On April 25, 2009, my phone began to blow up with texts:
I’m so sorry for ur loss
RIP BEA :-(
It happened. I’d sensed it before it was even confirmed, but the news was official: Bea Arthur had passed away. My favorite Golden Girl was gone. Almost a year later, I would get her face tattooed on my arm above a laurel wreath and the words “Thank you for being a friend.” Dorothy Zbornak lives forever on my left bicep.
A world without Bea Arthur suddenly felt bleak. But self-soothing through Golden Girls repeats — even just as background noise (which actually proves tough because all I want to do is finish the character’s sentences) — made her death remarkably easier to digest. And after seven seasons’ worth of episodes I’ve seen hundreds of times (to quote Dorothy, “Who are you to judge me?”), there really isn’t a place I’d rather be than in the four-bedroom, ranch-style, wicker-heavy home at 6151 Richmond Street in Miami, the address where it all began.
Technically, there’s another address in Miami where it all continued, but as a general rule … we don’t talk about …
The Golden Palace (street address unknown).
Ah, yes, every Golden Girl aficionado’s dirty little secret. After Arthur decided seven seasons of The Golden Girls was enough for her, the trio that was left behind — Blanche (Rue McClanahan), Rose (Betty White), and Sophia (Estelle Getty) — embarked on a spinoff that aired on CBS for just one ill-fated season. I’ve been a Golden Girls fan for nearly half my life, and yet I knew just enough about The Golden Palace to pay it no mind, to virtually pretend it didn’t exist. Why? Because it just seemed to be the right thing to do, the way you edit out shady details of someone’s obituary the moment they eat dirt.
To be fair, all you had to tell me to keep me from watching the spinoff was that Dorothy Zbornak was nowhere to be found, but the other variables don’t necessarily sweeten the pot, either. Blanche sells her house? And she moves into a beachside Miami hotel with Rose and Sophia, all of whom work there together? And Don Cheadle and Cheech Marin are there, as is Oliver, an orphan with a Newsies-era Brooklynese accent who (thankfully) disappears after a few episodes? And the theme song — still the iconic one from the original — is performed by … a man (eek!) in a calypso rendition that feels almost as unsettling as watching Ned Beatty play Blanche’s mentally disabled brother (yikes!), Tad, who falls in love with Rose (double yikes!).
And yet, with the show’s recent addition to Hulu coinciding with the death of Betty White, I had an attitude shift. How could I be so stubborn to ignore the 24 episodes that, though not ideal, continue the Goldenverse? I dove in, patiently and carefully pouring through every episode. Despite all my hesitance, my fear that the show was as soul-crushing as the fandom seemed to whisper … was incorrect.
The Golden Palace isn’t just fine. It’s actually good and totally worth your time.
Sure, it’s mildly nostalgic. And not every joke has necessarily aged well, but what sitcom has? Between a decidedly diverse cast, a prescient story about the Confederate flag’s ugly history, and Blanche literally wishing her son (Bill Engvall) were gay — in contrast to her rejection of her own brother Clay’s same-sex nuptials in the original — the show feels altogether refreshingly modern.
But more important, it’s funny.
Some episodes work better than others even if they border on ridiculous. In just one season, Blanche falls for a gigolo with a heart of gold, a cattle rancher experiencing baby fever (Dick Gautier), and a greyhound trainer (Ken Kercheval) who puts as much thought into euthanizing his own pups as he does into choosing a pair of socks. Sophia teams up with local radio DJs (Tim Conway and Harvey Korman in peak form) to pull a cruel prank on Rose, who mercilessly returns the favor in the kind of character turn we’d never have seen on the original show. But it’s the small runners that I love the most like when Rose can’t seem to understand how elevators work, always trying to “beat” it to the ground floor.
Does every story hold up? No. Are some stories thinly disguised recycled versions of those from its predecessor? Indeed. Is it hard to believe that Sophia, nearing her 90s, transitioned from spending her days shopping for a single nectarine to full-time server and sous-chef? It is.
And I’m sorry, but I’m not interested in seeing Marin pour his heart out over cheesecake. That one hurt a little.
But you know what? Chemistry is undeniable, and these three have it even without Bea Arthur. Cheadle and Marin pull their weight, too. And it doesn’t hurt that we get to see a young, shirtless Cheadle play beach volleyball. It almost makes up for the fact that the season (and ultimately the series) finale features a B-story about building the world’s longest burrito. Almost. And as a writer on the iCarly reboot, where weird food bits tend to be a running theme, this is anything but uncharted territory.
Even my friends agree. I’m on a Golden Girls–specific text thread with Drag Race royalty Alaska Thunderfuck, H. Alan Scott, and Kerri Doherty (hosts of the podcast Out on the Lanai), all of whom were equally wary of and prejudiced toward The Golden Palace. But once it hit Hulu, we all figured there was no reason to keep pretending it didn’t exist. I asked for their thoughts:
Kerri: If you can’t decide if this spinoff is for you, watch episode 103, “Miles, We Hardly Knew Ye.” There are so many raunchy sex jokes even Joan Rivers would’ve blushed. Plus Don Cheadle and Cheech Marin are incredibly charming additions to the main cast. Is The Golden Palace the same as the flagship show? No. But it’s pretty damn close and definitely worth the watch!
H. Alan: I think the reason I slept on The Golden Palace was because I was scared it would somehow taint my love of The Golden Girls. But now, in doing our rewatch on Out on the Lanai, I’m realizing my fears were unfounded, and it’s actually a fun little romp. It’s like we’re all on the girls’ own little getaway to a hotel! And we shouldn’t be scared because we’ll always have the protection of the original series to go back to.
Alaska: Golden Palace was the name of one of my favorite Chinese buffets in Pittsburgh. But I hated the show The Golden Palace. I thought it wasn’t funny, I thought Oliver was annoying, and I was offended by the show’s very existence. But the moment Betty White passed on to the next realm, I rewatched, and now I’m outraged that there aren’t five more seasons. It’s charming and comforting and beautiful … and I even like Oliver.
Most important for me, though, is seeing that Dorothy does indeed return for not one but two episodes. Arthur’s gnawing, chewing, and spitting out the scenery immediately elevates Palace to Golden Girls glory in a scene in which she contends with a difficult customer. When she spits out the line “I don’t care if you have a pulse, much less a nice day,” she puts such a hard emphasis on the P you can almost see the venom exit her lips. Bear in mind that she delivers this line while dressed in her signature layers — garments I assume include a caftan but can’t be sure. All I know is her perfectly Floridian lewk features multiple shades of key lime, as the good Lord intended.
As bittersweet as it was to have Bea Arthur make only a short return to the show, a Miami without Dorothy Zbornak isn’t necessarily one I’d like to live in. But as a new fan of The Golden Palace, it’s one I’d like to at least visit every now and then. And I know exactly in which seaside hotel I’ll be staying.
Eliot Glazer is a comedian, actor and TV writer whose credits include The Boys: Diabolical, New Girl, and Broad City but not The Golden Palace (not that he’d have a problem with that). Next month, he will be a guest host at GoldenCon, which is exactly what it sounds like.