Today marks the 35th anniversary of the pilot episode of The Golden Girls airing on NBC. The show was an instant sensation, winning 11 Emmys and ranking among the top 10 most watched shows in America for its first six seasons. In the decades that followed, its popularity has somehow only grown. In honor of its monumental anniversary, I curated a list of the show’s 35 best episodes for your binge-watching pleasure.
A Very Brief History of The Golden Girls
The Golden Girls premiered on September 14, 1985. As most people know, the sitcom centered on four “mature” women living in Miami, Florida. Blanche Devereaux was a former Southern belle whose appetite for the opposite sex had become voracious following the death of her husband. (She was played by Rue McClanahan, who was most famous at the time of the show’s premiere for her co-starring role on the revolutionary 1970s sitcom Maude). Looking for roommates to share in her living expenses, Blanche invited two women to move into her bungalow’s spare bedrooms. One was a fellow widow, the naive, sweet-natured, perpetually optimistic Minnesotan Rose Nylund (Betty White, who had already had decades of success in television, most notably her Emmy-winning role on The Mary Tyler Moore Show). The other was recently divorced, short-tempered, tough-as-nails Brooklyn native Dorothy Zbornak (Beatrice Arthur, a Tony winner for Mame and an Emmy-winner for playing Maude on the eponymous sitcom that co-starred McClanahan.) Dorothy’s elderly mother Sophia moved in with them following a fire at her nursing home on the pilot episode. Sophia was a Sicilian spitfire who had reportedly experienced “a stroke that destroyed the tact cells in her brain.” She was brought to life by the diminutive but ferocious theater star Estelle Getty (who was by far the least well-known of the quartet when the show premiered).
Over the course of 180 episodes, the quartet went through countless paramours, bickered and teased each other ruthlessly, and confronted a stunning array of controversial social issues (including gay marriage, euthanasia, drug addiction, elder abuse, HIV stigma, sexual harassment, homelessness, polygamy, prostitution, artificial insemination, and teen pregnancy). As impressive as the show’s willingness to tackle these issues on primetime network television in the 1980s and 1990s was, it somewhat obscures the fact that the very premise conceived by creator Susan Harris was revolutionary in and of itself. Name another show — of any genre or time period — that featured multiple female characters who were senior citizens, sexually active, and financially independent. The list is short. And it was empty before The Golden Girls premiered.
The show was a runaway hit when it first premiered and remained so for its seven-season run. It was one of the top 10 most watched shows on television for its first six seasons. It won 11 Primetime Emmy Awards from 58 nominations, including two for Outstanding Comedy Series and one for each of its four stars. (Only two other comedy series in history have managed to win an Emmy for each member of its ensemble — All in the Family and Will & Grace.) It also won four Golden Globes (including three for Best Television Series — Musical or Comedy), two Directors Guild of America Awards, one Writers Guild of America Award, two Viewers for Quality Television Awards, four American Comedy Awards, and a People’s Choice Award. It also prompted two direct spin-offs — the long-running Empty Nest and the short-lived follow-up series The Golden Palace (after Arthur decided to end her run as Dorothy, the other three women opened a hotel in Miami).
The Golden Girls featured a flawless ensemble comprised of four comic geniuses at the height of their powers. To me, the heart and soul of the show always belonged to Bea Arthur’s Dorothy. She was by far the show’s most relatable and nuanced character, with her intimidating stature, confident swagger, and sharp wit serving as a front for her deep well of insecurities. She had the lion’s share of the show’s most memorable comic and dramatic moments, as well as the most notable character development.
But every now and then, I revisit one of the countless episodes where Rue McClanahan’s Blanche got a chance to shine, with her voracious appetite for men, over-the-top southern drawl, epic vanity, and righteous indignation and become convinced that she was the real MVP. Then Betty White launches into a maddeningly hilarious story about her hometown of St. Olaf, Minnesota, or shows her unlikely competitive side and I wonder why she didn’t win the Emmy every year. And then there’s Estelle Getty jumping into the conversation with a takedown so vicious and inspired that it makes me wonder how Getty and the writers scored so few Emmys.
