Flashback Friday: The Golden Girls
With sitcoms these days, network TV is stuck on formulas with as little variation as possible. Shows that wildly differ from typical formulas such as "Community" usually don't survive the ratings wars. I hate to show the slightest inkling of my age, but when I was a very young child in the late 1980s, the edgiest show on network TV starred four white women old enough to be most of their target audience's grandmothers. No, it wasn't "Desperate Housewives." "The Golden Girls" was feminist, witty, and - the time the AIDS epidemic in the U.S. was at its peak and instilling fear - gay-friendly.
What about the show was so gay? For one, the brother of one of the main characters, Rue McClanahan's confederate southern belle Blanche, was gay and one of their college roommates was a lesbian. Not only that, but the ladies were a group of outsiders, who were basically abandoned by their families (through death and retirement homes) and came together to form their own kind of unorthodox family.
It was essentially a show about an untraditional family that banters, disses, and dishes about sex, while at the same time supporting each other through everything. It almost played like a more believable "Sex and the City" but with funnier lines and tacky clothes.
Even the theme song, "Thank You for Being a Friend," does what most TV show themes do nowadays, with the exception of "The Neighbors," it perfectly encapsulates the show's premise while basically putting you in the mood for some good times and happy days ahead.
The characters embodied a rich variety in every episode. Dorothy (Bea Arthur) is the tough one and the relatable one, Rose (Betty White) is the dim-witted one, Blanche is the flirt, while Sophia (Estelle Getty) is the crazy member of the group.
Even though both of my brothers watched "The Golden Girls" on television when I was little, I myself was largely ignorant to it until it began to be referenced on HBO's "Looking," a show about gay men navigating through life in contemporary San Francisco. "Looking" featured several nods to "The Golden Girls," even ending appropriately with "Thank You for Being a Friend."
The reason "The Golden Girls" has lasted for so long in the TV-viewing public's mind, not to mention the continuing public admiration for Betty White, is because it's one of those shows that represents individuality, unity, and strength.
"The Golden Girls" showed that being alone doesn't mean you have to stay alone. It preached acceptance, and it even backed gay marriage a good 20 years before any president did.