The Roseanne Reboot
The legendary TV comedy Roseanne debuted in 1988. I hadn’t much use for the vulgar Married With Children, and thought this might be the same sort of show. So, I didn’t start watching until around 1992, and only then because a new girlfriend was a fan. I found that Roseanne Barr had turned the usual middle class family sitcom on its head. I enjoyed the inside jokes as cast members came and went, and watched fairly often until it went off the air. A few years ago, I started getting a broadcast channel called Laff TV, which showed four old episodes every night, and caught up from the beginning of the series to all the strange stuff that happened near the end.
In 2012, Barr campaigned as a candidate for the Green Party. I wasn’t sure she could be taken seriously after the crotch-grabbing national anthem incident, but at the convention I spoke to a very intelligent young woman who had really wanted to vote for her and was disappointed that Barr didn’t put forth more of a coherent campaign. Barr lost to Jill Stein, and then ran under the banner of the Peace and Freedom Party.
I thought Barr had settled down to a life raising macadamia nuts in Hawaii, but according to her bio she had tried to start several new comedy series, one of which – Downwardly Mobile – was rejected by NBC as too progressive.
In 2017, Sara Gilbert and John Goodman did a brief skit on The View, playing Darlene and Dan Conner watching football together. Then rumors swirled that the original cast would get back together for a reboot of Roseanne. That, I thought, could be great, but will probably be disappointing. It’s hard to recapture the magic.
Later I heard Roseanne described as a Trump supporter. On closer reading it seemed more accurate to say that she didn’t care for Hillary Clinton, but then a 2009 photo shoot with Roseanne dressed like Hitler surfaced. I suspected that Barr was cannily fanning the flames of controversy to get more people to watch the premiere, but it might have backfired. I’ve run across caustic anti-Roseanne tweets by Resistance types that refuse to watch the series because it must be pro-Trump.
In the first show of the reboot, Roseanne setup a long scene for a cheap joke. Roseanne had voted Trump, and had been estranged from Jackie, who supported Clinton, but who admitted that she had been convinced by Roseanne’s anti-Hillary rants to vote for Stein. “Who’s she?” was Roseanne’s rejoinder, skewering her old opponent. And that was about it for party politics. Roseanne and Dan do complain long and hard about economic politics, just as they had in the original show, but they are also surrounded by a rainbow coalition sort of family. DJ has an African-American child, and presumably an African-American wife serving in Afghanistan. Darlene is a single mother with a rebellious daughter and a sweet son who likes to wear dresses. Becky is a widow who waits tables and sleeps around. Jackie is now a Life Coach. Other former regulars float in and out, all with problems drawn from today’s headlines.
In one episode, Dan complains about losing a drywall project to some “illegals,” which is about as close to a Trump attitude as I have seen. In another episode, Roseanne is wary of the new Muslims across the street. When I was a kid there was an episode of Lassie where the family had a Chinese boy staying with them for some reason. Gramps was frustrated by how the boy planted seeds one by one, and neighbor kids threw rocks at him, but eventually tolerance prevailed over prejudice. I have seen the same plot in countless sitcoms over the years. Likewise, Roseanne and Dan quickly made their peace with the new neighbors.
I tell people that the series is pretty much like it always was, but, “The show has drawn both criticism and praise for its depiction of conservative views, most notably reflecting the political leanings of series star and creator Roseanne Barr,” according to an article in Variety: ‘Roseanne’ May Move ‘Away From Politics’ in Season 2, ABC President Says:
“In the episode, Barr and John Goodman’s characters fall asleep on the couch, with Roseanne saying “we slept from ‘Wheel’ [of Fortune] to [Jimmy] ‘Kimmel.’” Goodman’s Dan responded that they “missed all the shows about black and Asian families,” to which Roseanne retorted “they’re just like us. There, now you’re all caught up.” Many took the joke as a jab at fellow ABC comedies “Black-ish” and “Fresh Off the Boat.”
Dungey said she was “surprised at the reaction” to the joke. “We thought the writers were tipping their hat” to those other shows, she said.
According to recent reports co-showrunner Whitney Cummings is leaving for other projects. I hope the show survives., but ratings are everything, of course. John Goodman and Laurie Metcalf are still powerhouse actors, and Sara Gilbert is as sarcastic as ever. The rest of the cast is used judiciously. I like Lecy Goransen as Becky, but I’d like to see them bring back Sarah Chalke’s yuppie character again.
Best of all Roseanne is real without being a reality show.
Update 20180529: Roseanne Barr tweeted out, “Muslim Brotherhood and Planet of the Apes had a baby = v,” the v meaning Valerie Jarrett. Barr soon deleted the tweet and apologized, but it was too much even for coworkers Wanda Sykes and Sara Gilbert. ABC execs wisely canceled Roseanne. What a shame for a talented cast doing a pretty good show.