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!
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.
When asked to cite my least favorite season of The Golden Girls, I often say the sixth, because although the third is the most disappointing for reasons heretofore discussed, and the seventh contains the show’s absolute worst moments (stay tuned next week), Season Six has the lowest base level of quality. In other words, if you were to examine the average level of quality in the non-spectacular and non-disastrous episodes from each season, you would find that this year is the least meritorious. We will discuss what goes “wrong” this season in a figurative moment, but first let’s note that Season Six is really an aesthetic extension of the prior. In fact, the writing staff remains practically unchanged, with the only departures being the duo with the most seniority, Bruce and Weiss. In their place, comes a pair whose most substantial credit had been the later seasons of The Jeffersons, Don Seigel and Jerry Perzigian, along with the future creator of Arrested Development, Mitchell Hurwitz, and the busy Jim Vallely, ably partnered with last season’s MVP, Gail Parent. (The show’s script coordinator, Robert Spina, also delivered two scripts.) These new voices hasten the ongoing descent into broadness, but their specific styles also add to the year’s overwhelming focus on narratives — for better and, more often, worse.
For in spite of wisely dropping last season’s extensive foray into social relevance, Season Six is still made up entirely of high-concept, semi-serialized, and ostentatious stories designed to perk up aging characters. In this regard, the year is very much like the third, which suffered from both narrative desperation and a disconnect between stories and character — thus forcing us to examine their relationship. Here we see, more than ever before, stories used specifically to meet comedic, or in a few cases, dramatic (like the tonally imbalanced “Ebbtide’s Revenge”) objectives. But as we all know, stories should only be used for the focused exploration of character — not in the procurement of intended responses or preordained outcomes. And while I’d argue that characters nevertheless develop only as a result of participating in story, these new writers (last year’s included) seem to think that narratives are not just a vessel for character exploration, but the singular tool itself. In other words, plots are how this year defines its characters, which means that characterizations become dependent on story — as opposed to the more desirable reverse. So, while this season takes both its successes and failures with the foursome in generally the same manner as it did in the year prior, the enhanced emphasis on premises that are sometimes dubiously conceived only heightens the accompanying missteps.
As with last season, Blanche continues to thrive because she remains in step with the show’s increasingly burlesque tone, through which these writers obviously focus most of their stories (sometimes very successfully, particularly with Cherry and Wooten). In fact, when looking at the year’s triumphs, you’ll see that McClanahan is yet again the most active participant; her character, again, is explored both humorously and emotionally in ways consistent and satisfying, even though the strokes continue to grow broader — a reaction to the extreme plots (ex: George returns from the dead) being crafted. By the same token, Sophia herself continues to be defined in extremes, and even more than last season, we find her getting stories (like the ridiculous “How Do You Solve A Problem Like Sophia?” — the epitome of a gimmicky premise and one of the aforementioned duo’s weakest) of equal comedic or dramatic weight to the others’. Unfortunately, because her characterization under these writers remains too thin, moments of actualization beyond the easy laughs or nebulously motivated dramatics are inconsistently delivered, proving that regardless of stories or focus, the way she’s being written is still problematic. The only slight positive that starts to emerge for Sophia here in Season Six is her growing bonds with both Rose and, in particular, Blanche, which will prove vital for her continued existence once Dorothy inches closer to the exit door.
Actually, the characters whose depictions most warrant discussion this season are Rose and Dorothy. With regard to the former, last year saw these new writers finding fresh ways to examine Rose in previously unexplored stories — thus helping to restore for her a sense of humanity. This season, with the show’s broadness only increasing, we find the character once again vacillating between believable naïveté and cartoonish stupidity, the latter being only too ideal for easy jokes and contrived stories. Because of this mercurial presentation, Rose becomes the year’s most inconsistently written, with her viability more episodic than ever. Additionally, issues with her character are compounded by Miles (Harold Gould), who was introduced last season as a recurring boyfriend. This was a smart move for Rose’s development, and, fortunately, this year’s crew recognizes the need to finally give Miles a characterization unto himself — something he lacked in Season Five, which was more concerned with finding story for Rose than exploring their relationship. Unfortunately, the way the season decides to do this is specifically through narrative — a gaudy, gimmicky narrative — involving Miles being in the Witness Protection Program. It’s one of the most absurd and unrewarding ideas in the show’s history because it rejects our common sense, and although it is only confined to two episodes, the arc illustrates the year’s problem precisely: the misplaced faith in story.
