Like a true millennial, I am experience-obsessed and savings-averse. By traditional standards, I am caving to impulses now that could bite me in the ass down the line. That’s one way to look at it, but I prefer to think of it as getting a running headstart toward becoming an adventuresome octogenarian. And that’s where “The Golden Girls” comes in. Press “play” on any episode, and my later-years life-map springs soothingly into action, cued by four piano notes and with thanks for “being a friend.”
Originally shown in primetime from 1985–1992, “The Golden Girls” featured an ensemble cast of four women in their golden years. Throughout its maiden run on NBC, the show earned 68 Emmy nominations and enjoyed 11 wins. You might be more familiar with it in its afterlife, where it has been shown in syndication on multiple networks simultaneously. This is a show with incredibly impressive longevity. And I think I know why.
“The Golden Girls” depicts a life lived outside of the one that I hate to admit I fear when I picture growing older—one that includes declining health, decreasing mobility, and ultimately death. I am in a near-constant battle with myself to remain present, to not think too far down the road, to fully revel in today. To that end, I have gotten tattoos that I hope I never feel the need to erase, and remain committed to spending my time pursuing work that I care about. I am marking my youth. I am savoring it. I am trying to use it well. Because I know that it will eventually leave me.
What is it that I am raging against? Is it the idea that the older we get, the less alive we are? It’s a silly thing, but it’s something we’re sold—“Out with the old …” as the saying goes. Even now, “The Golden Girls” remains an exception to that rule; the series’ depiction of older women as anything but pitiful prop-pieces and punchlines is radical still. Riot grrrls with wrinkles, what a powerful thing.
I found “The Golden Girls” in the first decade of my life, during a sick day from elementary school in the ‘90s. Daytime television, it turned out, was where the adult characters lived. Dorothy, Blanche, Sophia and Rose became regulars in my television rotation. I started playing hooky just to watch it.
Of course, the meat of their storylines often went over right over my head. I took everything that was revolutionary about the show’s subject matter for granted. Was I aware of what AIDS was as a seven-year-old? It’s unlikely, but my registering of their most controversial topics as entirely normal conversation for four people my grandmother’s age to discuss? That was potent. I can’t help but think that they raised me right.
Now, watching “The Golden Girls” on a bad day can have an effect akin to listening to Future before a pitch meeting—it exists on the lower-energy, longer-term end of my personal pump-up spectrum. Hip-hop is to tenacity as “The Golden Girls” is to a general assuredness that it all turns out alright.
The show reassures me that aging isn’t such a dramatic affair (or worse: a boring one). To that end, I’ll transform my favorite quotes into mantras meant to summon the vibe I want to muster later in life. Like Blanche’s covetable self-confidence, unwavering even when she has the flu (“Isn’t it amazing how I can feel so bad, and still look so good?”). That’s right, positive thoughts only from here on out. Sophia said it best: “No matter how bad things get, remember these sage words—you’re old, you sag, you get over it.”
They’re there for your viewing pleasure too, packaged in 180 half-hour doses of It’s gonna be ok. Your sixties might just be your sexiest years. Loved ones pass on, but there’s still life to be lived. Finances get tight, but you can always get a roommate. They did that.
Read also: Thank you for being a friend: What we learned from “The Golden Girls”