The Ten Best THE GOLDEN GIRLS Episodes of Season Seven

Welcome to a new Sitcom Tuesday and the conclusion 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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The seventh and final season of The Golden Girls is the culmination of everything we’ve been discussing these past few weeks — that is, it’s the ultimate and most pure manifestation of the series’ positives and negatives during its “second era.” Like the last two, this season offers desperate stories, broad characterizations, and the mitigation of rampant mediocrity in favor of regular storytelling failures — all made possible by the seemingly schizophrenic fluctuations in quality engendered by the previously established burlesque tone and the characterization struggles within it. As with the season prior, there’s little change in the writing staff. In fact, there’s only one new writer — Kevin Abbott, replacing Philip Jayson Lasker — meaning that the seventh year is really not so creatively different from its predecessor. The prime delineation is that while many of the stories being crafted here are still too often rooted in their own premises instead of the characters themselves, last year’s focus on serialization is significantly downplayed. Accordingly, I tend to categorize the season not based on it’s storytelling (as I did last week), but by the tone and the quality of the laughs being delivered, or over-delivered, or under-delivered. This isn’t a story year; this is a style year — and that’s why it’s so uneven.

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Said style, as discussed upon its introduction by the new staff in Season Five, is even more conducive to extremes than the series had been experiencing at the beginning of its run (and that’s saying something, because based on the show’s Lear roots, such reactions were always anticipated). So it’s no surprise, given the broad nature in which this new staff began their first season, that the series would be building in this heightened direction, in which everything is grander — the style, the substance, and the responses elicited. Thus, with many of these writers coming into their third season, we find that everything they do has enlarged in scale: bigger attempts at humor (some of which work, some of which don’t), bigger attempts to reveal things about the characters (most of which don’t work, because they’re trying too hard with characters we know too well), and bigger outright story missteps (often dealing with character/logic problems). In fact, I think this season boasts some of the worst ideas out of the entire run, including a loud conspicuous bit involving Stan and a monkey, and episodes predicated so far from  — not even reality (if they were simply surreal, that could possibly remain connectable), but — common sense, that they’re getting close to embarrassing. (Are they really asking me to believe for 15 minutes that Blanche slept with Rose’s husband? Really? Or that Sophia would encourage Gloria to sleep with Stan? Double really?) I cringe a lot here — not as disdainfully as I do in Season Three, but more often and with greater sadness. These problems are foundational, related to the way these scripts are being written, and it’s clear the end is nigh.

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Well, that’s really only in the first half of the season, which I would qualify as essentially a disaster, and the lowest point in the history of the show’s run. Things actually pick up mid-season as the show gears towards its conclusion. You see, everyone knew going in that Bea Arthur would be leaving the series at the end of the year, and once it was confirmed officially that both she would indeed depart and Estelle Getty would be staying (a fact that wasn’t assured at the year’s start), the show decided to put more emphasis back on the characters and their relationships, hoping to craft a fine swan song both for Dorothy, and also for the other characters in relation to her. This deliberate focus on character elevates the year’s overall quality significantly, because there are actual gems here that are perhaps even better than the gems of the few years prior. (Once again, we are dealing with extremes; higher highs, lower lows.) And while common sense always remains in a reduced supply, when the show recognizes the need to keep its ideas simple, focusing on these four women and their relationships, we’re able to cash in on our seasoned emotional investment. That’s the nature of the final stretch of episodes. (In this regard, this season is very much like Cheers‘ last, which began very disappointingly and turned around at mid-season with a vigor too exciting and delicious to ignore. Both shows struggled for story — either rehashing old ideas or moving too far away from reality in search of them — only to return at the 11th hour to the things it valued most.) If only these intentions weren’t solely confined to the latter half of the season, this year may have been a contender.

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But how are the characterizations this time around? Well, the new team of writers has always had clear strengths and weaknesses. They’ve been great for Blanche. They know how to craft stories for her, they know how to give her emotional depth, and they know how to broaden her comedy without jeopardizing the character. (In fact, by being so attuned to the show’s tone, Blanche has managed to stay the most relatable — in spite of the surrounding lunacy at which she winks.) They’ve been hit-and-miss for Rose. They also know how to craft stories for her, they know that anchoring her in a regular romance gives her dimension (although they’ve struggled with how to write Miles — last year he was in the Witness Protection Program; this year’s he’s all of a sudden a skinflint), but they aren’t nearly as good at giving her comedy. That is, they’re always stepping over that delicate logic line with jokes that stretch her naive characterization too far. More often than in any other year, there are times that I wince at the jokes given to Rose. (One of the worst involves Rose literally “smelling rats.”) Meanwhile, the new writers have been good at deepening the relationships that Sophia shares with the other girls and treating her in scenes with a weight equal to theirs. But her stories are inconsistently enjoyable because they fluctuate between overly gaggy and overly sentimental as a result of her own depiction — middle ground is hard to find. Yet together, this season proves (intentionally), that this trio alone can deliver both genuine laughs and a unique emotionality based on shared history and easy chemistry. However, that result is slightly misleading, for while they can carry scenes, carrying stories looks to be challenging — because structurally, they need a Dorothy.

