How to Start Watching The Golden Girls:
A Starter Kit

“I have to admit something. 
I’ve never seen The Golden Girls.”

If you’ve been told most of your life to watch a television show about old ladies from the ’80s and you’re finally ready to take the plunge to find out what all the hype is about, welcome. You’ve come to the right place.

 

Perhaps you’ve reached the moment in quarantine when you’ve binged all of the modern shows that were on your list, and now you’re ready to head back thirty years. Maybe you’re a gay man who is slightly embarrassed to not understand all of the references to ‘Shady Pines’ or ‘Coco’ on Grindr. Or it could be that you’re just so charmed by National Treasure™ Betty White that you decided to pick this moment to give it a go.

 

Whatever your reasoning, if you've ever wondered, "Is The Golden Girls worth a watch?", read our ultimate guide for how to start watching The Golden Girls, start understanding the references, and, jeez, start living already.

NOTE: Obviously, watching the show from the pilot to the finale, in order, is the best way to go. But we get it. There are seven whole seasons, and you’re a busy person. This is the cheat sheet for the highlight reel to get you up to speed and become a true lover of The Golden Girls in no time.

tl;dr

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A Bit of Background Information About The Golden Girls

What is The Golden Girls about?
Four women over 50 -- one divorced and three widowed — living together as roommates in Miami, Florida.

Who are The Golden Girls?
Dorothy Zbornak (played by Bea Arthur), Blanche Devereaux (played by Rue McClanahan), Rose Nylund (played by Betty White), and Sophia Petrillo (played by Estelle Getty).

Why do people love The Golden Girls?
It’s one of the first shows about ‘chosen family,’ showed everyone that there is life after 40, was ahead of its time on topics like marriage equality, HIV, homelessness, and single motherhood, and centers around the bonds of friendship. Plus, it’s absolutely hilarious and the four leads act the hell out of it.

 

 

Understand The Golden Girls Characters

The internet is rife with “which Golden Girl are you?” quizzes, and it’s predominantly because our gals are a quartet of archetypes. Get schooled on the four main characters so you can have a head start.

Dorothy Zbornak
The sarcastic, grounded one, Dorothy is a substitute English teacher who is recently divorced from her husband of 38 years. She’s often the bastion of sanity amongst the girls as wacky antics ensue.

Blanche Devereaux

The coquettish vixen, Blanche is the youngest of the girls and primarily enjoys the company of men, being from the South, and herself. She’s the owner of the house the girls live in at 6151 Richmond Street in Miami, FL.

Rose Nylund

The densest but most endearing of the bunch, Rose hails from St. Olaf, Minnesota, which could quite possibly be the place with the highest concentration of dimwits on the planet. She’s innocent, competitive, and loquacious when sharing stories of her hometown.

Sophia Petrillo

The wisecracking grandma who isn’t afraid to call it like it is, Sophia is the eldest of the girls, Dorothy’s mother, and arguably the funniest of the bunch. She moves in with Dorothy, Rose, and Blanche when her retirement home, Shady Pines, burns down.

 

Understand the References in The Golden Girls

Beyond the names of the girls themselves, you’ve probably heard a handful of inside jokes and references — or at least seen them printed on a T-shirt or a meme. Here’s a cheat sheet to understanding some of the more common mentions in The Golden Girls.

 

Lanai

Unless you’re from Florida or Hawaii, you probably learned what a ‘lanai’ was from The Golden Girls. A lanai is basically a finished back patio porch with a roof, with at least one side open to the elements, and probably flora-adjacent. The girls have one. And they spend time there. Now you know.

 

Shady Pines

Before Sophia moved in with Dorothy, Blanche, and Rose, Dorothy had put her in a retirement home called Shady Pines after she had a stroke. It’s often used as a threat from Dorothy when Sophia acts up — she need only mutter, ‘Shady Pines, Ma’ for Sophia to fall in line.

 

St. Olaf

A small town in Minnesota founded by Scandinavian settlers, St. Olaf is Rose Nylund’s hometown, and — judging by Rose’s stories — is a bastion of lovely but really dopey people. Herring and farm animals feature heavily in the tales.

