Ask an average viewer why they like watching The Golden Girls.
Their answer will likely be something like, “it’s comforting,” or “it’s hilarious,” or “the ladies are like my surrogate grandmothers.”
It’s a far cry from the reasons someone might cite about watching a show like Game of Thrones, or binging Breaking Bad, or curling up with a few late-night episodes of Law & Order: SVU. These shows are classic “dark” television, and no one would argue that they’re a far cry from the old-lady antics of Dorothy, Rose, Blanche, and Sophia.
But to casual viewers, it can be a bit surprising to find out that multi-camera sitcom The Golden Girls touched on all sorts of unsettling and heavy themes — including bestiality and slavery and all sorts of intense topics in between.
What’s exceptional is that the show tackles intense themes like homelessness, euthanasia, and HIV/AIDS in earnest, and still manages to be funny. A handful of these themes are covered in what could be referred to as Very Special Episodes™, but most of them were just woven into the fabric of its regular writing.
Below is a compendium of every dark, challenging, heavy, dramatic, unpleasant, and uncomfortable theme that’s been covered in The Golden Girls.
Grab all your late-night kitchen table provisions and read on.
A B C D E F G H I J L M N O P R S T U V W
Abandonment Issues (Child Abandonment)
Dorothy has a lot of issues with Sal leaving her alone at the hospital when she was five — even though he had to go to work to pay for the hospital visit. Sophia also rightly has issues with Dorothy dumping her at the Shady Pines retirement home after she had a stroke. The girls thought little Emily was abandoned and nearly adopted her. But Rose was quite literally abandoned, left on the doorstep of an orphanage as a baby in a basket containing hickory-smoked cheese, spicy beef sticks, and some kind of crackers that didn't go with anything.
The girls were constantly advocating for their beliefs, most often trying to save things from being destroyed: the wetlands, the dolphin and tuna, the lighthouse, and a big ol’ tree, for example.
Rose, at the outset of the series, is apparently addicted to painkillers for several decades. Dorothy seems to be in recovery from both a smoking and a gambling addiction, suffering relapses for both of those issues throughout the series.
Not only is Rose adopted by the Lindstroms, but Blanche was basically about to adopt her juvenile delinquent nephew David if it came to it. Plus, there was an infant named Emily hanging around that also nearly became part of the fam — that is, if her father hadn’t come to pick her up, after leaving his wife in the hospital having their second and third children within a timeframe not medically possible.
Adultery & Infidelity
We have confirmation that half of the girls’ significant others cheated on them — George cheated on Blanche (and produced a secret son!), and Stan cheated on Dorothy multiple times (at both real and fake business conventions). That doesn’t even count Fidel two-timing Sophia and Blanche, or Ted Tanner having a wife back in Philadelphia, or Dorothy’s son-in-law cheating on Kate, or Glenn O’Brien lying to Dorothy. Plus, there’s even perceived infidelity, with Rose thinking that Charlie cheated on her with Blanche, or Angela thinking that Sophia kissed her husband Carmine when she never even kissed him herself. And then you have those edge cases, like Stan sleeping with Gloria, which strict Freudians would call co-dependence transference. But if you ask us, men are pigs.
I mean, some punk on vacation calls the girls “Grandma Moses & The Mosettes” just for wanting a private bathroom. Rose can’t catch a job-hunting break, even when she’s bringing a consumer suit to Enrrrrrrique Moss to defend her.
You could argue that a show called The Golden Girls covers this topic more than any other. Blanche is afraid of losing her looks, Dorothy is against getting a hearing aid, Rose goes berserk when she has an esophageal spasm (and later, a heart attack), and Sophia freaks everyone out when she has a bubble. Plus: Blanche’s face, Rose’s hands.
The girls are always ensuring they’re doing everything in their power to keep animals away from harm, like picketing to save the tuna or raising a 29-year-old pig. Except, well, that one time in the most decidedly un-Betty-White way they raised minks to be killed for their fur.
It’s unclear whether Mrs. “Jews Control the Planet” Taylor on Sophia’s Meals on Wheels route is a Jewish person herself or if she’s a burgeoning QAnon believer. But it’s very clear that the reason Barbara Thorndyke has a problem with Murray Guttman going to her “exclusive” club is because she’s an asshole.
Feeling anxious is a big motivator for lots of the girls’ actions (and inactions). Rose being hooked on prescription pills is a more glaringly obvious one, but Blanche is apprehensive pretty much any time her family visits, and Dorothy and Sophia intertwine their anxiety over romantic relationship issues or times when health seems endangered. There’s also just basic anxiety when one makes an ass of oneself, such as Blanche not being able to handle a little person coming to dinner (see also Disability).
