Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Golden Girls: A golden episode, a gold-plated bomb, or just plain weird?

I’m not sure who keeps making these mistakes, but The Golden Girls is another episode whose IMDB page said for a while that Hamilton was not in it. That has been corrected now (but not by me).

It’s another one I’m just getting around to now. And I’m not sure I’ve ever seen it before at all. Somehow I think my local station might have always skipped it, for content, even though of course it’s very mild. (My station is quite conservative, which I appreciate.)

When reading the summary last night, my eyebrows shot a mile high at the mention of what the Golden Bear club was and what it was parodying. I’ve already seen the episode of the recent detective series Monk that parodies/comments on the same type of thing, and I was displeased with how it was handled there, so I became leery of watching The Golden Girls at all. But the pull of seeing a new episode was too strong. That, and my hope that things would be handled tastefully, considering both the series and the time period in which it was made. To my relief, I was not disappointed.

(And I’m not trying to be a prude by not naming certain names, by the way. I simply don’t want people searching for such keywords to find this innocent blog instead, due to those keywords registering in a search from their usage in this entry. Or for Internet filters to block the blog due to picking up the keywords….)

The Golden Girls is based on season 1’s The Vagabond Vixen. Well, the remake episodes are hit or miss, as I see it. And sometimes they forget their place as season 9 episodes instead of season 1. That was another reason I was leery. There was one such season 1-ish moment where Perry was concerned, but surprisingly, really nothing with Hamilton or Steve.

The basic plot of the shakedown scheme and the not-so-innocent traveler remains the same. But everything around it is quite different. Instead of movie people, the partners locked in conflict own the Golden Bear club. Originally it was a respectable men’s club, but one of the partners has warped it into a place where girls prance around as “Teddy Bears” (instead of Bunnies. Yes.). The other partner is repulsed and horrified, but everything he has tried to do to stop it and regain his control over the operations has failed.

It’s the gutter-minded partner who first picks up the crafty hitchhiker. She’s just come from the beach and has a two-piece swimsuit on. She looks a bit apprehensive, but he says he’s been around girls all the time with less on than that. (Not in the club, though; seriously, the get-ups the girls wear in the club cover more than the swimsuit does!)

He stops for a pre-arranged meeting and goes into the building. Soon the girl hears gunshots from inside. She runs and finds his partner at a gas station. She pulls the same routine with him, wanting a ride, and he agrees. Seeing his antique gun on the car floor, she takes it.

The next day, she shows up at the club with a note from the first partner, written last night, saying to hire her as a Teddy Bear. The conservative partner is not pleased, but there’s nothing he can do about it for now.

And here I must pause and just shake my head in disbelief at the whole Teddy Bear concept. It’s so silly. And I’m sure the writers knew that; we’re probably meant to take it tongue-in-cheek. I fail to see anything that sultry about girls dressed as bears, even the way they do it on the show. And the costumes are so plain. I suppose that’s to give things a rustic air, in keeping with the club’s roots, but still. So silly.

Well, so as per the episode it’s based on, the first partner is found dead. And the second partner is later arrested, after having been blackmailed by both the girl and a repulsive character claiming to be a reporter. Eventually the hitchhiker’s blackmailing partner beats her up and takes most of the money she got when blackmailing the defendant for his gun.

And concerning the season 1-ish content: Perry and Paul go to see the girl after she’s been beaten up. Della is already over there with her, concerned after she called up terrified from the beating. Looking out the window, they see the police coming. Perry says that they’ll high-tail it out of there, with the girl’s luggage, and after she talks to the police she should come to Perry’s office.

I’m assuming Perry wants to get out of there because his client’s gun is in the girl’s bag. (At least, they think it is.) And that definitely seems like concealing/withholding evidence to me. I have to admit, when the girl vanishes and they discover she was picked up by the police, I felt it served them right for trying to withhold the gun.

Hamilton behaves very maturely in court as he questions witnesses and exchanges conversation with Perry, which is just how I’d expect to see him by season 9. When Perry exposes the key witness’s perjury, Hamilton has to put the girl on the stand, which he had not wanted to do at that time. (It’s not mentioned here as it was in the original, but perhaps Hamilton was hesitant because of her tender age and was hoping it wouldn’t come to needing her testimony.) She reveals that Perry has the gun in her bag. Hamilton is shocked.

The bag is brought and Hamilton goes through it. Not finding the gun, however, he does not explode as he probably would have in season 1. Instead, he looks to Perry in utter bewilderment and calmly asks if Perry removed the gun from the bag. Perry says No, and starts to realize that maybe they have the wrong bag. (Either that or the gun was switched to another one; it’s not expressly said.) Getting an idea of who the killer is and how to trap them, he calls Steve over for help. They go to the club to find the right bag.

As in The Vagabond Vixen, the culprit is a woman who loves the defendant. I think she’s his secretary, but I can’t remember if that was said, either. She breaks down and confesses when Perry puts on a show of having to get the gun even though it will surely convict his client.

Steve has some wonderful scenes throughout the episode. Even Sergeant Brice gets to do a little something, as he holds back some people from entering the dressing room during the climax. They are both prominent all the way along, and then the epilogue brings us some more of Steve’s palling around with Paul, which is always fun to see.

One thing I was particularly uneasy about where the episode was concerned was how the men would react to the club. I did not want to discover that at least one of them was a secret patron of the place or some such thing. The writers decided, in their tasteful way, to not really say one way or another. No one gives an opinion, positive or negative, aside from the guest-starring partners’ conflicting views. That was probably the best way to do it.

The closest anyone in the main cast came to offering an opinion is in the epilogue. Clay brings a copy of the Golden Bear magazine, which has been naughty since the one partner assumed control. Della comments that she didn’t think Paul would be interested in the thing. Paul then tells her that this is the first issue under the new-old format, where it has returned to being a magazine about California and the wilderness and wildlife.

Amusingly, he and Steve then engage in a bit of good-natured teasing as Paul discovers the centerfold. He reacts as though it’s a picture of a girl. Steve leans over and whistles. Della wants to see, and when Paul turns it around, it’s a sketch of a big furry bear, a “real” Golden Bear, says Paul. Ha!

During court, there is a point where Hamilton asks a witness if what the deceased did with the club and the magazine brought them out of bankruptcy (and phrasing it to indicate he thought it did). It’s denied. Hamilton, however, was just trying to find out the facts and did not really express an opinion one way or another either.

All in all, aside from that bit of season 1-ish/book-inspired material with Perry hoping to get away with the gun bag, I really enjoyed the episode. I appreciated how tastefully the subject matter was done and the way the writers chose to handle the cast’s reactions. Perhaps it’s not an episode I would like to watch over and over, but it certainly isn’t the worst of season 9, despite its oddness and tongue-in-cheek elements. And the core plot, underneath all the new twists, is very similar to The Vagabond Vixen. I find that interesting rather than an insult to the viewers’ intelligence, as I saw from at least one review.

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