Of Housewives, Femme Fatales, and Family Ties
ew sitcoms pre-Seinfeld can still boast as much relevance as The Golden Girls. In dealing with everything from lesbians to AIDS to whimsical marriage proposals, the show was as cutting-edge then as it is now. Despite its success, though, few could fathom that it would be a breeding ground for some of the most successful minds in film and television working today. Two of them have a penchant for the formula that made The Golden Girls so successful: both Marc Cherry and Quentin Tarantino have shown their ability to write and direct better than nearly anyone else in the past decade smart-mouthed, sassy kick-ass women who are living their lives to the fullest. The other, Mitchell Hurwitz, nailed the essence of an honest family dynamic.
With shelves of Emmys, outstanding Nielsen ratings, and a bevy of tabloid stories surrounding Desperate Housewives, Marc Cherry has certainly made a name for himself with the series as the man behind the women. As the executive producer and helmer of ABC’s Housewives, Cherry found a new home for the witty repartee of Dorothy, Sophia, Blanche and Rose that he helped make a television reality on Girls from 1989 to 1991. Both shows are ripe examples of camp humor: though Housewives has its moments of shameless objectification, Cherry still opts to lather everything in the frothy kitsch that defined The Golden Girls. For every burst of cleavage or shortened skirt hem presented by Nicollette Sheridan’s Edie or Eva Longoria’s Gabi, there’s always a twist to the same attempts at sexiness waiting to be wrought by Marcia Cross’ Bree or Teri Hatcher’s Susan. While Cherry does an honorable job pandering to heterosexually male fantasies, the heart of Housewives remains something akin to the heart of Girls: lessons in life that drip with a hint of the ridiculous.
Another hot-shot to get his foot in the Golden Girls door was Quentin Tarantino. OK, sure, he only had a barely-there cameo as an Elvis impersonator. But it’s hard not to draw parallels between the strong female characters of The Golden Girls and those of his Kill Bill franchise. The Golden Girls never found Dorothy and her cohorts clashing swords and hacking off limbs, but it did see them exchanging barbed words and bearing caustic wit sharp enough to slice O-ren Ishii’s swords in two. Coincidence or no, Tarantino obviously learned something about the sex appeal of older women from his blink-and-you-miss-it cameo. After all, while the wily geriatrics of Girls may not have possessed the bombshell zing of Uma Thurman, they did possess an unflinching degree of charisma that can overshadow what eyeliner and foundation can’t hide.
Then there’s showrunner Mitchell Hurwitz who is also known as the brains behind Arrested Development. Whereas Cherry uses the show’s campiness and Tarantino often mirrors the girls’ steely sense of self-reliance, Hurwitz learned the lesson of strong interpersonal relationships in his time on The Golden Girls as a writer. As dysfunctional as some of the characters on AD were, the show’s key to success lay in the believability of the Bluth family. No matter how conniving and self-serving members of the family got, the Bluth pack shared one of the tightest familial bonds—tighter than even the Camden clan of 7th Heaven. Despite the catty barbs, one can easily discern Michael Bluth’s own, “Family comes first” mantra in the very fabric that held Dorothy, Blanche, Sophia, and Rose together.
The Golden Girls may appear unhip today as it did when it first aired (its exclusive reruns on Lifetime surely doesn’t help), but with the success of its followers (Sex and the City, anyone?) and creators, its influence has proven as durable as Social Security.
By: Rohin Guha
Published on: 2006-04-05