail Parent

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My pick for the best episode of the year, this installment also makes part of its mission to address a (then) mildly controversial social phenomenon — artificial insemination — along with the idea of single motherhood. As always, I don’t enjoy seeing the show mired down with stories that are more important than the characters, but Parent’s script, her first for the series, is delectable. Not only is every single character written in character, but the laughs are fast and furious. I’m not even sure if I can think of another The Golden Girls offering that has quite as many memorable one-liners. The kitchen scene is a series classic, while the entire sperm bank bit (“Oh, boy, we’re going to a sperm bank!” — read more about this quote in the Colucci book) is a tour de force. My favorite joke involves an allusion to Blanche DuBois. Superb — probably one of the most comedically rewarding of the new year, a great showcase for each woman (written by a woman), and the strongest indication of the series’ new tone (warts and all).

02) Episode 108: “Dancing In The Dark” (Aired: 11/04/89)

Rose feels too stupid to date her new college professor boyfriend.

Written by Phillip Jayson Lasker

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Harold Gould, who played Rose’s first post-Charlie beau way back in the first season, joins the cast in a recurring capacity in another role, Professor Miles Webber, whose personality (and frankly, intelligence) make him an odd fit for the unsophisticated (shall we say) Rose. But there’s a sweetness to the chemistry they share, and although we don’t know yet in this episode that Miles will ever be seen again, there is a sense that this is the first time we’re seeing a man with any permanency. I wrote above in my commentary why giving Rose a love interest was a smart idea, and you can already tell in this outing that it’s giving her new things to play. Now, this isn’t a hilarious excursion, but there are nice moments, most of which are predicated entirely on character. And I like the simplicity of the whole affair. An easy choice for this list.

03) Episode 113: “Ebb Tide” (Aired: 12/09/89)

Blanche returns home following the death of Big Daddy.

Written by Marc Sotkin

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As mentioned in my introduction to the season, the new writers’ predilection for topical drama also makes room for drama that’s character-based, and this episode is emblematic of why the latter is always more satisfying. The story has Blanche returning home following the death of Big Daddy and includes a lot of really serious and earnestly rendered moments for McClanahan, who once again plays off the divinely present Sheree North (as sister Virginia). McClanahan gets a great monologue at the end of the show that doesn’t appear forced, but instead feels organic to the story and her character. Meanwhile, as we see so often this year, the heavier story is balanced by a terrific subplot involving Rose and Sophia (an underrated duo) and their attempts to capitalize on Blanche and Dorothy’s absence. Some laughs, some tears. Well done.

04) Episode 116: “Great Expectations” (Aired: 01/13/90)

Rose takes Dorothy to a positive-thinking group, and Blanche’s beau has a heart attack.

Written by Robert Bruce & Martin Weiss

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With all of the new writers defining the series’ emerging tone, the two sustaining duos tend to fade into the background, for while they may arguably have a better perception of the characters as they formerly existed under a previous administration, their efforts to reconcile these obvious differences sometimes become incongruous with the show’s comedic aims. This is absolutely the best episode of the year written by Bruce and Weiss, who distinguished themselves in the third year by elevating substandard stories through (then) seemingly fresh teleplays. The entry not only fits the seasonal focus of giving Blanche emotional depth (in a story with Robert Mandan), but it also has fantastic moments for Rose, and particularly Dorothy. And because the latter is so ill-used this year, the fact that this entry presents her well is exceptional.

05) Episode 117: “Triple Play” (Aired: 01/27/90)

Rose meets Miles’ daughter, Sophia benefits from a computer glitch, and Blanche schemes to meet men.

Written by Gail Parent

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There’s a lot going on in this fast-paced outing, which boasts a rare three stories, but the plotting is saved by the decision to have them all take place within the same location: the house. (Aha — the much desired one-act you know I love so much!) Also, in a slight variation on the intertwining of stories, the script makes the unique decision to have the characters swap conflicts. In other words, Blanche deals with Rose’s problem (she’s just met Miles’ disapproving daughter), while Dorothy deals with Blanche’s problem (she’s rented a Mercedes and put it up for sale in the newspaper, all in an attempt to meet rich men). It’s clever. Meanwhile, Sophia has received over $100,000 in Social Security from a computer error, a story that yields a lot of fine jokes. Another masterful teleplay by Gail Parent, probably the most sold of the new crew.

06) Episode 118: “Clinton Avenue Memoirs” (Aired: 02/03/90)

Dorothy takes Sophia back to Brooklyn to regain some lost memories.

Written by Richard Vaczy & Tracy Gamble

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This is probably the least amusing entry on today’s list, and it’s the only other one I’m highlighting here that’s written by members of the staff who worked under the original quartet. I actually don’t think it’s great either; I think it relies too often on comedic ideas as opposed to material that’s actually funny, and uses an A-plot that’s too enamored with its own sweetness to be taken as seriously as some of the year’s other heavier material (particularly the Blanche stuff) that tries less hard to tug at the heart strings. However, I greatly appreciate the attention it gives to the relationship between Sophia and Dorothy, along with the history they share, and because so much of that is missing during Season Five, I consider this a valuable entry — giving us something the others don’t. The year’s must humane presentation of Dorothy and Sophia.