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These writers have always had a tremendous issue with Dorothy. They know she’s the star, they know to give her meaty stories, and they know how important her usage is to the show. However, they’ve never gotten her voice right. So, finally, in Season Seven, they no longer try. After years of struggling to find a characterization that seemed impossible to craft under these new terms, the show concedes defeat and simply begins drawing her with the same broad, zany and burlesque brush that it’s been using on the others. And because the writers retain her prominence — an odd combination of them giving her one last hurrah while moving her closer to the exit — Dorothy sort of becomes the show: reflecting its notions of aggrandized comedy and the unshackled nature of these evolved (or devolved, in her case) characterizations. As a result of the show no longer struggling with Dorothy, many fans find her depiction here comparatively refreshing. But I do not find her presentation laudable or worth more than sustained derision. For although Arthur seems to be enjoying herself for the first time in years and the show is actually able to deliver laughs for her character, the characterization is so disconnected from its roots that she’s both unrecognizable and ill-fitting. In other words, the show has always needed Dorothy to be grounded — that’s why she was its anchor — so by making her as goofy as her cohorts, the show permanently wrecks the ensemble. Now the girls take turns being the “sensible one” based on the demands of the story, with a definable core no longer in existence. And while we, along with the show (which is proud of being able to finally use her) still cling to the idea of Dorothy as said core, it’s just formality — based on memories of what was and a fear of what’s to come. We wonder: can the show carry on next year without her? Structurally, it still seems doubtful. But, aesthetically, I’d argue, it already has been…

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We’ll talk more about the spin-off in tomorrow’s Wildcard post on The Golden Palace, and my thoughts on the series finale are below. In the meantime, it’s also worth noting that this final season found the show moving from its regular ‪9:00 timeslot on Saturdays to ‪8:00, where it was one of three regular Witt-Thomas-Harris shows (cue several crossovers in two NBC themed nights — discussed below) and dropped from a seasonal rating of #10 to #30. I don’t think the rating plummet had any bearing on the show’s quality this year, or Arthur’s decision to depart (and thus end) the series, but, the drop in ratings did have an effect on the development of the spin-off. (Again, stay tuned for tomorrow…) Frankly, the show was ready to end. Quality had slipped, and while it always reinforced its above-average pedigree and often delivered “the goods,” these characters, particularly within this format, were growing tired. What else was there left to say about them? Not much… Nevertheless, it’s been a pleasure to discuss the show here on Sitcom Tuesdays; I find a lot to like in every season of the series — there’s much more to enjoy this year than in the final seasons of the last two shows we’ve covered here, for instance — and 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 might be a few surprises.

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Here are my picks for the ten best episodes of Season Seven. (They are in AIRING ORDER.) Note that 21/26 episodes this season are directed by Lex Passaris; those that have been selected and aren’t directed by Passaris 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 156: “The Case Of The Libertine Belle” (Aired: 09/28/91)

The girls go on a weekend murder-mystery retreat.

Written by Tom Whedon

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A classic example of the gimmicky premise, this installment finds the women going on a murder mystery retreat sponsored by Blanche’s museum, where in addition to the staged murder, there’s another “real murder” that needs solving as well (of course, we hold little doubt that it too is just performed). Apparently, the episode was a knowing parody of Murder, She Wrote, which starred Arthur’s former Mame co-star and good friend Angela Lansbury. But putting the high-concept story aside, one can appreciate how really funny this installment actually manages to be, with terrific character moments — Dorothy being the amateur sleuth is intensely rewarding — and several big laugh lines that help to elevate this offering from some of the other lesser entries that were produced and aired at the beginning of the season. Memorable, enjoyable.

02) Episode 158: “That’s For Me To Know” (Aired: 10/12/91)

Blanche learns that she’s not legally allowed to rent to three boarders.