Inevitably, but tragically, the show legacy grew each time one of its beloved stars passes away. Estelle Getty passed away from Lewy Body Dementia at the age of 84 on July 22, 2008. Beatrice Arthur succumbed to lung cancer at the age of 86 on April 25, 2009. Rue McClanhan died at the age of 76 from a brain hemorrhage on June 3, 2010. Miraculously, the remarkable Betty White continues to thrive. She is a few months shy of her 99th birthday and is still booking acting gigs.
The show also featured some very memorable recurring characters (most notably Herb Edelman as Dorothy’s ex Stan Zbornak and Harold Gould as Rose’s paramour Miles) and an impressive roster of guest stars that included contemporary legends (e.g., Bob Hope, Dick Van Dyke, Burt Reynolds) and relative unknowns that would go on to become big stars (e.g., George Clooney, Quentin Tarantino).
Since the end of its run (and the runs of all its spin-offs) The Golden Girls has lived on in syndication, most notably on the cable networks Lifetime and the Hallmark Channel, where it has served as a centerpiece of the networks’ programming. The show is currently available in its entirety to stream on Hulu. Thanks to the combination of its timeless brilliance and the widespread availability of its reruns, the show has been embraced by a whole new generation. Currently, you can buy countless Golden Girls-themed goodies, including clothing items, crafts, books, figurines, and even board games (my favorite being The Golden Girls themed edition of Clue where you have to determine who ate the last slice of cheesecake instead of who committed a murder). Numerous tributes to the show continue to be staged, including a recent reimagining of the series with legendary black actresses and numerous stage shows (usually starring drag queens). But as fun as these off-shoots are, the main attraction for fans is still the 180 (mostly) priceless half hours that the show produced during its legendary run.
Below, I count down the 35 best episodes in honor of the show’s 35th anniversary.
The 35 Best Episodes of The Golden Girls
I have watched the complete series of The Golden Girls in chronological order twice and scrupulously rated and catalogued the episodes. I have also seen each episode several times in a far less systematic way. What I have done below is picked my vote for the 35 best episodes. My list is based not on which episodes had the most iconic scene, biggest laugh, or touching moment, but rather which episodes had that perfect combination of brilliant acting, razor-sharp dialogue, clever plotting, and crisp pacing that defined the show’s greatness. I considered ranking them, but that proved far too hard. So here they are in chronological order, catalogued for your next binge.
“The Triangle” (Season One). Unlike most of the show’s early episodes, this one doesn’t tackle any big issues or reveal much about the ladies. What it does is provide a showcase for all four to share their fabulous chemistry. When Dorothy starts dating Sophia’s doctor, she becomes blinded to the fact that he made a pass at Blanche and lashes out at Blanche viciously when she tries to warn Dorothy. What results is a very realistic fight that is well-developed and features an absolute classic turn by Betty White when Rose tries to resolve it. Further adding to this episode’s greatness is the fact that it is the first official “Picture it, Sicily” story and the first real Saint Olaf story.
- Favorite Lines: Rose: “Blanche and I were just going to have some coffee. Would you care to join us?” Dorothy: “Frankly, Rose, I would rather use Willie Nelson’s hairbrush.” Blanche: “Why must you attack everything Southern?”
“A Little Romance” (Season One). The series’ first masterpiece, this hilarious, farcical outing centers on the simplest sitcom setup: Rose dates a little person and, when confronted with this news, everyone’s attempts to not act awkwardly fails miserably. Being The Golden Girls, the situation is milked for hilarious misunderstandings and perfectly delivered puns and one-liners, while also being used for poignancy. Further solidifying this episode’s genius is the dream sequence, which on another show may have just been fanciful filler, but here acted out the fantasies of Rose’s head with hilarious heightened reality and farcical chaos. This won a well-deserved Emmy for its script and is a real highlight of the first season.
- Favorite Lines: Blanche: “[He analyzed] that recurring dream I had where I am running naked through a train, tunnel after tunnel being chased by a sweaty body builder. He thinks it’s sexual.” Dorothy: “Thinks? Blanche, you smoke a cigarette after that dream!”