07) Episode 119: “Like The Beep Beep Beep Of The Tom-Tom” (Aired: 02/10/90)

Blanche is scared of intimacy after having a pacemaker implanted.

Written by Phillip Jayson Lasker

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All three of the scripts credited solely to Lasker have made today’s list — unintentionally so. However, in this survey, I’ve noticed that each of his contributions, surprisingly, tries to focus itself on character exploration — in this case Blanche, who has a pacemaker installed and then is afraid to be sexually active with her boyfriend (Robert Culp). It makes for perhaps the season’s best dramatic use of her character, for although installments like “Ebb Tide” are brilliantly written and give McClanahan meatier material to play, this episode hits directly at the character’s primary source of comedy: her sexuality, and the accompanying vanity. With the very things that make Blanche Devereaux a character these writers can maximize for comedic value in question, we’re really striking at the foundation of who she is. A fine script; a pointed look.

08) Episode 120: “An Illegitimate Concern” (Aired: 02/12/90)

A man claims to be Blanche’s late husband’s son and Dorothy joins Sophia in a mother-daughter competition.

Written by Marc Cherry & Jamie Wooten

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Another episode with a main story too dramatic for my tastes, it’s saved by both the fact that it’s more rooted in character than story, forcing Blanche to come to terms with what the appearance of an illegitimate son does to her memory of her late husband, and also by the delicious subplot, which features one of the show’s best gags: Sophia and Dorothy dressed as Sonny and Cher, respectively, singing “I Got You, Babe.” It’s such a memorable bit that it would have appeared on this blog regardless of the episode itself, which I nevertheless think is worth mentioning because it’s the first script by Cherry and Wooten, whose writing style — big laughs, superficial drama, plenty of camp — tends to define my perception of the later seasons. They’re not the show’s strongest, but they helm some of the most memorable scripts, this being one.

09) Episode 123: “Sisters And Other Strangers” (Aired: 03/03/90)

Blanche thinks she’s inspired her sister’s novel and Dorothy hosts a visiting communist.

Written by Marc Cherry & Jamie Wooten

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Above I described Cherry and Wooten’s scripts as big laughs, superficial drama, and plenty of camp, and their second script for the series reinforces those claims. While the entry remains consistently funny with gags that elicit huge responses (the Vanna White joke always gets me), there’s a potentially dramatic storyline with the appearance of Marian Mercer (formerly of It’s A Living) as a communist cousin of Stan’s, but it’s never allowed to go too deep. Neither is the A-plot of Blanche feuding with her sister Charmaine (Barbara Babcock), which again, features some light drama but remains campily comedic, as the former is convinced that she has been used as inspiration for the title character in the latter’s novel, Vixen: Story of A Woman. We’re not quite in cartoon territory, but there’s a distinct element of knowing parody in play.

10) Episode 125: “The Mangiacavallo Curse Makes A Lousy Wedding Present” (Aired: 03/31/90)

At a wedding, Sophia gets vengeance, Rose is horny, and Blanche and Dorothy feud.

Written by Phillip Jayson Lasker

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For the second time on today’s list, we find an episode that’s making use of three storylines, and once again, the outing manages to work because all of the plots are happening in the same location — at a wedding. While Sophia basks in the misfortune that she’s caused by putting a curse on the bride’s father (after he left Sophia at the altar years ago), the show provides a new comedic nuance to Rose’s character: she gets horny at weddings. Like her competitive streak, these surprising personality beats (though perhaps not in keeping with continuity) help make her more workable. My favorite story, however, involves Dorothy insisting that Blanche is a bad friend for only being generous when it doesn’t hurt; as a means of disproving this claim, Blanche agrees to set Dorothy up with one of her best beaus — and then proceeds to steal his attention all evening. Some big laughs come in this relationship-focused premise by Lasker.

 

Other notable episodes that narrowly missed this list include: “Rose Fights Back,” which is smart for giving Rose a new job (and opening her character up to more story), but hits its theme of age discrimination so hard that the otherwise comedic script by Sotkin isn’t quite able to rise above its entrapments, “That Old Feeling,” Whedon’s best effort this year, which has an amusing subplot for Dorothy, Rose, and Sophia, and a sentimental Blanche A-plot that I wish had as many laughs as its similarly constructed competition (because the characterizations are generally solid), and “Comedy Of Errors,” one of the few Dorothy entries here, which gives her a fine story that’s in character and wrapped in a script by Don Reo (whom you’ll see here again if/when we get to The John Larroquette Show, projected for early 2018) that’s comedic, but doesn’t actually GET the characters in the same way as the idea itself promises (and that’s a troubling critique to register given that this season is filled with writers who don’t yet get the characters). I also appreciate many moments of “Not Another Monday,” thanks to another strong script by Gail Parent, and would have included it above if the assisted suicide storyline with guest star Geraldine Fitzgerald hadn’t led to such a terribly unrewarding and undeservedly self-indulgent arc, and think “Mary Has A Little Lamb,” boasts a funny freelance script married to an unworkable A-plot and a trite subplot. I’d also be remiss not to mention “Sick And Tired (II),” which gives Blanche a truly ridiculous B-story in which she goes delusional while trying to write a novel — for it’s evidence of McClanahan triumphing over absurdity.

