The Golden Girls: 25th Anniversary Complete Series brings together all seven seasons (1985-1992) of the seminal sitcom in one collection. Pitched by then NBC president Brandon Tartikoff, and created by Susan Harris, The Golden Girls set out to show older women as vital and full of life as any of their younger counterparts, and the series did so with an excellent blend of humor and heart.
When the series began, there was a more serious tone to many of the episodes. The first season included episodes dealing with breast cancer and adultery, among other issues. While the series would continue to do episodes centered on serious topics, the tone of the show shifted to a more lighthearted one that focused on the many antics Rose (Betty White), Blanche (Rue McClanahan), Dorothy (Bea Arthur), and Sophia (Estelle Getty) frequently found themselves in.
What sets The Golden Girls apart from many other sitcoms of the time lies in the characters and the charismatic way they were played. There is no high concept here, rather, the series revolves around friendship and family and the way the two can merge to form a seemingly unconventional bond. The women of The Golden Girls are unapologetically at the center of the show. The fact that they were older and in different places in their lives than the younger characters more prevalent on television were was certainly a departure, but the series became more than an alternative to those shows. Their ages may have been a novelty at first, but the series quickly moved beyond “old” jokes to create multidimensional characters unhampered by age.
Characterization was the key to the success and enduring nature of the The Golden Girls. Each of the women was a distinct and fully fleshed out individual. Rose, the naïve innocent of the group, is more than a one-note dimwit. In what may be one of their more inspired choices, the writers of the show gave Rose an ultra competitiveness that would reveal itself at various moments throughout the series. White imbued Rose with so much likeability that her moments of mischievousness were especially satisfying and fun to watch.
Blanche was the sex-crazed man-eater whose legendary vanity afforded her a confidence often out of proportion with reality. That same persona and vanity also made her vulnerable whenever her desirability was called into question. It’s a credit to McClanahan that she makes Blanche as enjoyable a character as she does. She, more than any of the others, could very easily devolve into a flat stereotype. Instead, she is vibrant, easygoing, and frequently in on the joke.
Bea Arthur’s Dorothy may be the most layered of the four women. She’s smart, articulate, and quick-witted, but she can also rapidly vacillate to desperate and insecure in moments that recall her childhood and adolescence. Dorothy’s towering appearance and deep voice were most often played for laughs, but her sarcastic quips and dry humor were some of the funniest moments in the series. Arthur’s sense of comic timing was impeccable, and The Golden Girls highlights it wonderfully.
Sophia often gets the biggest laughs in the series, as she says whatever comes to mind no matter how inappropriate or embarrassing. The result of a stroke, Sophia’s lack of social filter provides the series with a running commentary on the ridiculous hijinks the women often get up to. Sophia’s relationship with her daughter, Dorothy, is one of the best dynamics in the show. The two have their touching moments here and there, but for the most part their relationship has them at odds on everything from dating to financial issues. Contrasting them both physically and in personality was an especially effective choice.
While the show is about the relationship between these four women, much of the series revolves around their romantic entanglements, too. Dorothy’s relationship with her ex-husband, Stan (Herb Edelman), is a recurring theme that has them on the verge of reconciliation more than once. Stan’s presence in the lives of these women is both a source of humor and a glimpse into Dorothy’s married life. Stan’s obvious affection for the women, hilariously highlighted in one episode where he desperately seeks the approval of Sophia, offers another dynamic to the show and adds to the natural chemistry between the actors.
In some ways it’s hard to believe that The Golden Girls aired 25 years ago. It’s a testament to just how good the writing and acting was that it seems as fresh today as it did two decades ago. There’s no overestimating just how much White, McClanahan, Arthur, and Getty were instrumental to the success of the series. They brought a rare chemistry to the characters that translated as real warmth and fondness for each other. The quick, snappy writing combined with stories that were as interested in getting laughs as showing the ways in which these women leaned on one another, make for a series that holds up over time. Rose, Blanche, Dorothy, and Sophia are still vibrant and engaging. Their closeness and willingness to be silly, outrageous, and alternately cynical and hopeful make them a joy to spend time with over seven wonderful seasons.
The complete series set contains all seven season DVDs with unfortunately, no new extras included. The packaging alone (a replica of Sophia’s omnipresent wicker purse), though is just smart and clever enough to get fans to double dip and buy them again. The only new material included in the set is a deck of playing cards featuring the four women – not essential, but fun nevertheless.