Ok, I have had this idea for a sitcom face off for a long time but put it off because I have strong feelings for one of the shows. However, this face off is so perfect that I can’t resist. Let’s see if I can be impartial and fair, as we present

The Golden Girls was a break through hit for NBC. This show made sitcoms on Saturday nights work, and even won an Emmy for Outstanding Sitcom in 1985. Designing Women came along about a year later on CBS. I don’t think it was ever quite the hit that Golden Girls was, but it a strong show in its own right. Both of these shows were essentially the same thing, four strong women sharing their lives and being bff’s. The major difference was their ages, which we’ll get into. Yeah these shows were kind of girlie, but while I may not admit it to many people the truth is I watched them both. Why? Let’s talk about that.

CATEGORY 1:

DOROTHY VS JULIA

 

Two strong characters brought to life by two well respected, and deeply missed, actresses. These characters quite simply drove their shows. This was especially true on The Golden Girls. When Bea Arthur left and they tried to do The Golden Palace, it was just a mess. Julia was the strong character on Designing Women but it always felt a little more balanced. You got the feeling while the ladies had their quirks they were also equal. No one looked down on each other, which you can’t quite say about Golden Girls where teasing each other to inflate their own ego happened a lot. That’s not a bad thing; in fact a lot of the humor came from that. But Dorothy knew she was the smart one and I think took comfort from that. Dorothy was a substitute teacher who had some bad luck in life. She was knocked up at a very young age, married a loser who divorced after forty some years to run off with a younger woman. She had been through a lot, and still managed to keep going. Dorothy was one of the strongest characters ever, and unlike her other character Maude she was also likable (I hated Maude, but that’s another article). She knew when to be tough, sure, but also when to have a soft side. Julia was a widower who opened her own design house. She had a college age son and…..that’s it. She had a relationship which ended when he died, but what else? The famous thing about Julia was her rants. Sure, it was funny the first few times but after awhile her ranting was just annoying. She also had a very closed mind. If it was her opinion, then that was it. She was always right and no one else ever was, and I hated that about her. There is one episode where a newsstand had a picture of woman in bondage, and Julia crashes the stand with her car she is so offended. Ok, Julia has every right to be offended but destroying public property?? And never mind the newsstand has every right to display what they want (to a point). Then when her friends tell her she can’t win and to just apologize, she refuses! She is stubborn and gets a little carried away, unlike Dorothy who was a bit better with restraint. One episode she was going to fail the football star which would keep him from playing, and was adamant but when things started to get serious she took a step back and reevaluated her opinion. She knew she wasn’t always going to be right, and while she may not have liked it she just took it. I think it was because she had taken some big defeats in life, so she knew life did not always work out perfectly. Julia wanted everyone to think like her, which in the end hurt her character making her unlikable.

 

WINNER=DOROTHY

 

CATEGORY 2:

ROSE AND BLANCE VS CHARLENE AND MARY JO

 

I know that while Charlene and Rose have similarities, Mary Jo and Blanche do not really. Blanche is closer to Suzanne, but I am pairing her off in the next category. These ladies were the core of each of their shows in that they both served the same function. Let’s talk about Blanche and Rose first. They were two opposite ends of the spectrum in some way. Rose was a dim wit with a big heart. Blanche was the self-absorbed, sex crazed one. One of the funny things about this show for me is how much I hated their characters on their earlier shows but loved them here. Sue Ann and Vivian (on Mary Tyler Moore and Maude respectively) were annoying characters but in this show Rose and Blanche were lots of fun. Betty White and Rue McClanahan got everything they could out of these characters. In fact these characters on paper are really weak. It was truly the actress’s playing them who made them work. Mary Jo was the divorced mother struggling to get through life, and Charlene was from the mid-west and came from a huge family. Where Rose was dim witted I think Charlene was just more naïve. She tended to trust everyone and take everyone at face value. Her friends often had to point out that life just doesn’t work that way. Mary Jo was strong to but she really really needed her friends on a daily basis. So who wins? Will be honest, Mary Jo got annoying with her yelling and Charlene seemed to cry at the drop of a hat. If she wasn’t crying she was giving some long hard luck speech which the show itself even made fun of. Blanche and Rose were just stronger people. Sure they relied on their friends when things got tough but usually that was just to support what they already knew and felt they had to do. They also were more fleshed out, we saw them tease each other, argue with each other, and basically act like real friends would act. Charlene and Mary Jo felt like sitcom friends, like they were friends because the show said so.

