I've been developing a theory about The Golden Girls. It's similar to my ninja turtles theory, wherein one's favorite childhood ninja turtle indicates something deep and meaningful about you. Do you choose the leader, the smart one, the fun one, or the sarcastic one? Except the Golden Girls are not divided up the same way. Instead, there is the slutty one, the stupid one, the sarcastic one, and the old one. Bonus thought experiment: if there had been a slutty ninja turtle, which one would it have been?
I watched The Golden Girls when it was first on, and then again when it went into reruns. I even remember seeing a couple of episodes of the short-lived spin-off, The Golden Palace, which sounds like a Chinese restaurant. Actually, I think there was a Chinese buffet in Lenoir that was called that, which lasted about as long as the show. Whenever I see the original series now, I'm surprised to find that the show has held up reasonably well. I mean, it's dated, what with the shoulder pads and the laugh tracks, but it's still pretty entertaining. This is not something the show has in common with Teenaged Mutant Ninja Turtles.
When I was young, my favorite Golden Girl was Blanche, otherwise known as the slutty one. I was watching this show when I was about ten, and sex was a mysterious and taboo subject. My fascination with Blanche was really just my curiosity about sex. I don't think I even got all the sexual humor in the show, and there is a fair amount, but I could tell when a joke was dirty, even if I didn't understand what was dirty about it. As I got older and started to see Blanche as less exciting and more...slutty, I started to wonder what her problem was. Big Daddy issues, most likely.
Then, in my late teens and early twenties, I learned to appreciate Rose, the stupid one. My love for Rose came from her wholesome naivete, the fact that she never got it (though she occasionally had out-of-the-mouths-of-babes moments). I particularly loved her St. Olaf stories. The best thing about Rose is her unintentional funniness. Dorothy and Sophia made jokes, Blanche was a joke, but Rose did and said things that were funny in their own way, and then funny again because she didn't know it was funny. Some of the Rose jokes are just plain boy-is-she-stupid jokes, but the best of them are about her unique childlike perspective of the world. A lot of shows had a cute kid; The Golden Girls had Betty White.
One night recently, I was watching the show, and I began to feel a strange closeness with Dorothy. I never really cared for Dorothy before. She had some great lines, and she filled an important niche within the group. But how could Dorothy be your favorite Golden Girl? She often just seemed like a huge walking ball of bitterness. She's very smart, but got pregnant as a teenager and had to marry Stan Zbornak, the loserly one. Zbornak, really? She went through the rest of her life feeling like she could have been a contender, if only, if only. Dorothy was the smart one, the tall one, the vaguely masculine one, and the sarcastic one, but mostly she was the disappointed one.
Really, all signs point to Dorothy, because in every group of friends I've ever had, I've been the smart one, the tall one, the sarcastic one, and yes, fine, the vaguely masculine one. The funny one because I couldn't be the pretty one, the uptight one because I had too much confidence to be the slutty one. However, I don't want to be the sad one. I don't want to be Dorothy, I don't want her to be my favorite. When Blanche and then Rose were my favorites, that meant that I liked the show the most when they were onscreen. I never actually related to them. But I can relate to Dorothy, the disappointed one. After all, I have found life to be sometimes, just a little bit, well, disappointing.
Aw, crap, I'm Bea Arthur.
Which makes me wonder whether, when I'm 80 years old, shrunken and crabby, Sophia will be my favorite. I've always found her to be a bit annoying. I feel sometimes that she is unnecessary, redundant even. Dorothy could have made good on her promise to take Sophia to Shady Acres, and I never would have missed her. After all, what other show has "the old one?" But being the old one is about being the wise one, the Master Splinter, to continue the ninja turtle comparison, and Sophia has her moments. Sophia is Dorothy after she got over her disappointment. Sophia knows that life is frequently not what you were hoping for, but that it's pretty neat and often quite wonderful in ways you didn't even think to expect. Disappointment with life is a problem with expectations, not with life.
Anyway, all of this is to say rest in peace, Rue McClanahan, and belatedly, Bea Arthur and Estelle Getty. You were in a silly sitcom about sassy old broads, and I miss you all.