“The Golden Girls” Television Show Review

The_Golden_Girls_opening_screenshotThank you for bein’ a friend! Those now iconic lyrics opened Touchstone Television’s (Walt Disney Company) show on NBC for 180 episodes over 7 successful seasons. Earning multiple awards from Emmys to Golden Globes, this series is also one of only three sitcoms in which each principle actor received an individual Emmy. The Golden Girls was ranked in the top ten shows for six out of its seven seasons, TV Guide (2013) ranked it 54/60 in the highest rated programs of all time, and the Writers Guild of America (WGA) ranks it at 69 out of the top 101 best written series of all time. So many accolades. Created by Susan Harris, the show ran along side another 80s hit The Facts of Life. The theme song, written by Andrew Gold and recorded by Cynthia Fee, is also ranked among the top theme songs of all time. No wonder why it is still running and bringing us endless laughter (currently runs on Hallmark Channel). Much like I Love Lucy has never been off the “air” in its entire existence, The Golden Girls has also been kept on a channel somewhere since it first debuted on September 14, 1985. From laughter to tears, these four women have been such a part of Americana and continue to be referenced in pop culture. Not limited to any particular demographic or cultural group, this show transcends all kinds of racial, ethnic, gender, economic, and cultural barriers. But why has this sitcom (situation comedy) continued to be popular for now 31 years? Let’s explore!

GG_HouseIt’s been 31 years since we were first introduced to Dorothy, Blanche, Rose, and Sophia at an upper middle-class home in the residential neighborhoods of Miami, FL. Ever since 1985, these four single older women have been coming into our living rooms and, for many, have become part of the family. The sitcom represents a radical move by the Walt Disney Company and NBC in that the show featured so many taboos, at that time, in broadcast television. In many ways, the show was 2-3 decades ahead of its time. The very unique nature of the show is part of why it was such success. However, the continued success of the show goes way beyond just being uncanny for its day. For a show to stand the test of time, it cannot be, in whole anyway, (1) a product of its generation (2) contain proliferated pop culture references that significantly support the plot (3) must have exquisite writing (4) have a phenomenal cast that is as interesting to watch and listen to as the plots are engaging and (5) contains characters that one can identify with decades down the road. Over all, the show has to be unique, timely, and just written and acted exceptionally well. As this is a sitcom, in short, the jokes and conflict have to still be relevant in society for many years down the road. Although entire critical analysis articles could be written about each of the characters (and actors) respectively, the focus of this article is a general overview of why the show is endearing even to this day.

GG Cast CrewBehind every successful show (especially dialog-driven ones), there is solid writing. After creating the show and writing a few episodes, Susan Harris became less directly involved in the series. The head writers of the show (for four seasons) were Kathy Speer and Terry Grossman who would each receive numerous awards during the series’ run. Following the fourth season, they turned the reigns over to Mort Nathan and Barry Fanaro who would also go to win awards as well. Other than eccentric 80s attire, it’s the comedic conflict, sarcasm, quick witted remarks, and self-deprecating humor that keeps audiences coming back for more. No matter how many times I have seen each episode, I still laugh every time; the shows never becomes boring. The four women boasted incredibly sharp humor and were very secure in themselves. The creative leadership knew that the show had to leave its mark on television. Quite regularly, the plots were used to not necessarily address outrageous ideas, but important ones. Important ideas and values that had not been addressed in television before. What stands out most about the writing? The fact that progressive values were part of the show’s DNA. From ethnic, racial, religious, cannot forget sex and dating, and of course aging. At its core, the Golden Girls simply made aging fabulous! A good test to understand just how brilliant the writing and comedy is by turning off the picture and listening to the show as if it was a radio broadcast. Most likely, you will find yourself laughing just as much as if you were watching it. You can follow the story without the visuals to accompany it.

