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"The Golden Girls": Lifetime Intimate Portrait Series DVD Review

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Show & DVD Details

Regular Director: Terry Hughes

Biography Subjects: Beatrice Arthur, Betty White, Rue McClanahan, Estelle Getty

Notable Participants: Alex Trebek (Narrator, "Betty White"), John Ritter (Narrator, "Rue McClanahan"), Valerie Harper (Narrator, "Estelle Getty"), Beatrice Arthur, Betty White, Rue McClanahan, Estelle Getty, Angela Lansbury, Mary Tyler Moore, Rosie O'Donnell, Edward Asner, Norman Lear, Harvey Feinstein

Running Time: 170 Minutes (4 episodes) / Rating: Not Rated
1.33:1 Fullscreen (Original Broadcast Ratio) / Dolby Digital Stereo 2.0 (English)
Subtitles: English, Spanish; Closed Captioned
DVD Release Date: November 15, 2005
Episodes Originally Aired June 2000 Through January 2003
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9); Warner Home Video
Suggested Retail Price: $14.98; Black keepcase

By Aaron Wallace

In the years since its conclusion, "The Golden Girls" has enjoyed a second life in syndication, capturing new audiences and generations of fans with time. The popular 1980s (and early '90s) sitcom about the vivacious lives of four older women living together in Miami is one of the most-rerun series on television, thanks in large part to the Lifetime channel. The self-proclaimed cable network for women
features the show in its line-up as many as six times a day and it remains one of their most popular staples. So abundant are the reruns that the series and the network have grown somewhat synonymous.

Another one of Lifetime's popular programs is an hour-long documentary series titled "Intimate Portrait", in which famous or otherwise admirable women of stature are profiled in biographical form. Each episode is narrated by an unseen celebrity and features interviews with friends or experts relevant to the biography and oftentimes, the subject herself.

Of course, given that the woman being profiled is often involved with the project and that the show is billed as "her story" in "her words," the end result is usually a glorification of said heroine. Still, the series does a fairly good job with not shying away from the flaws and misfortunes that accompany most lives, even if they are intentionally and obvious cast in a positive light. The documentaries are entertaining and pack an impressive amount of detail into around 45 minutes, though the life stories are obviously a little less than comprehensive.

The opening title for Rue's episode. Getty and Goldberg.

Given the demand for "Golden Girls" and for "Intimate Portrait", it only made sense that the latter profile the former and so that's just what happened. In four separate installments that debuted from 2000 to 2003, each of the show's four stars -- Beatrice "Bea" Arthur, Betty White, Rue McClanahan, and Estelle Getty -- were put in the spotlight for a look at their long and successful lives and careers. The women and their friends appear in one another's biographies for reflection and that leads to a little repetition but it also underscores common themes in each of their stories, such as numerous marriages (Getty aside), liberal political activism, and past co-starring roles that paved the road to the project that would ultimately earn them a place in entertainment history.

The first three seasons of "Golden Girls" are currently available to fans in their entirety on DVD. Despite its immense influence and popularity, Buena Vista, which is responsible for the show's production and distribution to home video, hasn't yet seen fit to grace any of the box sets with a single bonus feature that can truly be considered worthwhile. Consumers and fans may have seen great disappointment in that treatment, but Warner Brothers, which holds "Intimate Portrait" distribution rights, instead saw a "Golden" opportunity. As a result, the Lifetime biopic series recently made its DVD debut with a disc entitled The Golden Girls: Lifetime Intimate Portrait Series, which groups together the four relevant episodes, each of which is summarized below.

Bea Arthur reflects on her life. Betty White is all about the animals.

"Bea Arthur" (41:44) (Originally aired January 20, 2003) Beatrice Arthur is a woman who has been in the entertainment business for a very long time, though her list of credits isn't inordinately lengthy. That's partly because she spent 14 years as the star of two highly successful television shows - "Maude" and, of course, "The Golden Girls." Before that, she had struggled in an industry that deemed her too unattractive for stardom. Regardless of the discouragement, she worked in other television and film projects, as well as in comedy and on Broadway, where her diva tendencies are channeled these days (when she's not doing Emmy-nominated guest spots on "Malcolm in the Middle"). Her friends insist that her on-air persona is wildly different from her true, introverted self. Among those friends is Angela Lansbury, who costarred with her in the original Broadway production of Mame and who provides quite a bit of on-screen commentary in this episode.

"Betty White" (42:49) (Originally aired in 2000)
The eldest "Golden Girl" has the most impressive acting resume as well, dating back to her first starring role on a television series in the early 1950s. Sadly, like her marriages, none of her projects were able to find their footing until the notable departure of Valerie Harper (who narrates Estelle Getty's episode) from ultra-popular and revolutionary 1970s sitcom, "Mary Tyler Moore", which resulted in Betty's addition to the cast as Sue Ann Nivens. Later, shortly before signing on to "The Golden Girls," she landed a spot on "Mama's Family," where she appeared for four years. Today, Betty is the most active in publicly representing the sitcom for which she is best known and is the busiest in Hollywood out of her costars. Though it's too recent to be covered in this episode, her role in 2003's Bringing Down the House (also for Buena Vista) proves that she hasn't lost her outstanding comedic touch). Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek narrates this episode and the most notable interviewee is Mary Tyler Moore herself.

