On September 14, 1985, a show featuring four older women living together in Miami premiered on NBC. The first episode was seen by 25 million people and was the number one show in America. From 1985 till 1992 Dorothy, Blanche, Rose and Sophia made audiences laugh and sometimes cry in over 180 episodes. Looking peripherally at the show one can see a comedy about aging women and how they learned remain relevant.
Digging a little deeper, one can see that The Golden Girls was a socially conscientious show, tackling many issues way before other shows would. Topics such as gay siblings and marriage equality (Scared Straight, Sister of the Bride), menopause (End of the Curse), Alzheimer’s (Old Friends), HIV (72 Hours), age discrimination (Rose Fights Back) and addiction (High Anxiety) were all tackled in 22 minutes. What was unique about the show was although it was a comedy, each topic was taken seriously and not just used as a throw-away joke.
It was at the start of the fifth season that The Golden Girls had a two-part episode entitled “Sick and Tired”. Dorothy, for weeks, has been tired. No, that’s putting it mildly. Dorothy is so exhausted it’s sometimes too difficult for her even to reach up and wash her hair. She sees a multitude of doctors and they all claim it’s just a part of the aging process and she should get used to it. At one point, her mother, Sophie, fears Dorothy might die from her condition.
It is in the second episode where a doctor friend and neighbor, Dr. Harry Weston recommends someone at his hospital and Dorothy is diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. The moment when Dorothy is heard for the first time and then given a diagnosis is heart wrenching and satisfying at the same time. There is no cure for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, but she has a name for it and that means so much to her.
This episode was important to the creator of The Golden Girls, Susan Harris, as she suffers from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and wanted this disease out in the open and for people to be heard when they are suffering. Many viewers may not have heard of the disease before this, but thanks to a half-hour sitcom, the world now knew of the debilitating condition. Very often in the eighties and early nineties, people weren’t talking about HIV, addiction or elder abuse. It took a show about four women living together to bring those topics and so many more to millions of viewers. So when you’re flipping through channels or Hulu, click sometimes on The Golden Girls. It was a show that never shied away from the tough topics, but almost always at the end brought a smile. We should all thank Dorothy, Rose, Blanche, and Sophia for being our friend.