Who could forget The Golden Girls? This landmark series introduced an aspect that wasn’t seen too much during this time, which was the focus on a cast of older women who shared a home in Miami, Florida. For seven seasons, Bea Arthur (Dorothy), Betty White (Rose), Rue McClanahan (Blanche), and Estelle Getty (Sophia), warmed the hearts of America and the show was one of the most-watched television series of its time. The Golden Girls received an astounding 68 Emmy nominations, emerging with 11 awards, and four Golden Globes. The show came to an end in 1992 when Arthur decided to leave the series for good. There are several reported reasons why the actress opted to leave the popular series, such as aging, feeling that the quality of the show was slipping and several jokes that didn’t make her feel happy. Arthur actually discusses her reasoning in the book Golden Girls Forever: An Unauthorized Look Behind The Lanai. The Golden Girls came out in 1985, over three decades ago. The world of television and movies has vastly changed by then, and though The Golden Girls is considered an all-time classic, does the pilot hold up in 2022?
What’s so interesting about pilots, in general, is that they’re often a testing pool in terms of casting and characters. For instance, The Golden Girls introduced a butler named Coco, played by actor Charles Levin, who also worked as a gay character in the drama Hill Street Blues. Originally, Coco was set as one of the main characters of the series. In fact, Sophia was supposed to be just a reoccurring character; however, the studio had to cut down the pilot, mainly Coco’s scenes. The executives didn’t feel the need for the character and Coco was never seen again after the pilot. In truth, Coco was a nice inclusion, but he wasn’t particularly necessary either. If you take him out of the pilot, nothing changes since he’s not an integral part of the story. What sells you on The Golden Girls is the dynamic between Dorothy, Rose, Blanche, and Sophia that oozes off the screen from the first scene.
Of course, strong writing is a crucial element of the series and it’s the main reason these characters pop off so easily. Within the first five minutes of the show, you instantly understand the characters of Dorothy, Rose, Blanche, and even Coco. Dorothy is an uptight teacher who would rather be shot than eat Coco’s Enchiladas. Rose is a bit of a dimwit who thinks grief counseling should feature more clowns. Blanche is the more sexual of the two characters who doesn’t need cucumbers to fix the puffiness on her thighs. Golden Girls works because the jokes aren’t based on culture or the time period. It expertly plays off the characteristics of the core cast and the constant zingers keeps the pace frantic, but not in a manner where the show feels rushed. The main story is about Blanche possibly getting married to Harry, a guy who thankfully still has his own teeth and hair. Like all pilots, it’s there to introduce you into the world of these women and it’s a refreshing stab at the older generation that isn’t all too focused on these days. However, the jokes manage to produce laughs regardless of age because they’re not necessarily focused on the problems these women face when growing older, as the themes of love, and a sense of belonging are the true underlying messages of the first episode.
Given the fact that this pilot is being revisited, you never buy into the story that these women would be broken up. It’s a minor nitpick as it doesn’t ultimately ruin the experience of The Golden Girls, but it does make for a predictable pilot that sees the four women remain together. I’ve yet to mention Sophia, who steals the spotlight once she’s introduced in the middle of the episode. Again, the dynamic of the entire cast is strong, but Sophia’s jokes stick out the most because of her personality. It also helps that Estelle Getty feels like such a pro playing the Sophia character. Everyone in The Golden Girls feels so in tune with their characters, which is why everything flows so smoothly, and their scenes together feel organic. Pulling off an ensemble cast is no easy task, but the magic is undeniable here. So, yes, The Golden Girls pilot stands the test of time. The show wisely bounces off the strength of their core characters and it’s not hard to laugh at most (or all) of the jokes in the pilot. Nothing feels out of place and more importantly, The Golden Girls pilot makes you want to tune into the following episode.
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