Seeing ghosts and the “white light” are representative of a variety of types of psychological issues and coping mechanisms, and it happens to varying degrees with the girls: Rose “died” in the hospital and talks to Charlie in the present tense (who only responds “through” Sophia), Sophia often sees and chats with Sal (who also chats with God), and Blanche has whole conversations with George (who thinks Sonny Bono is still a major television star) and her grammy (who tells Blanche she’s a peckerwood via windchime), as well as with egg yolks in a ziplock.
Sophia learned to love Sal, who was arranged to be her betrothed based on height (and her standing on a rock), or dark-alley bargaining, or another murky origin story. Before Sal, however, there was Augustine Bagatelli, Giuseppe Mangiacavallo, and Guido Spirelli — men who left her or who she left in various forms who she probably should have just been dating, but hey, Sicily.
We get a two-episode arc for investigating the Shady Pines fire over a hot plate issue, but just a swift “that sucks” when Dorothy starts smoking again and commits negligent arson when she burns down the pizza/knish stand. Good thing Lily starting the kitchen fire was just willful denial over being blind.
Blanche’s daughter Rebecca pays for sperm when it used to be free and all over the place. The ladies don’t exactly treat her choice with the dignity it deserves, but they come around to the end result of the miracle of life being cool, anyway.
Rose gets fondled by her dentist, who surely deserves much more of a punishment than getting squirted with a waterpik (see also Medical Malpractice). Blanche gets manhandled by Elliott when she’s trying to mix a sloe gin fizz, and punches his arm. And while not a true assault, Rose gleefully knees a parking attendant in the safe deposit box when he stupidly runs full speed like a clip-clopping horse at an elderly woman in a dark parking garage — and keeps running faster when she tries to get away — to return her keys. Serves you right, dude.
Charlie’s old company drops Rose’s pension because they went bankrupt, on top of the fact that Blanche nearly bankrupted all of his hometown when she was about to cash in war bonds. And don’t forget that Stanley “lost it,” too, even though Dorothy reminds him he never had it in the first place.
You wouldn’t think this 1980s primetime show would cover it, but Sophia and Dorothy have not one but two allusions to a relative fucking a goat. Cousin Nunzio started living with one, and Uncle Gino legally adopted one (the latter a forever-secret from Dorothy, by her own choosing). Rose also recalls a St. Olaf holiday tradition where everyone would let the farm animals sleep inside... and the next day the rumors would start.
Harry from the pilot episode was wanted in four states and had six wives. Six wives! And Blanche was going to be the seventh! Good thing Rose and Dorothy were there to support her through all of it, since the minister didn’t give a shit about anything but running out of there as fast as he could to bury Mr. Pinkus.
Body Dysmorphia (Body Shaming)
Blanche — the woman who can’t accept that her overweight daughter Rebecca doesn’t need to be “fixed” — was ready to spend all her savings on plastic surgery to become a cookie-cutter woman, and she and Rose are often driving themselves crazy to lose weight. But the clearest winner (that is, loser) of body shaming is Dorothy, whose best friends and own mother talk about how she’s not feminine enough so often that she has to call herself a hunchback in self-deprecating defense.
These days, instead of looking for mink stoles and flour jewelry, break-in thieves would be looking for drugs — not Maalox and Estrogen, mind you, but definitely prescriptions that elderly ladies would likely have (see also Addiction).
This is Blanche’s whole thing, really. It takes a bit for Rose, who had only ever been with Charlie, to break into it, and Sophia struggles with it when she bangs Caesar Romero. But if there was ever a textbook casual sex moment, it was Dorothy with Eddie (who — fun fact! — was the voice of Piglet in Winnie the Pooh).
Though largely covered as American propaganda funded by Coca-Cola and Slurpees, communism gets multiple mentions, including Rose impressing Gorbachev with a world peace letter, and Stan’s cousin Magda delighting in Vanna White’s autobiography — a “hell of a book” as recommended by avid reader Dorothy.
A little competition isn’t necessarily a bad thing — even if it seemed to erode any healthy relationship Blanche could have with her sisters — but Rose just about pops a blood vessel when she’s not A number 1, whether it’s in butter, bowling, figure skating, football, volunteering, or field hockey (*shudders*).
A heavy theme if there ever was one, judging by the audience reactions from when Sophia smacks Blanche’s nephew David in the face. But Blanche herself is no stranger to “killing the killers,” constantly calling for a hangin’ of burglars, would-be criminals, and basically everyone who has ever wronged her.
When you’re big-time jewel thieves, George Clooney doesn’t bug your house from a van parked outside — he puts four old ladies' lives in danger by having them do it from the inside.
Sophia’s only son Phil happens to like to wear hyperfeminine women’s clothes, and Sophia both supports it and has difficulty coming to terms with it. Blanche asks her baseball player boyfriend Stevie to wear lingerie under his uniform to discover the “sensuality of baseball,” and he ends up loving it so much he shows up in a dress to ask her out. Of course, there’s also Sophia dressed up like Sonny Bono.