 

Cheesecake

When the Golden Girls would have late-night talks about the problems they were going through, they’d get peckish, of course, and the dessert of choice was usually cheesecake. Fun fact: Bea Arthur, who plays Dorothy, reportedly hated cheesecake in real life.

 

Big Daddy

Blanche calls her father “Big Daddy,” which probably doesn’t make too much sense to you right now, but will make slightly more sense when you actually watch the series. Chalk it up to Blanche’s tendency to worship anything traditional, Southern, or antebellum, I guess.

 

Coco

Believe it or not, there was a live-in gay cook (slash houseboy) in the pilot episode. Once they realized how hilarious Sophia was, though, there wasn’t enough room for his levity — despite him being (as Sophia said) an “OK petunia.”

 

‘Picture It: Sicily’

This is Sophia’s go-to lead in for her wisdom-filled (and sometimes unhinged) stories about where she grew up, a seemingly dreadful and poverty-stricken village in Sicily.

 

‘Thank You for Being a Friend’

You’ve probably heard this line before. It’s lovely. It’s appreciative. It also comes from (and is the name of) The Golden Girls theme song — originally by Andrew Gold and recorded by Cynthia Fee. The tune is catchy in its own right, but absolutely much improved in the Gospel Remix.

 

 

BONUS: THE GOLDEN GIRLS HUSBANDS

George Devereaux

Blanche’s late husband, George Devereaux is a Georgian man who must have been super special, since Blanche chose him to marry out of her many reported suitors.

 

Charlie Nylund

A (mediocre) insurance salesman but a hell of a nice guy, Charlie Nylund was Rose’s husband and built a life with her in St. Olaf. He died of a heart attack while he and Rose were making love.

 

Stanley Zbornak

Most accurately described as a “yutz,” Stan Zbornak is Dorothy’s ex-husband who left their marriage of 38 years for a 20-something airline ‘stewardess.’ He frequently visits the house to irritate the hell out of the girls, and, of course, to mooch.

 

Sal Petrillo

A Sicilian and a true Brooklynite, Salvadore Petrillo was married to Sophia. He loved to gamble, had a goofy laugh, and was known to try to make love to his wife while his T-shirt was covered in linguine.

 

Start Watching the Best Representative Episodes of The Golden Girls

Are you ready to become a moderate Golden Girls expert in only 3 hours, 36 minutes, and 22 seconds? 

Get a pizza or bucket of chicken ready to binge only 9 episodes in a crash course in what The Golden Girls hype is all about. The official starter kit to The Golden Girls becoming your jam is below.

START WITH:

Isn’t It Romantic

 

Season 2, Episode 5

 

DESCRIPTION:

 

Dorothy’s friend Jean visits and falls in love with Rose.

 

WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH THIS:

 

It’s rare to watch a show from the mid-1980s that handles queer issues well. This episode is one of the best episodes of The Golden Girls to showcase how this show does such a great job of balancing serious topics with side-splitting laughter, while featuring a gay character who isn’t a stereotype to boot. The story is as endearing as the dialogue.

 

CHOICE QUOTE:

 

Dorothy: Ma, we did not get a VCR so that you could watch dirty movies.

Sophia: I'm 81, what are you worrying about? You think I'm gonna find someone down at the center to do that with?

 

🌴

NEXT, WATCH:

Ladies of the Evening

 

Season 2, Episode 2

 

DESCRIPTION:

 

The girls are mistaken for prostitutes on the way to a Burt Reynolds party.

 

WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH THIS:

 

It sounds like a goofball plot — I mean, it is — but it’s a great example of how goofball plots are eminently believable on this show. It’s primarily because the four actresses do such a bang-up job of playing older ladies getting in trouble. Even in a sea of 1980s celebrity references and neon-clad Miami prostitute fashion, this episode still plays like a comfortable, silly sitcom you could catch premiering today.

 

CHOICE QUOTE:

 

Blanche: Girls. Do you see that man over there staring at me? He's undressing me with his eyes.
Rose: Do you want to move to another table?
Blanche: Not yet. He's only half done.