“In a Bed of Rose’s” (Season One). Another wonderful gem in Season One, this episode gives Betty White her best showcase yet as her new boyfriend dies right after having sex with her, just like her husband did. The fallout is alternately hilarious and poignant in the scenes when the body is discovered and Rose goes to tell his wife. The fact that death is treated so cavalierly is jarring if you don’t think about their age, but the script and performances here will make you buy just about anything. Also, The Golden Girls perfects another stock formula here: starting off with a hilarious conceit, veering into weighty territory with light drama, and then swinging back in for a hilarious finale. The final scene between Rose and the girls is flat out hilarious and one of the most memorable of Season One. This episode won White her first and only Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series and it’s a win that’s virtually impossible to argue with.
- Favorite Lines: Blanche: “What exactly do you do in bed, Rose?” Rose: “Nothing, I do nothing!” Blanche: “Maybe that’s it. They have to do all the work!”
“Adult Education” (Season One). One of the most one-liner and belly laugh-heavy episodes of Season One, this exquisitely written outing features the entire cast at the top of their game. In a very strong plot line dealing with sexual harassment, Blanche has to contend with whether to sleep with a professor to get an “A” and in a much lighter subplot the other girls try to get Frank Sinatra tickets. It is all just pitch perfect with nearly a laugh a second and the perfect chemistry between the four stars really shining.
- Favorite Lines: College Dean, reviewing the sexual harassment form: “Life isn’t fair. I should know. I am 40 years old and until today I have never heard of 7B!” Blanche: “Well I’ve known about it for some time and as far as I’m concerned, you can do it to yourself.”
“The End of the Curse” (Season Two). Everything works perfectly in this masterful second season opener that ranks among the finest episodes the series ever produced. Rue McClanahan earned her first (and, sadly, only) Emmy for the role of Blanche Devereaux with a performance of enormous range and impact as she sinks into major depression after discovering that she is not in fact pregnant but going through menopause. Even the seemingly disposable subplot about mink breeding (yes, you read that correctly) garners huge laughs and ends up tying in perfectly to the theme of Blanche’s plot line. In 24 surprisingly non-preachy and hilarious minutes, the show touches on a host of issues rarely depicted on television at the time and never for a minute sacrifices the character-based comedy.
- Favorite Lines: Rose: “Spanish fly is not a fly?” Dorothy: “No it’s a beetle” Rose: “It’s a fly, but they call it a beetle? How do they know it’s Spanish?” Dorothy: “Because it wears a little sombrero!”
“Ladies of the Evening” (Season Two). One of the most iconic and funniest episodes of the show’s run, this episode centers on the girls winning tickets to meet Burt Reynolds. Classic farce ensues involving termites, a hotel-cum-brothel, and the police mistaking the three golden girls for madams. Every joke works hilariously, with Betty White especially on the top of her game panicking about her future life as a criminal and then lamenting her tragic loss of the Butter Queen title as a child. Things flow along hilariously right up to the shocking climax, which involves a betrayal by Sophia and a guest appearance by Reynolds himself. This is light as a feather but it’s Golden Girls comedy at its very, very best.
- Favorite Line: Sophia: “Jealousy is a very ugly thing, Dorothy. And so are you in anything backless.”
“It’s a Miserable Life” (Season Two). Another brilliant outing that cements the beginning of The Golden Girls’ second season as one of the greatest runs of episodes of any sitcom in history, this episode features a single and very memorable plot line: the death of neighbor Freda Claxton. After trying to suck up to her, a fed up Rose tells her to “drop dead” — and she promptly does. The girls then hold a funeral for her that veers dangerously close to sentimentality, but the writers pull a bait-and-switch by delivering a wickedly clever climax. This is an excellent ensemble effort featuring a very witty script and fantastic work by all of the women.
- Favorite Line: Sophia: “Mrs. Claxton is a miserable scum-sucking crank who gives nice old ladies like me a bad name.”
“Isn’t It Romantic?” (Season Two). This very memorable outing is their first to really tackle homosexuality (still quite taboo in the mid-1980s) and does so in a very clever way. When Dorothy’s gay friend from college comes to visit, she falls for a clueless Rose. The result features one of the most hilarious scenes in the show’s run (Blanche confusing Lebanese people with lesbians) and one of the most poignant (the final scenes with Rose and Jean). It is a testament to the writing of this show that hot button issues like thisy could be introduced with grace, elegance, humor, and poignancy. This is a real gem of an episode and does what The Golden Girls did best.
- Favorite Lines: Blanche: “I’ve never known any [lesbians] personally, but isn’t Danny Thomas one?” Dorothy: “Not Lebanese, Blanche. A lesbian!”