Moving to a new country can really throw you for a loop, especially when you’re now forced to shave under your arms due to societal expectations. But a similar shock can even come from visiting a new place, even when you kind of knew what to expect. Just ask anyone who’s seen Mount Losenbaden up close.
The origin story of how Dorothy got pregnant the first time she slept with Stan constantly shifts — as does Michael the firstborn’s age — but one of the explanations is gruesomely that she was unconscious because Stan “slipped her something.”
The premise of this television show centering around aging (see also Aging) means that death is a steady theme, starting with Rose, Blanche, and Sophia’s husbands. Sophia searches for dates in the obituaries, there are countless funerals — including many they travel for — and several dear family members and friends are lost throughout the seven seasons. Plus, Rose kills several people, if you think about it.
There’s an argument that one of Phil’s kids is heading in the delinquent direction when he fails out of animal grooming school and spends his time drinking beer and shooting the empty cans with a BB gun. Blanche’s nephew David isn’t faring well, either, considering his befriending rat-tail robbers and his complete disregard for his aunt’s hospitality. And Jackie and Marla leaving Blanche and Rose to be their fall guys is a pretty solid display of delinquency, considering how bad you have to be to have all the local judges know you already.
Dementia (Alzheimer’s / Memory Loss)
We get to see up close and personal how Blanche’s mother’s losing her memory affects her, as well as Alvin, Sophia’s buddy on the bench, and his struggle with Alzheimer’s. None of this stops the girls, and especially Dorothy, from relentlessly mocking Sophia’s own memory struggles — whether it’s forgetting the coffee as she offers an empty serving tray, or forgetting that a guest is staying in her bedroom and killing two potted palms when she had to use the restroom.
Depression (Mental Health)
The girls throw around “this is depressing” for all matters of inappropriate and miniscule issues, such as missing a train. But they do struggle with actual mental health issues, such as when Blanche doesn’t leave her bedroom after she finds out Harry is a bigamist, or Sophia when her friend passes away.
It’s no secret that aging often leads to disability, and it’s covered in all manners in the show: Ted “the jerk” Tanner is in a wheelchair, John “the charmer” Quinn and Lily “Rose, you’re a worrier” Lindstrom are both blind, and Sophia “Sneeze and Blow Myself Off a Stool, or Lift a VW as a Prank, or Perhaps Fake a Concussion from a Baseball” Petrillo.
Rose fights a few work-related battles (see also Ageism), Dorothy and Rose’s plumbing skills are pre-emptively insulted (see also Misogyny), and any number of Black characters don’t get treated equally as white people do (see also Racism).
Esophageal spasms, strokes, influenza bouts, Morton’s Neuroma, pacemakers, heart attacks, substance use disorders, and hernias are but a few of the medical maladies appearing throughout the seven years (see also Organ Transplant). It’s difficult to process the exponential curve of disease when you get older (see also Aging), but it helps if you remember the drums rum-tumming everywhere.
“Distrust” is a lighter term for the level of animosity we see play out between Dorothy and Stan at the outset of the series (and to be frank, throughout). But Dorothy is also suspicious of Sophia when she finds out Sophia was married before Sal, and doesn’t believe Blanche when she is telling the truth about Dorothy’s sleazy boyfriend Elliott or how she didn’t sleep with Gil Kessler. Come to think of it, Dorothy still has a lot of processing to do.
The saga of Dorothy and Stanley’s 38-year marriage and subsequent bitter divorce is a major theme of the series, and a major character arc for Dorothy, who evolves into a strong, independent woman who is still nicer to Stan than he ever deserved.
For all of the jokes Sophia makes about Shady Pines, it seems Sunny Pastures is a horrible enough nursing home that Sophia busts her friend Lillian out of it. At the root of it, though, is a classic American situation of “we don’t fund things to help people live,” and Sunny Pastures isn’t particularly trying to abuse its elders — it just can’t afford to not. (Luckily for Lillian, Blanche’s breasts come through.)
Nurse DeFarge may have been an official caretaker, but as is the case with most people in America, taking care of sick elders is something you painstakingly do alongside your full-time job. It just about broke Dorothy when she had to take care of Sophia after her stroke (hence shipping her off to Shady Pines), and Blanche and Rose have more than enough patience when it comes to Stan recovering at length from his heart surgery and placing food orders like he’s at Captain Jack’s.
Emotional Abuse (Verbal Abuse)
Two Devereaux women, Blanche and Becky, fell prey to shitty, abusive men who said horrifying things to maintain power over them. Rex and Jeremy, respectively, are hands-down the worst men to appear on the series, full stop. Thankfully for us (and for them), both ladies were able to escape their relationships.