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

“The Accurate Conception”

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

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32 thoughts on “The Ten Best THE GOLDEN GIRLS Episodes of Season Five

    • Hi, BB! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      I think Whedon is one of the show’s more sensical writers from the last few years and most of his scripts easily avoid failure. In fact, I debated adding “Cheaters” as yet another honorable mention (which I really hate making extensive) alongside his “That Old Feeling.” But ultimately, I find this episode’s Dorothy story hit-and-miss with its comedy, and because it tries so hard to be be complex without actually SAYING anything about her, I’m less inclined to make an emotional investment in the otherwise ostentatious narrative. Also, I dislike the gaggy story-driven subplot immensely.

  1. Haven’t read all of this informative post yet, but just glancing over your choices I have to say that I agree with your MVE and didn’t realize how much of my favorite episodes this season are due to Blanche and Rue’s portrayal of her. Seriously almost all of the episodes in which she is the star (and this probably goes for the next 2 years too) make up these later season’s classics! Thanks for anther excellent list for an underrated season.

    • Hi, Nat! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      This was one of the most involved years to discuss, so I promise to be less verbose in the two weeks ahead. (THE GOLDEN PALACE, however, may prove a different story…) Stay tuned for more!

  2. Season 5 has three of the biggest laughs I ever get from the entire run of Golden Girls. “Sick and Tired” has two of them. Blanche’s “little balls of sunshine” delusion and Sophia’s “ten days without a bowel movement” are hysterical. But the best gag of the whole season is the girls singing “Over There” in “Like the Beep Beep Beep of the Tom Tom”. Gets me every time.

  3. That “Sick and Tired” two-parter may well be my least favorite episodes from the series, rescued only by Rue McClanahan’s wonderful scene (in, what was it, part two?)with Blanche nearly hallucinating from lack of sleep. The main story, though, about Dorothy’s battle with chronic fatigue syndrome is dreadfully difficult to sit through. Way too serious and almost uncomfortably melodramatic. In a way, part of me feels a little bad about saying that, given how intensely personal the topic was for Susan Harris and how important those two scripts were to her (she has said that they’re the only two scripts she’s written that really matter to her). On the other hand, THE GOLDEN GIRLS was supposed to be a comedy. I guess if the drama really worked, I could tolerate it better, but too much of Dorothy’s story just comes off as somebody venting their anger and frustration about an admittedly difficult situation. It may have been a very honest story, but it sure isn’t a very entertaining one.

    • Hi, Brent! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      I agree entirely, and one can sense the misguidedness by juxtaposing said two-parter against other ACTUAL character dramas from the season, like “Ebb Tide” and “Dancing In The Dark.”

      • Not to mention the continuity problem it created. Having done this big, bloated, self-important story about how Dorothy has this disease that is crippling her, the illness is dropped and never mentioned again. I understand why. Obviously, the show’s writers didn’t want to be saddled with that baggage on a weekly basis. To me though, proceeding as if the whole “chronic fatigue” thing had never happened, or was ultimately of no more significance than if Dorothy had had a bad cold, undercuts whatever impact “Sick and Tired” had.

        • Hi, Tom! Thanks for reading and commenting.

          I agree and it reveals precisely how terrible the story is; either the writers had to explore the PSA on a weekly basis, milking it for all its potential drama (as several sitcoms have done with other illnesses), or they had to leave it to the two-parter and proceed forward as normal. Frankly, I’m glad they did the latter — even though the story never should have been done in the first place.

  4. I remember having such high hopes for Season 5 because, although I loved GOLDEN GIRLS throughout its first four seasons, I felt the show needed a creative jolt. The departure of the KTMB gang would give the series new life . . . I hoped. But the series’ shift in tone, well explicated here, was so jarring to me and shifted — no, hurled — the show into the ranks of merely amusing to occasionally above-average sitcom. Sure, the new writers brought with them new story ideas and jokes (fewer easy pop-culture references, thankfully), but the overall result was a show I just did not want to watch, even when I handicapped it for age and the ladies’ talent. (It’s not coincidence that this was the first season that all four women were not nominated for Emmys.)

    I grant that long-running series evolve (usually decline) over time. But the best workhorse shows find new sources of story, if not comedy, often through core cast changes, which really was not an option in GOLDEN GIRLS’ limited universe, or through bold shifts in tone, which does not happen on this show. By comparison, CHEERS refocused itself under each successive regime and by Seasons 8 and 9 was a wildly different show than what had debuted in 1982. But I enjoyed each era of that show and would have been hooked on it had I sampled it at any point in its first ten years. (I was lucky to find it in Season 2.) There is nothing in this second era of GOLDEN GIRLS that would have attracted me to the series. Perhaps the show had an innately short lifespan (as opposed to a show like CHEERS, which felt like it could have run forever as it expanded and contracted within its brilliant premise), but watching GOLDEN GIRLS grow tired and moribund was painful for me to watch. So after Season 5, I didn’t.

