These are what we call the 'YMMV items.' Things that some people find in this work. We call them 'your mileage might vary' because not everyone sees these things in the same way. This starts discussions in the trope lists, a thing we don't want. Please use the discussion page if you'd like to discuss any of these items.
The Running Gag where Sophia would talk about how bad her retirement home was and how she was mistreated there was always played for laughs, but in a later episode in which the girls deal with actual elder abuse, not played for laughs, Sophia admits that she wasn't all too serious about Shady Pines.
Jokes about Sophia's forgetfulness felt very different after Estelle Getty's Alzheimer's diagnosis.
Blanche's constant lying about her age were always played for laughs. Then came an episode where we find out that she is suffering from depression out of fear of growing old. Knowing this makes all those jokes about her age seem more sad than funny.
Harsher in Hindsight: At the end of an episode where Sophia rescues a friend from a nursing home, the girls make a pact to take care of each other, and Rose asks, "What happens when there's only one of us left?" Cut to 2011, where Betty White (Rose) actually is the only one of them left. It goes even further: in the show, after that line, Sophia (the oldest character) mentions "Don't worry, I can take care of myself." In real life, Estelle Getty (Sophia), who was younger than both Bea Arthur and Betty White, was the first to go.
This trope's not even limited to the main cast. "It's a Miserable Life" and "'Til Death Do We Volley" are harder to watch now that Nan Martin and Anne Francis have passed away.
Hilarious in Hindsight: In a special two-part episode, Rose (Betty White) had a heart attack and had to stay in the hospital and was looped out (moreso than usual) on prescription medication. In a scene with her daughter, Rose yells "Live from New York, it's Saturday Night!" in her delirium. Fast forward to 2010, where, thanks to publicity from a Facebook petition, Betty White did get to host SNL, becoming the show's oldest host (at age 88 and a half), the first SNL host to be picked via online petition (but not the first to be picked by viewers; that honor goes to Miskel Spillman, who won the "Anyone Can Host SNL" contest — and was considered the oldest host the show ever had until Betty White usurped the title — back in 1977), and the second cast member from The Golden Girls to host SNL (Bea Arthur was the first [hosted a season five episode in 1979], but this was before The Golden Girls was created).
With all the jokes about how masculine Dorothy was, it's funny to hear about Bea Arthur's stint in the Marine Corps.
Dorothy's quote in "Fiddler on the Ropes": "Blanche! Everlast is a brand name, not a nickname!".
Dorothy and Sophia's musical act as Sonny and Cher provided a double-whammy. Sonny Bono would guest-star in a sixth season episode. Also, Blanche asked them which one was Cheech and which one was Chong. Cheech Marin would later costar on The Golden Palace.
Hollywood Pudgy: Blanche and Rose are frequently the target of barbs about their weight even though they look exactly the way two middle-aged women who have had several children would look. In another episode, when Blanche's daughter Becky visits, though she is in fact overweight, the others react as though she's morbidly obese. (Of course, her weight issues are later retconned when the actress is replaced.)
Ironically, Betty White has no children (though she has three stepchildren from her marriage to Allen Ludden), and Rue McClanahan had only one. The trope still rings very true, however.
Informed Flaw: Dorothy is often described as being unattractive by people on the show.
Dorothy and Blanche's roleplaying in "Forgive Me, Father". Justified in that Blanche is trying to show Dorothy how to ask a man to dinner.
Also, sort of demonstrated here in an episode where Rose and Blanche have joined a dirty dancing class.
One of Dorothy's friends falls in love with Rose and confesses to her.
When Blanche and Dorothy pretend to be a couple.
Mondegreen: "You would see the biggest gift would be from me/And the heart attack would say 'Thank you for being a friend'" ("And the card attached would say")
Periphery Demographic: This show was - and continues to be - very popular with young people. Betty White, when asked why that might be, gave the simplest (and probably most accurate) explanation: "It's funny!"
The series also has a huge gay following, but that's probably because the show was very gay-conscious even at a time when it wasn't acceptable. Besides Coco in the pilot, there are entire episodes dealing with AIDS, crossdressing, gay marriage, coming out, accepting gay family members, and one that addressed non-family members trying to see their loved ones in the hospital. On a less serious note, the snarky dialogue and Blanche's proud promiscuity didn't hurt either.