Rue McClanahan discusses the difficulty of divorce. Sophia looks younger these days than she did on "The Golden Girls."

"Rue McClanahan" (42:49) (Originally aired June 19, 2000)
Rue's currently in-progress autobiography is set to bear the title, "My First Five Husbands." That moniker is an appropriate description for this telling of her life story, as much of Rue's personal life has been defined by failed marriages. Her acting career took a very long time to take off too. In fact, it wasn't until her role as Vivian on "Maude" that she finally felt as though she had made it, but even then she lost much of her earnings in a divorce and struggled to pick herself back up after "Maude" ended. (Bea Arthur made the decision to end both of Rue's most successful acting projects, but there's apparently no love lost between them.) She, too, accepted a role on "Mama's Family," but it was with some reluctance. Following Bea's departure from "The Golden Girls," Rue joined Betty and Estelle
in a spin-off revival of the show entitled "The Golden Palace." It lasted only one season. Since then, the youngest "Golden Girl" has been involved in a number of movie productions, including the Nunsense musicals. Her recent and ongoing role as Madame Morrible in Broadway's Wicked is too recent to be included in this documentary. The late John Ritter narrates.

"Estelle Getty" (42:49) (Originally aired January 15, 2001)
Though she played an octogenarian on "The Golden Girls," Estelle Getty is actually younger than Betty White, around the same age as Bea Arthur, and only around eleven years older than Rue. Her life was spent at home as first and foremost a wife and mother. While she had done some stage work earlier in life and often auditioned while working and raising children, it wasn't until her family was grown that she took to the stage and later to television and film. She made small but effective appearances in Tootsie and Cher's Mask, but it was "The Golden Girls" that was her first big break. She holds what could be a record for number of shows on which the same actress has played the same character: "Golden Girl" Sophia was also featured on "The Golden Palace," "Empty Nest," "Nurses," and "Blossom." Her memorable film roles include Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot and Stuart Little, neither of which is addressed in detail here. Sadly, Estelle's last credit comes from the year 2000, a result of her Parkinson's Disease diagnosis. The actress is candid about her apprehensions over her illness in this biography, one of the rare filmed appearances she has made this millennium. Valerie Harper (better known as TV's "Rhoda") provides narration and family members and friends -- including former talk show host Rosie O'Donnell -- are heavily featured as well.

Mary Tyler Moore looks back at her show and Betty White's role on it. Rosie O'Donnell thinks very highly of Mrs. Getty. Bea Arthur, She Wrote.

VIDEO and AUDIO

The video quality fairs only moderately better on DVD than it does on television, but it doesn't elicit any outstanding complaints. The 1.33:1 aspect ratio matches that of its original broadcast. The transfer isn't entirely clean or especially vibrant, and of course sampled video footage and photographs don't hold up as well, but there are no disturbances of any kind and is very much acceptable.

"This program has been edited for home video" appears at the beginning of each episode. I can only assume that this has to do with television of film footage used in the original specials for which Warner Brothers was unable or unwilling to secure home video distribution rights. As it stands, there are no distracting cuts and without having an original copy to reference, the biographies don't feel lacking. It's worth noting that Bea Arthur's episode runs a little more than a minute shorter than the others, but it's also much more recent.

The Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo soundtrack is all-around acceptable too. The sound is clear, exuberant, even-tempered, and never hard to hear. It even employs a fair amount of bass in comparison to what one might expect.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, and DESIGN

There aren't any bonus features included here, but given that there's nearly three hours of content and that the low-priced disc operates as a sort of supplementary companion to begin with, that's just fine.
The only conceivable and reasonable bonus feature that could possibly have been included is Lifetime's reunion special for "The Golden Girls," for which rights issues remain a little unclear and which will hopefully still emerge on DVD by the time all seven seasons of the show have been released.

The main menu puts a promo photo from "The Golden Girls" against the "Intimate Portrait" theme and presents the option to play all four episodes back-to-back or to visit an episode selection screen, which captions each documentary with the name of both the actress and her character. Each episode is divided into six chapters -- a very nice feature, though those chapters aren't listed anywhere. There's also a page for language selection (your choices consist of English) and captions settings (English or Spanish) as well as a DVD information page, both of which also feature promotional pictures from the set. The menus are simple but aesthetically pleasing. Disc art matches the cover art. Interestingly, inside the package, one finds a double-sided advertisement for the first three seasons of the show on Buena Vista DVD, and a reminder that the fourth season is coming soon. A little cross-studio mingling, it seems.

The 16x9 main menu screen The episode selection screen

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Buena Vista Home Entertainment has consistently done a disservice to "The Golden Girls" in the box sets its delivered on the show's behalf thus far. Hopefully that will change in the future. In the meantime, Warner Brothers is to be applauded for giving fans something Buena Vista will not: a little meat on their bones, even if they are left forced to surrender an extra $10 or so at most retailers for it. Fortunately, that's a pretty low price for four imperfect but pretty engaging overviews of four accomplished actresses.

Belonging to the female gender may enhance enjoyment of much of what the Lifetime network has to offer, but it's not at all a prerequisite for enjoyment of "The Golden Girls" or of "Intimate Portrait." Therefore, this release is suggested to fans of any one of these four women and strongly recommended to fans of the show who have already collected the season sets. Hopefully, Warner Brothers will consider releasing more installments of the biographical series in the future.

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Reviewed December 2, 2005.