Written by Kevin Abbott

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If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you’ll know that there’s a type of story away from which I wish sitcoms would shy — the ol’ “one character may have to leave (but it’s the middle of the season and we all know he/she won’t).” This offering sort of engages in that premise, but there are scenes in the story that overcompensate, specifically the voting bit where everyone thinks that Dorothy should leave. Meanwhile, the subplot of Dorothy trying to uncover the truth about an old photo of Sophia with a strange man leads to a revelation that, truthfully, is a lot to metaphorically swallow (desperation + odd continuity), but this pair is in want of these deeper moments, so there’s some merit. I’d also note that Abbott, a newbie, can craft a decent script if the story issues aren’t insurmountable. A very flawed outing, but likable.

03) Episode 166: “From Here To The Pharmacy” (Aired: 12/07/91)

Blanche can’t remember a returning soldier to whom she’s promised herself.

Written by Gail Parent & Jim Vallely

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I consider this entry to be among the most simple on today’s list — there’s no gaudy narratives, no distracting characterizations, and no tonal extremities. As a result, this episode affords us the chance to really appreciate just how comedic this crew can be when they’re not trying so hard. Parent, the only female on the staff, along with her partner Vallely, have been among the final era’s most consistent, imbuing their work with a quietness and a sanctity of relationship that makes these efforts stand apart. These qualities are most appreciated, especially here, when Blanche, who gets more emotional exploration in a story that looks to give her a recurring beau (but doesn’t eventuate into such), is at the helm. Best of all: there are some fine laughs along the way — both in the A-story and the subplot involving the other three girls. Underrated.

04) Episode 169: “Goodbye, Mr. Gordon” (Aired: 01/11/92)

Dorothy reconnects with an old teacher with whom she’s smitten.

Written by Gail Parent & Jim Vallely

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The primary plot of this episode has Dorothy reuniting with an old English teacher (James Callahan) on whom she had a big crush in school. He romances her and ultimately uses her to essentially do his work for him. It’s not a very enjoyable premise, and it derives much of its humor from Dorothy’s schoolgirl contortions, seemingly anachronistic to her usual behavior. (Of course, Dorothy’s been more excitable this season anyway, so much of this comedic potency is lost.) What really makes this episode a standout is the delicious subplot of Rose persuading Dorothy and Blanche to appear on a show together where, to all three of their surprise, the duo is portrayed as a lesbian couple. The idea is more funny than the execution, but because the laughs are there in support, it still works. For that scene alone, this is a seasonal hit.

05) Episode 170: “The Commitments” (Aired: 01/25/92)

Dorothy dates a Beatle impersonator and Blanche worries about her sex appeal.

Written by Tracy Gamble & Richard Vaczy

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With Dorothy now reflecting the show’s dubious sensibilities, this season finds her with the kookiest storylines; this is one that always comes to mind. The source of the story’s comedy again comes from the same place as the last: Dorothy falling all over herself with heretofore unseen giddiness over something that helps invoke the past. Above it was her regard for an old teacher; here it’s her youthful obsession with the Beatles. Meanwhile, the subplot is all about giving Blanche MORE depth, something these writers often do to counterbalance how big they’ve made everything else, and although this bunch does few things subtly, we all know they are both capable of writing for Blanche, and that McClanahan is capable of playing her. This isn’t a terrific entry, but it benefits from existing in a period of rejuvenation for the show.

06) Episode 171: “Questions And Answers” (Aired: 02/08/92)

Dorothy is excited when Jeopardy! has local auditions.

Written by Don Seigel & Jerry Perzigian

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Seigel and Perzigian, a duo who joined the series last season, have never been among my favorite writers. However, if they’re blessed with a good idea as foundation, they’re generally able to deliver it without much trouble. This episode is an example of a good idea; well, let me be more specific, the game show bit is a gimmicky idea: one we’ve seen on everything from The Odd Couple to Mama’s Family. But the concept itself is a guarantor of laughs, making it easier to write. (Dorothy on Jeopardy! — can you see what I mean about the show catering to her character in a way they hadn’t been able to do in years? Even if it’s cheap…) Also, this episode serves as a great place to bring up that the final year of this series has become a parade of guest stars — this one alone features both Alex Trebek and Merv Griffin. Fun — inartful — but fun.

07) Episode 173: “Journey To The Center Of Attention” (Aired: 02/22/92)

Blanche is jealous of the attention Dorothy receives at a local bar.

