The Golden Girls on The Earth Day Special

Sometimes I think I should rename this blog since one of my favorite things to write about is all of the weird stuff I keep finding that ends up being connected to The Golden Girls. Just when I think I’ve seen it all I discover something else! I’m not sure if I could win a trivia contest since the tiny details on my Golden Girls daily desk calendar often elude me, but ask me which long forgotten television special The Golden Girls appeared on in 1990, and I’ve got the answer. It was The Earth Day Special!

If you grew up in the 90s like me then you likely remember what a huge deal Earth Day was. It was first held on April 22, 1970, and the event’s 20th anniversary in 1990 brought a renewed focus to environmental issues. There was also a huge media and marketing push to get people on board with efforts like recycling. We did all kinds of things like cutting up plastic six-pack rings so they wouldn’t get stuck on sea turtles and, um, some stuff to save the rainforests that I don’t quite recall. And of course who can forget Captain Planet!

Produced by Time Warner and Warner Bros., The Earth Day Special was a two-hour event that aired on ABC on April 22, 1990. It was actually part of a whole day of Earth Day themed programming across multiple networks, which was another 90s trend. The Golden Girls appear in character and on set at the 27 minute mark. It’s all very meta and earnest in a way that we don’t see on television anymore because it’s presented as if a fictional couple, played by Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlman, is watching a television show about Earth Day. The Girls and the casts of some other popular sitcoms from the time like Cheers! and The Cosby Show are also watching the same show, and then there’s a whole other show-within-a-show-within-a-show going on where Robin Williams is the son of Mother Earth, played by Bette Midler. She’s sick, of course, but don’t worry: Doogie Howser is on the case. Kevin Costner, Meryl Streep, Jonathan Brandis (hey there, fellow seaQuest fans!), Mayim Bialik, and a host of other who’s who popular 90s actors round out the special along with occasional Koyaanisqatsi-like interludes of the ravages of pollution. Oh, and there’s a hip hop sort of intermission with Quincy Jones and Kid ‘n Play, too, which really pushes the 90s vibes to the extreme. Everything’s focused on promoting recycling and getting viewers to understand concepts like deforestation and ozone depletion. It’s a bit heavy handed at times and seems almost preposterous that audiences would’ve tuned in for two solid hours, but the special does have its moments.

The segment featuring The Golden Girls is definitely a bright spot. They use their trademark humor to talk about the effects of styrofoam packaging on the environment, which was still heavily used at that time by McDonald’s and other fast food restaurants.

Rose: I am learning so much from watching this show.
Dorothy: Gee, I had no idea the Earth was already in such bad shape. Come on, doesn’t this show get you thinking?
Blanche: Yeah, about dinner. What do you say we get something to go from Burgers by Leroy?
Dorothy: Oh, I don’t think that’s a good idea.
Sophia: I’ll say. After one of their guacamole burgers I’m not safe around an open flame!
Dorothy: Oh, Ma, that’s not it. Well, that’s part of it. But the point is somebody should tell Burgers by Leroy that the polystyrene foam that they pack their food in is completely non biodegradable. And the chemicals used in the process can be toxic.
Sophia: Not half as toxic as their magic sauce!

In true Dorothy style, she pronounces “process” with a long o sound like proh-cess. Rose is wearing her airplane sweatshirt, too! The now well-known universal recycling symbol also originated on the first Earth Day, and Blanche makes a funny joke that she’s “been recycling for years” because she’s “used Mel Bushman many times. Many, many, many, many times.” And if you’ve ever wondered what watching The Golden Girls without a laugh track would be like, well, here’s your chance. Still, their segment on the show works better than most.

Set decorations like the infamous lobster mold tend to get all of the attention in the kitchen on The Golden Girls, but if you look carefully you’ll notice that the accessories on the bottom shelf of the baker’s rack were replaced with recycling baskets in the first episode of the seventh season! In the season’s fourth episode, “That’s For Me to Know,” we even see Rose stopping to sort an item into one of them. Of course, this is also the episode where Blanche wants to install a hot tub, so I guess conserving water didn’t make the environmentally conscious cut at 6151 Richmond Street. But we shouldn’t forget that she joined Rose in her Friends of the Sea Mammals protest in the “Love Under the Big Top” episode or Dorothy’s oft forgotten Save the Wetlands campaign in “72 Hours,” both from season five. In fact, both of those episodes aired just prior to The Earth Day Special, proving that the Girls were ahead of their time as always.

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