Estate Turmoil (Will/Inheritance Drama)
A whole episode, between Rose and her daughter Kirsten, is dedicated to the trauma of discussing your last will & testament with your family. Sophia, too, becomes uneasy around Dorothy when she finalizes her will with Rose “LA Law” Nylund, as Dorothy wonders if there’s more to the estate than a loofah sponge and bus pass (spoiler alert: there are four gold teeth -- see also Grave Robbing).
Euthanasia (Assisted Suicide)
Who wants to die alone, really? Sophia’s friend Martha invites her to help her die over a couple of Harvey Wallbangers, and truly, she makes some great points about the futility of getting old. But Sophia knows that her friend’s particular type of fear (see also Fear) isn’t going to be soothed by gorging on hollandaise and then popping some pills.
False Identity (Alias)
Charlie’s “friend” from the war — aka a scam artist who worked in the pension department — is a great example of predatory behavior against the elderly. The most famous example, though, is the dual surprises of Miles Webber secretly being Nicholas Carbone in the witness protection program, and Karl secretly being the Cheeseman, the mobster who was after him. (All of this of course doesn’t even include the meta issue of actors playing different characters, or characters being played by different actors, on the show itself. But that’s a whole other thing.)
False Imprisonment (Arrest/Detainment)
The girls are locked up after being mistaken as prostitutes while on their way to see Mr. Burt Reynolds, Blanche faces the real fear of going to a women’s prison during a fake murder mystery, Rose’s mother gets picked up by the cops after being mistaken for being disoriented, and Dorothy gets thrown in jail for scalping tickets. That last one was a valid arrest, I guess, even if the scalping laws are far too broadstroke.
Some form of fear is likely the root of every other issue on this list. Fear of death, break-ins, assault, being abandoned, being homeless, being unsuccessful, getting old — or even some more “classic” fears like flying, having a weird recurring dream, or speaking in public — weigh heavily on the four girls and many supporting players.
When people have paid their debt to society, they deserve the benefit of the doubt — particularly if a penpal has been leading them on about sexual interest. Merrill, however, wastes no time tying up Sophia and stealing the silver in what would be a very traumatic occurrence in real life (but one that is quite funny in the show).
Financial Issues (M-O-N-E-Y)
If any of the girls were flush, they likely wouldn’t have been in the cohabitation situation they’re in in the first place. The erasure of pension benefits, losing jobs (see also Unemployment), and endless side hustles selling BLPs makes it clear that not everyone is super flush during their golden years.
Fragile Ego (Self-Esteem Issues)
When you build your ego around a singular quality, it’s fairly easy for it to come crashing down. Blanche is an embodiment of ego, needing to always be prettiest, most desirable, and the center of attention. Dorothy, too, struggles with needing to be the smartest and recognized by MENSA or the NYC BOE — or at least smarter than Rose at Jeopardy!. Rose is ruthlessly competitive (see also Competition) and breaks down when she has flashbacks to churn tampering.
Stan trying to make a quick buck by pretending Sophia is injured from a baseball is the same flavor of scam as his forgetting to declare his Corvette purchase (see also Tax Evasion), as is his general fraudulent personality itself. Sophia isn’t too far behind with hoarding misdelivered social security checks, but at least she makes it right after rolling around naked in the cash.
Dorothy gets sucked back into her addiction (see also Addiction) after Rose wants to learn how to draw a horse. Unfortunately, this poor judgment in playing with money runs in the family, as Sal lost all of the investment money for him and Max’s pizza & knish stand on a horse (see also Grudge-Holding).
The saga of Miles Webber really being Nicholas Carbone while running from the Cheeseman (see also False Identity; Witness Protection) is a run-of-the-mill government coverup. But Major Barker saying to their faces that the flash of light Rose and Dorothy saw over the lanai was a UFO — instead of a misplaced fighter jet — is the ultimate act of deceit from Uncle Sam.
They had a family to feed!
Blanche may hold onto old issues with her sisters and Rose might still be upset about churn tampering (see also Competition), but Sophia is the ultimate grudge-holder, letting feuds with people like her sister Angela and her future husband Max linger for decades. Dorothy learned from the best and won’t shut up about that ridiculous paper bird.
Blanche has guilt over her strained relationship with her children (see also Motherhood), Sophia has guilt over not fully supporting Phil in his lifestyle (see also Cross-Dressing) while he was alive, and Dorothy is perpetually guilty over putting Sophia in Shady Pines. Rose is guilty about getting everyone sick with the flu (see also Disease), but she should really feel more guilty over the diabetes she surely gave her children with her Maple Syrup Honey Brown Sugar Molasses Rice Krispies Log recipe.
Dorothy Zbornak CANNOT live in a house with a gun, and even the ghost of Charlton Heston would probably agree that Rose Nylund should never be near one again.
The most famous HIV/AIDS issue is when Rose thinks she might have it, but there’s also a little kid named Sam to whom Sophia brings a nectarine who definitely has it, and who probably has a better spirit than anyone. (Seriously, the kid is dying — can’t you bring him some chocolate or something, and not, like, a fruit he told you he hates?)