GG_Group_ShotBut isn’t television a visual medium? Yes. However, sitcoms are much more similar to live theatre than small cinema. Part of this is because a traditional sitcom is shot in front of a live audience. Just like stage actors feed off of the laughs from the audience, sitcom actors go through similar motions during a performance. Brilliant dialog and plot structure animates characters, and boy were these ladies animated! You won’t find four closer friends. These ladies could insult one another viciously and still remain intimately, but platonically, close. Each and every episode was so very interesting and feels new overtime. Not even a show like Friends holds up as well as The Golden Girls. The relationship between the four women was incredibly dynamic. Hardly an episode goes by that there aren’t alliances, betrayals, misunderstandings, or love triangles. Sometimes we venture to doctor’s offices, restaurants, or the parks; however, most of the time is spent inside the sun drenched Florida multi-champer house. Comparing the show’s floorpan to the exterior of the house, such a floorpan simply cannot exist. Haha. But that’s part of the fun. Unlike movie or television drama, a situation comedy is able to bend logic and make up for that with comedic timing and material. Moreover, the fashion of the girls definitely cannot be ignored. From flashy to trashy, these girls have it covered. The best part of the fashion choices is that, for the most part, the choice of clothing is an extension of the characters themselves. The fashion alone, is something that could be analyzed and actually has been in the past.

GG around tableWhile aging, women’s rights, and dating were reoccurring themes and tied directly to the show’s premise, other once taboo social topics were important milestones in the series’ development as well. Although there are a few social issues that could be mentioned, the one that is the most prominent after the ones that have been mentioned are topics dealing with gay men and women. Nearly a quarter of a century before the Supreme Court’s historic ruling on the legal definition of marriage equality, The Golden Girls had already tackled that subject and brought it into the mainstream. There are a few times that a gay character was the focus of a show, but the episode that stands out the most is when Blanche finds out that her brother is gay (and later there is an episode where he introduces her to his fiancé). This is one of the toughest episodes for Blanche and one other best examples of character development. She faced a situation that thousands of parents and siblings face everyday across the country. Before Will and GraceGleeThe New Normal, and other popular shows, these four women highlighted real world problems and social issues that continue to be battled today. Indirectly, gay social issues and stigmas were also dealt with. In the episode where Rose is contacted by a hospital regarding the possibility of her having contracted HIV through a blood transfusion, the girls take the then-unpopular stance that HIV/AIDS was not a punishment for being gay but a disease that knows no social, ethnic, sexual orientation, or religious barriers. They brought out the fact that it could happen to anyone. The brilliance of how these once-taboo subjects were handled is seen in how, amongst conflict and tears, the girls somehow still managed to bring humor into the mix, and leave you with a smile.

GG hugAfter watching this show for many years, it still has the ability to make me laugh uncontrollably at times. And, that sentiment is felt by many who have continued to visit the home of Dorothy, Blanche, Rose, and Sophia over the decades. There is so much to explore in this show, and why it continues to be popular today. From the writing to the acting and humorous conflicts to dealing with hard topics of bigotry, disease, sexual orientation, and aging, The Golden Girls continues to be a show that can help you laugh on the worst of days. Although there are shows that have attempted to be a modern day Golden Girls, none can hold a candle to these amazing performers and writers. There is a magic quality to the show that can never be duplicated.

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Peering Through the Hole into “Bates Motel”

BatesMotelTVPremiering in 2013, the longest running scripted drama in the history of the Arts and Entertainment (A&E) channel is Universal Television’s Bates Motel starring Freddie Highmore, Vera Farmiga, Max Thieriot, Nestor Carbonell, and Olivia Cooke. Based on the iconic film Psycho (1960), directed by the master of suspense Alfred Hitchcock with story by Robert Bloch, Bates Motel takes us back to Norman’s early days when he was just a teenager–who was anything but normal. If you have kept up with the series, it is at a huge turning point in the character development of Norman and it just keeps getting better and better. Often shows as dark and heavy as Bates Motel do not have staying power or begin to wane after 2-3 seasons. Not this one. Just like Hitchcock’s masterpiece Psycho continues to impress, terrify, and influence even today’s suspense/horror movies, Bates Motel provides audiences with a glimpse into how Norman came to be while concurrently focussing on others who are directly and indirectly connected to the development of the most infamous psychopath in all cinema history. From visual and verbal nods even in today’s horror films to inspiring theme park attractions to television shows, the drama at Bates Motel continues to beckon audiences and intrigue those who find the characters fascinating.

