In many ways, there has never been a show before or since quite like The Golden Girls on network television. Focusing on four mature women living together in Miami, the ‘80s sit-com followed the highs and lows of them during their golden years. Dorothy was the quick-witted de facto leader of the group, Rose was the lovable airhead, Blanche was the vivacious Southern belle, and Sophia was the acid-tongued matriarch and Dorothy’s mother. Their different personalities made for crackling dialogue, hilarious storylines, and moments of melodrama.
The girls pulled through for one another time after time, and fans tuned in to see them navigate that time in their life with authenticity. They proved that women of a certain age didn’t have to shy away from sensitive topics like sex, sexual orientation, or addiction. The Golden Girls was often on the forefront of topical debate, in a way that was accessible for viewers charmed by its concept. Their concepts didn’t always land every season, and there were duds as much as there were memorable storylines, but never a dull moment! Here are the best and worst episodes of their seven seasons.
10 BEST: A LITTLE ROMANCE (SEASON 1, EPISODE 13)
This episode isn’t just great because it features the great Brent Collins as Dr. Jonathan Newman, Rose’s new beau, but because of how tactfully it handles the unique situation surrounding his first meeting with the girls. His relationship with Rose is getting serious, and she invites him to dinner at the house to see how Blanche, Dorothy, and Sophia feel he “measures up.”
When it’s revealed that’s he’s a little person, there are many jokes unwittingly made at his expense, and while other series of the time would have been content to make him the butt of the joke the entire episode, he stands up for himself, and the girls are forced to check their inherent prejudices.
9 WORST: FLU ATTACK (SEASON 1, EPISODE 21)
Often the golden girls found themselves at odds with each other when they vied over anything, especially jobs and men. In “Flu Attack,” Dorothy, Blanche, and Rose are all being considered for the Volunteer of the Year award, and tension unsurprisingly mounts when their competitive natures all surface at once.
It doesn’t help that they all simultaneously contract the flu, forcing them to all have to sit together on the couch, being miserable and missing the awards banquet that meant the most to them. The episode brings out the worst in the girls, who spend the majority of it fighting and insulting each other. Viewers were just happy when it was over with and they were (mostly) friends again.
8 BEST: THE CASE OF THE LIBERTINE BELLE (SEASON 7, EPISODE 2)
In this fan favorite episode of the show, Blanche is tasked with organizing her museum’s first annual outing, in the hopes of impressing Kendall Nesbitt, who has just revealed he’s looking for an assistant at the museum. A member of the Maltese Falcon Club, Blanche suggests a murder mystery weekend at the Queen of the Keys Hotel for the event.
Blanche invites the girls along, and over the course of the weekend, the plot of the regular murder mystery goes afoul when it appears a real murder may have taken place with Blanche as the prime suspect! Rose manages to shed her incompetence long enough to actually produce some solid detective skills and solve the case.
7 WORST: HIGH ANXIETY (SEASON 4, EPISODE 20)
This episode proved a divisive one for fans due to its sensitive subject matter. In “High Anxiety,” it’s revealed that Rose has a serious drug problem - she’s addicted to painkillers. The girls are surprised to discover this, and at one point have to help her through a particularly rough night as she tries to shake the habit.
While the episode is respectful of Rose’s problem, and never robs her of the difficulty of trying to overcome it, it has some serious flaws. Such as if Rose has been addicted to painkillers for 30 years, how has her doctor not stopped issuing them after her initial ailment for which they were prescribed was cured?
6 BEST: ONE FLEW OUT OF THE CUCKOO'S NEST (SEASON 7, SERIES FINALE)
Though this episode was bittersweet, it was a fantastic send off for Dorothy and a heartwarming way to wrap up the series. It focused on Dorothy’s relationship with Lucas (Leslie Nielsen), Blanche’s uncle, who she originally pretended to be engaged to so that she could take revenge on Blanche for setting her up on a blind date in the first place.
The joke was on the pair, however, as they actually did end up falling for one another, and get married in the last episode. While it’s heartbreaking to watch the girls be divided, Blanche, Sophia, and Rose would go on to star in The Golden Palace, a spin-off about them purchasing and running a hotel.
5 WORST: LOVE UNDER THE BIG TOP (SEASON 5, EPISODE 5)
Even the fabulous Dick Van Dyke can’t save this episode, which focuses on Dorothy’s relationship to a prominent attorney in Miami, Ken Whittingham (Van Dyke), who has had enough of law and intends to fulfill his lifelong dream of becoming a circus clown. Dorothy thinks he’s about to propose and he instead puts on a red clown nose!
Dorothy isn’t exactly thrilled with this new development, but she’s glad to see him again when she and the girls are arrested for trespassing on a peer to participate in a Save-The-Dolphin’s protest. He appears (in full clown regalia) to defend them at their court hearing, and he’s able to get the charges dropped.
4 BEST: SICK AND TIRED (SEASON 5, EPISODES 1-2)
Have you ever had an ailment that you tried to explain to doctors, only for them to not believe you, ridicule you, and even make you feel worse? This all happens to Dorothy when she tries to determine the cause of her feeling sick and tired all the time.
This episode is for anyone that’s ever been told they’re crazy, or for anyone who’s had their feelings invalidated by another. When one doctor finally listens to her and informs her she has Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, you feel as relieved as she does! And the moment when she confronts one of her worst doctors at a restaurant for his callous and condescending treatment will make you want to stand up and cheer.
3 WORST: WHERE'S CHARLIE? (SEASON 7, EPISODE 5)
Not all of the plots and subplots in a Golden Girls episode pan out exactly the way you’d hope, often leaving viewers with the feeling they were rushed or half-baked. In “Where’s Charlie?”, Rose is convinced that Charlie is trying to communicate with her from beyond the grave, informing her of his disapproval of her new relationship with Miles.
Not only do viewers have to deal with a lot of silly ghost hokum, but the subplot of Blanche dating a baseball player who she “turns into a cross-dresser” is forced and unamusing. For a show that often boasts such modern views on sexual orientation and lifestyles, it felt like a cheap joke, and the actor didn’t really sell it.
2 BEST: ISN'T IT ROMANTIC (SEASON 2, EPISODE 5)
When Dorothy’s old friend Jean comes for a visit, Dorothy isn’t aware that she’s a lesbian until she comes out to her. Jean ends up having feelings for Rose, and when she reveals these emotions, Rose gently lets her down but promises to remain her friend. The episode also reveals how each of the ladies react, reflecting shifting opinions of the US at the time.
Though gay and lesbian characters weren’t unheard of on television in the ‘80s, they were often presented as flamboyant best friends, wedding planners, or some extravagant character very removed from “regular folks.” The Golden Girls was one of the first sitcoms to present a lesbian character that isn’t particularly different from the rest of the girls, which is why it was so hard for them to discern her orientation.
1 WORST: THE ARTIST (SEASON 3, EPISODE 13)
At different times throughout the series, the girls have found themselves fighting over a man, but never to such a vicious degree as in “The Artist,” when Dorothy, Blanche, and Rose find themselves all desiring the attention of the famous sculptor Lazlo. They each pose nude for him in the hopes that he’ll find them attractive.
When it’s revealed later in the episode that he’s gay, and that they should have been able to discern that, it devastates the girls and their egos - they’ve just spent the entire episode lusting after a man that doesn’t want them, and put each other down so that each of them could feel superior.