In Tired and Sick, the double chapter with which the fifth season of The Golden Girls begins, Dorothy meets her mother and her friends in a restaurant to celebrate that the disease he suffers from has a name: chronic fatigue. After wandering through doctors' offices who, minimizing or ignoring her suffering, suggested that she go on dates, go on a cruise or dye her hair, a specialist had diagnosed her condition. It didn't even cure her, it just validated her ailment: she wasn't crazy; I was sick. An experience as sad as everyday in which many women could —can— recognize themselves. When the waiter asks what they are celebrating, Sophia lightens the tone of the sequence with a line that returns us to the humorous spirit of the series: “That my daughter has learned that she has a debilitating disease.”
That plot, based on the personal experience of series creator Susan Harris, makes two things clear: the importance of women in the writing room and the extraordinary variety of material covered in the series. A material that was probably not what NBC expected when it considered incorporating a comedy about “older women” into its grid. The writing team that came up with the idea soon discovered that by “older” the network meant 40 years and that the project was a kind of How to Marry a Millionaire that replaced the sophisticated New York vibes for the sunny fish farm of wealthy retirees that is Miami. The script delivered by Paul Junger Witt, Tony Thomas and Harris was much more revolutionary: three sixty-year-olds sharing a house and secrets three decades ahead of cohousing.
If it occurred to NBC that old age could be synonymous with boredom, that idea vanished after a pilot that brought together 25 million viewers and fell in love with the public and critics alike. The chemistry between Bea Arthur, Rue McClanahan, Betty White and Estelle Getty was unbeatable and made them the most popular and award-winning faces on screen.
Dorothy, Blanche, Rose and Sophia captivated audiences of all ages with clever humor and intergenerational experiences. They were widows, divorcees, mothers and even grandmothers, but the series did not pivot on it. They did not live their lives through their children, nor did they look forward to visiting grandchildren. “What we told America was that life wasn't over just because you're empty nester, divorced, or your spouse passed away. You can create a new family and live another life” sentenced Tony Thomas in 2019.
The protagonists, like any woman of any age, had domestic and work problems; they fell in love, dealt with their exes and had sex. And everything was structured by an unbreakable friendship based on a love that was sometimes somewhat peculiar. “What was the first thing you thought of me?” Blanche once asks Rose. “That you were a whore and that you wore a lot of makeup. But I was wrong, you don't wear much makeup”.
Throughout its 177 chapters, in addition to chronic fatigue, there was room for HIV, menopause, sexual harassment, suicide, addiction to painkillers or homosexuality. In fact, its most successful episode, Isn't it romantic?, told the story of Jean, a lesbian friend of Dorothy's who fell in love with Rose. In 1986, during the Puritan Reagan era, it was a groundbreaking plot for a family comedy. If postmenopausal sex played a negligible role on 1980s television, homosexual love in old age had none. “It was never just about jokes,” Paul Junger Witt told Vulture, “those episodes meant a lot to us because we dealt with serious issues that needed to be dealt with nationally and it was a sure way for the people would see, hear and assimilate”.
The naturalness with which they joked about everything was one of the factors that caused the audience to remain faithful until the end. After seven successful seasons, Bea Arthur decided to leave the series and The Golden Girls said goodbye as a fundamental piece of 20th century audiovisual culture and one of those fictions that must be wielded when someone affirms that women are not funny or misogynistic, homophobic or racist humor is justified under the shield of “those were other times”.
Almost four decades after its premiere and turned into a pop phenomenon, it was one of the great shortcomings of the overwhelming offer on the platforms. This Wednesday, finally, it will land in full on Disney + and it is fair to wonder if viewers who did not experience the phenomenon in the eighties will connect with Sophia's Sicilian battles, Blanche's southern ardors, Dorothy's sideways glances and rants about festivals of juggling herrings from St. Olaf de Rose. But as if there is something as timeless as sharing a slice of cake with the people you love is intelligent humor, the answer can only be: yes.
Next Monday, Betty White would have celebrated her centenary. It could not be, he died on December 31 leaving behind eight decades dedicated to audiovisual and a legion of inconsolable fans.
Television pioneer, she was one of the first women to host and produce her own show and, as the documentary reveals Betty White, available at Movistar +, was ahead of the quotas by hiring female teams and showed his personality by ignoring those who in the fifties demanded that he fire the musician Arthur Duncan for being black.
White's face became familiar thanks to The girl on TV, but it was Rose Nylund's character in The Golden Girls who made her a star. In 2010, her presence in a viral Snickers ad sparked a movement on Facebook that led her to become the oldest host of the Saturday night Live. Since then her popularity has not declined.
A staunch animalist, she is also mourned by the long list of associations with which it collaborated. The #BettyWhiteChallenge