Blanche: If we do have to go to a nursing home, let’s all go together.
Rose: What happens when there’s only one of us left?
Sophia: Don’t worry. I can take care of myself.
— “Sophia’s Choice”
Golden Girls‘ fourth season is all about the silly. From Rose (Betty White) and Blanche (Rue McClanahan) heading an Elvis Presley Fan Club, to Blanche and Dorothy (Bea Arthur) aerobicizing in outfits shinier than Michael Jackson’s socks, to all three girls trying to recover a lottery ticket from inside a jacket that ends up on MJ himself. These are ludicrous storylines punctuated with some of the corniest quips this side of Back to School (1986): “I worked at a malt stand once,” Dorothy says, lost in reminiscence as Blanche stirs up some fatty shakes. “Soda jerk?” Blanche enquires. “No thanks, I’ll have a malted,” pipes Rose. It’s enough to make your young heart swell.
Lately, before you get through one season of The Golden Girls on DVD, another one has hit the shelves. Season Four came just three months after Season Three, with Season Five due out in early May. It’s a great time for Girls fans — especially now with Season Four, warm and funny in all the right places. Not to mention it’s the season with the fewest “message” episodes. We get one about homelessness in “Brother, Can You Spare a Jacket?” and another about poorly run nursing homes in “Sophia’s Choice”, but the writers appear to have assessed that viewers had seen enough shows centered on the difficulties if aging.
This season sees the girls settling into their ages, and, in turn, their places in the world as seniors. Blanche is less concerned that she’s losing her sex appeal. While she briefly considers implants in “Sophia’s Choice”, she wants to enhance what she’s already been blessed with, rather than to appear younger and sexier. Similarly, Rose and Dorothy both have occasion to feel unattractive (Rose’s date in “The Impotence of Being Ernest” may be turned off by her, and Dorothy meets up with ex-husband Stan’s [Herb Edelman] young, pretty fiancée in “Stan Takes a Wife”), but neither doubts herself. Even their friendship enjoys time off from any real strains. Only Rose worries, when the girls accuse her of addiction to painkillers in “High Anxiety”, and in “Little Sister,” when her visiting relative appears to enjoy Blanche and Dorothy’s company a little too much. Still, as in any Rose-centric piece, tensions don’t last long. There’s too much madcap fun to be had.
When the show takes its few serious turns, it does so in the most believable way since Season One investigated the complications of aging and friendship. Even the obligatory Dorothy-falls-back-in-love-with-Stan episode (“Stan Takes a Wife”) is respectable. Instead of some harebrained scam setting the two up, this time Dorothy is charmed by Stan’s attentiveness after Sophia suffers a heart attack. For the first time, we are shown what Dorothy sees in Stan, that he’s a loving guy when he needs to be, and who knows his old flame inside and out. He proves his respect here, and demonstrates that even though the pair had their problems and Stan is a skirt-chasing old buffoon, 30-odd years of marriage still make for close companionship.
Not all the seriousness works as well. “Brother, Can You Spare a Jacket?” follows the girls from a Salvation Army-type thrift store to a celebrity auction to a homeless shelter in search of a winning lottery ticket. The point, clear towards the end of the episode, is for the girls to get to know some homeless folks and realize that they do, in fact, have it quite good compared to some. As obvious as this turns out to be, the goose-chase angle is even worse, dragging sitcom ballyhoo to new depths. When the girls lose the jacket to Michael Jackson’s buff security guard at the thrift store, they fall over themselves to get it back, by lying and scheming, and faking toughness.
Thankfully, it’s one of few really awful episodes. Only the flashback finale is worse, with an entire hour of past memories built around the possibility of Blanche selling the girls’ Florida dream house to a rich businessman. After all that looking back, Blanche simply changes her mind.
If, beyond the flashbacks and the jacket-chasing, there’s another flaw on this set, it’s the sticker on the DVD cover promoting a special guest appearance by Quentin Tarantino. In truth, the appearance is anything but special. Young Tarantino shows up in bit-part-actor mode as an Elvis impersonator. Selling The Golden Girls: Season Four with Tarantino as a special guest is like using Richard Dreyfuss to flog The Graduate (1967) — and Dreyfuss actually had dialogue.
Still, this season loves its guest stars. There’s even a bonus feature dedicated to the famous or semi-famous people who showed up in parts big and small. It’s a countdown, listing the top 10 best guests, with Julio Iglesias at number 10, Bob Hope at number one, and Jay Thomas, Jack Gilford, Richard Mulligan, and Tarantino slotting in between. Again, it’s another useless bonus that retreads funny scenes throughout the season. Or, to be honest, some painfully unfunny scenes, like Hope’s, in which we’re subjected to gags like “Ronald Reagan left office with the highest popularity rating since FDR… He was more popular that Tammy Faye Bakker at a Maybelline convention.” Eeep. If this weren’t bad enough, somehow Anne Francis missed the list in favor of the Rapping Granny. But, quality features have been lacking on all four DVD sets, so this one is simply another one to ignore. Just dig on some of the snappiest, raciest, and most enjoyable GG moments.