 

WINNER=ROSE AND BLANCE

 

 

CATEGORY 3

SOPHIA VS SUZANNE

 

Yeah, I know this matchup is a little mixed but these two characters are matched because they are the breakthrough characters that everyone loved. It’s safe to say that neither of these shows would have been nearly as popular if not for Sophia and her put downs and Suzanne for her, well, personality. This is like trying to choose your favorite child. Sophia was Dorothy’s mother of course who came to live with the girls when her nursing home burned down. She pretty much said whatever she wanted, at first this was blamed on a stroke she had suffered but as the years went on that kind of got forgotten. She was the guaranteed laugh, and we loved watching her. Her character was so popular that she appeared in Empty Nest, Nurses, and even an episode of Blossom in a funny dream sequence. Suzanne felt like the most real of the four ladies on her show. She was selfish, vain, materialistic…but when the chips were down could be a good friend and a decent person. You could see that while she pretended to not care, deep down she really did she just wasn’t very good at showing it. This is another one of those characters who would not be tolerated for a second in real life. She was a former beauty queen who wanted to be rich and wealthy, no matter what she had to to achieve that goal. So who wins? Sophia was a great character, but let’s be honest she wasn’t a new character. We had seen Irene Ryan do the same thing some twenty years earlier. Suzanne was a bit different, and it’s been said paved the way for the Elaine Benis’s and Karen Walker’s that came after her. As I noted she was the one character who felt real, and unlike her sister Julia she could see the other side of an argument. In fact very often that was her role on the show, to argue the other side even if it was a little misguided. So as much as I loved Sophia I am giving the award to the more original and more memorable character. When Suzanne left her show sucked, would the same have happened if Sophia had left? Hard to say. By the way I know that Delta Burke had problems we will get to that, I’m not going to let that damn the character she played so well.

WINNER=SUZANNE

 

 

 

CATEGORY 4

SUPPORTING CAST

No contest here, it seems like that always happens one show will have a great supporting cast while the other will not. The best I could do for The Golden Girls was Stan, Dorothy’s ex who had a recurring role and appeared a lot. The Golden Girls had many relatives come and go over the years; in fact you had to wonder how many family members these girls had!, but none of them really stuck very long. Designing Women had Anthony, who served two functions. One was being the only male in the cast. But more importantly his function was to be the voice of reason. When the girls argued it was very one sided, and Anthony was very often the one who had to come in and explain that there was another point of view and the issue wasn’t always black and white. For instance in one episode when Julia is convinced Suzanne wearing black face as part of a performance is racist, it’s Anthony who says that sometimes those things aren’t if it’s in the right context, that the issue is more complicated than that. The Golden Girls had no equivalent to him in their show although Sophia occasionally did fill that role (of course not counting the gay houseboy in the pilot). The other Designing Women regular I had to mention was Bernice, who was so memorable by being dim witted. She kind took over as the Rose character since Charlene wasn’t really dumb. Alice Ghostly was hilarious on Bewitched and she was hilarious on this show, with her silly comments. I think what made it worked was that we could tell she had no idea what she was talking about really. Not much to say here, there is a clear winner in this one.

WINNER-DESIGNING WOMEN

 

 

CATEGORY 5-THEME SONG

 

Thank You for Being a Friend is a classic while Georgia On My Mind is a great tune which is actually the state song of Georgia. Which is the better theme song? No contest here, “Thank You For Being a Friend” is a great tune which truly captures the heart of the show but Georgia On My Mind is just a better song. Tough call.