The girls literally visit a homeless shelter that is strangely connected to Michael Jackson. But the show draws the systemic connection between homelessness and the lack of a social safety net, like when Rose understands how close she is to becoming the bag lady she always sees when Charlie’s pension is cut off.
Homophobia (Gay Acceptance)
Breaking ground in an era where the only gay characters you saw, if any, were hopeless stereotypes, The Golden Girls portrayed several multi-dimensional characters — such as Blanche’s brother, Dorothy’s friend, and local Miami Image Consultants —and focused storylines on bringing homophobic characters around to accepting that gay people are just people. Even Danny Thomas.
There are murmurs of how difficult it was to feed a family during the Depression, but the most outward focus on hunger is when the girls volunteer at a soup kitchen during Christmas — acknowledging that the hungry do also get hungry outside of scheduled Christian holidays. Plus, there’s an anti-Reagan priest. You love to see it.
Illegitimate Birth (Born Out of Wedlock)
Blanche Devereaux — of all people — stayed monogamous when she was married, but George couldn’t keep it in his pants and fathered David with some lady. Dorothy famously was pregnant at her wedding to Stan. Most intriguingly, Rose was the product of a hot love affair between a young woman and a monk who isn’t supposed to sleep with young women.
In a pre-ICE era, Mario Lopez stars as “Mario,” who is in love with an America who deports him swiftly when his doting teacher Dorothy unwittingly outs him to the Feds. There are some murmurs of “doing things the right way,” a whole lot of foreshadowing of Elian Gonzalez, and misguided comparisons to Arnold Schwarzenegger. He is never mentioned again.
Listen, if you’re an older hetero woman who screws older hetero men, chances are boner issues are going to encroach on your sex life one way or another. Rose and Dorothy both help lesser dudes (see also Mediocre White Men) get their mojos back, with Ernie and Ted respectively leaving them for other women.
The now-infamous episode where Michael wants to marry Lorraine touches on Black/white systemic issues, as does Blanche’s Mammy not being able to be with Blanche’s father. The audience also thinks they’re getting an interracial relationship story when Blanche speaks wistfully about bringing her old beau Benjamin to the senior prom, but it turns out he’s just a white dude from New Jersey.
If Jimmy the aging hippie shut-in hasn’t emerged from his apartment in 22 years due to failure to live up to 1960s idealism, it seems doubtful that a good time for Dorothy to coax him out would be during the administration of George H.W. Bush. But he does anyway, basically by winning Supermarket Sweep, and then conquers his fears by walking across town to return Dorothy’s sweater.
Dorothy quite touchingly tells Blanche that she’s jealous of her every day of her life, when Blanche tells her she’s being sincere that she’s jealous of Dorothy’s glow when she sings about vamps from Savannah. Blanche is hatching schemes left and right to make men jealous, such as taking advantage of Rose’s dimwit cousin, and Rose is just jealous of any trophy she doesn’t have (see also Competition).
“We get married, we have kids, the kids leave and our husbands die. Is that some kind of test?” Rose expresses the basis of her fear of being alone (see also Fear) in the pilot episode, and the rest of the entire series is based on opting out of loneliness by sticking together or trying to tag along on romantic trips to the Bahamas. Of course, it doesn’t mean that there weren’t lonely moments, like Dorothy staying at home watching TV instead of going out, but it’s true that watching a thing shuck the corn right off the cob would be incredibly compelling.
All of the girls swap stories of their “first time” around the kitchen table, but Rose lives a different sort of loss-of-virginity story when she’s apprehensive about sleeping with Arnie, who would be the second man she ever bedded. She’s afraid of killing him, of course (see also PTSD), but that’s a whole other issue.
There’s more Cosa Nostra in a show about four old ladies than you think, thanks to Sophia’s Sicilian background and her village’s number-one export of ransom notes. Rose also briefly dates the very-real-threat of The Cheeseman, a murderer featured on America’s Most Wanted at least six times, and Sophia briefly dates the very-not-real-threat of Rocco, an assistant cook at a chowder house from Bayonne, New Jersey.
Going hand in hand with the actions of shitty men (see also Emotional Abuse), guys like Stan are masters at unscrupulously influencing others for their own benefit. Of course, outside of the context of a sexual relationship, it’s fairly easy to manipulate a simple gal like Rose into doing things like cleaning out the garage or weeding the sidewalk and make her think she owes you one.
All Clayton and Doug and countless others who happen to be gay have wanted is to share with everyone else that they loved each other, and it’s not too much to ask, and we’re still having the same damn “debates” over 30 years later (see also Homophobia) when everyone just needs to listen to Sophia and shut the hell up already. My mother did with my marriage.