Hitch_HouseSadly, executive producer Carlton Cuse confirmed that the show’s next season is slated to be the last, and will adapt the events of the series’ namesake. Although I wish the show could go on, it is clear that we are approaching the events that started it all. That being said, this upcoming season is sure to be exciting as we get to witness the gap between where we are and where Marion Crane checks into the infamous motel begin to narrow and close. Whether we are going to end the series at the point Marion walks in or recreate the diegesis from Hitchcock’s film leaves to be seen. One of the reasons that a series like this one can even be produced is that it has prolific material from which to pull and interpret–the fact that the character of Norman Bates has been studied for years, much in the same way the film itself has been explored–provides writers and producers ample opportunity for inspiration.

Norman and NormanSince we are given little information about Norman in the movie–note: that does nothing to mitigate the experience or effectiveness of the plot–his childhood to adolescent years and transition into adulthood is open for interpretation. For many years, film scholars like myself and others have often hypothesized what psychological and emotional experiences plagued Norman and affected his development. It would be all too easy and even a copout to state that he simply suffers a psychological disorder that was present when he was born. What I appreciate about the show’s portrayal of Norman is taking the cognitive and emotional atypical condition he was likely born with and throwing other experiences into the mix. It’s nature v nurture on a whole new level. Through the storytelling of Bates Motel, we have witnessed how his upbringing has had a profound impact on his development into the single most famous psychopath in cinema and now television history.

Emma_DylanThe show is not limited to the development and history of Norman, but also includes influential people in his life. Of course there’s Mother (Norma), but we also have grown to love his estranged brother Dylan, close friend Emma, and frienemy Sheriff Romero. Obviously Norman is obviously interesting to watch, but the writers and producers of the show make sure that each of the principle and reoccurring characters are fascinating as well. Dylan represents the only male figure in Norman’s life who consistently tries to help him, even though Norman often cannot see the love in his brother’s actions. Much like Norman, Dylan has also encountered much negativity and abandonment issues as a kid. Unlike Norman though, he found ways to deal with it and build a life for himself. In recent times, Norman keeps pushing the one positive male role model in his life away to further isolate himself. His close friend and coworker Emma is a very interesting female figure in his life. Unlike Mother or other females we have encountered over the series, he loves Emma and has done nothing to bring about permanent harm to her–at least so far. Emma is the only person who really gets to see the Norman hidden behind all his bizarre actions and obsession with Mother. Like Norman and Dylan, Emma had her own struggles with cystic fibrosis. Each of the characters is dealing with their own respective psychological or physical problems.

Romero_AlexLastly, prior to analyzing Norma, Sheriff Romero has played a key role in the life of Norman. Like Dylan he too is a consistent male figure in his life, but Norman has grown to resent Romero for his relationship with Norma. Romero has worked through his involvement in the drug trade and has grown as a result of it. Again, we have an individual with their own personal conflicts amidst the consistent conflict of Norman. The only other character, besides Dylan, who really knows what Norman is capable of. Romero is constantly trying to protect Norma from what he dreads Norman is truly capable of.

NormaBates1“Mother, what have you done?!?” Norma Bates is probably the most fascinating character after Norman. She is the closest to him and has been directly and indirectly responsible for his atypical development from his time as a child into an adult. Although she all but denies Norman’s psycho-social and emotional problems, she truly does recognize they exist. Unfortunately, she is so incredibly attached to him, having been abused and abandoned herself in the past, that she cannot truly provide the help he needs. Fortunately, she finally got him the help he needed–and should’ve received years prior–at the Pine View facility as we have seen in this season. It’s too little help too late. For the longest time, she felt that mother knew best and that no one could help Norman the way she could. Oh the irony. The attachment she was so fond of is regrettably the very thing that would bring about her undoing. Despite her best intentions, she really was the most instrumental in creating a monster. Her fits of rage and jealousy transferred into the mind of Norman and intensified the predisposition to sociopathic behaviors already present. Had she taken him to get help as a child, it is entirely possible that he may not have turned out to be the “psycho” after all. But, mother will always be with Norman; and no woman is allowed to take the place of her in his life.

bates_motelWell, here we are! At the crossroads between seasons four and five. This upcoming season is sure to terrify and excite as we buildup to the single most famous scene in all of cinema history. The reason the shower scene is the single most famous scene can be recognized by analyzing the length, actions, and sounds included in those few seconds. You can learn more about that scene by reading my article The “Attraction” of  Horror: a “Psycho”analysis. After more than 50 years, the Bates Motel and Norman still haunt our dreams and provide direction and inspiration for today’s cinematic storytellers. An interesting thought on the direction of these immortal characters and setting is the potential for a live theatrical production. There is certainly enough dialog driven material that Psycho and Bates Motel can easily be translated into a live theatre experience. It takes rich material to be able to be so versatile. Here’s to the final season of A&E and Universal Television’s five year homage to the infamous and macabre happenings at the Bates Motel. Thank you Hitchcock for truly being the master of suspense.