A young Paul Rodriguez, at the time just barely hitting the comedy circuit, played a disgruntled bellhop in the S2 episode "Vacation."
In the episode "Brother, Can You Spare That Jacket?" Sophia donates a jacket that Blanche has placed winning lottery tickets in to the Salvation Army. Michael Jackson happens to pop by the Salvation Army and wears it for his show, and they must find where it is located. Michael himself joked about this show with his friends for years later, and recorded instances can be seen on Youtube.
Some Anvils Need to Be Dropped: Quite a few, as the show often tackled topics like AIDS and homosexuality. One particular episode showed the girls trying to get back a jacket that had accidentally been donated to a charity auction with a winning lottery ticket in the pocket. They end up spending the night in a homeless shelter, and their conversations with the homeless illustrate how anybody can wind up in that situation.
Some of Rose's St. Olaf stories were like this. When she told the very sappy story of how her family spent Christmas Eve, Dorothy Lampshaded it by snapping, "Who was your father, Rose, Michael Landon?"
Rose herself was like this, especially in earlier episodes. So danged sweet you could just barf. Dorothy's son's future mother-in-law outright asked if Rose was for real.
Tear Jerker: There were several over the run of the series:
The Mother's Day episode where Rose encounters an elderly woman going home to visit her daughter. It turns out her daughter is dead and she visits her grave every Mother's Day.
The episode where the other girls give Rose a dog for her birthday. Hospital volunteer Rose ends up giving the dog to a man whose wife has just died, which doubles as a Crowning Moment of Heartwarming.
The Whole Episode Flashback about celebrating birthdays. Rose celebrates her last birthday in St. Olaf, talking to her late husband Charlie as if he's there, telling him goodbye.
The ending to the episode dealing with the death of Sophia's son Phil.
"My baby is gone."
Also the episode "Not Another Monday" - The conversation between Sophia and her friend Martha, [[who has been contemplating suicide.]]
"End of the Curse" - Blanche is going through menopause and spirals into a depression at the thought of getting old. The girls take her to see a therapist, where she reveals that getting old absolutely terrifies her. When she talks about sometimes seeing her mother's face instead of her own in the mirror tugs at the heartstrings:
"You know, sometimes, I look in the mirror, and I see my mother's face. Not all the time, just every now and then, when the lights too bright, or too early in the morning, or late at night, or I look real fast. There it is - my mother's face. Scares me to death [chuckles nervously]. It just scares me to death. I just get so depressed I don't want to get out of bed in the morning...I don't want to get out of bed ever again."
Thanks to Fridge Depression, the above gets much worse if you've watched the later episode "Mother's Day", where we find out what happened to Blanche's mother - before her death, she was living in a retirement home with Alzheimer's and had trouble remembering who she even was. This is what getting old means to Blanche, and why the thought of seeing her mother's face instead of her own scares and depresses her so much.
Blanche saying goodbye to Big Daddy: "I'm nobody's little girl anymore..."
Another from when Blanche says goodbye to Big Daddy: "I don't know if love can help you wherever you are, but if it can, then, honey, you got it."
That episode had a number of Tear Jerker moments around Blanche. The last time she speaks to Big Daddy she's more worried about planning a festival and doesn't believe he sounds that sick. When she gets the news of his death, Blanche thinks he's just faking to get attention from her, until she breaks down crying wondering why she didn't go to him. And then, after returning to her childhood home for the funeral, Blanche gets into an argument with her sister Virginia and refuses to go to Big Daddy's funeral out of spite, missing her last chance to say goodbye to him face-to-face.
After getting the call about Big Daddy's death, Blanche cheerfully recalls how Big Daddy used to put ketchup on his lima beans before breaking down and sobbing her eyes out.
Blanche: He always made everything sound... so damn special... oh God, why didn't I go when he called?
Shortly after Big Daddy passes away, Blanche's "Mammy" (her nanny and best friend from childhood) comes to visit after having left Blanche abruptly and not showing her face for forty years. She asks for Big Daddy's old music box, which was a gift from her, revealing that the two were having an affair. Blanche refuses, demanding an explanation as to why her Mammy had just left her alone. Her Mammy reveals that Big Mommy found out about the affair and furiously kicked Mammy out of the Hollingsworth household, but she was always around for Blanche's life, unseen:
Mammy: I remember a wedding. Most beautiful young bride I ever did see. The song was Tennessee Williams. You asked them to play it twice so you could dance with your daddy for as long as possible.