Written by Jamie Wooten & Marc Cherry

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My pick for the strongest episode of the final season, this outing has also become notable for being among the favorites of both Arthur and McClanahan, each of whom gets wonderful material to play. The script, by Cherry and Wooten, begins with a terrific story: Blanche encouraging Dorothy to join her at a local hangout, only to become jealous when Dorothy steals the attention by singing. For Arthur, she gets to sing and gets to be regarded as beautiful (something both actress and character always wanted to be). For McClanahan, this begets wonderfully humorous material — like her own disastrous attempt at a song — and continued growth. The final scene in the bathroom between the two ladies is probably the best material they ever get one-on-one on this series as Blanche finally pays Dorothy a sincere compliment. It’s a terrific scene, and fortunately, this great pathos doesn’t have to come at the expense of comedy. Also, there’s a subplot involving Rose and Sophia arranging the latter’s wake — but forgetting to tell the guests that Sophia’s still alive. Easy laughs, but still gratifying. A classic.

08) Episode 175: “A Midwinter Night’s Dream (II)” (Aired: 02/29/92)

Miles and Dorothy deal with the aftermath of their kiss.

Written by Tom Whedon

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The second half of an outing that aired as one hour in its original broadcast, this was part of a “Leap Day” themed night on NBC, made all the better by the fact that The Golden Girls existed in the same universe as two of the other shows that aired that evening, Empty Nest and Nurses, thus allowing all three shows to crossover and share minor story points. As the flagship, The Golden Girls got an extra half-hour (bumping a midseason replacement that had just been scratched) to kick off the evening. The episode, broad by design, benefits from an element of Shakespearian whimsy that helps to justify some of the out-of-character shenanigans. I believe Part II is better than Part I because there are more opportunities for the performers to make choices that help elevate the material, like White in the scene where she kisses the thief, and then in the one following, where she admonishes herself for being a “bad girl.” Also, this is one of the best uses of Miles, who, from the start, seemed more compatible with Dorothy.

09) Episode 178: “Home Again, Rose (II)” (Aired: 05/02/92)

Rose undergoes a triple bypass surgery.

Written by Jim Vallely | Directed by Peter D. Beyt

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Truthfully, I’m surprised to see this one here, as I think the idea of giving Rose a heart attack is awfully unfunny, no matter how strong the script that does it manages to be. But this outing is unforgettable for a scene where Rose imagines that all of the girls, who have had their heads cryogenically frozen, are resurrected — on platters of ice — 100 years later. It’s a unique scene and it makes the whole episode. I’m also quite fond of the scene in which Rose and her daughter talk before going into surgery, as the script is able to weave laughs into a really heavy moment with great care, sort of making up for the terribly preachy “we are family, even though we’re not related” theme with which we’re hit pretty hard. Part II is both more dramatic and comedic than Part I, which is nevertheless also recommended. Important, but well-handled.

10) Episode 179: “One Flew Out Of The Cuckoo’s Nest (I)” (Aired: 05/09/92)

Dorothy and Blanche’s uncle fake a whirlwind romance to get revenge on Blanche.

Written by Don Seigel & Jerry Perzigian

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As the first part of the hour-long series finale, it’s important to note that both parts are not written by the same writer(s), and that Part I is set two months before the events of Part II, allowing them to really feel like two separate entities. Part II, a de facto honorable mention, is all about the big event of Dorothy’s wedding, which allows Arthur to leave the show, and the other three girls to carry on together in some capacity. (As you all know, I am against BIG EVENT finales, and this is too much like that.) But Part I is more interesting, because it isn’t poisoned by the self-important storytelling. That’s not to say Part I isn’t ambitious; in fact, it’s even more ambitious, as the script has to take Dorothy and Blanche’s Uncle Lucas (Leslie Nielsen) from strangers to fiancés. But because the episode is allowed to have a strong relationship with its comedy, it actually works. As for what I feel about the finale developments as a whole, I like that Dorothy falls in love with Blanche’s uncle and gets married — I don’t like that it all happens in a single hour. (Wouldn’t it have been more buyable to see the two months elapse in real time? What if Part I happened in March and Part II in May? More story, more believability, less sensation.) ‘Tis a difficult job done — primarily in Part I — admirably.

 

Other notable episodes that narrowly missed this list include: “Room 7,” the closest to being highlighted above because I do think its intentions are character-rooted, even though its saddled with some of the worst depictions of Rose (and Sophia) that we’ve ever seen, and a Blanche story too ostentatious to effectively play, along with “Beauty And The Beast,” which has one of the funniest moments of the season (“What the hell goes on at night in this house?”), a fine guest star (Edie McClurg), but two flawed stories, “Old Boyfriends,” in which Ken Berry and Betty Garrett both guest star (that’s the prime draw — the stories are troublesome), and “Rose: Portrait Of A Woman,” which is burdened by a weak Rose A-story but an interesting subplot for Dorothy, who is better used here than elsewhere. Also, I’d like to mention the respective weaker halves of the three two-parters highlighted above, including the actual final half-hour, which surprisingly, has laughs, despite its suffocating self-reverence.  