“Big Daddy’s Little Lady” (Season Two). This episode contains one of the silliest but most memorable plot lines of the show’s run: Dorothy and Rose trying to write a song together about Miami. A seemingly disposable story is made into classic Golden Girls with the women’s amazing chemistry, some great dialogue, and even a musical number. The other subplot isn’t quite as memorable but works smashingly well with Blanche’s dad (aka “Big Daddy”) coming to Miami to show off his fiancé, who is even younger than Blanche. The whole episode is pretty predictable, but it sure is a lot of fun getting to the predictable end.
- Favorite Lines: Dorothy: “Who the hell says ‘thrice’?” Rose: “It’s a word” Dorothy: “So is intrauterine, but it does not belong in a song” Rose (singing): “Miami, you’re cuter than/ an intrauterine”
“The Actor” (Season Two). There is nothing emotionally resonant, novel, or particularly clever in this straightforward farce, but it is one of the most memorable plot lines and funniest episodes of the show’s run. When a suave actor comes to town to perform in the community theatre, he romances each of the three girls separately — with hilarious results. It’s all slick and predictable, but it’s absolutely hilarious and an inspired use of the ensemble.
- Favorite Line: Rose: “I feel so common…so cheap…so used. Blanche, how do you usually deal with that?”
“A Piece of Cake” (Season Two). This wonderful flashback episode is a nice change of pace that gives each of the ladies moments to shine. Each of the four flashbacks work beautifully, with Arthur at her slow burning best when Rose arranges her a birthday party at Mr. Ha Ha’s Hot Dog Hacienda, McClanahan at her most ridiculous when she laments getting older but learns to enjoy her surprise party, Getty gets a chance to stretch her acting muscles in a surprisingly effective flashback that heads back thirty years, and White is positively heartbreaking with her beautiful monologue that takes place on the birthday before she moved to Miami. Although it may be less gut-busting than many of their best, it is experimental and poignant and a beautiful cap to the wonderful second season.
- Favorite Lines: Rose: “Back where I come from, most people won’t eat store bought cakes.” Dorothy: “Rose, where you come from, most people live in windmills and make love to polka music.” Rose: “Stop it, Dorothy! You’re making me homesick.”
“Old Friends” (Season Three). This alternately hilarious and heartbreaking season premiere is a great start to the season. The two main plot lines are very different in tone but balance each other well. In the first, Blanche accidentally gives away Rose’s beloved teddy bear to a little girl who then holds him for ransom. The storyline is hilarious from start to finish and features a great ending. The other plot line is light on the laughs but very heavy on the heart with Sophia developing a close attachment to a man she meets on the boardwalk who she and Dorothy slowly discover has Alzheimer’s. It’s remarkably poignant and Getty does some of her most nuanced work here.
- Favorite Lines: Dorothy: “Ma, where are you going?” Sophia: “Down to the boardwalk. I like to watch the old men rearrange themselves when they come out of the water.”
“Bringing Up Baby” (Season Three). This light-as-a-feather screwball farce of an episode is one of their greatest instances of pure comedy. The ridiculous setup features Rose inheriting her late uncle’s prized pig and the other ladies letting it stay in the house because they get a $100,000 check when it dies. What results is a series of hilarious puns, desperate breakdowns, manic performances, and flat-out brilliant writing. Every minute works perfectly.
- Favorite Lines: Dorothy: “Why didn’t you call me?” Sophia: “I tried, but every time I put in a dime and dialed a condom came out. I have five in my pocket. Here, Dorothy, it’s a lifetime supply.”
“Three on a Couch” (Season Three). One of the most genius episodes of the show’s run, this hilarious outing features the four women going to therapy to figure out how to improve their living situation because they are all at each other’s throats. Four classic flashbacks occur, in which Dorothy kicks her scared roommates out of the room, Sophia tells a ridiculous Sicily story about pepperoni, Blanche tries to make an ailing Dorothy perk up for a double date, and — in one of the show’s best sequences — Rose accidentally puts Dorothy’s employment ad in the personals section. Solidifying the episode’s brilliance is the ending, which finds the therapist telling them that the solution is to part ways, but the girls refusing to. It’s hilarious, poignant, and perfectly structured.
