The Golden Girls is one of the most joyous, sweet, and sarcastic sitcoms to ever bless our screens. This year it turns 35 years old and to celebrate we’ve put together a list of 12 radical episodes. The show’s biggest strength comes from its core cast of brilliant women: Blanche ( Rue McClanahan), Dorothy ( Bea Arthur), Rose ( Betty White), and Sophia (Estelle Getty). The series’ exploration of female friendship made the show a hit, but it was the way The Golden Girls touched on serious and often groundbreaking topics that made it radical. Here are some of the best, most moving, and generally lovely episodes for you to explore.
Picture it: it’s NBC, 1986…
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End of the Curse [S2, Ep 1]
Blanche Devereaux is the youngest of the Golden Girls and she never lets her friends forget it. In this episode, McClanahan shines as she mistakes her menopause for a pregnancy scare. Not only is it a heartfelt and thoughtful look at something many people face that’s still rarely spoken about or explored in a public and open way, but it also acts as a great forum for McClanahan. She gets to show off her dramatic chops alongside her absolutely stellar comedy talents.
Isn’t It Romantic [S2, Ep 5]
Dorothy’s college experience is often utilized to crack jokes about women’s studies and her life as a divorcée. In this episode, though, the team uses it to explore queerness as Rose gets close to one of her roommate’s old school friends, Jean. Rose’s sweet nature means that she never considers that her new chum could become anything more, but Jean quickly develops feelings for the sweet member of the Girls. The best thing is that the jokes and laughs always come from the thoughtful and authentic reactions from the Girls and never at Jean’s expense.
Old Friends [S3, Ep 1]
Episodes that center Sophia are often not only the funniest but also the most moving. Getty gives a wonderful performance as the oldest of the Golden Girls, and here, she makes a new friend. Each day she ventures down to the waterfront to spend time with Alvin (Joe Seneca), but when he doesn’t arrive one day she discovers that he’s suffering from Alzheimers. It’s a beautiful entry into the show that showcases the power of Getty and also the series’ ability to explore struggle humanely.
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The Artist [S3 Ep 13]
Something that often stands out about Golden Girls is how it’s wholly interested in the love lives of the women at its center. While that makes sense as the show is about those women, it’s actually a truly rare thing. Although there are plenty of great episodes which focus on the loves of Blanche, Dorothy, Sophia, and Rose, this episode where the younger trio all fall for the same artist stands out as being both hilarious, boundary pushing, and ultimately uplifting.
The Days and Nights of Sophia Petrillo [S4, Ep 2]
Another sterling Sophia story here as the other Girls lament their dull lives. They feel sorry for their elder as they assume she’s going through the same. Instead, Sophia is adventuring around town, playing as part of an all-female band, arguing with a grocery store over fruit, and ultimately visiting her sick friend in hospital. It’s that final reveal that’s the big moment here as it’s heavily implied her friend has HIV and Sophia is bringing them food to nourish them.
Brother, Can You Spare That Jacket [S4, Ep 8]
When the BFFs discover their lost lottery ticket is worth $10,000 they dedicate themselves to hunting it down. But what they find is far more valuable. After spending the night in a homeless shelter, the group chooses to donate the money to the shelter. Though it might sound saccharine (and it can be at moments), the episode aggressively humanizes the homeless people it features and does its best to represent many different experiences of being unhoused.
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Sophia’s Wedding (Parts 1 & 2) [S4, Ep 6&7]
Losing someone you love is hard, but getting married to your dead best friend’s widower may be harder. At least, that’s what this double bill would have you believe. These dual episodes have some of the series’ most memorable quips. But they also treat what should be a farcical situation with an empathy and emotion that belie the silly setup. Getty is a joy here. “Sophia’s Wedding” shows just why the series had such legs and still has such a long lasting legacy.
Sick and Tired (Parts 1 & 2) [S5, Ep1&2]
Chronic fatigue is a condition that is still hard to get a diagnosis for in the present. But in the era when The Golden Girls originally aired it was basically unheard of. This duet of episodes shines a spotlight on the condition. They focus on the reality of how women are treated in the health system. It’s a tough watch for those of us who have invisible disabilities, chronic illnesses, or have simply had to fight to be believed about our struggles with health, but it’s a dynamic and brave entry to the series inspired by the real experiences of Susan Harris, who wrote the episodes.
One Flew Out of the Cuckoo’s Nest (Parts 1 & 2) [S7 Ep 23&24]
The final two episodes of the series center once again on love. But Dorothy’s marriage to Blanche’s uncle (Leslie Nielsen) means it’s also about loss because she’s leaving the Girls behind. It’s fun to see Dorothy find love. Especially as she’s so often painted with the “radical woman” brush that deems her unlovable. She’s intelligent, tall, funny, scathing, and bitter. But here she gets a happy ending, although it’s bittersweet since it’s also the end of the life she lived with the Girls.
So this week sit down, grab some cheesecake and enjoy. And thank you for being our friend!
Featured Image: Buena Vista International