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

“Journey To The Center Of Attention”

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Come back next Tuesday for the best from the first season of It’s Garry Shandling’s Show! And tune in tomorrow for a new Wildcard Wednesday post!

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22 thoughts on “The Ten Best THE GOLDEN GIRLS Episodes of Season Seven

  1. Another great list .. we hav the same MVP I like season better then the last . Looking forward to 2morrow’s on the Golden Palace. What do you think of “where’s Charlie?”

    • Hi, BB! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      I appreciate the inherent humor of the final scene in “Where’s Charlie?” but don’t find much to enjoy in the BULL DURHAM parody itself (that’s not something this series should be doing). I also think the Rose story is improperly handled — there’s a nice emotionality given its association with Charlie, but the script too often goes for the easy jokes with Rose, and I come away not liking her depiction. (It’s “honorable mention” quality, although other episodes here were more worth mentioning!)

  2. Terrific work, Jackson! Sitcom Tuesday makes my whole week. I don’t mind Dorothy’s characterization here as much as you do but I see what you mean and I agree with your selections (especially MVE). Eager to see your thoughts on THE GOLDEN PALACE, which I watched only occasionally when it was first run.

  3. I don’t know the seventh season well, but “Journey to the Center of Attention” is a series highlight, a rare instance of these writers using everything we’ve learned about the two women and their relationship to produce great comedy and something meaningful the way only a long-running, well-managed series can. Too bad we didn’t get more of this.

    The finale, both parts, is a dud to me. The out-of-the-blue story works against it, yes, and then requires that too much happen in 45 minutes, most of which is illogical. Worst of all, it’s just not funny. I admit to getting a little teary in the closing moments, but it’s diminished by everything that has come before it (for three years). It saddens me to see a once-glorious series limp to this mess of a conclusion.

    Jackson, I know you’re averse to ranked lists. But which series’ finales, planned or unplanned, do you consider satisfying?

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

      I like very few finales. I always say that I seek resolution in tone (or theme), not in story; I think too many shows conscious of their endings often prize narrative development over character development, which is ALWAYS anathema to my idea of what constitutes a smart situation comedy. (That’s why, on a smaller scale, I struggle with serialized season finales.) Also, I don’t want finales to function too much outside of what a typical installment of the series would be like — how can true closure be derived without first having a truthful representation of what’s being closed? A finale, just like a pilot, has to represent the series (either what it will do or what it has done). As always, I want character-driven laughs in a motivated story.

      I prefer any significant plot developments, even if they’re designed to show character growth, to occur in the months leading up to the end (if possible), so the actual last episode can properly illustrate the evolution that’s occurred to the characters in a relatively “normal” structure, without any grand story notions foisted upon the audience using too much fanfare and too little believability. Less is always more — and closure doesn’t necessarily require a lot of tangible change (or overwrought emotion — that’s anything but “typical”). Again, it all means nothing if the show can’t deliver character-driven laughs in a motivated story.

      As for finales I like, there are plenty from shows that never concerned themselves with resolution of any kind that function as solid episodes of their respective series — such as the last aired outings for GILLIGAN’S ISLAND and HE & SHE. I also like the endings of WKRP IN CINCINNATI and MARRIED… WITH CHILDREN, both of which delivered season finales with an enhanced gravitas, but because of their unknown fates at the time of production, never fell prey to any self-conscious or overbearing maneuverings: a perfect place to conclude each series (although the latter had one episode to burn-off weeks later, making it the actual aired finale — a similar fate befell the upcoming IT’S GARRY SHANDLING’S SHOW). Frankly, the more serialized the sitcom becomes, the less likely I am to enjoy what it posits as the final episode…

      Genuine finales that I truly appreciate would include those for THE ODD COUPLE, which is terrifically funny and gets away with being narrative-driven because there’s no other way to suggest a satisfying conclusion, CHEERS, which — despite being about 20 minutes too long and awful for the depiction of Rebecca, who behaves like a fool and gets a stupid BIG DEVELOPMENT in the process — leaves the characters in a great place: exactly where they’ve always been, and EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND, which feels more important than a typical episode of the series, but doesn’t actively do anything in the text to suggest its aggrandized purpose. (We’ll see in several years if it makes the season’s list…)

      • Agree. Deliberately planned finales almost always fail to satisfy as they are often overambitious, self-important, sentimental, and (not the writers’ fault) overhyped. I have come to enjoy CHEERS’ finale over time, even though I feel several characterizations are off (the Charles Brothers’ resetting them?) and admire the cleverness of the NEWHART finale, which was true to the series’ late-run tone but really not terribly funny until the final reveal. I appreciate the smart irony of the legendary MTM finale, but that final scene is corny and clumsy and painfully false.