- Favorite Line: Dorothy, after discovering that Rose accidentally submitted her employment ad in the personals section of the newspaper: “My ad is right beneath one that says ‘History Professor seeking Oriental woman who is into Wesson Oil and bears a resemblance to Florence Henderson’!”
“My Brother, My Father” (Season Three). This classic outing may have won Bea Arthur her sole Emmy for The Golden Girls, but it is actually more of an ensemble gem than it is a showcase for Arthur. Sophia’s brother, a Sicilian priest, arrives in Miami to pay a visit to Stan and Dorothy on their 40th wedding anniversary, prompting Stan and Dorothy to pretend that they are married. Meanwhile, a deadly hurricane is coming in and Blanche and Rose are cast as nuns in a local production of The Sound of Music. It’s hilarious farce and an important milestone in Dorothy and Stan’s complicated relationship, which is a through-line from the pilot to the series finale.
- Favorite Lines: Stan: “Hello Mama Bear. Papa Bear is back in the cave.” Dorothy: “I could vomit just looking at you.”
“Yes, We Have No Havanas” (Season Four). The hilarious Season Four premiere has two equally brilliant plot lines. The first features Rose trying to get her high school diploma by enrolling in Dorothy’s GED class with hilarious results (not since The Producers has the Third Reich been put to such strong comic effect). The second features Blanche and Sophia dating the same man and engaging in all out war. Both women are brilliant and it unleashes the best (and funniest) sides of both characters. But the real star here is the wickedly clever script that packs more belly-laughs and sharp one-liners into one episode than most shows produce in a season nowadays.
- Favorite Lines: Blanche: “If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go take a long bubble bath in just enough water to cover my perky bosoms.” Sophia: “You’re only going to bathe in an inch of water?”
“Scared Straight” (Season Four). This episode is technically one of the “very special” episodes that tackled important issues that were especially common during the show’s first two seasons. But what is so wonderfully refreshing here is that the “issue” is not played for melodrama, but instead for mature character development and clever wit. When Blanche’s brother comes to town and announces that he is gay, Blanche spirals and McClanahan does some truly wonderful work.
- Favorite Lines: Blanche: “They are just two little words, but they are the hardest words for me to say.” Rose: “Not tonight?”
“The Auction” (Season Four). This hilarious outing has two of the most classic scenes in the show’s run — the cabana beach towel fight between Dorothy and Blanche and the auction that the girls screw up — and is held together by a very witty, fast-paced plot line that has all of the girls in top form. The episode is pure joy and big laughs from Rose’s bitchy opening lines to Sophia’s clever wrangling at the end.
- Favorite Lines: Blanche: “Wait a minute, Rose. Is that my Cabana Club beach towel you have there?” Rose: “Is it this one with the naked man and woman being swept up in the waves?” Blanche: “Yes, that’s it. You can’t use this towel.” Dorothy: “Blanche, Blanche, it’s an emergency. We’ll replace it next week.” Blanche: “Oh, no, you cannot replace this towel. There are too many fond memories attached to this towel.” Dorothy: “Blanche, please. I am in no mood to hear about the parade of endless sexual encounters that you have experienced up and down the Florida coastline, with only this towel between your hot flesh and the cold, wet sand!” Blanche: “I brought my son, Skippy, home from the hospital in this towel, Dorothy.” Dorothy: “You’re lying, Blanche.” Blanche: “Damn, you’re good!”
“The Impotence of Being Earnest” (Season Four). This brilliant episode discusses a touchy subject — Rose being dismayed that her boyfriend won’t “put out” only for her to realize he is struggling with impotency — with audacious comedy. Betty White gives an absolutely wonderful performance as she tries to seduce Ernie, awkwardly reacts to his news, and then helps him get his groove back. It all leads to a surprising and very amusing twist at the end. The other women do fine supporting work but this is White’s show and she runs with it.
- Favorite Lines: Blanche: “You gave him back his manhood!” Rose: “If he can find it, he can have it. That man is probably the worst lover I have ever had.” Blanche: “I’ll get the ice cream!” Dorothy: “I’ll get the cheesecake!” Sophia: “I’ll get the Etch-a-Sketch. At my age you need a visual aid.”
