Like many Americans, I was a fan of Roseanne back in the day. Her show was a breath of fresh air, portraying middle-class mothers who work outside the home in a way that felt real and vital. Toward the end of the series’ run it fell into foolish plotlines and convoluted ideas but was ultimately redeemed by the reveal that it had all been the novel of an aspiring writer using her art to heal her grief at the loss of her husband.
And then the return of Roseanne was announced. Like another show that had a memorable conclusion, Will & Grace, Roseanne erased its own ending and picked up at some point in the future.
The question became, given the long hiatus, continuing careers of the stars and Roseanne Barr’s often abrasive and contentious presence on social media, would anyone still watch it?
After initially rejecting the idea, I became curious. I wanted to see what became of the characters that had become so dear and familiar—and if Roseanne the rebel who stood up for the rights of women, the LGBT community and people of color was still present. When I read that Wanda Sykes was in the writer’s room, I was heartened. I felt like Roseanne’s vitriolic right-wing side might be held in check. I felt even better when she told the hosts of The View that she wanted to help Americans learn to talk to one another again.
With all this in mind, I decided to watch the first two episodes. Like at any reunion of old friends, I wanted to see how much the kids had grown up and how badly the parents had grown older. I have to say, everyone looked great.
And the show looked good, too. There was the couch with the afghan, the tacky wallpaper and the kitchen table just like we remember them. The show itself had inside jokes and quiet tributes to certain realities. The death of Glenn Quinn, who played Mark Healy, was acknowledged by making Becky a widow. Lecy Goranson and Sarah Chalke, both of whom portrayed Becky, were cleverly worked into the script so they could appear on camera together.
We were introduced to the next generation of Conners. The gender-fluid grandson was handled beautifully. There was some adept writing that made Dan and Roseanne loving and supportive and yet still true to their personal beliefs. The grandson’s sister, Harris, got less to do but amazed me with how much she resembled a young Sara Gilbert. And Harris’s limited role still far exceeded that of DJ’s daughter.
But in spite of good writing, excellent acting and a tight arc for both episodes there were some major misses. Including:
- DJ and his daughter seemed to be set decoration. Sure, there was a lot going on but if we were told the little girl’s name it went right by me.
- Was it necessary to take Jackie from family character to outright caricature?
- I’ve always appreciated the line from an old episode that goes: “Well, middle-class was fun while it lasted.” While it’s admirable that Roseanne wants to portray the plight of the unemployed, she seems to miss that educated, employed middle-class Americans are also struggling.
- Speaking of unemployment, the writers missed a huge opportunity with Darlene. We know she went to college. Why not make her a teacher who can’t support two children on her meager salary? Public school would be great; a university adjunct would be even better. Neither can survive on one salary and you can talk about unions.
- The argument between Jackie and Roseanne was categorized as Jackie being good-hearted but clueless—and yet neither sister offered facts or solid information. This only perpetuates the divide between Americans, rather than helping fractured families talk and heal.
There have been some excellent opinion pieces about the new Roseanne, including Roxane Gay’s take in the New York Times on why she will not watch any more episodes and the diverse panel at NPR’s On Point, which hopes that white America will use the show to explore and confront difficult issues that are crippling the country.
As for me, I haven’t yet decided if I’ll continue to watch. I believe in giving art a chance, but I have no interest in supporting 45’s bilious claims about Roseanne’s ratings, nor the star’s malicious attacks against Parkland shooting survivors. It seems that the decision whether or not to watch a three-camera situation comedy has become a political act.
But nowadays, what isn’t?