…Which brings us to Dorothy, the character whom last year’s writers simply did not understand. They certainly understand the series’ need for her prominence, but they still can’t write her with any semblance of integrity, because their ideas of comedy and story remain too baroque for her grounded design. So this season finds the writers attempting to assuage their Dorothy issues by giving her a semi-serialized arc in which she reconciles with her ex-husband Stan (Herb Edelman). On paper, this seems like a good idea, for Stan and Dorothy have an emotional history that ties into both the characters’ backstory and the show’s mythos. Also, as performers, Arthur and Edelman’s dynamic is such that it makes many ideas seem more worthy of our emotional investment than they would appear on the page. But the story was mostly motivated by behind-the-scenes maneuverings. You see, Arthur’s contract was up after this year and she was making rumblings about wanting to leave the show, particularly after last season’s departure of regular director Terry Hughes. This big storyline was a means of giving Arthur something seemingly more substantial before providing her an exit in May, with the fake-out February Sweeps wedding merely a potential dry run for the eventual farewell, likely without Stan. (Note that Debbie Reynolds was indeed introduced as a potential Arthur replacement.)
Ultimately, Arthur re-signed and the show continued for another year, leaving the arc as just a temporary case of Dorothy’s chronically bad judgment. The problem? In addition to the simple fact that no story is ever going to be able to redeliver a characterization that can’t exist within this current creative climate (without some big staff changes), the storyline itself isn’t properly handled. For while it’s easy for the audience to get on board with a Dorothy and Stan reconciliation, the show doesn’t motivate it well enough. Why? Well, The Golden Girls is unfamiliar with serialization, and they hold themselves back — limiting the story to just five episodes, only three of which deal specifically with the reconciliation. Now, I personally do not mind that this story is reserved for a few individual episodes, because I generally worry about over-serialization in sitcoms anyway, but I also think that an arc intended to have legs must be reinforced in many small character moments that are separate from story. That is, Dorothy needed to talk about Stan outside of the accompanying stories and during episodes in which he otherwise did not appear. Because this does not happen, the arc is denied build and believability, making it a bust not just for Dorothy, who is no better explored than she was at the start, but also for the season’s narrative standing, which is proven decidedly incompetent.
Yet aside from quasi-serialized stories, the year also has an abundance of the aforementioned gimmicky or logic-defying premises. (Need examples? Sophia becomes a nun. The girls star in a musical of Henny Penny. Dorothy rehabilitates a recluse played by guest star Martin Mull — which is as bad as last year’s Van Dyke vehicle.) As a result of such foolishness, we have more episodes that fundamentally feel beneath the show and these characters, who are nevertheless reflected by the plots into which they are shoehorned (hence the low base-level of quality). Additionally, without Terry Hughes at the helm, the season’s energy is somewhat off-kilter, aiding whatever issues already exist in the weekly stories and making it even harder for the girls to elevate their material. Still, as usual, at the end of that figurative day, we’re not without hope; there are still moments to enjoy here, because while very few episodes work in total, there are plenty that boast enough worthwhile beats to be recommendable. This is, after all, The Golden Girls. 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.
Here are my picks for the ten best episodes of Season Six. (They are in AIRING ORDER.) Note that 21/26 episodes this season are directed by Matthew Diamond; those that have been selected and aren’t directed by Diamond will be noted below. Also, remember that, as always, hour-long installments are regarded as two separate episodes — as they would in syndication.
01) Episode 130: “Once, In St. Olaf” (Aired: 09/29/90)
Sophia must undergo surgery while Rose meets her father.
Written by Harold Apter
Don Ameche guest stars as Rose’s biological father, a monk whom she meets in the hospital at which she volunteers. It’s certainly a situational contrivance, but once that initial hurdle is excused, the rest of the story proves incredibly rewarding — both emotionally for Rose and comedically for the audience. In fact, in addition to being one of Rose’s best outings, this is among the year’s funniest, with laughs coming directly from the characters, particularly in the subplot involving Sophia’s hernia surgery, which she’s using to guilt Dorothy (who made her lift wicker furniture). The script, the second of two by Harold Apter, is loaded with delicious lines; there are too many to list, but I’m quite fond of the “Zulu, Queen of the Dwarf People” joke that’s called back later in the episode, along with many little moments thrown to Blanche.
02) Episode 133: “Wham, Bam, Thank You, Mammy” (Aired: 10/20/90)
Blanche gets a visit from her childhood Mammy.
Written by Marc Cherry & Jamie Wooten
Although Cherry and Wooten wrote this episode for Esther Rolle, as they were anxious to reunite her with both McClanahan and Arthur (they were all formerly costars on Maude), an unfortunate car accident rendered Rolle out of commission and made necessary a replacement that came in the form of Ruby Dee. She plays Blanche’s former Mammy — cue a lot of campy jokes about Blanche’s southern heritage, most of which delight (my favorite involves one of Big Daddy’s letters and the lyrics to the classic Jolson song) — who it is revealed had a relationship with Big Daddy. McClanahan is given the opportunity to run the gamut of emotions, and while the premise itself is indeed contrived, both her performance and the enjoyable script make the episode both memorable and commendable. Some worthy laughs in this campy entry.