“Love Me Tender” (Season Four). We see Bea Arthur as we have never seen her before in this episode in which Dorothy enters a sex-filled and substance-less relationship with a diminutive man named Eddie. John Fielder is hilarious as the depressed, mousy Eddie who is apparently a sex machine and Bea Arthur has a field day playing the horny, loose cannon version of Dorothy. The whole plot line leads to a classic sitcom finale. The episode’s subplot, about Blanche and Rose being “pals” to motherless girls is appropriately amusing and given short shrift.
- Favorite Lines: Rose: “I’ll never forget when they performed at our talent show right after the herring juggling act.” Blanche: “You mean to tell me that somebody actually juggled herring?” Rose: “No! It was the herring that did the juggling. Little Ginsu knives. Really dangerous, I mean one false move and they could have filleted themselves.” Sophia: “I hate you.”
“Sophia’s Choice.” (Season Four). This strikingly complex and moving episode shows The Golden Girls at its most poignant, sophisticated, and groundbreaking without ever sacrificing the laughs. When Sophia’s friend from Shady Pines gets sent to the even worse nursing home in town, the girls go on a crusade to make things better, which results in a greater understanding of what’s wrong with society and the facing of their own mortality. If that sounds dire and depressing, it partially is, but Estelle Getty’s hilarious turn and Blanche’s subplot about getting breast implants (which is tied in nicely) raise the comedy to typically Golden levels.
- Favorite Lines: Blanche: “He was happier than a Kentucky yearling frolicking in bluegrass as high as a hoot owl’s perch in — ” Dorothy: “In English, Jethro! In English!”
“Sick and Tired (Part Two)” (Season Five). Everything that The Golden Girls does brilliantly is done in this episode. First there is Dorothy’s Chronic Fatigue Syndrome storyline, which tackles an important issue with wit and grace and allows for the fantastic Dorothy tell-off at the end of the episode. Second there is Blanche acting particularly loopy in the priceless sleep deprivation plot line, showing McClanahan’s true gift for comedy that is nearly unmatchable. Third there is Rose rising above her ditzy dim-wittedness and becoming a force to be reckoned with. And, finally, there is Sophia with her rapid switching between senility and sharp wit. This is a truly master class episode from beginning to end and is as good as The Golden Girls gets.
- Favorite Lines: Dorothy: “Dr. Budd, I came to you sick. Sick and scared. You dismissed me… You made me feel crazy, like I had made it all up. You made me feel like a child, a fool, a neurotic who was wasting your precious time. … I suspect if I was a man, I might have been taken more seriously and not told to go to a hairdresser. … I don’t know where you doctors lose your humanity, but you lose it. If all of you at the beginning of your careers could get very sick and very scared for a little while, you would probably learn more from that than anything else. You better start listening to your patients. They need to be heard. They need caring, they need compassion, they need attending to. You know, someday Dr. Budd, you’re going to be on the other side of the table. And as angry as I am and as angry as I always will be, I still wish you a better doctor than you were to me.”
“Love Under the Big Top” (Season Five). If only the producers of so many of the last decade’s sitcoms could sit down with a tape of this episode and get a lesson in how you use a superstar guest, the state of television comedy would be all the better. TV legend Dick Van Dyke gives a hilarious performance as a top attorney dating Dorothy who really wants to be a clown and join the circus. The episode’s subplot, about Blanche and Rose getting involved in an animal rights demonstration, also has great moments and is woven in perfectly with the main plot line.
- Favorite Lines: Rose: “Twenty envelopes and you’re ready to quit? Blanche, we joined the Friends of Sea Mammals for a reason. You are so unmotivated.” Blanche: “When I joined this mammals with blowholes thing, I didn’t expect to be carrying picket signs on some grungy dock. I was expecting a fundraiser/cocktail party with Chinese lanterns and Portuguese, no Hispanic, waiters in tight black pants and we hire a band to play Phish songs in pirate suits with muscles bulging.” Rose: “Your mouth is watering now, Blanche. Keep licking.”
“Triple Play” (Season Five). This farcical, ensemble gem is their best episode in ages and returns much of the spark that has been missing with a wacky, frenzied setup that puts all four women together in one setting during a compressed time period. Blanche hatches a scheme to get men that goes wildly awry, Dorothy catches her mother stealing from the U.S. government, and Rose meets Miles’s daughter. The script is wonderful and the women’s chemistry is stellar.
