Sunday, September 6, 2009

THE GOLDEN GIRLS: Season One (Touchstone 1985) Buena Vista Home Entertainment

1985 will forever be marked in television history as a ‘golden’ year. For that is the year NBC executive Brandon Tartikoff and television series creator Susan Harris launched The Golden Girls: a poignant and hilarious situation comedy about the comings and goings of four elderly women living their daily lives together under one roof in Miami, Florida.

Tartikoff originally conceived the series after visiting his elderly aunt and her next-door neighbor who, despite their constant bickering and arguments were life long friends. But it was Harris’ snazzy take on keeping the ladies an eclectic and cosmopolitan blend of diverse personalities that gave and kept the series engaging, fresh and sincere.

Scripted exclusively by Kathy Speer and Terry Grossman (seasons 1-4) this successful writing team eventually gave their more general ideas to other staff writers beginning in Season 5 before bowing out entirely in 1989. From 1990 to 1993 Lavern and Shirley writer Marc Sotkin served as the guiding force for the show with assists by Richard Vaczy, Tracy Gamble, Marc Cherry and Jamie Wooten.

During The Golden Girl’s eight year run on NBC it often tackled such offbeat and taboo topics as gay marriage, impotence, suicide, gambling addiction, cross-dressing, lesbianism, Alzheimer’s Disease, child abandonment, euthanasia and botched plastic surgery, always with tongue firmly in cheek, often with blunt sexual innuendo in play, though never clumsily insincere.

It might have all been for not if casting had not been quite so inspired. Still, choices made then, that now seem so obvious, were anything but at the time of pre-production. For example, originally Rue McClananhan was cast as Rose and Betty White as Blanche; the former having played nutty but nice opposite Bea Arthur’s Maude while the latter had been the man-hungry man trap on Mary Tyler Moore. Also, McClanahan is the youngest of the series’ alumni – almost twelve years everyone else’s junior, while Estelle Getty – cast as Bea Arthur’s mother - was actually 14 months younger than Arthur herself.

In reuniting these television alumni The Golden Girls proved indestructible entertainment and a runaway smash hit for Touchstone Television (a subsidiary of the Walt Disney Co.). The show became the flagship program for NBC's Saturday Night Must See TV line up and during its original run all four stars were honored with at least one Emmy Award; the show itself receiving 65 Emmy nominations and 11 wins, four Golden Globes and two Viewers for Quality Television awards.

The premise for the show is by now, through syndication and rerun, practically a given but worth reiterating herein. Widow Blanche Devereaux (Rue McClanahan) has decided to rent rooms in her Miami home to help pay expenses. Widow Rose Nylund (Betty White) and divorcee Dorothy Zbornak (Bea Arthur) responded to the ad and are shortly thereafter joined by Dorothy's mother, Sophia Petrillo (Estelle Getty) after Shady Pines, Sophia’s retirement home, burns down.

From the get go, Season One of The Golden Girls opens with superb – if mildly risqué - repartee between its leading ladies, creating iconic and inspired comedy along the way. In all, 25 episodes comprise the first season of this landmark series with ‘Blanche and the Younger Man’, ‘ A Little Romance’ and ‘The Flu’ arguably being the most memorable.

In the first of these, Blanche attempts to turn back the hands of time to keep up with Dirk, her much younger instructor from a jazzercise class. The exercise is all for not as Dirk later confides to Blanche that she reminds him of his mother, but earlier, when Blanche tells the girls that Dirk is nearly “five years younger” than she, Dorothy bluntly replies, “In what, Blanche…dog years?”

In the second of these celebrated episodes, Betty White dates Doctor Jonathan Newman; a ‘little person’ who becomes the subject of much consternation amongst the girls – particularly Blanche, who cannot stop from sticking her foot in her mouth at practically every possible turn in their conversation.

In the latter episode, Rose inadvertently gives Dorothy and Blanche a very nasty cold the week prior to their required attendance at a gala benefit. In their weakened condition and misery the girls turn on one another and thereafter are determined to attend the gala – sick or not!

Buena Vista Home Video’s presentation of Season One of The Golden Girls is hardly worth mentioning except to state that it is one of the worst of all possible tributes for such a memorable television series.

Not only are the episodes presented out of chronology (the wallpaper in the kitchen goes back and forth between a circular and leafy pattern), but there seems to have been little care in the remastering of any of these episodes. Digital noise, color bleeding and a soft hazy patina plague most of these episodes. Flesh tones are orange and unnatural. Contrast often appears overly bright. Aliasing and edge enhancement are prevalent throughout and very often distract.

On Disc One the audio perceivably varies between episodes from very loud to extremely soft. There is even an instance where the audio completely cuts out for a brief but obtrusive moment during The Triangle episode. The only extra feature is an idiotic and pointless ‘fashion commentary’ by Joan and Melissa Rivers. Season One is a thoughtless contribution from The Walt Disney Co.: one that ought to be rectified if this series ever goes to Blu-Ray (which it most definitely should).

Recommended only for content but definitely NOT for transfer quality!

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)



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