Sometimes marital discord involves the husband screwing up (like with Sal, or Stan), or involves infidelity (like with Dennis, or Stan), or involves the husband getting thrown completely out (like with Michael, or Stan). In any case, the women in this show aren’t afraid to stand up for themselves and make the choices they need to either salvage their marriage or cut and run.
Rose getting groped by her dentist clearly falls into this category, but Dorothy sees the horrors of the American healthcare system up close and personal when she can’t find a decent doctor to tell her she has CFS without a side of misogyny (see also Misdiagnosis), and also gets to hear horrifying jokes about paperwork and mix-ups when she’s just trying to be able to tap dance again.
Mediocre White Men
Dorothy and Blanche get into a big fight over working for Mr. Allen, a dude who does absolutely nothing except get lost in thought about schtupping his best friend’s wife. In another bout of “woman works hard, man goofs off,” Dorothy is disappointed to find out that her slacker ex-student has presented her with an opportunity to connect with other slackers who make Joe Mama jokes to a woman in her 60s. However, the pinnacle and reigning king of male Caucasian mediocrity, as evidenced by every scene he has ever appeared in, is none other than Zbornee himself.
As the girls discuss learning about their periods, and share the difficulty of trying to understand and process a natural biological occurrence in a patriarchal society (see also Misogyny), Dorothy says, “Men blame us for being crazy when we get them…”
“...and crazy when we don’t.” Blanche, of course, would rather be pregnant not knowing the father than have to face her own aging process (see also Aging), but soon has to cope with the fact that even though she can still have sex with wanton abandon, the rest of the world won’t treat her like Mr. Cary Grant.
Setting aside the girls’ belief that Sophia and Rose had heart attacks when they had a gallbladder attack and an esophageal spasm respectively, or the fact that for 72 hours Rose thinks she may have HIV, Dorothy struggling to have a doctor tell her that she has Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is the most egregious ignorance of the Hippocratic oath.
Uh, Lou. And most of the doctors “helping” Dorothy with her Chronic Fatigue Syndrome by telling her to get a new hairdo were just a few decades away from diagnosing her (see also Misdiagnosis) as “hysterical.”
Mixed-Up at Birth
So what if you’re super tall and your mom is super short, and some Italian couple comes to the door and they’re super tall and their daughter is super short? It doesn’t necessarily mean that you were switched at birth, or that you have to get DNA results to find out the truth. But it’s important to note that if you do decide to ignore it, you won’t have to have an arranged marriage abroad to a guy named Guido when you’re in your 60s.
Motherhood (Discomfort & Doubt)
Blanche Devereaux’s stories and siblings make it clear that she had a wild ride during her own upbringing, and though she loves her children she’s quite uncomfortable with the role of being a mother. And why wouldn’t she be, when society tells her that women have to give up their own personalities and ambitions to raise another human? She did have a governess helping out, though, so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.
It’s Miami. There were several hurricanes a-comin’.
Both Sophia and Rose see the white light and “die” at some point during the series (see also Apparitions; Disease). These incidents inspire Sophia to no longer fear death and Rose to eat life — and not even the cereal. The girls also think they’re stranded on a desert island but later it turns out there’s a Hyatt Regency. Rose also has a vivid and odd dream about the girls having their heads frozen, with Sophia being the only one streetwise enough to tip the guy to get a body sooner.
Besides annoying Carol, the girls don’t seem to mind their Empty Nest neighborly brethren or the fact that Dreyfuss runs in the door, like, whenever. They do get into intense feuds with two separate neighbors over two separate trees — one of which ends in a wife cleaning up after her shitty husband (see also Mediocre White Men), and the other of which ends in killing a neighbor.
Nuclear War (World Peace)
The vast majority of this show takes place while the Berlin Wall is still intact — the wall being the thing that might have prevented the Cold War turning nuclear. Regardless, Rose is worried about it and writes a letter to Gorbachev who thinks she’s nine years old. Subsequently, Blanche is worried about the Russians using it as a propaganda ploy to convince the whole world that all Americans are as dumb as Rose and try to undermine us and topple our democracy. Silly Blanche! That didn’t happen until 2016.
Nudism (Nudist Colony)
Rose accidentally books the girls a stay at a nudist hotel, where they see more than their fair share of klingenspritzers — just not at dinner.
Organ transplants are a BFD, and so is asking your semi-estranged sister that you find incredibly selfish and irritating to give you a kidney. Not everyone can make amends or get a functioning match, but thanks to her sister Blanche and a retired Mormon school teacher, Virginia scores both.
Rose was left on a doorstep as an infant (see also Abandonment Issues), and we see Blanche become an orphan when Big Daddy passes away. Dorothy is in constant worry about becoming an orphan since she’s worried about Sophia’s health every time it takes a turn, whether it’s when she has a bubble or when she’s presenting as Zulu, Queen of the Dwarf People.
Blanche is just trying to help Gil Kessler pick out a tie and hanky combo when the paparazzi attack, and she’s particularly irritated that amongst their printed lies isn’t one about how she’s 39 years old.