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

      I agree about the superior consistency of CHEERS over that of THE GOLDEN GIRLS — and too liken the former’s success to its ability to evolve the characters while keeping the premise relatively intact, which was inherently more difficult to do with THE GOLDEN GIRLS, a domestic sitcom that had to ground all four players under one roof to retain its original concept. This therefore kept the show more constrained in its abilities to explore their personal lives outside of episodic narratives.

      But again, I disagree about the disparity between the latter’s best years and its worst for many of the reasons already expressed: specifically a lessened reverence for the highest moments and a more-than-tolerable appreciation of the lowest, along with an inability to connect the series’ downward trajectory specifically to tonal shifts as the result of a new creative regime. I’m just as troubled by Season Three as I am by Five, yet for very different reasons that may or may not themselves be commensurate — but are equalized in the negative effects had on personal enjoyment.

      • Although I appreciate those fans who prefer the earlier seasons due to their evident freshness, count me as one who finds the final three seasons, in particular, more entertaining, particularly because they’re funnier and make better use of how the characters are used for humor — all four of them. Frankly, there’s no competition for me with the entertainment value of the two eras.

        This is a spotty season in comparison to the others though, even though there are a lot of classics. My favorite is also “The Accurate Conception.” Too many belly laughs to count –it may be among the show’s absolute funniest!

        Also, I really hope you do cover THE JOHN LARROQUETTE SHOW. What an underrated little show.

        • Hi, Joey! Thanks for reading and commenting.

          I understand your point-of-view — just as I understand Red Herring’s — and I know there are a lot of folks, like you two, who specifically favor one of these two delineated eras over the other. Personally, I think they both have their merits and failings, while the first two seasons (well, Season Two and the latter half of its predecessor) of that first era, as you already know, ultimately represent what I feel to be the series at its sharpest. However, I can still derive significant pleasures from every year, and that’s what I hope to reflect in these posts!

          As for THE JOHN LARROQUETTE SHOW, I’ve been intrigued by what I’ve seen so far of the series, so we’ll see…

      • I do find “The Accurate Conception” and “Triple Play” enjoyable. “Accurate Conception” I felt was a promising start for the new regime, even if the characterizations are a bit off. (Why is Dorothy, heretofore the most sensible and progressive of the women, grossed out by artificial insemination? Why is Sophia suddenly so much more self-aware?)

        Yes, what happens to Dorothy in Season 5 in almost criminal. Rewatching the year’s episodes recently, I found her character strangely unassertive, even pathetic at times, and seldom funny. Dorothy! I believe these writers just didn’t know how to write for Dorothy, much as the CHEERS writers, circa Seasons 4 and 5, didn’t know how to write for Diane. But whereas that show worked around their shortcoming by developing fresh sources of story and comedy, GOLDEN GIRLS, under the constraints of its structure, was forced to limp along with its strongest character hobbled. It’s hard to watch.

        I am probably too hard on the show and the second generation of writers who were not given the benefit of a seamless transition. (CHEERS was smart about grooming new writers for years before they took the reins.) However, I recall that after four years as my hands-down favorite TV series, GOLDEN GIRLS tumbled way down my personal list in 1989-90, even out of my top ten. Perhaps this is an unfair metric to use in judging Season Five, and I know it’s different from the one you employ: judging a series against itself and not, usually, against its contemporaries. But by early 1990, it was clear to me that GOLDEN GIRLS had slipped in both respects, and I moved on.

        • Oh, I completely understand how you feel. And as expressed at length above, I charge these later seasons’ inability to deliver on behalf of Dorothy, the structural anchor and heretofore the most consistently depicted regular, as their most ignoble crime. This critique will be reinforced throughout these next two weeks, in (and often especially) the times when the series desperately tries to do right by her, but simply can’t come through.

          As for the association between Dorothy and Diane from CHEERS, I think this is a case of figurative apples and oranges. While Dorothy was neutered as a result of stylistic alterations under which she couldn’t exist (and certainly couldn’t thrive), Diane suffered as a result of intentional shifts in focus and specific narrative choices.

          Diane was undoubtedly regressed in Season Four — if not purposely, then at least as the side effect of a calculated move — to reset the Sam/Diane relationship back to its origins. This meant reversing her integration into the ensemble, whose prominence was decidedly gaining. In fact, no longer was Diane’s point-of-view, as in the first two years, closest to the audience’s; by this time, we were on the side of the ensemble as a collective, from which the decision to exclude Diane was an intentional story choice. (The loss of Coach, an amiable insider, and the addition of Frasier, then an outsider and her frequent scene partner, made ostracizing Diane easier.)

          Further problems came for the character as a result of choices made in the lovers’ pre-ordained Season Five arc, in which her reality-defiant depiction was compounded by the show’s shifting comedic intentions — over which I absolutely think the CHEERS crew had more control than THE GOLDEN GIRLS’ — and the simple fact that the audience was now more on Sam’s side than hers. Thus, it was decided that, for the first time, Diane had to pursue Sam in the relationship instead of the other way around. But sadly, she couldn’t do this both comedically and believably (based on her prior characterization), and so the narrative contrivances proved costly. A common sitcom problem: story took precedence over character.