03) Episode 135: “Zborn Again” (Aired: 11/03/90)
Dorothy begins dating Stan while Rose deals with an annoying coworker.
Written by Mitchell Hurwitz
The first episode by Mitchell Hurwitz, the future creator of Arrested Development, this is also the installment that takes the seeds of the Dorothy/Stan reconciliation arc (planted in the season’s third entry) and grows them into a full-fledged story. In itself, this premise yields laughter, and Hurwitz’s script, though not as tight or as knowing as others this year, has an elevated sense of humor that consequently benefits the end product. However, the A-plot is secondary in enjoyment to the subplot involving Rose and an obnoxious co-worker, who, through a nasty turn of events, ends up being her boss. It’s a fantastic story for Rose, who is usually the annoying instead of the annoyed, and the teleplay, again, maximizes the potential laughs. (Another great example of the show sometimes knowing how to write well for Rose in this era.)
04) Episode 137: “Mrs. George Devereaux” (Aired: 11/17/90)
Blanche’s late husband returns and Dorothy has two famous beaus.
Written by Richard Vaczy & Tracy Gamble
Because I made objections in my seasonal introduction about this year’s too frequent use of gimmicks, it may seem odd that I’m highlighting this installment, which is among the show’s most gimmicky — a dream! But because the entire episode is revealed to be a dream, the ridiculousness of the entire affair is justified (unlike many of the other reality-deprived excursions that don’t have any excuse), thus allowing the audience, upon repeated viewings, to recognize the smarts that actually went into structuring an episode whose palpable surreality only builds with each scene. As with many outings here, McClanahan gets to do some fabulous work, as the story about the return of her husband necessitates more dramatics, all of which she plays with laudable truth. Meanwhile, the Sonny-Dorothy-Lyle triangle is just plain kooky.
05) Episode 138: “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun… Before They Die” (Aired: 11/24/90)
Blanche gives bad advice on men to both Sophia and Rose.
Written by Gail Parent & Jim Vallely
My choice for the best episode of the season, this entry is not only among the most humorous, but it also features a thematic cohesion in which both the narratives and all four characters can exist enjoyably. The teleplay — by this era’s most laugh-driven (Cherry and Wooten) — unites two stories under the same general theme: Blanche’s disastrous advice about men. Of course, Blanche’s advice to Rose about making Miles jealous backfires, as does Blanche’s advice to Sophia about sexually pursuing a handsome gent played by Caesar Romero. The Rose story, which isn’t as well-conceived as the Sophia story, nevertheless makes sense given the character’s tendency to take every word literally, meaning that the easy humor is at least contextualized within her rooted presentation. And while Blanche is really the structural star (no surprise for these writers and this season), the outing gives moments of genuine pathos to Getty, while also providing her supreme laughs — a balance we seldom find in the later years, and the prime reason this outing is special. (The “sixty-five year old drag queen” reveal is perhaps the season’s most memorable sight gag.) A hilarious entry — and the icing on this figurative cake? Dorothy, independent of story, can simply do what she does best: react to the hijinks. Masterful.
06) Episode 142: “Sister Of The Bride” (Aired: 01/12/91)
Blanche’s brother announces his marriage to a man.
Written by Marc Cherry & Jamie Wooten
Cherry and Wooten, in particular, specialize in meaty Blanche episodes, and this offering, which sees the return of Blanche’s gay brother and further forces her to reconcile her feelings for her sibling’s sexuality, reinforces this strength. Despite treading over “ground” that the series has already covered in Clayton’s first appearance, there are more laughs this time around (and the duo’s commitment to this story is palpable). However, I’m actually more fond of the subplot, as the B-story of Rose hoping to win a Volunteer Award now that the usual recipient has died allows both for the (truthfully anticipated, but not disappointingly so) subversion of the story’s expectations and the reemergence of Rose’s competitive streak, a reliable source of laughs, and one that was established even before the character was fully set. Great under this season’s terms.
07) Episode 146: “Older And Wiser” (Aired: 02/16/91)
Dorothy gets Sophia a job at a home, while Blanche and Rose are hired as models.
Written by Richard Vaczy & Tracy Gamble
This is one of the few here that’s not vastly superior to the honorable mentions below. I can explain why this episode isn’t great by comparing it to my MVE. You see, that one featured two stories and connected them through Blanche’s bad advice, allowing for thematic cogency. This outing uses two different and varyingly enjoyable plots, and never justifies why they belong together. As a result, the sum of this offering’s parts is not greater than the parts themselves — especially because said parts aren’t equitable. As usual, the best moments are for Blanche and Rose, who get the more comedic story of modeling for an unglamorous Penny Saver ad (the reason this entry is featured), while Dorothy and Sophia get a merely mediocre A-plot that tells us nothing new, but at least tries to present them nobly. Not great, but no mistakes.