- Favorite Lines: Blanche: “Mama Devereaux was dead-set against me and George marrying. She wanted him to marry a virgin.” Rose: “How did she know you weren’t?” Sophia: “Maybe it was all those ‘Honk if you’ve had Blanche’ bumper stickers.”
“Like the Beep Beep Beep of the Tom Tom” (Season Six). The fifth season was a terrific showcase for the character of Blanche Devereaux and Rue McClanahan gives another fantastic performance in this episode as Blanche has to have a pacemaker put in and out of fear swears off sex. Most of the episode is really just a set-up for Sophia to make a series of hilarious jokes about Blanche being a slut, but it is more than that. Blanche’s anxieties are very real and seeing her struggle with losing something so central to her identity is very interesting. Then there is the hilarious, but barely-there subplot about Rose trying out new diet techniques, which ups the laughs even more.
- Favorite Lines: Blanche: “I’ve made a decision. Blanche Devereaux is giving up sex.” Sophia: “And what does that do to the morale of the boys overseas?”
“An Illegitimate Concern” (Season Five). Blanche believes a stalker to be madly in love with her but soon finds out it is her late husband George’s illegitimate son. The plot line is played for laughs and poignancy, but never sappiness. Perfectly complementing the weight of that plot line is Dorothy and Sophia’s participation in the Shady Pines Mother/Daughter beauty contest elicits some of the best one-liners and sight gags in the show’s history. The real star of this episode is the script — which is pitch-perfect from beginning to end and features some of the show’s biggest laughs.
- Favorite Line: Sophia, responding to Rose’s latest St. Olaf story: “What an injustice. Hemingway ran out of stories to tell and he shot himself. She just keeps on going.”
“72 Hours” (Season Five). A brilliant issue episode that is arguably the most important episode the show ever produced, “72 Hours” chronicles what happens when Rose finds out she may have contracted AIDS. (Keep in mind that this aired at a time when discussions and depictions of AIDS were few and far between.) The myths of AIDS are dispelled in powerful and realistic ways and many issues surrounding the disease are discussed in a manner that fits in cleverly with the show’s narrative and character dynamics. Also, the writers liven things up with a couple brilliant moments (most notably Rose’s finest St. Olaf story) so that the proceedings never become too maudlin.
- Favorite Lines: Rose: “I haven’t been this nervous since 1952 when St. Olaf’s most active volcano threatened to erupt. Luckily there were some Druid priests in town for the opening of Stonehenge Land and they said they could stop it if they could sacrifice the town’s dumbest virgin. I don’t know why I raised my hand. It must have just been the excitement of the moment. But they said the only way for me to stop the volcano from erupting was to crawl under their legs up the volcano while they gave me their birthday whacks. Well — and you’re not going to believe this — they weren’t Druid priests at all, just a bunch of Shriners looking for a good time!”
“Zborn Again” (Season Six). The classic Golden Girls formula rarely works as well as it does here. The main plot line here is about one of the girls going through a hilarious and complicated relationship dynamic (Dorothy falls in love with Stan again), while the subplot is about the other characters dealing with a petty but amusing problem, and all is bridged by a long extended sequence in the middle act in which the girls sit around talking hilariously and bawdily around a cheesecake. The script is a gem and the entire ensemble (especially Arthur) does fantastic work.
- Favorite Line: Blanche, after mistakenly thinking Dorothy is coming on to her: “It’s a curse. My beauty has always been a curse. I’m sorry Dorothy, but like the fatal blossom of the graceful Jimson weed, I entice with my fragrance but can provide no succor.”
“Girls Just Want to Have Fun…Before They Die” (Season Six). This wonderful ensemble outing finds Blanche trying to give sex advice to Rose and Sophia with hilarious and disastrous results. Rose needs to stay celibate to help the drought in St. Olaf and Blanche suggests that she uses it as an opportunity to play with her boyfriend’s affections. The subplot is even better as Blanche advises Sophia to have a one-night stand with her new lover but Sophia finds herself getting emotionally involved. The whole ensemble does great work and the script is classic.
- Favorite Line: Blanche, prepping Sophia for her first date in a long time: “You have to listen to everything I say. When I say ‘Jump’ you say ‘On who?’”
