September 14 may be just any other day to some people, but to fans of The Golden Girls it’s remembered as the day the show premiered in 1985! At the time it seemed like a big gamble to try a television show focused on the lives of four older women. One critic even heralded the show as “finally a series for viewers over 50” in a July 1985 article ahead of the premiere. But The Golden Girls surprised everyone with its instant appeal and continues to connect with audiences of all ages today. As sitcom pilots go, this one is pretty much perfect, so it’s not really hard to see why everybody loved it and why it went on to win three Emmy Awards in the first season. To celebrate, here are a few of my favorite things from “The Engagement.”
Coco is the second character to make an appearance on screen in The Golden Girls, right after Dorothy. He’s standing calmly at the stove stirring a pan of enchiladas rancheros while Dorothy unloads about having to deal with some students who had shaved heads and green hair. His response is pitch perfect: “They’re expressing themselves!” Although Coco was written out of the show after the pilot, his presence was groundbreaking because he was presented simply as himself.
Rose: “We can’t afford to buy a house. What do we have for collateral? A gay cook?”
Sophia: Can I get something to eat or is the fancy man in the kitchen? … He’s an ok petunia!
Blanche’s sequin shouldered dress
Sophia says this dress makes Blanche “look like a prostitute,” although it’s certainly one of the more modest outfits that she ends up wearing over the years. Personally, it’s one of my favorites. I adore the sequined shoulders that give it a bit of a disco flair, and the dusty rose shade of the chiffon is one that we’ll see more of in future episodes. I also like the puffed sleeves and the tie accent at the waist. Overall, the details on this dress are a precursor to the iconic fashion of the series.
Rose’s Oyster Story
We don’t get a St. Olaf story in the pilot, but Rose gives us a little preview of what’s to come with her hilarious bit about not being able to eat anything that moves, like oysters. “Coco, they could dance! Who cares?!” as Dorothy retorts. It’s a very underrated scene if you ask me.
Bea Arthur’s facial expressions
Which brings us to Bea Arthur’s facial expressions. She should have won an Emmy for that alone in this episode! They’re all so perfectly timed and expressed, especially in her interactions with Rose. Right after the oyster story we get Dorothy’s recollection about her quickie marriage to Stan, which Rose calls a “blowgun wedding.” As you can imagine, Dorothy has had it by this point, and she conveys her frustration with a grimace. Bea definitely used her years on the stage to great effect to introduce us to Dorothy’s sarcastic wit in the pilot.
(n.b. Also let’s have a moment of appreciation for Rose’s pink quilted robe, please.)
The brilliant bedroom scene
The second scene in Blanche’s bedroom when Dorothy keeps Rose from telling Blanche that she has a hunch that she shouldn’t marry Harry is the centerpiece of the episode. From the banter to the physical comedy, Bea, Betty, and Rue’s talents are on full display here. I love how Dorothy keeps finishing Rose’s sentences so Blanche doesn’t catch on. And the physical comedy in this scene is, of course, brilliant.
Blink and you’ll miss him, but Meshach Taylor makes a brief appearance as the officer who shows up to tell Blanche that Harry is a bigamist. He began starring as Anthony on Designing Women when it premiered shortly after The Golden Girls in 1986. Sophia makes a crack about that show in the third season, so mostly I just love this early bit of six degrees of separation.
Sophia’s fabulous lanai outfit
Sophia may show up a little worse for wear after the fire at Shady Pines, but she wastes no time in getting fabulously comfortable out on the lanai! A friend of mine called this a “Floridian outfit,” and I think that’s such a perfect description. It’s a style that’s so different from what we come to expect from Sophia. I mean, the rhinestone glasses?? At the end of this scene Sophia announces that she and “the fancy man are goin’ to the dog track!” Maybe that also answers what happened to Coco after all. He must’ve hit it big on a bet and didn’t need the job anymore. Mystery solved!
All together now
Of course, in classic sitcom style, all’s well that ends well in 30 minutes. Blanche didn’t marry Harry (marry Harry), nobody had to move or become a bag lady, and we got seven seasons of The Golden Girls that still help us keep it all together today.