08) Episode 147: “Melodrama” (Aired: 02/16/91)
Blanche wants commitment from a one-night stand man, and Rose auditions to be a reporter.
Written by Robert Spina
A bit of an underrated outing, this episode is like the above in that two unrelated stories fail to be connected within the same teleplay — although they’re each a little more satisfying, and of equal measure, so the lack of narrative finesse is more forgivable. Also, let’s note that, not surprisingly, the stories, respectively, are for the tonally conducive Blanche and the inconsistent, but more usable, Rose. The Mel Bushman (Alan King) plot for Blanche allows her humor and heart, while the Rose plot, made possible by the career change that happened last season as part of the show’s attempt (then successful) to better her for story, delivers the bigger laughs. A bit loud? Yes, but Rose’s characterization remains connected to her unique brand of logic, meaning that her presentation, unlike in other unhighlighted offerings, stands fairly strong.
09) Episode 148: “Even Grandmas Get The Blues” (Aired: 03/02/91)
Blanche convinces a beau that her granddaughter is really her daughter.
Written by Gail Parent & Jim Vallely | Directed by Robert Berlinger
As with so many of the episodes featured this week (and the last), the bulk of this installment’s enjoyment is derived from the teleplay’s use of Blanche, and just as I’ve been repeatedly expressing, the strength of this era’s depiction of her character in comparison to her cohorts’ (particularly, the one who most suffers: Dorothy) is so embedded in these years’ foundational aesthetics that I worry my commentary has been repetitive. For instance, and once again, this episode is highlighted because of its comedic and perhaps character-revealing utilization of Blanche in an A-plot that’s so enjoyable that it overcompensates for a lackluster subplot with Sophia and Dorothy. And even though this is far from the year’s best Blanche show, it’s still generally better than those with A-story attempts at featuring Dorothy. That’s why it’s here.
10) Episode 150: “What A Difference A Date Makes” (Aired: 03/23/91)
Dorothy dates the man who stood her up for the senior prom.
Written by Marc Cherry & Jamie Wooten | Directed by Lex Passaris
Despite a script by Cherry and Wooten, who operate comfortably within the series’ new tone (and indeed may be its most vocal contributors) while often delivering the most comedically satisfying results, I think this episode is mediocre. However, my decision to highlight it here was simple: it’s the year’s most valiant attempt at a strong Sophia-Dorothy A-story. (Yes, it’s better than the one in “Older And Wiser.”) The premise, which I still think is too convenient, has Hal Linden playing Dorothy’s old high school flame; their relationship was unintentionally sabotaged by Sophia. It’s emotionally manipulative and employs dubious continuity, but the idea of mother setting in motion her daughter’s long streak of bad luck is narratively sound. Also, the entry is bolstered by both the direction of Lex Passaris (his first) and a funny Blanche subplot.
Other notable episodes that narrowly missed the list above include: “Stand By Your Man,” which was the closest to being featured, because it contains a truly riotous scene in which Sophia accompanies Blanche along on the latter’s date with a handicapped man (essentially a rehash of a season four entry in which Blanche dated a blind man, and a variation on the first year’s classic “A Little Romance”), both parts of “There Goes The Bride,” which feature comedic teleplays that try to enhance the appeal of the storytelling machinations, and “Love For Sale,” the capper to the year’s Dorothy-Stan arc, which is most memorable for the auction scene. Of more honorable mention quality are “Blanche Delivers,” which pushes too hard for laughs and sets the tone for the season, and “Witness,” which has the conclusion of the awful Miles arc but comes paired to a riotous Blanche subplot.
*** The MVE Award for the Best Episode from Season Six of The Golden Girls goes to…..
“Girls Just Wanna Have Fun… Before They Die”
Come back next Tuesday for the best from the seventh season! And tune in tomorrow for a new Wildcard Wednesday post!
Luv ur MVE but my fav is Melodrama – glad u included it . Cant wait 4 nxt week , ur doing Golden Palace to right?
Hi, BB! Thanks for reading and commenting.
Yes, expect coverage of THE GOLDEN PALACE on the last Wednesday of the month (the day after THE GOLDEN GIRLS concludes).
“Girls Just Wanna Have Fun … Before They Die” is my favorite too. I don’t really love a lot of episodes from this season, but you pinpointed all the other ones I do: “Once In St. Olaf”, “Wam, Bam, Thank You Mammy,”, Sisters of the Bride”, and “Even Grandmas Get the Blues”. I also really really try to like “Stand By Your Man” but find it too … by the numbers … although that Blanche/Sophia scene is great … and I can’t really enjoy it because it’s so blah. You’re right: the show did it better with the blind man in season four — less obvious! But I guess that’s the show’s style now. Looking forward to season seven, a year I like better,next week.
