The first five seasons of "The Golden Girls" were as good as it gets. The show had great writing, solid directing, and (most importantly) terrific comic acting by its quartet of veteran actresses. After the original writing team left after Season Four, a new writing team came on for Season Five to keep the laughs coming. For the most part they succeeded in keeping "The Golden Girls" a very funny show throughout the fifth season, although it wasn't quite up there with seasons 1 thru 4. Still Season Five was close to matching the greatness of the first four seasons. The show's main director, Terry Hughes, was still on board directing almost all the episodes for the fifth season, which I think continued to help keep it a first rate sitcom. But Hughes decided to leave after Season Five, and that eventually hurt "The Golden Girls" a little bit afterwards. Season Six is proof.
SEASON SIX (1990-91)
There's no doubt, Season Six of "The Golden Girls" is still pretty funny. Many of the episodes have a lot of big laughs, they're for the most part well written, and all four actresses continued to do a great job as they have done since the show first went on the air in 1985. But as I watched the episodes throughout the sixth season when they first aired, I could feel that the show was starting to get a little tiresome. This is common with most shows that run for a long time. I imagine that it's hard to keep a long-running show (whether it's comedy or drama) fresh for its entire run. While the sixth season of "The Golden Girls" made me laugh quite often, it didn't make me laugh nearly as much as the first five seasons did. There were a couple of episodes in Season Six that (at least for me) fell flat and weren't as funny as they should have been. The departure of director Terry Hughes was a huge bump in the road for the show. Beatrice Arthur, Betty White, Rue McClanahan, and Estelle Getty worked closely with Hughes while he was at the helm during its first five seasons, and for Season Six (as well as Season Seven) the actresses had to go on with life without him. It was a big loss for "The Golden Girls", because Hughes was a great TV sitcom director, one of the best in television. "The Golden Girls" directors for Season Six were not up there in the same league as Hughes, and in several episodes it showed. They did a good job directing the episodes, though nowhere near as good of a job as Hughes did.
On the bright side, there are many episodes from the sixth season of "The Golden Girls" that are top-notch and well worth watching again. Some of these include: Blanche's daughter coming to Miami to have her baby; Dorothy coming under fire at school when she refuses to pass a star football player who's failing her class, while at the same time Rose thinks that her dentist might be making sexual advances towards her; Sophia becoming a nun and the Mother Superior wanting desperately to get rid of her; Sophia coping with the death of her son while at the same time goes into a war of words with his widow; Blanche's gay brother coming to visit and bringing along with him a big surprise; Dorothy going out on a date with a man she agreed to go out with back in high school and whom at the time she thought dumped her, only to her shock when she finds out that Sophia played a role in driving the guy away; and Blanche dating a disabled man confined to a wheelchair. In addition there were two memorable storylines that played out during Season Six. One storyline involved the continuing relationship between Rose and Miles, and things getting wild when Miles reveals his actual identity. The other storyline revolved around Dorothy's steamy relationship with her ex-husband Stan and then agreeing to marry him again, this after he proposes to her by putting the engagement ring in her baked potato! (Now that's original!)
Even though the sixth season of "The Golden Girls" wasn't up to the level of the five previous seasons, the show continued to get Emmy recognition. For Season Six, it received six Emmy nominations, including its sixth straight nomination for Best Comedy Series, while Betty White and Estelle Getty were once again nominated for Best Lead Actress and Best Supporting Actress. Getty should have won for this season, especially for her performance in the episode "Ebbtide's Revenge". This is the one where Sophia deals with the death of her son Phil, and Getty's performance in this episode was powerful. Not only is Getty funny (as usual), she also gets to show off a serious side that was rarely seen from her on "The Golden Girls". Watch how this episode ends and you'll see what I mean. Another Emmy nomination for Season Six went to Brenda Vaccaro, for her guest appearance in this same episode as Sophia's daughter-in-law (and Phil's wife) Angela, who was also coping with the sudden loss as well as trying to make peace with Sophia.
Other memorable guest stars from Season Six include: Hal Linden ("Barney Miller") as the man Dorothy goes out with, with whom she thought had dumped her back in high school; Cesar Romero ("Batman" - The TV series) as Sophia's new love interest; the late comedian Alan King as Mel Bushman, Blanche's on and off lover; Sonny Bono ("The Sony and Cher Show") and Lyle Waggoner ("The Carol Burnett Show") as themselves who both vie for the affection of Dorothy; Debbie Reynolds ("Mother") as a potential new roommate; Alan Rachins ("L.A. Law") as a man Blanche tries to land by making him think that her new granddaughter is actually her own child; Martin Mull ("Roseanne") as an aging hippie shut-in that Dorothy tries to persuade to come out of his apartment and go out into the real world; and the late great Oscar winner Don Ameche ("Cocoon") as Rose's biological father.
There's still a lot to like about "The Golden Girls": The Complete Sixth Season, and it'll be worth seeing these episodes again.
NOTE: Marc Cherry, creator of the smash series "Desperate Housewives", was a writer and story editor of the sixth season of "The Golden Girls". Cherry got his writing start with this show midway through the fifth season, and would stay on until the end of the show's run in 1992 (he was promoted to producer for the seventh season). He continued as a writer/producer for "The Golden Girls" sequel show "The Golden Palace", which lasted one season.