Tuesday, July 22, 2008

80's TV: Standing the Test of Time (Pt. 1) 

One of the long-neglected, half-written posts in my "Drafts" folder is about which 1980's TV shows stand the test of time, and which now seem like huge piles of dung. The news of Estelle Getty's death gives me a good -- albeit sad -- way to segue into that subject.

In hindsight, there was a lot of really terrible comedy on TV in the 80's. To be fair, part of the problem was that there were a lot of comedies, period. The family-centered sitcom was the dominant overall TV genre of the era, and the saturation forced us to take the bad with the good (see Reality TV in the 2000's).

But The Golden Girls unquestionably belongs in the "Stands the Test of Time" category. I watched the show off and on when it was on originally, but in some ways I don't think I appreciated it as much back then. I watched the reruns in college, and Emily and I just recently started keeping an episode or two on hand in the TiVo stash.

The show was both new and different, while at the same time hearkening back to a classic comedy era. It was cutting edge in the sense that it was not only surprisingly racy, but surprisingly racy about horny senior citizens. (As Emily said "How did this show ever get made?") It wasn't another family show where the kids get in trouble and learn something in the end. (In fact, it strikes me that Golden Girls opened the door for Seinfeld, and in larger part Friends, as it proved that a family unit need not include an actual family).

And it was classic because...it just was. The writing, the actors, and the one-liners were all old school. Bea Arthur's "slow burn" channeled Jack Benny in a way that no one except Kelsey Grammer has been able to duplicate since. Betty White's delivery was incredible. And Getty's zingers honed onstage as a pioneering female stand-up comedian were perfect. The show's jokes are as funny (or funnier) to me now than they were 20 years ago.

On the other side of the coin: Have you tried to watch 20 seconds of Growing Pains lately?

So farewell to Estelle Getty -- who got her big break in Hollywood in her early 60's, and never looked back. Her legacy** will live on.

** Does not include "Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot" which was really just one of the worst ideas ever.

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