No surprise that Americans have spent much of their lockdown watching TV — nor that one of the most-watched shows has been “The Golden Girls.” First aired in 1985, the sitcom portrays four older women, three widows and one divorcee, sharing a house in Miami.
They’re “sheltering in place” in that they don’t have outside jobs to go to. They do venture out to restaurants, volunteer work and hospitals, but almost all their activities take place at home. The enemy scratching at their windows is not a virus but the indignities of old age, which they shoo away with biting humor.
“They were all buying T-shirts,” Dorothy (Bea Arthur) says of their contemporaries. “You know, the ones that say, ‘Today is the first day of the end of your life.’”
As a team, they’re doing just fine. More than that, they’re having a mostly grand time. And that’s why “The Golden Girls” currently ranks among Hulu’s top 10 streaming shows.
A Hulu spokeswoman explained its popularly as “comfort viewing.” It is that but also an inspirational story of friends joining forces to face harsh realities.
Plots featuring four very different women teaming up have been a commonplace in American culture. The four women in “Sex and the City,” which premiered in 1998, nurse one another through emotional turmoil. And 130 years before that, there was the classic novel “Little Women.”
But these other stories center on young (or youngish) women launching themselves into the bigger world. “The Golden Girls” is about the four older women coming in from a wider life of paying jobs, husbands and children at home.
Isn’t that what some sequestered younger Americans now face? Some have lost their sources of income and had to move in with others. Working remotely has stripped many of the social connections they had at the office, factory, shop or school — which may be especially hard on single people.
The golden girls conquer the threat of loneliness. They show a fulfilling social life can grow almost entirely within the four walls of one house. A reason the sitcom is so popular with gay people is that the happy household consists of unrelated people of the same gender. (Another reason is the late Arthur, who left money for various LGBT causes.)
The show was way ahead on topics then little discussed on TV sitcoms: gay marriage, menopause, end-of-life issues. Even then, the “girls” made fun of themselves.
In a discussion about lesbians, Sophia (Estelle Getty) says, “I’d rather live with a lesbian than a cat. Unless a lesbian sheds; that I don’t like.”
And their barbs about each other getting old are just as funny.
Rose (Betty White), the naive farm girl from Minnesota, asks, “Dorothy, was Sophia naked just now, or does her dress really need ironing?”
In another episode, Sophia steals a suave Cuban gent from the arms of the Southern sexpot, Blanche (Rue McClanahan). When caught, Sophia explains, “Look, we happen to be an item. I’m wearing his MedicAlert bracelet.”
Three of the four female stars are gone. The survivor is the amazing and seemingly indestructible Betty White. Now 98, White entertained troops during World War II. Last year, she provided the voice for the toy tiger, Bitey White, in “Toy Story 4.”
For many in the streaming audience, “The Golden Girls” supplies a blueprint for a future now taking shape. More of us will probably continue to work at home after the virus is tamed. Some are creating new communities of friends and family within one home. If that’s the future, the Golden Girls show the future may not be all that bad.