Tuesday, June 25, 2024

The Golden Girls: On Golden Girls


Written by: Liz Sage

Directed by: Jim Drake

Airdate: October 26, 1985

On Golden Girls is the first time we see the younger set shown on The Golden Girls. We do learn a few things about one of the character's family, but we do get a bit too much teen drama to make this a good episode.

Blanche Devereaux (Rue McClanahan) is distressed that her 14-year-old grandson David (Bill Jacoby) is going to stay with her while her daughter Janet and son-in-law David (or as Blanche calls him, "the Yankee") go on a second honeymoon to patch up their marriage. The presence of a teenager upsets Dorothy Zbornak (Bea Arthur), who wants to get an A on her French exam. Dorothy's mother Sophia Petrillo (Estelle Getty) is not thrilled to have to give up her room and stay with Dorothy. The last housemate, Rose Nylund (Betty White) is more enthusiastic about David, but that does not last long.

David is belligerent and rebellious, going out at all hours and finding a bad crowd. At one point, he tells them all off, leading to Sophia slapping him. This is really a way for him to express the deep hurt he feels about his home situation. David is about to run away when Dorothy gives him a good talk, mixing tough love with a gentle touch. Eventually, David shifts to a more welcoming figure thanks to some chores and the structure they bring. He wants to now move in with Grandma, which alarms all of them. Blanche calls Janet and David's parents invite him to join them in Hawaii. 

We learn that Blanche has at least one daughter and a grandson. On Golden Girls also has Rose mention she has a son. While we have yet to learn Blanche's age, her grandson's age is interesting. If you use McClanahan's actual age of 51, she would have been 36 when David was born. The actual age gap between McClanahan and Jacoby is 35 years (he was born in 1969, which would make him 16 at the time of On Golden Girls). In other words, McClanahan is old enough to be Jacoby's mother, not his grandmother. I figure that people mistaking David for her son rather than her grandson would have pleased Blanche. However, the issue here is where to put Janet's age. 

If we are very generous and have Blanche marry at 18, still using McClanahan's actual birth year of 1934, Janet could be born in 1952. For David to be her grandson, Janet would have had to been 16 or 17 years old when David was born. Yes, it is plausible that Janet and Michael the Yankee could have gotten married at that age, but it is very dicey to have it be that close. For the ages to work, both Blanche and Janet would have to have been teen brides. 

Two sections tend to be cut when On Golden Girls has a rerun. One is an extended kitchen scene where the women discuss both what Blanche and David could do while he's here and on the sleeping arrangements for the duration. The second is when Sophia and Dorothy get ready for bed. We see more of Sophia's bedtime preparations and Dorothy attempting to study for her French exam. 

On Golden Girls has a strong moment when David wakes them up in the middle of the night with an impromptu party and insults them to their faces. Sophia slapping David got an ovation from the audience (I presume this was filmed in front of an audience despite never hearing "this is filmed before a live studio audience"). "Is that all you Italians can do: scream and hit?", a surprisingly bigoted Blanche bellows. "No, we also know how to make love and sing opera!", Sophia retorts. While Dorothy is right to reprimand her mother for hitting anyone, especially a child who is not related to her, I can empathize with Sophia's reaction. This scene is filled with drama, which elevates the episode. The script, however, ends it with a great punchline. Rose comments that the situation is like the play Long Day's Journey into Light. Dorothy corrects her by saying "Night, Rose", meaning Long Day's Journey into Night. Rose, forever muddled, replied, "Night, Dorothy", making this a delightful pun. 

As a side note, I would love to see Long Day's Journey into Light, maybe a double bill with Singin' in the Rain's The Dueling Mammy

What makes On Golden Girls a midlevel episode is Jacoby. He and McClanahan have a wonderful scene where he expresses his hurt at how his parents ignore him as they fight. He also does well with Arthur, again in drama, for the most part. I think making Dorothy be a bit hip by using the term "wimp out" sounds a bit forced. Did teens use that term? It was fine, but I also thought that when he is trying to be insulting or rebellious, it comes across as insincere or forced.

I also have a question of logic, which I recognize might be a fool's errand. Blanche calls Janet to tell her she plans to keep David with her. She would be calling what I presume is her hotel or wherever she and Michael are staying in Hawaii. Hawaii is six hours behind Florida, meaning that if it were 8 p.m. in Miami, it would be 2 p.m. in Hawaii. Why then would Janet need to wake Michael up in the early afternoon? It is possible that he is napping, but that is stretching things.

I confess to not having seen On Golden Pond as of the time of this writing. Therefore, the connection to On Golden Girls escapes me. It is not a bad episode, more drama than straightforward comedy. Good performances from McClanahan and Arthur, along with a strong scene from Getty, counter the so-so performance of Jacoby.

I do wonder, however, how Coco would have talked to David. 


Next Episode: The Competition

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