        Generally, though, I think the best finales have been those that were unplanned, including WKRP’s and TAXI’s (“Grand Gesture”). I will also add — and I’m sure I’m alone in this — the SOAP finale, which frustrates fans with all its loose ends but, in my view, is a corker of an episode that makes me laugh and then leaves me wanting more, which is what SOAP did so well when it was in good form.

        Can’t wait to hear what you have to say about the much-ballyhooed SEINFELD and MURPHY BROWN finales. Yes, yes, I will stay tuned . . .

  4. Once again, great post and a great series. One of your best. You nailed my favorite and all the others I like, too. I’m going to have to watch “From Here To The Pharmacy” now because the memory of it is vague. Can’t wait for MURPHY BROWN soon!

    • Hi, Nat! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      MURPHY BROWN will start in mid-February. I don’t think this kind of examination has ever been afforded the series; should be fun…

  5. I have to admit that I did not like the series finale for Seinfeld at first. Actually I hated it. However overtime, I have seen it many times and now really enjoy it and understand it.

  6. I wanted to add that you did an excellent job on reviewing The Golden Girls. Thank you so much. It was such a great series and you did it justice.

    • Thanks, Smitty — I appreciate that nice compliment. Like CHEERS, THE GOLDEN GIRLS certainly got the royal treatment here as a result of my personal favor. Things are going to relax a bit with the next few shows (just like the ones covered in between the two aforementioned), before SEINFELD begins in April. However, I’m excited for all that’s to come over the next six months — each show has such unique rewards and I look forward, as always, to sharing my point-of-view!

  7. Witt and Thomas (but not Harris) also produced the forgettable WALTER & EMILY, which aired in the 8:30 slot for 13 weeks, giving them a two hour block of sitcoms.

    I’ll guess Sophia jumping off the roof is not a favorite moment of yours!

    • Hi, Jake! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      You’re correct on both counts; WALTER & EMILY was the show that concluded just before the Leap Day themed night, and I consider the aforementioned Sophia moment in “Room 7” to be a particularly egregious breach of the audience’s common sense.

  8. Hi hi, Jackson! (I don’t mean to sound like Phyllis, I swear!) I have to say, I’ve been most anxious to get your take on season seven; as I expected, it was worth the wait. I think the final year is a total blast, but I can’t deny its many blemishes. Thanks for breaking it all down one last time! Boy am I elated and contented that we are in unequivocal agreement on the last season’s MVE: “Journey to the Center of Attention” has GOT to take the cake! All I can say is, it does justice to Dorothy and Blanche’s complex, contradictory, and profound relationship. It speaks for itself. The episode rings so true to their characters that it could have been from the first couple of seasons and I wouldn’t have batted an eye. It’s of that quality. But the fact that it’s here, in the waning, twilight days of The Golden Girls makes it that much more affecting. And who doesn’t live for Bea Arthur as the chanteuse, belting out Berlin’s timeless “What’ll I Do?” and the saucy “Hard-Hearted Hannah (The Vamp of Savannah)”! My runner-up this time around was my favorite of Tom Whedon’s contributions “The Case of the Libertine Belle”; it never gets old.

    I’ve already remarked a couple of times on how I feel about Dorothy’s season seven depiction, but thanks to your dissection of her here I now am able to understand just WHY season seven does sing for me so. As the old adage goes, “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em”, right? The four women seem more “in sync” here than they have in years, and though Dorothy’s original rendering is (tragically) lost in the process, I openly admit that I’d rather savor this, their final outing with the silly, bawdier Dorothy than with the half-baked/unclear one of the last two seasons. At this point, they’ve ALL succumbed to the crazy, and I find it so exhilarating. It’s more than a bit jarring to look back on the immensely refined quality of the show’s first couple of seasons and then put on anything from season seven, but for what it is, I think it’s a joyride.