Hi, Nat! Thanks for reading and commenting.
Next week promises material both better and worse — stay tuned!
I had all but given up on THE GOLDEN GIRLS by this point in its run so I can’t comment on many of the episodes here and certainly not on the season as a whole. I think your typically perspicacious analysis puts into words a lot of what I was feeling at the time. Maybe I’ll give Season Six another try someday soon.
I did not know that the show pursued Esther Rolle for a guest spot. I was always grateful that the producers resisted gimmicky stunt casting of the ladies’ former co-stars, talented as they were, and the inevitable wink to the audience. Ugh. That’s a habit of lesser sitcoms and way beneath this show, even in its weakest stretches.
Hi, Red Herring! Thanks for reading and commenting.
I think the perennial wink had already become a part of the show’s style — irrespective of its guest stars, who were but a growing manifestation (even before the major staff overhaul) of the series’ sensibilities. But, as you know, I too am anti-gimmick — or more specifically, I am against allowing a gimmick to supplant or distract from the kind of quality I seek — so I wouldn’t have allowed stunt casting to be a major factor in how I view the episode’s functionality (see: “You Gotta Have Hope” and “Love Under The Big Top”). Meanwhile, I am only anti-wink on this series when it proves counterintuitive to the objective (entertainment), and that’s the show’s primary concern at this point: getting in its own way; stay tuned…
I’m so glad you picked “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” as your MVE! That’s always been my favorite from the year and I rarely see it mentioned. As always, I really appreciate your commentary too because it helps me look at the season differently. I don’t mind the Dorothy-Stan arc but it feels a bit forced and combusts rather predictably and conveniently, which makes it all pointless. It does nothing for her character AT ALL and that’s what bothers me the most. I also dislike the Miles Witness storyline but I dot mind Rose here (or even next season really.) I kind of thought her lowest point was in seasons three and four. I feel the same about Blanche but on a far less extreme scale because she was always handled decently.
Hi, Elaine! Thanks for reading and commenting.
I think the turbulent third and fourth seasons put more of their focus on Dorothy and Sophia, while Blanche, who was always good for both stories and laughs, managed to remain consistently depicted and with regular moments of recognizable merit. Rose, on the other hand, had always been harder to utilize well in stories (which is why I found last season’s efforts so laudable), so I too think the middle years saddled her with easy comedy that threatened to hamper the characterization — a corrosion that only becomes fully felt in these later seasons (although, with wild inconsistency). Stay tuned…
It’s sad to see a a great show falter like this. Those darn writers! Where’s the balance that was there season one/two? It’s just a shame. Of course this season is not as bad as Roseanne’s. I don’t think you were interested in covering that series am I right?
Hi, Matt! Thanks for reading and commenting.
Yes, I have no interest in covering ROSEANNE, but it may be fodder for discussion in relation to MARRIED… WITH CHILDREN, which begins at the end of November.
I hope for your season seven post you’ll give some on whether the show finished on a high note or not.
You’ll know for sure how I feel about the final season and its quality, as always. Stay tuned…
ROSEANNE had its moments but tried to do more than the form and its cast’s abilities would allow. I was a regular, if not religious, viewer through its fifth season. But it is definitely not worth nine weeks of your time and space.
I am happy you’re covering IT’S GARRY SHANDLING’S SHOW (and LARRY SANDERS?). That was an era of robust experimentation on television, due in large part to the arrival of FOX on the scene and the rise (and, usually, fall) of the dramedy. There are a number of daring, short-flight series from the era (GRAND, MR. PRESIDENT, HOOPERMAN, SLAP MAXWELL) as well as promising, or at least pedigreed, more traditional sitcoms (ALL IS FORGIVEN, THE FAMOUS TEDDY Z, GOOD & EVIL) that I’d love to hear your thoughts on if you can find them and the time to cover them. Maybe you can pencil them in for 2020?
Keep up the good work!
Yes, THE LARRY SANDERS SHOW will be seen here around this time next year. Truthfully, I’m more looking forward to IT’S GARRY SHANDLING’S SHOW, because even though the former is stronger, I think the latter is more conducive to discussion, as you’ll see in two weeks…
I’ve already covered ALL IS FORGIVEN — one of the most fundamentally unenjoyable sitcoms on which I’ve ever turned my sights — and counted out THE ‘SLAP’ MAXWELL STORY, along with many of the decade’s other dramedies, during this year’s survey of the ’80s (the disappointing nature of which necessitated I look beyond the straight sitcoms). This genre-hopping is not soon to happen again — I don’t enjoy it as much, and it’s not as popular with readers anyway (so I don’t feel bad about it); next year is going to be very heavily comedy-oriented, save DYNASTY, but there’ll be no more genuine sitcom stinkers. As I’ve said before: I’m a TV lover who only wants to love TV. I don’t, contrary to my own beliefs, need to see everything.