Not necessarily a bad thing, but a heavy topic when — unlike Dorothy who got a little bit around the eyes — you’re talking about rearranging all your body parts like puzzle pieces just so you can look like Gavin MacLeod.
Post-Mortem Absolution (Forgiveness)
Once someone is dead, it’s pretty hard to hold their feet to the fire for a transgression, so it’s best to forgive. Rose forgave Charlie when she mistakenly thought he slept with Blanche, Blanche forgave George for having an affair and fathering David, and Dorothy started a long letter to her father to discuss what we only assume covers her inheritance of his gambling problem (see also Gambling Losses) and why he never reprimanded Gloria for breaking Mrs. Doolittle.
Between Sophia’s friend having to sleep in a shelter (see also Homelessness), Stanley Claus having to eat in the soup kitchen (see also Hunger), and massive unemployment (see also Burglary; Unemployment) there’s a lot of issues raised about living below the poverty line in the richest country on Earth. It’s too bad Dorothy never got to tell Bush off about it, though.
Dorothy is against her son marrying an older woman, Blanche is against her son-in-law — or anyone, really — being a Yankee, and Sophia is against communism because she was raised a fascist.
Prostitution (Sex Work)
Turns out the kind of fashion you’d wear to meet Mr. Burt Reynolds in the 1980s also easily gets you mistaken for attempting to satiate the sexual needs of clothing conventioneers from Kenosha. Rose helps Meg get out of the sex work biz and start anew with her family back home, although not sure they’re going to welcome her back with open arms (see also Slut-Shaming).
Therapy isn’t a negative thing, but it can uncover some negative themes. Blanche seeks it out when she’s struggling with aging, Dorothy, Stan, Sophia, and a monkey try to process their relationship with a counselor, and Sophia is pissed she doesn't make $150 to listen to everyone’s problems. The girls themselves head to therapy together to work out issues like Blanche forcing Dorothy to date an ex-felon while she’s super sick or Rose putting an ad in the personals that says Dorothy will do anything for $8 an hour, which all make Dorothy really need the therapy more than anyone.
Talking about her husband Charlie, she says he didn’t like to talk about the war much. Rose herself definitely has a bit of PTSD after Charlie died in the middle of sex, as anyone would, and especially after another dude dies after sex, as well as after she yells “drop dead” at an old woman who then promptly drops dead. I mean, damn.
Lots of couplings (see also Interracial Relationships) are either flat-out prevented or judged harshly due to anti-Black sentiments, and Blanche has some, shall we say, southern antebellum issues (see also Slavery) on the subject of race, even if she is a Feldman from Buffalo.
The thing about regrets is that you want to learn from them, and grow as a result. Dorothy has a lot of regrets about her relationship with Stan and the way her life went, and Blanche has more than a handful about her relationship with her children. Sophia, of course, regrets a fast-talking pepperoni salesman coming between her and Mama Celeste’s pizza empire.
There’s a lot of ditching religion in this series. Dorothy thinks the teacher she likes is going to leave the priesthood for her, Uncle Angelo leaves the church he never even joined in the first place, and Sophia quits the nunnery after a few weeks of hijinks. Ironically, Rose’s father doesn’t defect from being a monk.
Revenge is built into all of Sophia’s vendettas (see also Vendetta), like making socks slip down into your shoes or spawning boils on your bum. Rose also gets back at Blanche after she took her earrings without asking, arguably upping the ante a little too much to get her falsely accused of murder. And though “a girl never had a better friend than Trudy McMahon,” Dorothy’s entire friendship with her seems based on being out for blood.
The girls get hit up by jewelry thieves after a Madonna concert, George Clooney is trying to stop different (at least we think) jewelry thieves, and Nephew David’s “friend” tries to steal a worthless tchotchke, for some reason.
Scams like the ‘wallet drop’ that prey on the elderly are a serious and sad business, even if they’re done by shopping nuns.
Sophia does make Rose think her dead husband is talking to her through fruit salad (see also Apparitions) just for a laugh, and Dorothy does choose to rub elbows with a pompous anti-semite for a while instead of supporting Rose, but Blanche takes the cheesecake here. It’s not entirely clear whether nearly bankrupting St. Olaf, deliberately withholding eligible suitors from her best friends, or just a general belief in the world revolving around her is the most egregious scenario.
Professor Cooper straight up tells Blanche she can pass his class if Blanche “uses his home phone number.” Rose takes this opportunity to discuss an incident she feels is analogous: her embarrassment over soda jerk Nils Felander making ice cream scoops look like tits.
Blanche makes it clear that although she sleeps with multiple partners, she gets checked up for STDs often. And Dorothy is not shy about yelling ‘CONDOMS!’ in a drugstore.
