In the 1990s I was laughing so much at Seinfeld, Frasier, Friends, The Wonder Years, Will & Grace and Absolutely Fabulous that I didn’t have much time for Roseanne (nor Home Improvement, 3rd Rock from the Sun, or Everybody Loves Raymond).
And yes I’m aware several of those began in the late 1980s.
But I still regarded Roseanne Barr as force to be reckoned with, with gifted timing and delivery, who had managed to speak for heartland America. Roseanne Conner was a mother who wasn’t afraid to embrace her working class roots and who ‘owned’ her unglam appearance when so many faces on TV resembled magazine covers. She tackled political issues at a family level, whether on women’s rights, abortion, gay rights or race, and frequently insulted her screen kids without batting an eyelid. Underneath her cynicism was unconditional love for her clan, which is essential for audience empathy.
Now she is back nearly 20 years after departing our screens, expanding the nuclear family and reacting to contemporary viewpoints, without betraying her roots. All the key characters are back, including Dan (John Goodman), despite being “killed off” in the Season 9 finale. Fittingly the opening scene begins with Roseanne & Dan in bed, waking up Dallas-like from a dream.
“I thought you were dead!” she declares.
“Why does everybody always think I’m dead?” he asks from behind an oxygen mask.
Now grandparents, our couple subscribe to a daily dose of pills for cholesterol, pain, depression and blood sugar levels. A little greyer, a little slimmer, they still wear denim and flannelette and still have that nanna quilt on the couch.
But the house is much busier with Darlene (Sara Gilbert) jobless and living back home with wise-cracking daughter Harris (Emma Kenney) and ‘flamboyant’ son Mark (Ames McNamara). Becky (original Alicia Goranson) is now a young widow whilst D.J. (Michael Fishman) has returned home from fighting in Syria, with African-American daughter Mary (Jeyden Rey). Barr and her writers (episode 1 is by Bruce Rasmussen) immediately flag several political topics, but it doesn’t end there.
Becky is now looking to become a surrogate mother for a quick $50,000 (to be revealed as ‘Becky 2’ actress Sarah Chalke), which raises debates over “her body, her decision” between Roseanne & Dan.
Meanwhile Roseanne’s neurotic younger sister Jackie (Laurie Metcalf) returns, locked in a feud with her sister over the outcome of the US election -and specifically Roseanne‘s support for Trump. Whilst Trump isn’t mentioned by name Roseanne thanks God for “making America great again.”
“He talked about jobs!” Roseanne insists.
“Now things are worse,” Jackie replies.
“Not on the real news,” Roseanne smiles.
Creating conflict from US politics and planting it in the living room is typical of the way Roseanne has been brought into 2018. It serves up more than a few punchlines.
With Barr, Goodman, Gilbert and Metcalf as the backbone of this ensemble, Roseanne hits the nostalgia target without looking tired or short of the mark. But there are a several telltale moments when Barr can be seen looking aside, no doubt to a teleprompter for line reference.
Roseanne may not be the flawless revival that is Will & Grace, but it again proves you can’t hold a classic character back when she has something to say.
Roseanne returns 9pm Monday April 30 on TEN.