How to Get American Netflix in Canada

Screen Shot 2016-04-07 at 3.47.05 PMBreaking away from my typical entries, I found this interesting and desired to share it with you. Having recently attended a conference with a speaker from Toronto, this topic came up. The speaker commented over drinks that she is unable to watch American Netflix in Canada. Since analyzing media and entertainment is something I do, I decided to explore how one could enjoy American Netflix in Canada. While I was browsing the internet for ideas that I may be able to share, I stumbled across this website. I found it to be quite useful and seems to solve the problem of the inability to access American (U.S.) Netflix in our neighbor to the north. Click HERE.

The Man Vanishes

ShrinkingManEvery once in a while, I make observations of trends in entertainment and media that I like to explore in hopes of encouraging further discussion; this is one of those topics: The portrayal of white heterosexual men in media has definitely changed since the days of Father Knows Best, Silver SpoonsAndy Griffith, and Leave it to Beaver. Just so we are clear, I am neither condemning nor condoning this changing portrayal in television and advertising. I am merely highlighting an element of the media based on both empirical and anecdotal evidences that, if for no other reason, is simply interesting to think about. Media should aim to be fair to all races, ethnicities, sexual orientations, religious beliefs, and genders in terms of their respective narrative portrayals. Of course, there is nothing wrong with stereotyping for comedic or dramatic effect; but, it should not become the norm or the status quo. But I digress; you could call the white heterosexual male in media the vanishing man because of how he has been treated over the years, especially in the last 20. The title I selected for this article is a play on of one of Hitchcock’s earliest film titles The Lady Vanishes.

Lucille Ball in her most famous roles in the series, except the Freezer episode.

Lucille Ball in some of her most famous roles in the series.

During the early days of entertainment media (both radio and television, and to some extent movies), the traditional male stereotype was one of strength, intelligence, rationale, and leadership; whereas the stereotype of women was unfairly characterized as ditzy, homebodies, less intelligent, overly emotional and mainly concerned with house chores and child rearing. Note: Lucille Ball’s character in I Love Lucy definitely doesn’t fit the aforementioned stereotype–and thankfully so–she did so much for the portrayal of women in media and gave us one of the most iconic characters that became such a part of Americana. Perhaps that’s why the show is still relevant today. On a side note, I watch it every morning at Planet Fitness while I use the elliptical. Anyway, over time, the stereotypes of men and women (and for the most part, unless otherwise stated, this article is referring to white heterosexual men and women) have shifted greatly. In recent decades, the past traditional female stereotypes have been rightly criticized for being unfair to women.

Cast of "Married with Children"

Cast of “Married with Children”

But, in an effort to be more fair to women, have men been dealt an unfair blow? In the past 10-20 years–mostly concentrated in, but not limited to, sitcoms–men are now almost regularly portrayed as unintelligent, irrational, disconnected, bumbling, and child-like; however, women are now shown as the grownups, leaders, intelligent, rational, and practical. This new type of man is seen in shows like The SimpsonsMarried with Children, Home Improvement, and most any Disney Channel or Nickelodeon show. When men are now shown in traditional roles, they are often portrayed as buffoons, clueless, and in need of guidance, often times by a woman or their kids. On the other hand, female characters in the media, like Progressive’s Flo, have evolved over time to be highly intelligent and superior to any male in the commercial. [Please note that I absolutely adore Flo, and find her commercials to be as entertaining as a typical television show.]

