A couple of cable channels have been running The Golden Girls lately, and after Bea Arthur’s passing, I decided to watch some episodes. I watched the show now and then years ago and found the writing inconsistent – sometimes they recycled plots from other sitcoms, and other times they came up with something pretty original and funny. At the very least, they portrayed four women who were well over thirty as vivacious, active, interesting human beings – one of those things that shouldn’t be rare, but is.
I was surprised by one episode in particular: “Melodrama.” Blanche, the delightfully unrepentant “slut” (their word) of the group, has a male friend who comforts her every time she gets stood up or has a breakup. He’s always there for her. They’ll get together, watch a movie, cuddle, and in Blanche’s words “sometimes we do more than cuddle.” That was my first “huh” moment, because that type of relationship doesn’t fall neatly into the black and white world of sex on sitcoms. In the early 90s, a sitcom viewer could safely rely on every relationship being coded as good (monogamous, potentially long-term) or bad (casual). I knew what I thought of Blanche’s relationship with this man, but I had no idea what the show expected me to think.
The plot: Blanche can’t reach her friend when she needs him and freaks out, thinking he must be dead. It turns out he was just on vacation. But the reunion is so emotional that Blanche decides she wants them to be a real couple. Meaning, of course, monogamous and potentially long-term. They try this for a while, but the magic isn’t there.
The moral, if there is one: they should remain friends who have sex sometimes when they’re lonely. It’s good. It works for them.
Well, holy shit. A sitcom from the early 90s daring to suggest a relationship that doesn’t involve dating followed by going steady followed by engagement and then marriage is a good thing? Rewarding the woman in that relationship by letting her varied and exciting sex life continue unabated? Awesome.
In fact, Blanche in general is an awesome character. She loves having loads of sex with loads of men, and so she does. The others call her “the slut” and make crude jokes about her behavior, and most of the time she just smiles and takes it as good-natured ribbing – even when it’s not so good-natured. If her roommates don’t grasp that her sexuality is her business, why reward them by taking the bait? While the other roommates mainly stick to sitcom-approved monogamous, traditional, potentially long-term relationships, it’s Blanche who exudes class and dignity by not caring what they think of her.