 

🌴

NEXT, WATCH:

Flu Attack (AKA The Flu)

 

Season 1, Episode 21

 

DESCRIPTION:

 

Dorothy, Blanche, and Rose get the flu prior to attending an awards banquet.

 

WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH THIS:

 

True friendship is tested when you’re the worst version of yourself, and being sick with the flu is pretty close to the worst that some folks get. Add in a competitive element in the form of an award, and this episode is a great and hilarious illustration of how the girls interact as family members — in both the heartwarming supportive way, and in the get-the-hell-away-from-me-you’re-disgusting way.

 

CHOICE QUOTE:

 

Blanche: I treat my body like a temple.
Sophia: Yeah, open to everyone, day or night.

 

🌴

NEXT, WATCH:

The Accurate Conception

 

Season 5, Episode 3

 

DESCRIPTION:

 

Blanche’s daughter Rebecca wants to conceive by artificial insemination.

 

WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH THIS:

 

It’s not every day you watch a hilarious sitcom about sperm. (At least we assume.) But this episode tackles single motherhood by choice — a not-often-seen or discussed representation on television — and does it by delicately balancing assertiveness, tolerance, and humor.

 

CHOICE QUOTE:

 

Blanche: What in hell are we doing here? I feel like I'm in the middle of some awful dream. Yet I know it can't be a dream 'cause there are no boy dancers.

 

🌴

NEXT, WATCH:

Dorothy's New Friend

 

Season 3, Episode 15

 

DESCRIPTION:

 

Dorothy befriends a snobbish author, much to the chagrin of Rose and Blanche.

 

WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH THIS:

 

Nearly everyone has a friend who has a friend they don’t like, but not all are famous Miami novelists with access to exclusive social clubs. This episode is a terrific exploration of the tension between being a supportive friend and calling it like you sees it.

 

CHOICE QUOTE:

 

Rose, holding a fake horse head: Look at the great costume I got for the masquerade ball. I can't decide whether to be the front end or the rear end.
Sophia: I'm in a romantic mood. I'm gonna let that golden opportunity pass right by.

 

🌴

NEXT, WATCH:

Yes, We Have No Havanas

 

Season 4, Episode 1

 

DESCRIPTION:

 

Blanche and Sophia fight over dating an older Cuban gentleman.

 

WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH THIS:

 

The barbs slung back and forth between the two ladies fighting over a man are rollicking, and the B story gets to show you Dorothy in action as a teacher. It’s a delightful frolic into the all-too-common situation of dear friends letting a man get between them. Plus, the resolution takes quite the unexpected turn.

 

CHOICE QUOTE:

 

Fidel Santiago: Blanche was right. She said you were incorrigible.
Sophia: I guess I deserve it, I always say she's a cheap slut.

 

🌴

NEXT, WATCH:

The Case of the Libertine Belle

 

Season 7, Episode 2

 

DESCRIPTION:

 

The girls attend a murder mystery weekend.

 

WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH THIS:

 

If “murder mystery weekend” didn’t already sell you, this is often cited as one of the most fun Golden Girls episodes. It has it all: Dorothy working to solve crimes, Blanche working her flirtation, Rose working through her cluelessness, and Sophia working on swiping some fine china from a dinner party. Full of fantastic quips and charismatic characters.

 

CHOICE QUOTE:

 

Dorothy: All right, Ma, give me your mirror.
Rose: What for?
Dorothy: Every morning I hold it under Ma's nose. If it fogs up, I start the coffee.

 

🌴

NEXT, WATCH:

The Mangiacavallo Curse Makes a Lousy Wedding Present

 

Season 5, Episode 23

 

DESCRIPTION:

 

Sophia holds a grudge as the girls attend Dorothy’s goddaughter’s wedding.

 

WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH THIS:

 

Checking up on how an old Sicilian curse turned out is just some of the fun of this jazz-music, wedding-dancing, date-swapping, friend-feuding, old-romance episode. If nothing else, you get to see Rose all horned up, and that’s worth it in and of itself.

 

CHOICE QUOTE:

 

Dorothy: Look at the way Blanche is nuzzling up to him! Look, I'm not gonna take this lying down.
Sophia: I don't think you're gonna be invited.