    The writers took quite a feeble, last-minute stab at trying to wrap things up and explain Dorothy’s so-called ‘growth’ in the finale, but it was really too little, too late. I took it as something to the effect of, “being around the other three women all these years has changed Dorothy, allowing her to open up like never before. No longer is she so severe, no longer is she afraid of life. She’s finally enjoying herself and letting it all hang out. And Rose also taught her how to tie a square knot!”..or thereabouts. It takes far too much ‘creativity’ on the part of the viewer to really get behind such forced, unearned logic. The writers also seem to overcompensate when it comes to Dorothy’s intellect; the direct quotations come to mind, from Raymond Chandler to Sigmund Freud to William Shakespeare..oh, and she absolutely smokes everyone on “Jeopardy!” to boot, in categories ranging from “Roman Law” to “Structural Engineering” to “Systems of Nonuniform Motion” (I know that was in the dream sequence, but still..) to “English History” and “The Book of Genesis” in the waking tryout. Betty White has always said that the show worked so well because the women were like four points on a compass. If Blanche was the physical, Rose the emotional, and Sophia the spiritual, then Dorothy was, naturally, the intellectual. While that crucial aspect to her character was kept intact, it strikes me as pretentious overkill. It’s like they’re beating the audience over the head with it. She’s cultured, we get it! It certainly makes for one bizarre dichotomy when attempting to rectify the colors of her character comprehensively (the off-color hijinks of “The Commitments”, anyone?). I guess Dorothy Zbornak is all the richer for it, but it almost seems like they’re making this stuff up as they go along.

    “Rose: Portrait of a Woman” is nice, though, because we at least get to see the Dorothy character one last time in her field of work (it made my honorable mentions, too!). “Goodbye, Mr. Gordon” I’ve always loved, for all four of the women get some glorious material. Plus, Dorothy graces us with the best of those random tag/coda scenes, uttering but two words: “too soon”. While I’ve never warmed to the series finale (Too quick, too sad, too slapped together..why couldn’t she have ended up Dorothy Noretti? “The Minnow would be lost..The Minnow would be lost..” Then again, serialization is always iffy with TGG), it is a sweet thought that weddings bookend the series. My favorite scene of either part of “Cuckoo” by far, though, is Stan and Dorothy’s final conversation in the limo. It strikes just the right tone in capturing Dorothy & Stan, and the characters needed that. Herb Edelman and Bea Arthur..what soul.

    Maybe more than anything, Sophia and Dorothy’s cutting, acerbic repartee makes the season for me. The name-calling, the comebacks, the sharp retorts..the cattiness is all so endearing to me. (“It’s real love, Mr. Benson” — “That’s For Me To Know” is DRIPPING with this stuff!) More than a bit over the top? Yes, but this IS season seven we’re talking about. The characters are comfy enough with each other (and the audience, in turn, with them) at this point that they can get away with pretty much anything, even if the dialogue traverses beyond the realm of realism. Rose sort of bounces back for me in season seven, at least in comparison to how poorly they drew her for most of season six. For that, I am most grateful! “Home Again, Rose” is the best two-parter of the season, in my opinion. The antics of legendary high school reunion crashers Cindy Lou Peeples, Susan Armstrong, Mrs. Martinez, and (best of all) Kim Fung-Toi — I’ll never get over it! “YOU’VE UPSET KIM FUNG-TOI!” Gail Parent’s final gift! Jim Vallely’s half is no slouch, either; from born-again Blanche to “WE’RE HEADS!” to “I AM the wolf, BOOM BOOM”, no complaints here. Most significantly, it brings home how much we all still love Rose by giving her a legitimate prominence for the last time. And of course, what more could be said about Blanche! Exquisite. Thank you for giving “From Here to the Pharmacy” and “The Commitments” their due — so many fans seem to have a fierce distaste for both episodes, but both are Blanche classics in my book.

    I wholeheartedly welcomed Kevin Abbott’s offerings here, as all three rank among my favorites. I’m guessing your sentiments on “The Pope’s Ring” are comparable to those for last year’s “How Do You Solve A Problem Like Sophia”? I always associate the two in my mind as they’re both absolutely ludicrous exploitations of Sophia’s Catholicism, but they never fail to do me in. I was actually taken aback by how many laughs there are in “The Pope’s Ring”, it’s a big season seven star for me. The greatest part of it, though, has to be towards the beginning with Dorothy and Blanche going at it over who got Rose the better birthday gift. Magnetic, true to the nature of their relationship — pure goodness. “A Midwinter Night’s Dream” is that classic one-act, all four characters engaged in equal measure, and for ONCE…I think the cast of Empty Nest is utilized to hilarious effect (“she laughed about it”). The cupcake talk is one for the ages.