          In contrast, there were no particular plots or ideas here that hurt or weakened Dorothy. Nor was there a formal decision regarding focus to either remove her from the center or undervalue her importance. No, the new writers simply didn’t *get* the character, and therefore could only naturally give their best material to those for whom they could better relate (mainly Blanche). So Dorothy’s decline wasn’t the result of narrative decisions with side effects; it was the result of shortcomings within the newly crafted aesthetic, which maybe were beyond this particular group’s (with its eclectic backgrounds) control. She just needed different writers.

          And this is a particular shame because not only do these final years forever yearn for her character’s restored viability, but also because there are some writers who clearly understand the need for her centripetal position and strength, but can’t regularly provide the needed support. So, unfortunately, from now on, Dorothy’s good moments are just that — moments; rarely anything larger or more sustaining. As with everything, we find our positives elsewhere. Stay tuned…

  5. To digress, I totally agree with the comment about CHEERS’ new writers being unable to write for Diane in her later seasons. I think this is why (not her at-the-time promising movie career) Shelley Long left the show as soon as she could. As for GG, I will largely save my comments for next week’s discussion of season six–MY favorite–but will note that with all its missteps, season five is worthwhile and has plenty of fine moments: Blanche’s speech to Big Daddy at his grave, the nighttime chat on the lanai between Rose and Dorothy in “72 Hours”, Blanche’s meltdown while trying to write her novel, and quite a few other memorable moments. The show HAD to get new writing blood; the pop cultural references alone of seasons 1-4 (Donna Rice, “‘The Facts of Life'” in Australia,” Gary Hart, etc.) badly date the show.

    • Hi, Mark! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      I agree that this series needed new creative energies and that the season contains many fine moments as a result. I’m looking forward to reading your thoughts on Season Six, about which I can’t be as kind as I was this week.

      Regarding Shelley Long, see my comment above with regard to Diane’s depiction in the later seasons of CHEERS. I don’t think the failings with her character are as institutionalized as the problems with Dorothy’s here, but instead are more dependent on individual narrative choices made as a result of the show being beholden to its tiring core relationship.

      As for topical references dating THE GOLDEN GIRLS, this generally doesn’t bother me. This is what I shared when someone asked me about the show’s “dated” references (partly in relation to the upcoming MURPHY BROWN coverage) several weeks ago:

      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.)

      • Few things frustrate me more than hearing a friend say that he cannot “get into” a classic series because “it’s just sooooo dated.” Of course it’s dated! It was produced 30, 40, 50 years ago, and that’s part of what makes it interesting. MARY TYLER MOORE is, among other wonderful things, a glimpse at single life in the 1970s, and it’s fascinating that way, even if Mary and Rhoda’s dilemmas seem a tad quaint now.

        However, I do object when writers use pop-culture references as easy punchlines, especially with the frequency we see in the early years of GOLDEN GIRLS. (Mercifully, the KTMB gang took their “Who am I, [insert popular actor/public figure]?” joke with them when they left the building.) They had become a convenient go-to for the writers, and while many of the jokes are funny, I can’t help but wish the staff had put in a little more time and wrought more character-based humor.

        To GOLDEN GIRLS’ credit, no episode or scene (that I recall) depends on the viewer’s grasp of its dated references. They serve as punchlines, not as story points, so if a viewer doesn’t get the joke, that’s OK, there’s another coming by in 20 seconds. MAUDE and especially MURPHY BROWN predicated entire episodes on a knowledge of contemporary events and hot-button issues, making them more difficult to plug into a generation or more later. Both are structurally weak alongside, respectively, other domestic and single-woman sitcoms, and those failures are especially evident when the audience cannot relate to a story rooted in bygone events rather than simple, universal truth.

        • As mentioned regularly, comedy must always be character-driven. But I don’t think an easy topical joke is automatically unrooted in character; if anything, it’s just an easy topical joke (that real human beings make all the time). So each case is different and can’t be discussed in sweeping generalizations. And ultimately, I’m not going to fault a series for using its particular moment as a source for comedy, as long as deeper, more universal truths take precedence, as they do on THE GOLDEN GIRLS.

          MAUDE gets a bad rap in this regard, for not only was topicality essential to its identity (and the series would be letting down the audience if that wasn’t delivered), but it successfully shifted into more of a character piece after its first two years. So I consider it no more dated, from that point forward, then the show off from which it spun. In fact, I think cries of datedness are just a cover for recognizable failings within each of this series’ characterizations, including Maude’s. But the show is nevertheless undeserving of many of the complaints issued about the places from which it finds its humor (even after telling us from the start where it was going to find its humor), for it did what ALL IN THE FAMILY couldn’t: comedically satisfy after and in spite of its lapsing “shelf life.”

          As for MURPHY BROWN, again, contemporary politics were a part of its identity and needed to be used for the sake of both the premise’s believability and in the meeting of audience expectations. However, the instances in which politics BECAME the identity and this topicality overrode character, supplanting worthwhile comedy with notions both easy and pedagogical, is something we’ll be discussing soon, for the series WAS often guilty of that charge. Stay tuned…

  6. I have to say, you’ve outdone yourself here, Jackson. This post so smartly diagrams all that is so right and all that is not quite right about season five. This piece is definitive. Whenever I breach season five, I can’t help but hesitate to dive back in as, ostensibly, it’s regarded as that dreaded ‘topical’ season (The laundry list of the issues covered overwhelms! Too heavy!). And yet, every time I revisit this year I find so much about it that I can appreciate on its own terms. It’s not the downer season I remember, but rather a natural progression of what came before, with some very noticeable shifts.