 

🌴

FINALLY, WATCH:

How Do You Solve a Problem Like Sophia?

 

Season 6, Episode 8

 

DESCRIPTION:

 

Sophia decides to join the convent.

 

WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH THIS:

 

Religion doesn’t factor into this show too often, but it does seem inevitable that a widowed, older Italian woman might at some point consider becoming a nun. It’s also inevitable that a hilariously brash and outspoken old lady running around an abbey would make for some great comedy.

 

CHOICE QUOTE:

 

Sister Claire: We have very strict guidelines when selecting postulants, so we're going to put Sophia through a battery of psychological tests. It helps weed out the crazies and undesirables.
Dorothy: Sorry, Ma.

 

Huzzah! You’ve completed the 9 episodes of The Golden Girls for beginners. You can now not only claim to have seen The Golden Girls, but you’re at least a middle-weight expert in its style, humor, and cultural currency.

 

If you’d like to continue on, or delve into starter episodes with a different approach, read more recommendations based on genre, other television shows, or internet nostalgia below.

 

Start Watching by Style of Content

If you’re a devotee of the ‘browse by category’ menu, or are in the mood for something darker, or more touching, or simply chuckle-worthy, take a look at some suggested Golden Girls episodes to watch by style of content.

If you’re into sexual content, watch The Artist or Family Affair
Whether it’s the girls posing nude for a Hungarian sculptor, or Dorothy and Rose’s kids hopping into bed with one another, The Golden Girls doesn’t shy away from the lewd.

If you’re into character development, watch What a Difference a Date Makes or It’s a Miserable Life
It’s enjoyable to watch good character builds, but especially fun when other characters push them to become better people. Dorothy’s would-be prom date and the girls’ crotchety next-door neighbor help drive the antics and growth in these two captivating episodes.

If you’re into cleverness and witticisms, watch Hey, Look Me Over or Till Death Do We Volley
There’s nothing quite like having an old friend visit, having old film developed, or having to get a hearing aid because you’re old to really spring some surprises on you. Luckily, dealing with it is a piece of cake if you heap a heavy dose of snark and levity onto it.

If you’re into lighthearted and goofy stories, watch Henny Penny — Straight, No Chaser or Grab That Dough
An episode where the girls have to dress up as a menagerie of barnyard birds for a school musical, or one where they compete on a good old-fashioned game show — both recipes for hilarious and wacky delight.

If you’re into solid plot development, watch To Catch a Neighbor or Mrs. George Devereaux
The sitcom equivalent of a page turner, an episode with great plot development is over much too soon. But you’ll be supremely pleased with learning what happens when the girls try to catch a jewel thief with the help of George Clooney, and find out who Blanche’s secret admirer is with the help of Sonny Bono.

If you’re into drama and heavy topics, watch 72 Hours or High Anxiety
Both of these episodes center around the “innocent” Rose character having a medical issue that’s highly stigmatized — even today. The Golden Girls pushed the envelope with progressive thinking, acting as PSAs for topics that the government wouldn’t even touch at the time.

If you’re into heartwarming friendship, watch The Sisters or Old Friends
To be fair, almost all of the episodes of The Golden Girls could fall under ‘heartwarming friendship,’ but these two gems -- when Sophia’s sister Angela visits and the girls team up to decipher a miscommunication, and when Sophia befriends a man with Alzheimer’s at the beach — stand out as unique displays of affection.

 

Start Watching by Similar TV Shows

Chances are, lots of your favorite TV shows owe a debt to The Golden Girls, whether it be through the writing, trailblazing, or just plain inspiration. Check out a few popular television shows below to find a corresponding episode with which to whet your appetite.

If you like Sex & The City, watch Love Me Tender

Dorothy dates a bald, boring, sheepish old man with whom she has nothing in common, except for the fact that he’s the greatest lover she’s ever had. Then she gabs with her friends about it. Sound familiar? There’s a reason why the foursome of Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte, and Miranda took off — it’s because the original four Girls set the course.

 

If you like Seinfeld, watch The Auction

The foursome try to get rich quick by buying a dumb painting from an awful man who’s about to kick the bucket — but things go awry. This could literally be the plot of a Seinfeld episode, but it’s The Golden Girls instead.