MR. PRESIDENT would have been potential Wildcard fodder during my MARRIED… WITH CHILDREN coverage, but I only have eight episodes and can’t adjudicate the series properly, so you won’t see it here. THE FAMOUS TEDDY Z and GOOD & EVIL remain possibilities, but are neither in the foreseeable future nor of pressing interest.
Cant wait for married with children but I never liked Rosanne. Althho I would not mind reading ur thoughts on the series. are you not covering it cuz it’s not worth 9 wks??
Good question. This may come up in future discussions… but I’m not covering the series for a much simpler reason: I don’t enjoy it.
I find ROSEANNE to be the mainstream examination of comedic ideas that were already being explored on MARRIED… WITH CHILDREN, but now divorced from the latter’s appealing satire and re-married to a suffocating self-importance stemming from both the exaggerated pretenses of “realism” and the vanity of the star for whom it was obviously a vehicle.
Neither were subtle, but the laugh-focused MARRIED… WITH CHILDREN winked; the message-focused ROSEANNE shouted, all the while insisting it was revolutionary — using this misplaced belief in its own specialness as an ever-present propellant of its comedy. It cared more about image than function, and entertaining the audience became more of an ego trip than a simple objective.
In contrast, there were no pretenses on MARRIED… WITH CHILDREN — just continual attempts to make the audience laugh (not all of which worked). Sure, the show purposely wanted to be different by definition, but it also didn’t claim any faux nobility in the process. This showed a respect for the audience that ROSEANNE, even in its humble(r) first few seasons, lacked.
But stay tuned this November for more about MARRIED… WITH CHILDREN and why, in spite of its flaws, I think the series is genuinely special and makes a worthy property for all who seek entertainment…
Where you rank It’s Garry Shandlings Show and Married With Children in your list
Hi, R! Thanks for reading and commenting.
In my list of what — favorite sitcoms ever? No such list exists. When I was asked a few weeks ago to give my top ten, that was off the top of my head (and reluctantly so).
I will never do an official list of favorite sitcoms here because I don’t care to “rank” shows that, outside of the humor objective, have radically different narrative aims and aesthetic sensibilities. Also, I think it’s impossible to “rank” an entire genre of shows that I’ll never be able to see in full. (How am I to analyze HONESTLY, CELESTE! if I’ve never seen it?)
I can select my favorite episodes from specific bodies of work because the sample itself is finite, and the characterizations and tone are, if not consistent, then trackable (and if not, that’s a discussion to be had — because it IS supposed to be one body of work).
So, my approach to the adjudication of these series is, as always, to expect that certain foundational metrics (character-driven, genuinely comedic, etc.) are met, while treating each work as an individual entity that sets its own ideas of quality. When I directly compare two different shows, I often do so only to make specific connections — i.e. comparing CHEERS and THE GOLDEN GIRLS to show how descendants of MTM and Lear, respectively, used or didn’t use elements of the other.
However, it would be VERY false to claim that I don’t form hierarchies based on my own personal ideas of quality in the process, because I do. I compare and contrast precisely as a means of finding quality — just like any good consumer reporter! So I’m happy to answer any specific questions about my preference for one show over another, or generally how I feel about those covered here in relation to one another — another finite selection — but the framing of these analyses must be pointed.
In the case of both shows you mentioned, they’re not in that silly and unofficial (but generally consistent and straightforward) list of my “top ten,” which includes shows I personally enjoy the most and consider of foundational importance to the discussions had here, nor were they even considered, like a few others that I’ve previously mentioned when pressed. But I like them both well enough to grant each full weekly coverage. That itself is a ranking of sorts!
I always thought they should have re-introduced the Debbie Reynolds character at the end of season 7 and continued the show with her after Arthur left instead of attempting Golden Palace. I though Reynolds really had nice chemistry with Betty and Rue and it would have made more logical sense than the girls buying and running a hotel.
Hi, Brandon! Thanks for reading and commenting.
I disagree — I don’t think the characterization given to Reynolds was comedically complementary to the other women, and furthermore, any attempts to continue the format with a different fourth lead would have easily failed to satisfy. I also think the impulse to leave the house after Arthur’s departure was the only viable choice if the show was absolute on continuing with its three remaining characters, but the… (stay tuned for more next Wednesday…)
Reynolds was wasted. What a shame. The writers could have written a funny episode that centered on a rivalry or competition between her and Blanche. I think its fair to say there were a great deal of wasted opportunities on this show.