Blanche: ...how do you know that?
Mammy: I stood in the back by the caterers, so nobody would see me. You have no idea how much I wanted to just hug you.
The final scene of the original series, where the girls say goodbye to Dorothy.
The episode "Old Friends" where Sofia makes friends with Alvin on the boardwalk. The final part is funny, sweet, and tear jerking all at the same time:
Sofia: Hey! Someone's sittin' there!
It really becomes a tearjerker when you learn about how Estelle Getty came down with dementia, what Alvin was suffering from in this very episode.
In one episode, Sophia learns a friend from Shady Pines named Lilian has been transferred to Sunny Pastures, which Sophia explains is the bottom of the barrel for nursing homes. It turns out she's not exaggerating, although we learn this is because it doesn't have enough funding and the guy who runs Sunny Pastures is trying to do the best he can despite the aggravating bureaucratic procedures it takes to the run the place. Sophia conspires to break Lilian out, and does, but we learn that she's genuinely senile and suffering from either dementia or Alzheimer's. Sophia is running herself ragged taking care of Lilian, until the girls manage to find a better nursing home for her. Dorothy comments that everything worked out okay... but wonders why she doesn't feel better. Blanche mentions something along the lines of "because there are places out there that are worse than Sunny Pastures and Lilian just got lucky."
Made even worse in hindsight because Blanche is still right. Especially in Florida, which has a very high retiree population, the state of most nursing homes is closer to Sunny Pastures' example than anyone would like. The lawsuit deluge of recent years has arguably made it worse by driving malpractice insurance costs up even further, and most legislation designed to punish negligence is questionably effective at best.
Miles leaving after it's revealed that the criminal he's been hiding from isn't actually dead. He rushes out after he says goodbye, and leaves Rose his Robert Frost poetry book, telling her to think of him when she reads a certain page. She immediately does:
"And when to the heart of a man, was it ever a less than a treason?/To bow and accept the end of a love, or of a season?"
The entire third act of "Brother, Can You Spare That Jacket?" where the girls go to a homeless shelter to find a jacket with a winning lottery ticket in the pocket. While searching, they have various discussions with the homeless, including a woman Sophia knows from Shady Pines, learning that homelessness can affect anyone. When they do manage to find the ticket, they give it to the shelter, thanking the priest in charge for everything.
The version of "Brother, Can You Spare A Dime" played while the girls search the shelter, juxtaposed with shots of the residents of the shelter (including a mother and her young children), only adds fuel to the depressing fire.
For some. Others think the song in particular makes the moment (and itself is) a fountain of Narm.
The person in the homeless shelter that Blanche meets. He was staring at her purse, and she quickly snapped at him. He said he was wondering if she had any gum; she apologized and they begin to talk. He tells her he doesn't really belong there; he's actually a sociology student studying the homeless for his doctorate. Blanche warms up to him and mentions how he seems more like her own son than a typical homeless person. Then, he let's the masquerade fall: He already has his doctorate, but he still needs to stay in the shelter because he's an alcoholic. He ends by telling her to be extra careful with her purse, since he didn't really want a piece of gum. Sad enough, but when you think about how now youth unemployment (especially among recent college graduates with little to no job history) is currently twice the national average, it becomes eerily tragic.
Even this throwaway joke from the first season: Rose tells her daughter she keeps her will in the cookie jar. It's sweet and sad when you remember that Rose lost her Charlie...
Rose: Whenever I caught your father in the kitchen, he was always in the cookie jar. This way, he still is!
When Dorothy announces she is remarrying Stan, Sophia tells her that if she goes through with it she'll cut her out of her life, and Dorothy is very hurt by this.
Unfortunate Implications: In "There Goes the Bride", Blanche is interviewing potential roommates to replace Dorothy. One woman is revealed to be a recent widow, and while her comments are Played for Laughs, there's a very strong vibe that she's probably a Black Widow, or at the very least a Gold Digger who only dates men who are only going to live just long enough to put her in the will.
I always get nervous at weddings. Weddings and funerals. I've been to so many of both, I get mixed up. Same flowers, same guest list. Handful of rice, handful of dirt. The only difference is that, after a funeral, it's okay to date.
In one episode, a man who Blanche (who pretended to be in a relationship with Dorothy) goes out with tells her that she's probably "that way" because she's never been with a real man before.