The ladies feel a lot of shame for a lot of things on this list, tbh, whether it’s based on holding themselves to their own ethical standards or unnecessarily being judged by a patriarchal and ageist society. What is clearly shameful beyond a doubt, however, is how when you sit down your thighs squish out to twice their size.
It’s interesting that all of the girls have sisters. While Sophia and Dorothy both have some major bones to pick with their respective sisters — Sophia held a 30-year grudge against her sister Angela based on a misunderstanding (see also Grudge-Holding), and Dorothy is rightly pissed at Gloria for banging her ex-husband — Blanche is the queen of sibling drama, fighting with either Virginia and Charmaine depending on the day. As a side note, Rose’s sister Holly is a complete ass.
Lots of people would probably find it odd that someone like Blanche’s daughter Rebecca would decide to become a single parent by choice, but as Dorothy explains, lots of people are single parents and they’re doing just fine — just look at Sophia.
Can’t a person read a fucking book on the couch once in a while? Dorothy’s point is that when she finds someone worth going out with, she’ll go out with him, but in the meantime no one will cut her a damn break — particularly her mother — for being single. Even Blanche takes a night off once in a while to read Danielle Steele.
Sizeism (Fat Phobia)
Becky is a damn good sport, seeing as she’s been personally struggling all sorts of ways (see also Emotional Abuse) and her mother and her friends won’t stop making fat jokes. We can’t all consistently weigh 99 pounds.
With all of Blanche’s antebellum talk about Abraham and Moses and all the other people who worked on the plantation and her great-granddaddy’s financial advice related to cars (see also Racism), there’s plenty of allusions to our country’s greatest shame. Blanche is also mixed up in another separate plot line involving slaves, or wiedenfrügen. Jesus, Blanche. Save it for Golden Palace.
Slumlording (Bad Landlord)
Dorothy never wanted the gig, but somehow finds herself as a landlord when Stanley’s uncle dies and leaves them an apartment building — and then finds herself a Big Mean Slumlord when it’s neglected and exposed by Rose on her television show.
Slutpuppy, whore, harlot, tramp, trollop, hussy, floozy — there’s a fine line between teasing Blanche about her love of men and blaming her for expressing her sexuality, and this show’s toe has been on that line. Plus: 56 boyfriends? What else is there to do in that godforsaken town?
We’re not saying little old ladies shouldn’t be forgiven for going kind of berserk when their long-term relationships break down, but we’re also not saying that it’s right to follow women around town and threaten them with lobsters.
Sophia grabs money out of Dorothy’s purse all the time, but she also grabs money out of the mailbox when they mistakenly deliver social security checks (see also Fraud). Plus, Blanche keeps an expensive bed when the company charged her for a cheap one, and when she feels guilty enough to do something about it, she ends up having kinky sex instead.
Blanche fails to report Dorothy, Rose, and Sophia on her taxes; Stanley fails to report a Corvette. No amount of flirting with or paisaning the IRS is going to erase the pain of being married to a yutz or pretending your best friends don’t exist on paper.
Dorothy is the OG knocked-up-as-a-teenager star in this series, though none of her kids appear to be over 40. There’s also the issue of Mary, the 16-year-old with a shitty dad who constantly visits the house, though she doesn’t appear once before or ever again.
Gil Kessler, famed wimp, underwent gender reassignment surgery in 1968 and moved on from a part-time stenography career into local politics.
Rose, it’s not because you’re without men that folks broke into your house (see also Misogyny), and you should know, because you lost your job! Stan is perpetually losing jobs, and Dorothy has to whore herself out when she has to take a ten-week unpaid leave from teaching. If you don’t marry rich, it’s a tough world out there.
Is it unethical to invest money in the work of an artist like Jasper DeKimmel when you and you alone know the secret that he is dying? Yes. Is it probably a decent investment choice to do so when he is a dickhole? Also yes. Unfortunately, there’s always the possibility of someone saving a life via blood donation.
A black feather in the mail can be a good or bad sign, depending on if your vendetta is symbolic or not, or if you end up hooking up with your mark. With Sophia intertwined with Sicily (see also Mafia), there’s always going to be some shady business going down involving putting a curse on someone.
The entire premise of the show is based around three-quarters of the girls — Sophia, Blanche, and Rose — being widowed by their husbands and having to figure out what to do next. Luckily, even though Sal, George, and Charlie were by most accounts helluva guys, our ladies found each other.
Whoever is running the Witness Protection Program in the Miami area has a lot to answer for when a local cop takes down America’s Most Wanted’s The Cheeseman (see also Mafia) just before he’s about to murder his snitch. Also, is “Plankmaker” a real Amish name? Are they a literal people? They’re not on the internet to ask, so it looks like we’ll never know.
Many thanks to superfans Chris of Golden Girls Obsession, Abby from Golden Girls Memeries, and Reva from Carrie Bradshaw is the Worst for their fine-comb review of this sobering list.