    About Philip Jayson Lasker, I do wonder what happened to him. If IMDB is to be believed, his last (and only) credit since The Golden Girls was for a film in 2001 called “The Man From Elysian”. His only contribution to season six the middling “The Bloom is Off the Rose”, I didn’t think I missed him until I recalled the three fine scripts he penned in season five. “Questions & Answers” is by far my favorite episode to come from the minds of Seigel/Perzigian, and Mitchell Hurwitz really had me at “The Monkey Show” (at least for the first part). Marc Sotkin, I feel, shined brightest in season five, but I did count the third entry in his “Ebbtide” tetralogy, “Ebbtide VI: The Wrath of Stan” as an honorable mention on my end, if only for the shoe-shopping fiasco ALONE. Off to Shim-Shack’s..

    I’m afraid I have taken up FAR too much real estate in the comments sections for all of your Golden Girls posts! Thank you for always allowing and encouraging your readership to join in and contribute to the dialogue! Unfortunately I’ve only seen The Golden Palace in syndication once, and my memory of it is so vague now that I’m unable to comment at this time, but your reconsideration of it has me hungry to procure a bootleg. I just want to thank you, Jackson..(for being a friend!) Yours, the most erudite of voices, is an essential one for our much-maligned generation. Yes, we CAN be literate and thoughtful, contrary to popular belief. Thank you for what you do and for doing your HOMEwork every time you sit down to write. Your coverage of “The Golden Girls” has been of the highest order; an unqualified triumph, really. My expectations were met, and then (naturally) exceeded. Getting to digest these exceptional editorials week to week has been a blessing that I’ve never taken for granted. In fact, it wouldn’t be an overstatement to say that your work here, in which you so beautifully honored a show that brings me such bliss and escape and comfort, have been instrumental in ensuring my survival during the final stretch of this godawful election season. (I mean, was “Questions & Answers” really written twenty-five years ago? “A viable Democrat for President, GO!~”/”Mr. Griffin, PLEASE! You are the most beloved man in America. You are bright, you are charming, YOU…are the Anti-TRUMP!” Hey, the more things change….)

    But enough about politics. At least until February, that is. ;-) Until then, I will be waiting with bated breath for your impending evaluation of one of the most divisive and forgotten sitcoms of the last quarter century..this winter sure will be a good time to check back in with Motown-loving Murphy and the rest of the gang at FYI! (lest we forget Eldin)

    • Hi, Izak! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      I appreciate your kind words and am grateful to know you’re looking forward to MURPHY BROWN, which will launch in February following our look at MARRIED… WITH CHILDREN. While I don’t enjoy MURPHY BROWN (or any of the Diane English shows that will be discussed during this time) nearly as much as THE GOLDEN GIRLS, which earned an elevated amount of critical attention here (like CHEERS) due to my own personal favor, I’ve quite enjoyed tracking MURPHY BROWN’s creative trajectory and I look forward to sharing my thoughts — as always, I hold back no criticism.

      Regarding “The Pope’s Ring,” I think it has an amusing script, but it’s saddled with a story that stretches credulity from its narrative foundation. I actually think Abbott’s original conception of both plots (discussed in the Colucci book) could have made the excursion more poised for success, but as produced, the episode can’t overcome its story problems — specifically, (the lack of) believability.

  9. So do you think Bea made the right decision to leave (and did she leave on top – as Bea made a point in interviews)? Based on what you’ve pointed out about her character and how it was being written I would say yes but just to have another year with the four ladies instead of Golden Palace would have been ideal. Selfish isn’t it.

    • Hi, Matt! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      The show’s trajectory was downward — claiming the series was still “on top” when it concluded minimizes the descent that had already occurred. The only viable argument here is that the show wasn’t yet disgraceful and could still deliver moments of quality. In this regard, yes, THE GOLDEN GIRLS was still often enjoyable. But in the context of the series’ own lifespan, “top” would certainly not be a place I’d describe the final season. (However, I understand why Arthur said that — to rationalize her decision to draw the figurative line when she did and make it look as if this was the perfect time: not too soon nor too late. We’d do the same in her position.)

      Regarding Arthur’s decision to leave when she did, I think the sixth season made a very potent case for the show not being as good as it once was, so the only reason to stay much longer would have been financial — not creative. In fact, I don’t think any of the actresses (with the possible exception of McClanahan) could have made it through the sixth season believing that the series was as strong as it once was. So Arthur’s timing makes a lot of sense: one more season for the writing to recover and give the show a decent exit, and then goodbye.

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