 

WINNER=DESIGNING WOMEN

 

 

CATEGORY 6 PREMISE

 

This is where it always gets interesting. Which of these shows told their stories better? I always found it odd that the older ladies were “girls” while the younger ladies were “women”, but that’s probably just semantics. The Golden Women doesn’t have the same ring and Designing Girls sounds like little kids. And yes, I’m stalling. The Golden Girls was such a good show, though the old age jokes were kind of annoying. This was one show aimed at retired women. Why did I watch it when I was a boy in high school? It was funny, ‘nuff said. I loved the ladies to, how many shows have three pro’s in there cast? You knew this show was going to be solid as long as the writing held up. Designing Women had their light stuff to, and some of the gags could be downright silly. I enjoyed the show as a kid but when I got older it wore on me. Where these shows diverge for me is how they dealt with the serious stuff. Both shows tackled sensitive subjects, but believe it or not I prefer the way The Golden Girls did it better. As an example, both shows did an episode on AIDS. Designing Women had a new character that had AIDS and happened to be gay, when a shrewish woman we had never met before talks about how “those people are getting what they deserve”. Enraged, Julia proceeds to throw the woman out as she lectures her on being so closed minded. Ok, strong moment but how did Golden Girls tackle it? Rose finds out she might be HIV positive, and as she waits for the result she whines that Blanche should have AIDS due to her lifestyle. Blanche points out that AIDS is not “gods way of punishing people for being bad”. Rose apologizes; she was just bitching and didn’t mean any harm. Same message, but the way it’s delivered on The Golden Girls is just better. It doesn’t involve two characters we never met, it involved two main leads that we knew very well! I guess that’s the difference between these shows, on The Golden Girls things happened to them while on Designing Women things just happened, and we get the girls responding to it. Sometimes they’d get carried away to, not all men are evil and while Georgia is a lovely state I don’t think it’s the amazing paradise that this shows makes it out to be. That “women of Atlanta” speech in one episode kills me, and the women everywhere else not classy and sophisticated? Only Atlanta huh? The Christmas episode is so sappy, and there is one episode where Charlene has a baby I can’t even watch! They hammer in a lesson on race which is so unneeded that the episode is a turn off for me. I never understood why this show was so loved, the liberal stance is so infuriating and issues are never discussed evenly. The women are right, except Suzanne, case closed. Golden Girls they had honest discussions around that kitchen table and all points of view were covered. Golden Girls also knew how to be funny while also being serious, which Designing Women didn’t do as often. By the way, to be fair they did light episodes that didn’t have any social significance. One where Julia gets her head stuck in a banister comes to mind.

 

WINNER-THE GOLDEN GIRLS

 

 

CATEGORY 7 JUMPING THE SHARK

Which show was worst in the end. Any question who is going to win? Designing Women was awful after Delta Burke left! Yeah the women they brought in were ok, but it just wasn’t the same show. Of course Jean Smart also left, but she chose to leave because I think she was sick of playing whiny Charlene. Can’t blame her for that. Delta Burke left under, well, different circumstances. As the show progressed she began to gain weight, and this put her at odds with the producer. The fights they had were tabloid heaven, and finally they wrote Suzanne out and she never returned. This of course mortally wounded the show and it never recovered. On The Golden Girls, Bea Arthur wanted out and the creators new no casting change was going to help. It just wasn’t going to be the same show, so they cancalled. It was getting kind of old anyway. The final episode was a strong one, showing Dorothy finally getting married and moving out. The down side is her character is the only one which got a ending because the spin off was all set to go. So, we end up with an ending which while not the most satisfying is also pretty good. Designing Women’s last episode was so dumb, and not even really a series finale, I am not even going to discuss it. The winner is clear.

 

 

 

 

Final Thoughts-Yeah, I watched Designing Women but I actually liked The Golden Girls. Better writing, better comedy, better cast….case closed.

By richb

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