 

If you like Grace and Frankie, watch Goodbye, Mr. Gordon

This episode is perfect for the Grace and Frankie fan, as there are myriad similarities between the series. Dorothy gets a blast from the past when her high school English teacher crush comes to town, just in time to watch her and Blanche appear on a morning show about women who live together and love each other.

 

If you like Fleabag, watch A Little Romance

Blending hopelessly embarrassing yourself at a social function with a somewhat irreverent storyline, this episode is a perfect fit for Fleabag fans. (Also, just as an additional note, Golden Girls covered the “should I sleep with a hot priest?” story line  thirty years before Fleabag made it popular again — in Forgive Me, Father.)

 

If you like Arrested Development, watch The Monkey Show

Dysfunctional families, on-again/off-again relationships, and trying to sleep with your sibling’s ex. Sounds like the makings of an Arrested Development episode if you ask me. Fun fact: Mitchell Hurwitz, the creator of Arrested Development, co-wrote this episode!

 

If you like Schitt’s Creek, watch My Brother, My Father

Being forced to act in a certain manner that’s disagreeable is at the heart of this episode, where Dorothy is forced to pretend she and Stan are still married, even though it’s absolutely ew-inducing.

 

If you like Veep, watch The President’s Coming! The President’s Coming!

If you love Veep, you’re probably somewhat politically astute and have a penchant for the absurd. Lucky for you, this episode covers all that and more. President George H.W. Bush decides he’d like to visit a Miami household during a campaign tour and our girls are on the short list. Dorothy prepares to give him an earful about his failed education policy and Rose wonders how the staff vacuums an oval-shaped office.

 

Start Watching to Understand Memes

Maybe you saw Sophia with her arms outstretched being used as a parody of the lunacy that was Kimberly Guilfoyle’s 2020 RNC speech, or maybe your mom is a needy texter and you’re looking for the perfect GIF to send back to her relentless emoji-filled messages. Regardless, The Golden Girls have carved out their permanent place on the internet, and we’d like to help give you some context for a few of the most popular memes.

the ‘Sophia cackling wielding a knife’ meme

Watch The Way We Met (Season 1)

Perfect if you’ve ever watched Psycho and been jumpy for a week afterwards, or if you love terrorizing loved ones.

 

 

🌴

the ‘Dorothy angrily saying, ‘No, I will not have a nice day!’ into the phone’ meme

Watch Adult Education (Season 1)

Remember the days of using a telephone to order concert tickets? Well, even if you don’t, it happened, and it sure was frustrating as hell — especially when you’re trying to get Sinatra tickets. Dorothy perfectly embodies how we all felt here.

 

 

🌴

the ‘Blanche saying, ‘eat dirt and die, trash’ meme

Watch Joust Between Friends (Season 2)

When Blanche thinks Dorothy is ditching their friendship for a work gig, she minces no words telling her exactly how she feels — and creates an insult for the ages.

 

🌴

the ‘Rose saying, ‘the older you get the better you get unless you’re a banana’’ meme

Watch And Then There Was One (Season 2)
This episode finds the girls considering adopting an abandoned baby and doing motherhood over, at which point Rose delivers this quip. I mean, she’s not wrong.

🌴

the ‘Dorothy saying, ‘not now, Ma!’’ meme

Watch The Case of the Libertine Bell (Season 7)

There are a lot of “Ma!” admonishment exclamations in The Golden Girls, but this one — where Sophia confesses she’s stolen an entire table setting from a murder mystery party — is the best one.

'So, why do people like 
The Golden Girls?'

After completing this Golden Girls Starter Kit, you now know the answer to the question, "why do people like The Golden Girls?", and can proselytize like the best of us. Congratulations! Order your Shady Pines T-shirt now.

 

And hey, if that one friend begging you to watch The Golden Girls isn’t satisfied with this list, you can reference the wisecracks and witticisms you’ve already absorbed and ask them to supplement your now-ample knowledge.

 

Thank you for being a friend.*

 

 

 

*hey, you get it now!

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