Throughout the media, we are seeing a greater diversity of players and representations of various groups such as gay men, in popular entertainment media; we are also seeing different roles for straight men. Mixed race couples can be seen, single parents are no longer regularly shown to be helpless, and non-traditional and extended family units can be found regularly. But in this effort to do good, the scales may have tipped in the opposite direction too much. Among other attributes mentioned earlier, the role of the father in the home is often devalued if existent at all; and men/partners/husbands are often seen as ineffectual and incompetant. A recent example of this can be seen in the Gogurt commercials where the father is preparing his kid’s lunch and the wife “busts his balls,” so to speak, for not packing a well-balenced lunch, which, for purposes of the commercial, means a Gugurt. Another example is the Allstate commercial where the couple is sitting in a cafe and the female driver receives the safe driving bonus check where as her husband or boyfriend does not. That is a common theme in many Allstate commercials. Interestingly enough, this vanishing man dilemma appears to be mostly limited to white men, while black men are usually portrayed as strong, masculine, and leaders in the house. However, in movies, black men are still more often portrayed as the villain and the white guy as the hero–a discussion for another time.

The cast of "Will and Grace." From left: Will, Jack, Karen, Grace

The cast of “Will and Grace.” From left: Will, Jack, Karen, Grace

Switching gears for a moment, the portrayal of gay males (mostly white) in the media has also changed over the last decade. Traditionally when portrayed, if portrayed at all, they were portrayed as silly, goofy, socially awkward, and the side-kick. But a lot has happened since the days of Will and Grace, which is arguably the launchpad of positive portrayal of a principle gay cast in a popular show. Generally speaking, gay [mostly white] males are now shown in a very positive light with characteristics from the silly to the serious in ads, television, and movies. A good example of this would be ABC’s Modern Family or the cancelled NBC show The New Normal, SmashProject Runway, and Glee are also examples of recent shows that feature prominent gay characters in a very positive/normal light, as opposed to the exaggerated characters of gay males in past shows.

Critically examining the media, it becomes clear that white heterosexual men are being systematically stereotyped as week, stupid, immature; and, it appears as though they are the only demographic group being portrayed that way on a regular basis. The desire not to offend gay men and heterosexual women has caused heterosexual men to be on the short end of the stick. In an effort to balance the scale of the representation of white men versus all other demographic groups/minorities, the media has tipped the scale in favor of the minority groups and not thought of how the portrayal is affecting men over the long run. In real life, there are gay, straight, black, white men of all personality types from the serious and responsible to the silly and ill-driven. So when we see only one side of that picture, the media just isn’t portraying a realistic portrait of men as they are today. In both television and movies, it appears as though women are being appealed to by making fun of men and showing them as ineffectual lovers and incompetent. This is increasingly witnessed in sitcoms because dramas have to be more serious and realistic, and not as regularly portrayed in works of cinema.

Not only in narrative television do you find this depiction of men, but you can increasingly find it in advertising as well. Advertisers have always known they need to write the commercials for the one in the family (or household) who does the shopping. Since a growing number of women are the keepers of the purse strings, it makes since for advertisers to gear advertisements toward women because it increases the probability that the product will be purchased. In the past, advertisements showed women how they could please their men by purchasing the right products and services. But now, we see advertising appealing to women by making fun of men. And, this is often combined with the topics that often come up during a girls night out. So, you will often see commercials highlight the incompetent father. In recent studies, research shows that 2/3 of younger men (teens, 20s, and 30s) enjoy shopping. Furthermore, with the numbers of married or partnered couples dwindling and young professionals staying single much longer than in the last generation, it will become necessary for advertisers of household items to appeal to both men and women. And if they are to sell to men, advertisers will need to ease up on how men have been portrayed in household item commercials. Again, this is a generalization because obviously there are commercials that are either neutral or appeal to the men of the house.

By making fun of men in order to appeal to women, are producers and advertisers accomplishing their goal? And, does this actually affect women’s attitudes toward produces, services, and entertainment? Perhaps this is a backlash to being looked down upon for such a long time. Many may see it that way. But, it still does not make it right or fair. Whatever the case, societal norms are changing and men and women are finding themselves in new roles. And, the American idea of masculinity is evolving rapidly as there is a wide range of stereotypes of male in the media ranging from the abusive to the grotesque and from the serious to the silly. In these roles, men are portrayed from only being able to solve problems through brut force to the gay male who relies upon sensitivity and creativity to the metrosexual (straight/effeminate) male. And in that realm of confusion, that may explain why we see these more negative representations of heterosexual males.