I agree that if Reynolds HAD to make a guest appearance on the show, it should have been in a better capacity in a better episode. But I also think the notion of crafting roles and episodes FOR certain stars or just “names” in general is not conducive to character-driven writing, for again, this means characters are taking their cues from story and/or gimmicks instead of the reverse. Similarly conceived episodes like “Wham, Bam, Thank You, Mammy” and “Mrs. George Devereaux” are actually commendable — but only for the material allowed to the characters within, or oftentimes outside of, the narrative constructs and functional maneuverings. In this regard, I don’t think Reynolds did anything for the other characters or the show — except subliminally tell Arthur that she better make a decision about the next season and quick, or she’d be replaced…
I’m interested in finding out what you think of the characterizations in the final season
Hi, Track! Thanks for reading and commenting.
Another sterling assessment, Jackson! As I alluded to in my last comment, season six is really the only season of The Golden Girls that lets me down on a consistent basis. It’s about tied with season three for me as the least of these, but at least with season three, I go into it knowing what to expect of the proceedings; if anything, I underestimate the quotient of the big laughs that are, thankfully, there (despite the misguided thematic content). I think my problem with season six stems from my own past experiences with it (I used to think it was pretty awesome, personally), so I find myself more than a bit crestfallen whenever I revisit it to be sadly reminded of how thin it has worn for me over the years. Of course, I’m really only speaking subjectively here.
“Girls Just Wanna Have Fun…Before They Die” is DYNAMITE — for some reason, I never remember just how uproariously entertaining that entry is until it hits and I can’t pull myself up off the floor for twenty-four minutes. You know, I really love reading your blog because I often find myself unable to articulate WHY a particular script works or doesn’t work (and your analysis proves precisely why Dorothy and Stan’s reunion feels so unsatisfactory in the grand scheme of things). Your acute taste is, again, right on the money with “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun…”: it’s the thematic cohesion that does it! I thought for certain it would end up being my pick for the season as I ran through these episodes, but then “Sister of the Bride” (strangely misspelled “Sisters of the Bride” on the DVD box..I’m glad that seems to be cleared up, as it had always confused me) utterly SLAYED me a few shows later; the closest race since “My Brother, My Father” and “Mixed Blessings” (actually, it was even tighter this time around), it ended up being a photo finish between the two. But, as you know, I had to give it up for “Sister of the Bride”. Our lists are, for the most part, aligned, but I do have to admit that “How Do You Solve A Problem Like Sophia?” (especially for its crazy b-plot) and “Henny Penny — Straight, No Chaser” (perhaps for those sight gags alone) are two extra guilty pleasures of mine.
The B-plots, actually, are easily my favorite part about season six — they are what stay with me and make this season worth the watch more than anything. While I’m not too big on “Blanche Delivers”, the back and forth between Dorothy and Sophia throughout is priceless (“and you were the only one in the family who could catch mice”). I don’t necessarily care for “Once, In St. Olaf” on the whole but Sophia’s hernia storyline cracks me up (“please, it’s wicker!”); the “Zulu, Queen of the Dwarf People” bit is unforgettable, I agree! One of the funniest of all, I think, is the matchmaker subplot in “Wham, Bam, Thank You, Mammy” (“you’re gonna meet some great gals”). Then there’s The Penny Saver, Blanche dieting to get into her devilish wedding dress, Sophia losing her glasses in “Witness”, and Blanche’s obit (“68, and DEAD!”) in “Henny Penny”. I also find so much amusement in all the scenes you yourself mentioned: Sophia posing as Blanche’s Southern Grammy, The Daughters of the Old South (“FELDMAN?!”), the Sonny Bono/Lyle Waggoner farce, and that wild auction scene in “Love For Sale”. I also think the bachelorette party scene in “There Goes The Bride (Part 1)” is a lot of fun and Sophia sticking her head in the microwave is just too much.
I tend to like a lot of little lines or moments from so many of these season six shows, even if the entirety of the proceedings may not add up to much in the end. For example, the two Meals on Wheels scenes in “Snap Out of It” kill me (“she’s ready, God!”), and “I’ll even listen to 8-tracks with you! Of course, we’ll have to use Rose’s car” is a welcome callback to the type of character-rooted comedy “The Golden Girls” was built on. Although “Ebbtide’s Revenge”‘s reach definitely extends its grasp, I will say that Dorothy’s eulogy is adequately moving considering what we know of the off-screen Phil character (with a splash of comedy — the Brontë Sisters line), and I simply can’t resist the easy, but fun jokes at his expense, from his “masculine teddy” to Blanche remarking on “the guys from Phil’s poker game.” The best line in “Feelings”? “Mrs. Zbornak eats shiitake mushrooms.”