    Though the often pretentious, oppressive moralizing of the A-plots can dampen the proceedings on the whole, there’s still a lot to like here. It is the only season of the entire series that consistently exceeds my expectations (which, to be fair, are always a tad lower going in), while the following year is the only one that fails to meet them (which expectations high going in). Season five actually ended up garnering the most honorable mentions for any season in my own evaluation as well, which is telling. As you said, it TRIES! I admire that. However, so many episodes are close, but no cigar. Admittedly, I have always been bugged by the self-awareness of the later era, which, of course, wasn’t yet possible back in say, season one. I guess that’s what I was trying to get at when I spoke of the first year as feeling the most ‘natural’ or ‘unaffected’. There was an electric newness back then. No calculated exploitation of the characters’ quirks, their ‘trademarks’ yet unestablished (in a meta sense).

    I had no idea the background of the new team of writers (thank you for providing that!) — no wonder the new style is not only far removed from the original MTM/Lear hybrid, but is now veering off into a broader hinterland. “Anything goes”, indeed! You’re right to point out that it was likely heading that way anyway, no matter who was at the helm. Especially considering the KTBM troupe were already losing steam by that third year, I suspect that had they hung on for the entire run, the last three seasons wouldn’t be even as enjoyable as they are, in certain respects. They were evidently having trouble writing both the Blanche and Rose characters, relegating them to the background in so many B-plots in season four, as you discussed last week. This year is their well-deserved renaissance — about time! It’s nice to see them buddy up, but my personal favorite pairing is likely Blanche/Sophia (bring it on, season seven!).

    In my opinion, season five is the last time the writers gave a proper dignity, respect, and weight to Rose in any constant sense. What they do to her character in season six is irredeemable as far as I’m concerned, as they choose to abandon her humanity almost entirely and succumb to the nonsensical for laughs, rendering her an implausibly slow buffoon. I was so pleased to see Betty White get substantial scripts in season five, from “72 Hours” to “Dancing In The Dark” to her Emmy-nominated performance in “Rose Fights Back”. To be frank, I never cared for the Miles character (I think Harold Gould is lovely as Marty Morgenstern, however!), but I agree with you that giving Rose a steady love interest gave her some much-needed depth this late in the run. It also made perfect sense for her personality to want/need that. Betty breaks my heart whenever Rose speaks of Charlie (particularly that scene in “A Piece of Cake”, which I understand was very personal to her), so it’s wonderful to see Rose fall in love again. For what it’s worth, I like Miles here better than I do in the next couple of seasons, as unfortunately they don’t really seem to know what to do with him after his debut season. I don’t want to say they wasted his potential, but as we know, things get wacky in season six (I mean, THE WITNESS PROTECTION STORYLINE…if the show ever “Jumped the Shark”, that has to be it!), and season seven doesn’t do him any favors, as it seems the writers’ mission was to make him more and more annoying/unsexy in each successive appearance (topping it all off with his Golden Palace departure, which is upsetting in too many ways to mention). Here in season five, at least, I don’t mind him.

    Blanche is, as you highlighted here, unquestionably the character who benefits most from what the new company of writers could do. She is ON FIRE these last three seasons. The character was practically begging to be taken to those wild and unbridled places (I think I’m talking like Blanche now, uh-oh!). For me, though, it’s the more profound stories afforded her that make Blanche my favorite of the ladies. From “Ebb Tide” (Yours is about the most excellent description of Sheree North I’ve ever stumbled on. I was so pleased that they brought her back to reprise the role of Virginia years on — both of Blanche’s sisters in one season, Lord have mercy!) and “An Illegitimate Concern” this year to “Mrs. George Devereaux” (a personal favorite) and “Wham, Bam, Thank You, Mammy” in the sixth, to “Room 7” and “The Commitments” in the final, the sheer dimension, intriguing complexities and contradictions to Blanche take her to a level beyond the other three for me. Rue McClanahan portrayed her so beautifully, and whenever she got to sink her teeth into pathos, she was marvelous. Thanks to the writers and to Rue, I think Blanche may very well be the most fully realized character on the show, beginning to end. It’s apparent that she’s deeply flawed (I would argue the most deeply of the four), but that’s exactly why she compels me so. She’s human.

