Saturday, June 24, 2023

Book Review: The Golden Girls

Over the course of seven years and 180 episodes, The Golden Girls altered the television landscape. For the first time in history, Americans (and, later, the rest of the world) were watching sexagenarians—and one octogenarian—leading active, vital lives. These were older women who had careers, families, lovers, and adventures, far from the matronly television characters of the past.

In The Golden Girls: A Cultural History, Bernadette Giacomazzo shows why this iconic sitcom is more than just comedy gold. She examines how, between all the laughs and the tales of St. Olaf, these women tackled tough issues of the time—issues that continue to resonate in the twenty-first century. From sexual harassment, ageism, and PTSD to AIDS, inter-racial relationships, and homosexuality, Dorothy, Rose, Blanche, and Sophia weren’t afraid to take on topics which were once considered taboo.

This book will be released on August 15, 2023. Rowman and Littlefield Publishers provided an early galley for review.

I have fond memories of this show. Not only the joy I have whenever I watch episodes but also of watching it when it first ran with important women of my life growing up: my mother, my aunt, my grandmother and my cousin. Sadly, they are no longer with us (just like the four actresses who made this show), but the memories are forever.

I came into the show thanks to Susan Harris' involvement (knowing her specifically from her amazing writing on Soap). She was a master at making the audience uproarious laugh one moment and meaningfully cry the next. I am glad this book acknowledges her contributions that helped make The Golden Girls so memorable. I had hoped for more focus here, though Harris' work (indirectly) does get mentioned later through the specific episodes sited.

As expected, a bulk of the book is dedicated specifically to the main characters and the women behind them. Each gets a "top ten" episode list (as determined by the author?) that further illustrates what is seen as defining moments for each woman and for the show. They also give additional evidence to support the cultural impacts of the show.

The writing on the book could have benefitted from another editing pass, with a focus on cleaning up repetition of certain facts and phrases that are not required multiple times. As it is, the repetition comes across as padding of word count on an already shorter book. And, although pointing it out in several places that things were different when the show aired, the author sites flaws in the writing on the show (legal and social) that do not reflect societal ways of the 21st century. This is a judgmental pitfall that occurs when analyzing previous centuries' things by today's standards. Times were different then.

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