Between Cherry & Wooten, Parent & Vallely, and Vaczy & Gamble, I agree with you wholeheartedly that the character of Blanche was in the hands of masters. She is developed so adroitly in these last three years, afforded depth and growth by the writers lacking in the other three girls (particularly Rose, who unfortunately just seems to serve as a functionary for the butt of the jokes far too much of the time). Blanche is so compelling a character perhaps because, while she gets to do the craziest stuff on the show, she also consistently feels the most human. Even amidst the romp that is “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun…Before They Die”, there’s that revealing scene in the kitchen where Blanche confesses to crying every Thursday night. “It’s not easy being Blanche Devereaux”, she admits, knowing full well how shallow she is in her choice of men compared to the kind of long-term relationship Rose has bravely chosen to nurture into something of substance with Miles. I can’t help but think back to “Diamond in the Rough” from season two, in which we see Blanche running away from a promising and lasting connection with Donnelly Rhodes’ Jake. In season six’s “Melodrama”, Blanche attempts to settle down, rashly, but commitment just doesn’t gel with a man like Mel Bushman. For her, there was never going to be anybody like George. So she fills the lonely nights with one-night stands and thrilling, but ultimately empty sexual escapades, distracting herself from the vacancy in her heart. Her admission in “Girls” is so poignant because she COULD have a steady boyfriend like Rose, or even a second husband like Dorothy, but, the pain of having lost George too much to bear, she takes the easy way out. She buries herself in sex. She’s safer that way. Dorothy is incisive to note her fear of commitment several times throughout the series, and it all makes perfect sense considering how she so adored these men that she’s lost. That all plays into why she recoils in next year’s “From Here to the Pharmacy” and why we never hear from Ken Howard’s Jerry from “The Commitments” again. It’s quite heartbreaking. Of course, logistically speaking, the show would lose a great deal of its hilarity without a bed-hopping Blanche. There’s that, too.
Big Daddy’s death all but solidifies her resolve to never make any real emotional investment in a man again. It’s evident that Blanche has only ever truly loved three men in her life: Big Daddy, her baby brother Clayton, and her late husband George. This season is a particularly touching one for her in that we get to see each of those precious relationships developed even further. I think the underlying reason why, beyond her conservative Southern upbringing, she reacts as she does to Clayton’s coming out and subsequent engagement is that she feels like, in a way, she’s losing him, too (at least the Clayton she thought she knew). “Mrs. George Devereaux” is so special because we, the viewers, finally get a glimpse of what George was like in the flesh, a man upon whom we can now graft all those stories Blanche has been sharing over the years. What a smart move on the production team’s part to bring back George (!) Grizzard, who had played George’s dead ringer brother Jamie in season five’s “That Old Feeling”, to portray George himself. It just clicks.
Regarding their respective romantic pasts, I think all four of these women are developed in ways appropriate to their characters: Dorothy had the hilarious love/hate dynamic with that pesky, but lovable sleaze Stan, Sal and Sophia’s marriage was given just enough charm and warmth to mean something, and Rose had Miles (though the writers more often than not chose to mine him for cheap laughs over anything really meaty). Charlie, I sense, is best encased in memory. Being the native St. Olafian he was, I imagine it would have been much harder for the writers to pull him off as living, breathing character had they ever chosen to depict him as they do George in “Mrs. George Devereaux”. It is of note that he is the only husband we never see on screen in any form, but it was probably for the best that he remains in our collective imaginations. I see Allen Ludden, and I like it that way!
Regarding the directorial shift, was Terry Hughes’ contract simply up with the show? I know that he went on to do many things after. Matthew Diamond does give season six a different (somewhat bland) feel, and I can see why he chose to go (or was phased out?) before the season’s end.
Hi, Izak! Thanks for reading and commenting.
Yes, Hughes left of his own volition. I believe Diamond only signed on for six months and left when his time was up; as THE GOLDEN GIRLS tried out several possible replacements, settling on the more comedically inclined Lex Passaris (an all-around better choice), Diamond was preparing to become the resident director for DREXELL’S CLASS, which premiered on FOX in the fall of 1991.
All very interesting — I agree, I much prefer Passaris! Can’t wait for your season seven coverage, Jackson! Thanks!
It’s coming. Stay tuned…
Hughes chose to take the opportunity to direct a feature. The ladies reportedly took his absence hard, particularly Ms. Arthur. (Ms. McClanahan was very funny in describing Bea Arthur’s responses to some of the interim directors they tried.) Passaris had worked on the show for some time already in other capacities, so in the end, they went with someone they knew.
Hi, Lee! Thanks for reading and commenting.
That’s right, and by the time Hughes announced his departure, all the cast was guaranteed for the following season — a fact that didn’t please Arthur, who felt she’d been duped.
Hey Jackson, would you ever consider doing ‘Amanda By the Sea’ for Wildcard Wednesday? Bea Arthur is hilarious in it.
Covered in November of last year, along with another FAWLTY TOWERS adaptation, PAYNE (1999, CBS), here: http://jacksonupperco.com/2015/11/04/from-brit-to-american-sit-adapting-fawlty-towers-for-the-yanks/
Sorry I didn’t realize you had covered it.
No need to apologize. I’m glad you’re interested!