Striking a balance in the portrayal of genders in the media is a game

Striking a balance in the portrayal of genders in the media is a game

Hopefully, highlighting this issue will open the door for communication and discussion in terms of gender roles in todays’ society and how various groups of people are represented in the media. Perhaps, maybe this will help producers and advertisers to show all types of people in a more realistic light and not stereotype one group more negatively than another. Due to children being probably more porous than ever, and shaping their world view of men by how they view males in the media, perhaps this will encourage the creators of content not to paint men in such a negative way because there are plenty of examples of wonderful fathers, husbands, and boyfriends out in the world. Research shows that kids’ perceptions of men on television are not positive. And this is a dangerous slope. Many children see men on television as stupid and inept and women are portrayed as effective and intelligent. However, more recent commercials and shows have made an effort to show men in a more favorable light, and we could be seeing the pendulum swing back to a more neutral position.

One thing is for sure, it is up to the parent(s) to guide children as to what is real and not real. And, that males and females in television may not always exhibit characteristics that are desirable in the real world. It is important to stress that stereotypes do not represent reality, but merely a creative twist or embellishment on reality. At the end of the day, characters are created to sell a show. But, it is important to recognize that men may be being dealt a bad hand by the media, and creators should step back to see that the very thing that happened to women and gay males in the past is effecting the portrayal of heterosexual men today.

 

References

  • Abernathy, M., Professor of Communication Studies, Indiana University
  • Lucas, S., Professor of Sociology and Anthropology, Lake Tahoe Community College
  • Gender Ads Project, Accessed from http://www.genderads.com
  • Basow, S.A., Stereotypes and Roles, Thomson/Brooks Cole, 1992
  • Reeves, B., Children’s Perceptions of TV Characters, Human Communication Research, Vol 3, Issue 2

87th Oscars Review

87th OScarsBefore you think that this is another “Monday morning quarterback” review of the Oscars–meaning a critique of who won, lost, etc, I would just like to share my thoughts on the show itself. Overall, I feel that the show quality was very high and I liked the simplified but classy production design. Other than two REALLY long acceptance speeches, most speeches were heartfelt and appropriate (and only one overly political for no reason, for it had nothing to do with the movie she won for). The opening number was a lot of fun and utilized the talents of Neil Patrick Harris, Anna Kendrick, and Jack Black very well. The concept of building an opening number around the foundation of filmmaking (moving pictures) made for a splendid performance. And, other than the telecast running just shy of FOUR HOURS, the pace of the show was fluid and it appears to have kept the attention of the audience there and at home from beginning to end.

The highlight of the evening was the performance of Lady Gaga in the tribute to The Sound of Music. This impact was made greater with the entrance of Dame Julie Andrews following the outstanding medley of song from such a beloved movie. I think what was most brilliant about Gaga’s performance was the sheer juxtaposition to her normal fair (other than the easy listening/lounge music show for which she partnered with Tony Bennett). Prior to the tribute to The Sound of Music, Jennifer Hudson killed it with her performance during the In Memoriam. As far as the performances for the songs nominated for Best Original Song, they were all executed very well and made for a delightful production.

Probably most of you agree with me up to this point–but this is where I am going to lose some of you. I do not think Harris was a satisfactory host for this year’s award show. Other than the opening number and a few zings here and there, I felt his overall performance as host was less than appealing. Compared to the outstanding job of Ellen last year, he failed to meet the expectations of this critic. Ordinarily, Harris is a wonderful host, but he just wasn’t on his game last night. Now, I realize that many critics panned Ellen’s hosting last year, but she truly brought life into a show that continues to struggle to retain viewers. Many people chose to watch The Walking Dead instead of the 87-year-old show.

Over all, the 87th annual Oscars put on a good show and the pantheon of presenters brought both laughter and tears to the audience. Other than the host not being up to par, I feel the producers of The Oscars need to do a better job at time management because a telecast of an award show–even the most important in film–need not exceed three hours. Honestly, it should strive to be around 2-2.5 hours (e.g. 8:30pm-11:00pm). But, here’s to another year of moving pictures for those who both work in and appreciate the art of cinema.