    On the comedic side of things, Marc Cherry & Jamie Wooten (my second favorite duo after Fanaro & Nathan, who at last make their wicked debut here) really knew how to write her, not only in a more sentimental light (as we see in “Mammy” and “An Illegitimate Concern”) but also in the camp and heat so at one with her spirit (for example, “Dateline: Miami”, “Journey to the Center of Attention”). “Sisters and Other Strangers” is one of my favorites (also, though, because of that B-plot! Yes, Jackson! “It’s just a helluvah book!” Who knew injecting the Soviet Union into this show could be so much fun? After “Letter to Gorbachev”? Oi!), as is “Sister of the Bride” (My pick for season six! Can’t wait to find out yours!). I have to give it to Vaczy & Gamble too, however, for their outstanding Blanche output over the later seasons, including the aforementioned gems “Mrs. George Devereaux” and “The Commitments” (even when they’re writing her B-plot, like the season six kernel about the Penny Saver or her proposed breast augmentation in “Sophia’s Choice”, they really do Blanche justice). And heck, I think everyone can agree that Rue McClanahan steals the episode right out from under Bea Arthur in “Sick and Tired”, doing wonders with some sublimely bizarre Susan Harris material as really only she could.

    I’ve gone off on a tangent again, but your LIST! Your list! I couldn’t help but spoil myself and scroll down all the way to the bottom of your article before I even read it to see if we matched up, as I was more confident than I have been since “A Little Romance” that we would. WE DO! “The Accurate Conception” all the way! High-five! Perhaps it is because of the rougher trajectory during this transition year, but “The Accurate Conception” REALLY stood head and shoulders above the rest. No contest. There’s not even a close second for me this time like there has been for some of the other seasons. It’s so undeniably sharp, bold, and daring, and might I say so ‘accurate’ in its adherence to Blanche’s character and how she would react to such a phenomenon, especially when concerning her own daughter. There isn’t anything better for me! What a fabulous addition Gail Parent was to the team — I especially liked her “Rhoda” stuff. Would it be a safe bet to delve into “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman”? I liked Louise Lasser as Alex’s first wife on “Taxi”, so I’ve been curious. I’m so glad to see that you also singled out “Triple Play”, an episode I had underestimated in the past but has quickly become one of my new faves. For juggling three stories all at once, it is effortless and resplendent with laughs. Go Gail!

    “Mary Has a Little Lamb” is off-putting as it’s very “Empty Nest” — are we supposed to know these people? I do like the world-building episodes like that do, as it shows that the ladies do know people/have friends and a social life outside of the house (although this is obvious, and the references to their respective workplaces remind us that they do have lives they live out in society), but that brand of audience exclusion always leaves me disoriented. There’s just not enough time to establish these characters we don’t know, but the main cast does, in twenty-four minutes. However, to its credit it boasts one of my all-time favorite B-plots in Merrill the ex-convict, who rocks Blanche’s world. “Twice in a Lifetime” was one of only two episodes (the other being “Cheaters”) that made my list but didn’t quite cut the mustard for you, but the subplot is where it’s at! “You always were the ladies’ man, Tommy!” — gut: officially busted!

    If I could, I wanted to get your take on the Emmys. I am aware that Betty White was nominated for “Rose Fights Back” in the fifth year (that would have been my submission for a sure bet, although “Dancing In The Dark” or “72 Hours” could serve as alternates), “Once, In St. Olaf” (really?) in season six, and “Dateline: Miami” (okay, but what about Rue??) in season seven. The nominations for Rue McClanahan and Bea Arthur, however, stopped cold. Considering the emerging competition in the last few years of the show, I understand that all three of the ladies being nominated every single year of the series’ run is a bit of a long-shot, but it seems strange to me that Rue McClanahan was never recognized again considering, as you said yourself, this was likely the best material of her career. Particularly in contrast with White, I can’t see how her performance in the (in my opinion) lackluster “Once, In St. Olaf” could be recognized over McClanahan’s in “Mrs. George Devereaux” or “Sister of the Bride”. Jumping ahead to season seven, it’s boggling that McClanahan was overlooked for “Room 7” or “The Commitments” (or MAYBE “From Here to the Pharmacy”). Additionally, Rue could have easily been nominated in season five for “The Accurate Conception”, “Ebb Tide”, “Sisters and Other Strangers”, or “Like the Beep Beep Beep of the Tom-Tom”. It’s a shame that Rue McClanahan was passed over time and again, despite the great stuff she got to play! I would have liked to have seen all three get at least one more nomination by the end. Any thoughts or information you may have on Emmy selection is greatly appreciated as always, Jackson!

    It IS harder to make the case for a Bea Arthur nomination in the later years (I think the Academy must have taken her for granted to some extent, as she was ALWAYS brilliant, even when dealing with material that was less than stellar), because, as you noted, the character of Dorothy gets a lost somewhere along the way (at least the ‘original’ version of her we knew in the early days..she had an edge!). In spite of everything, Bea Arthur makes me laugh the hardest of the four. I personally revel in Bea’s goofy, looser season seven portrayal of Dorothy in spite of the fact that it’s really out there and decidedly light-years away from where the character started (I chalk it up to character growth..Dorothy is simply not as hard or as bitter as she once was). But when it comes to the scripts, it IS a nearly impossible task to single out an exceptional Dorothy-centric episode after the mid-series changing of the guard outside of “Journey to the Center of Attention” (which, quite honestly, BOTH Arthur and McClanahan could have been nominated for). They share that episode like Dorothy and Rue share The Rusty Anchor (Blanche gets Saturdays!) Beyond “Journey”, however, we had “The Monkey Show”, “Goodbye, Mr. Gordon” (classic), and the series finale; all strong showings for Dorothy in that last outing (you could even throw in “Beauty and the Beast” and “The Case of the Libertine Belle”).

