The Golden Girls, a sitcom that aired on NBC from 1985 to 1992, is currently on American television—specifically the cable channel Hallmark—three hours every weekday. At six episodes a day, you could watch the entire series in about six weeks, at which point Hallmark would pop in the disc one of their complete series box set and start it all over again. This process—the network’s always-on approach—could and should be done forever, because The Golden Girls is the best sitcom of all time.
As someone who’s never seen dozens of beloved sitcoms that others would argue are better, I’m far from qualified to make that kind of statement, but I’m plenty comfortable doing so. Golden Girls is the best sitcom of all time, it is the funniest sitcom of all time, and I am not wrong about either of those things.
30 years after its premiere, The Golden Girls can still make me laugh out loud. That timelessness has a lot to do with its expertly delivered one-liners. An episode is nothing more than a series of them strung together, 22 minutes of jokes, jokes, jokes. And—apart from stray mentions of forgotten icons like Fess Parker (was he actually an icon?) and products like Shinola (I’ve had to Google that more than once)—the writers generally steered clear of references to current events or popular culture. This was, after all, a situation comedy, and their situation—four horny, single women of a certain age living together in Miami, FL—is funny enough to support just about any half-baked plot thrown at it.
Half-baked plots include:
- The girls need $10,000 for something.
- The girls prepare to meet the pope.
- The girls let a recently released convict into their home.
- The girls go on a gameshow.
- The girls go on another game show.
- The girls work at a pizza stand on the beach.
- The girls are held hostage by a mentally ill Santa Claus.
- The girls are put in jail for prostitution.
- The girls deal with Dorothy’s anti-Semitic new friend.
By finding humor in their age while simultaneously refusing to act it, the women of The Golden Girls found they could have it both ways. They made jokes about Metamucil and being near death, but went on as many dates and got into as much trouble as their more youthful network TV counterparts. Just take a look at the plots of episodes from its first season: a man dies of a heart attack in Rose’s bed after they have sex (for the second time in her life) and the others must convince her she’ll one day have sex with another man without killing him. In another, Dorothy is afraid of death, so she escapes a hospital before having surgery on her foot.
But no matter how strong the plot or one-liner might seem in the writers’ room, it requires an equally talented performer to carry it out. Luckily, The Golden Girls had four. And in just the following clips—one for each of them—I will prove to you just how wonderful this show still is.
First billing went to Beatrice Arthur as Dorothy Zbornak. She was the straight man of the house, the voice of reason between three pairs of deaf ears. Hers was a performance of reactions, and her funniest moments were often those silent responses to the inanity surrounding her. No one on the show could say more with her eyes.
Here she is getting revenge on a Bad Man:
Then there was Betty White as the small town nitwit, Rose Nylund. In one of the show’s more brilliant bits of characterization, Rose is slowly revealed throughout the course of the show to have had more sex than all of them—as she and her husband had sex every night, at the same time, for the entirety of their marriage. It’s just one of the many surprises before her oft-lampooned bleached blonde exterior.
Here’s one of her best St. Olaf stories:
Rue MacLanahan’s Blanche came next. She’s gifted with some of the show’s best jokes—often ones about her sexual habits. (Her initials are B.E.D.) But, even as a widow in her 50s fucking different men every week, the show refused to shame her. Her romantic escapades were fun—almost aspirational—and if one of her roommates ever called her a slut, she called them a name right back, and they’d be best friends again.
Here’s a scene where she discusses her childhood:
And then, of course, there was Estelle Getty as Sophia, the Shady Pines escapee who always spoke her mind unless Dorothy remembered to cover up her mouth. She grew up in Sicily, but talks like she’s from Brooklyn. She was an octogenarian played by a woman in her early sixties. She may or may not be in the mob.
And this is her best story:
If you remain unconvinced, I don’t know what to tell you apart from, “You’re very wrong and need to spend some time at Shady Pines.” If you’re smart and interested in watching more, the box set is often pretty cheap on eBay. (I think I paid $40 a year or two ago.) Additionally, I’ve ranked every episode for your reference.
I could go on about how the show, which premiered the year Alison Bechdel introduced her now famous test, was groundbreakingly feminist. Or how it tackled social issues like same-sex marriage, AIDS, and Alzheimer’s with admirable and intelligent bluntness. But, really, I love it because it makes me feel good. Always. Things get old. People (including three of the show’s lead actors) die. But The Golden Girls is always funny.
Though their living arrangement has never made sense to me (there is, based on what we know about Blanche and her dead husband George, no good reason for her to be renting that house out), I’m so thankful that these four wonderful women decided to share a home and make us laugh. 30 years later, they’re as successful as ever.
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Image via Disney.