“Sisters of the Bride” (Season Six). This classic outing features two extremely memorable plot lines. The main story involves the return of Blanche’s gay brother Clayton who introduces Blanche to the man he intends to marry. The plot line is played well, especially by McClanahan, and while her close-mindedness is infuriating it is realistic and serves as a reminder of how far the world has come in 20 years. While the main plot line is topical and emotional, the subplot is where the majority of the hilarity comes in. Rose’s most devious side (and White’s most savage comic skills) burst forth when Rose is finally the frontrunner for the Volunteer of the Year Award because her chief competitor has died.
- Favorite Lines: Blanche: “What will the neighbors think if they see two men in my room?” Sophia: “They will think it’s Tuesday!”
“From Here to the Pharmacy” (Season Seven). Whenever someone tells me the show ran out of steam by the end of its run, I direct them to this masterpiece of the show’s final season. Both plot lines are absolutely brilliant. The first has Blanche going on a date with a man who she promised to be faithful to before he deployed to Iraq and now cannot recall who he is. The second has Sophia writing a will (with Rose’s help!) that reveals that she has been hoarding a substantial amount of money while mooching off of Dorothy for all of these years. The writing is brilliant, featuring several classic one-liners, almost all of which go to Bea Arthur, who is on fire here.
- Favorite Lines: Blanche: “You can’t blame Sophia for your sex life.” Dorothy: “In fact, I can. If I had the money I could have been living in a swinging condo instead of with — I better not say this until I have my coffee.” [Dorothy drinks coffee.] “A slut and a moron! Sorry, it must be decaf.”
“Old Boyfriends” (Season Seven). In this episode, Rose is reunited with an old boyfriend from St. Olaf that she can’t remember, which is a predictable and typical enough storyline until it is revealed what a floozy Rose was in high school and one of the great kitchen scenes of the show’s run commences. Then there is Sophia’s subplot where she answers a want ad that turns out to be a couple with a devastating ulterior motive, which somehow manages to avoid melodrama and be genuinely moving. This is a truly wonderful episode with a brilliant script and pitch perfect acting by the ensemble.
- Favorite Lines: Dorothy: “I have intelligence. I have class. And you know what else I have?” Sophia: “It’s definitely not self awareness.”
“Goodbye, Mr. Gordon” (Season Seven). This absolutely genius outing has one of the single most memorable sequences in the entire history of the show’s run — the Wake Up Miami TV show taping that finds Dorothy and Blanche as panelists on a show about lesbian lovers of Miami. Although it’s all too brief, it is comedy at its finest. Luckily the rest of the episode nearly matches it, with the fallout on Blanche’s dating life from the show being hilarious and the plot line about Dorothy’s old teacher swooping back into town allowing Arthur to do her most inspired comic work in a long time.
- Favorite Line: Sophia to Dorothy: “I don’t like you being taken advantage of by some guy from out of town. At least when Blanche does it, it’s good for tourism.”
“One Flew Out of the Cuckoo’s Nest (Parts One and Two)” (Season Seven). One of the very best episodes of the series entire run, this masterpiece brings the entire show full circle while also leaving it open for the spinoff. The first half is classic Golden Girls farce with Dorothy and Blanche’s uncle playing an evil trick on Blanche by pretending to be in love that gets out of control when they actually fall in love. The uncle is played with charm and restraint by Leslie Nielsen and Bea Arthur has never been better. The second half takes place on the wedding day and is decidedly more dramatic and poignant. There’s a perfect final appearance by Stan and then several tearful goodbyes where the women remind each other and the viewers how monumental and profound the last seven years were. There is not much else to say about a finale that captured the tone, wit, comedy, and drama of one of the best sitcoms of all time other than to say it’s perfect.
- Favorite Lines: Rose: “What can you say about seven years of fighting, laughter, secrets, cheesecake?” Dorothy: “Just that it’s always an experience I will always hold very close to my heart. These are memories that I’ll wrap myself in when the world gets cold and I forget that there are people who are warm and loving.” Blanche: “We love you, too.” Dorothy: “I’ll miss you.” Blanche: “You will always be a part of us.” Dorothy: “Your friendship was something I never expected at this phase of my life and I couldn’t have asked for a better surprise.” Blanche: “That’s how we feel, too” Rose: “Is this goodbye?” Dorothy: “I love you…always.”
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