    • Hi, Izak! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      I find “Twice In A Lifetime” among the season’s most vanilla, with both stories being comedically forgettable and narratively predictable. I slightly prefer “Cheaters,” but as discussed above in answer to BB, I (again) have a few issues with both stories there as well — especially in comparison to the year’s better episodes.

      Regarding MARY HARTMAN, MARY HARTMAN, it’s an enjoyable series if you’re prepared for a show that likes its identity and its construction often better than its characters. It’s quintessentially flawed-yet-pretentious Lear, especially at this point in his career, but has its moments and retains a loyal following. (I prefer the more comedically inclined SOAP.)

      As for the Emmys, I too think McClanahan was the most deserving in these final years, but, really, once each of the women on this series was awarded, their time for recognition was over, irrespective of their forthcoming material. Nominating White — always the show’s darling (no coincidence that she also was the first to win here) — was a way of acknowledging the entire ensemble’s continued good work without having to pretend that any of them were very likely to win. Also, it’s a reflection on the state of the show (sentiments about which very often inform acting wins more than the acting itself — just look at how many times Bergen won for MURPHY BROWN); THE GOLDEN GIRLS was still worth mentioning, but not worth discussing seriously.

      As you know, my thoughts on the last two seasons are forthcoming, so all I’ll say about them now is “stay tuned…”

      • If you can justify Candice Bergen’s FIVE Emmy wins for MURPHY BROWN, your rhetorical and persuasive powers will prove more prodigious than even I believed. Looking forward to 2017!

        • Well, don’t expect me to try — I think several of them were based on content rather than performance: an external manifestation of the show’s politics, which, unfortunately (for ol’ bi-partisan me), have to be discussed at length. Stay tuned…

  7. I agree with Izak, and would perhaps go further in suggesting that poor Harold Gould was cheated by this show. His first couple of appearances here are excellent, and the relationship is a good showcase for another side of Rose. Over the next two years, however, Miles simply becomes whatever a writer needs in a given week. Cheapskate? Sure. Lecher? Check. Homebody? Whatever. Mob accountant? I’m sure no one even batted an eye at the suggestion. Gould was always a favorite at WTH after his outstanding work in Soap, but I’d say he was easily the most ill-used actor on this series.

    • Hi, Lee! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      I generally agree, as you’ll see over the next two weeks when a discussion about Miles becomes more pertinent. Stay tuned…

  8. Hi Jackson! This is one of your best posts yet!! Such insightful commentary. I love all seasons of this series, even though I defiantly prefer the early years. I always say that of the second team of writers, I prefer the last season but my thoughts on the fifth season have evolved a bit. Although I don’t like some of the preaching I think it’s one of the show’s funniest years and as you wrote represents a victory in the show’s ability to survive the big changes. Blanche is so good this year! “Accurate Conception is probably my favorite, but I love “Ebb Tide” too. Looking forward to next week as always!! And if I may say, I love MURPHY BROWN and I haven’t been as excited for a show here since well, THE GOLDEN GIRLS!!

    • Hi, Elaine! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      MURPHY BROWN is probably more interesting to discuss than simply watch, for it’s so much better than its detractors declare, but sometimes quite far beneath what its champions insist — making it ideal for coverage here.

      Stay tuned for more on THE GOLDEN GIRLS over the next few weeks; my thoughts on the final season may surprise you…

  9. I’m more excited to see your thoughts on Garry Shandling and married with children. In the late ’80s I was all about the underground definitely NOT mainstream stuff which was so much funnier than most network shows, Golden Girls and Murphy brown included.

    • Hi, Kal! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      I’m eager to share my thoughts on those shows as well — both proved considerably impactful to comedy of the era, and with my personal excitement for THE GOLDEN GIRLS waning, as it always does at the end of coverage on a long-running series (for which, remember, all my thoughts have been worked through MONTHS before), the source of most my current “stay tuned…” excitement is now reserved for the shows ahead (including MURPHY BROWN, which seems to have more of a following here than I would have ever anticipated).

      But IT’S GARRY SHANDLING’S SHOW is especially fascinating, and in many ways, more relevant for study than his later and better (but more self-satisfied) series, which will also be coming up here next year. I’m very much looking forward to sharing my thoughts on the former and seeing if there’s an audience who enjoys the work independent of Shandling’s follow-up. And then MARRIED… WITH CHILDREN is just plain fun — it was a unique experience looking at the series critically; I actually came away with a greater appreciation (the opposite of what I anticipated), and I’m just as excited for it as I was for the start of THE GOLDEN GIRLS’ coverage. Stay tuned…

  10. I am in my late 20s. I didn’t start watching GG until 2009-2010. It was interesting reading this piece on the varying writing styles of the new writers. I can’t wait to watch again with this new set of eyes. Blanche was only by far my favorite character from beginning to end, so it makes sense that my favorite episodes come from the latter seasons.

    • Hi, Dobabyr! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      That makes sense — there’s no shortage of great Blanche moments here, nor in the two years ahead. Stay tuned…

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