Welcome to our Fall Comedy Reads series, where we take a closer look at some of the newly released comedy-related books worth checking out this month.
It’s difficult to articulate exactly what it is about The Golden Girls that made it last this long in our hearts. Or at least, it can be difficult to point to any one thing out of its many pleasures. The sitcom, which ran from 1985-1993, featured four Florida retirees living together as friends, roommates, and a support network. Like so many sitcoms of its time, episodes followed a fairly strict format – regardless of the conflict, you knew they’d hash it out over sweets (usually cheesecake) eventually. Unlike many lasting ‘80s sitcoms, The Golden Girls wasn’t targeted at children who are now nostalgic adults. The storylines were largely those of geriatric women living in a world that expected them to be free of desire entirely.
As the title (taken from the theme song, “Thank You For Being a Friend”) suggests, the Golden Girls’ warmth and abiding friendship still hold an appeal more than twenty years after the show left the air. Thank You For Being a Friend is a fun gift book that opens with lessons in friendship gleaned from the series (“Be honest, not critical,” “Be a good listener,” and “Pay attention to the details,” among others). The rest of the book flies between profiles on the four stars of the show, a “Which Golden Girl Are You?” quiz (I’m a Rose), funny quotes, and more. It not only includes a cheesecake recipe (a staple of Golden Girls cuisine), but four variations for when you’re feeling more like a Dorothy (double chocolate fudge) than a Sophia (hazelnuts, citrus, and brandy).
It is also full of charming illustrations of the cast. Chantel de Sousa perfectly captures just the right expression for the characters, particularly when depicting them delivering banter from the series. Special attention is paid to the characters’ specific wardrobes, which are recreated with fine detail, particularly in the “Fashion Profile” section. The warm pastel color story of each page’s background gives the impression of encountering the Golden Girls in their home in Miami. Funniest of all, though, is de Sousa’s portrayal of Stan Zbornak holding his toupee while shrugging – he’s only pictured once in the whole book (appropriately), so it’s all the more impressive that the one picture captures his essence so thoroughly.
The introduction notes, “The Golden Girls…raised issues that many other light entertainment programs at the time wouldn’t touch.” It’s very true, and one of the few ways this book misses is by otherwise eliding that aspect of the series. Part of what made The Golden Girls such a groundbreaking show was the way the four leads dealt with a world modernizing around them. The characters were rarely explicitly political; they addressed challenging issues like marriage equality, immigration, and HIV by being open-hearted and considerate individuals. Instead of being stuck in old-fashioned ways like many of television’s elderly caricatures, the Golden Girls accepted that the world was changing around them, and the only way they could keep up was by holding on to their shared humanity. It was often inspiring and could be instructive for viewers unsure how to bring up these topics at home.
This book focuses more heavily on the depoliticized Golden Girls. Its introduction and conclusion address how big a deal it was to have a cast of women who talked openly about sex, but in between, it’s mostly advice about living with roommates, living with your mother, or Golden Girls grooming. And that’s all valuable, and makes the book a pleasure to read. But for all of the methods the book offers for living a modern Golden Girl lifestyle, it skips what The Golden Girls could teach us in 2017.
This is not the kind of book to read in one sitting. Like a DVR full of Golden Girls reruns from the Hallmark Channel, the best way to move through this book is to pick it up when you need to return to the world of the show (or when you’re availing yourself of Sophia’s marinara sauce recipe). And of course it’s even better leafed through with a friend willing to help you follow the guide to dressing like Blanche, or to take the quiz at the end to see who knows more about the show. Just make sure to follow the 10 Commandments for Sharehouse Living and “remember to keep holy the time when your favorite programs are on.” Luckily, everyone can agree on The Golden Girls.
Harry Waksberg is a writer and lazeabout based in Riverside, CA. He is the creator and writer of the web series Doing Good.