It’s been about a month since I’ve posted one of these, so here goes.
That’s So Jacob presents:
Episode 7: “I Got You Babe,” Betty White, Estelle Getty, and Bea Arthur (1990)
It’s a sign of the times.
There is something to be said about a performance that captivates you from start to finish, with not a second where you’re not tuned in to the action. This moment is among the best of many that made the 1980s/1990s sitcom The Golden Girls, well…golden. I say “golden” because it was a television series that had about 25 minutes on your screen and made the most of every second. Even though I did not watch this show growing up – I assumed that it was a show for old people, not just about old people – reruns of this show pop up on Nick at Nite or TV Land every now and then, and when they do, I tune in. If you’re reading this, you probably know what the show is about, so I’m not going to waste time explaining that, but I do want to acknowledge what made the show work: the four actresses, each with perfect comedic timing and the exceptionally-written script that soaked up every second of airtime and used it to its fullest potential. Despite the fact that the main characters were all older ladies, the episodes seem young and fresh even today.
A sign of a truly exceptional sitcom is one that is able to draw you in with absolutely no context. If I was flipping through channels and knew nothing of this show, I’d be drawn in by the music, the dialogue, and the oddly-dressed characters. You really don’t need any context to enjoy this scene; it works independently, on its own platform-heeled feet. Which is a good thing, because I’ve completely forgotten the context of what actually happens in this episode. How often does that happen?
Here’s the way I see it.
We open on Betty White (as Rose) sitting at the piano. A tiny woman walks into the room, even if you don’t know that she is Estelle Getty (as Sophia) you know exactly who she’s supposed to be. After a little banter, out comes the resident giraffe, the stately Dorothy, as portrayed by Bea Arthur. The stick-straight black hair looks so out of place on her and as they line up behind the piano, you can’t wait to see what they’ll do. Of course, they launch into Sonny and Cher’s iconic “I Got You Babe,” from the 1960s and the movie Groundhog Day. What solidifies the amazingness of this scene is encapsulated in one word; when Bea Arthur deadpans the word “Babe,” and flips her hair, that’s it for me. If there was ever a “Queen of the Deadpan” competition, Bea Arthur would have it all sewn up. But the scene must go on, and since hearing them finish the song is not that important now that we’ve milked the humor of situation, Rose gets flustered and starts off on a tangent, ending it with – you guessed it – a classic St. Olaf story. Sophia’s comment comparing Rose to Ernest Hemingway wraps it up nicely, and we’re onto the next scene.
I believe that today’s TV shows underestimate the viewer. This scene shows the right amount of “haha” funny and “serious” funny without stuffing it down our throats. These days, TV shows run the jokes into the ground, as if to tell the viewers “Hey! This is funny! Laugh you people!” rather than letting the situation illustrate itself. In interviews, Bea Arthur often said that this was one of her favorite scenes from any of the episodes, ever, and I’m totally down with that. It doesn’t take a lot to process it; just let the magic wash over you and bask in its shiny, fringy glow.
Here’s how Cher felt about The Golden Girls‘ interpretation of her torch song: