by Julian Spivey
The Conner family returned to ABC on Tuesday night more than 20 years after “Roseanne” ended with a whimper of a series finale. It was nice to have one of America’s all-time greatest sitcom families back on television, even if we agree with some of them less than ever.
As most fans of “Roseanne” remember the final season in which the Conners won the lottery and deviated from the previous eight seasons ended with the bombshell that the entire season had been part of a novel Roseanne (Roseanne Barr) had written and her husband Dan (John Goodman) had died from a heart attack suffered the previous season. Over the year’s its been deemed one of the worst series finales of all-time.
It took two decades, but the show got the chance to fix this bad ending by essentially ignoring it, starting out with a terrific joke where Roseanne and Dan are in bed and Roseanne thinks he’s passed on before he awakes (pulling his CPAP mask off in a truly great moment).
While the premiere of the revival re-introduces us to all the show’s main characters and tells us what they’ve been up to in the two decades since the series left off it mostly revolves around the same damn thing that all our lives seem to these days – politics and whether you side with our current President or not. Roseanne voted for Donald Trump and this is a road that I wish the show didn’t go down (the real Roseanne is also pro-Trump), but the show does a fantastic job in keeping it real with Roseanne having not seen his sister Jackie (Laurie Metcalf) for the last year do to a feud over the election. President Trump and the 2016 election is something that has ripped real families apart and the show is able to find the humor in this all, even if it’s a topic that hard to laugh at. Most of the funniest moments in the first episode of the two-episode premiere come from Jackie poking at her Trump-loving sister, but I suspect pro-Trump folks might find Roseanne’s pokes at Jackie to be the highlights.
I hope that if you’re letting Roseanne’s politics – whether in real life or in this fictional show – keep you from watching the return that you re-consider. You’re missing good television if you can’t get past that.
It’s truly fantastic that “Roseanne” was able to be fresh and current with the storylines in the first two episodes – the second revolving around Darlene’s son Mark who likes to dress feminine – while also feeling like the same show we loved from 1988-1997 when it revolutionized television by bringing the daily life of a middle class, white trash family to television.
The Conner children all look old these days, well because they are. Lecy Goranson, who plays the eldest Becky, is 43-yeard old, which comes as a shock when the character admits it. But, we must keep in mind it’s been 30 years since the show debuted. Becky has the biggest storyline thus far of the three Conner children as she’s going to be surrogate for Sarah Chalke’s Andrea for $50,000 in hopes of getting her life together. If you’re thinking, “wait, didn’t Chalke also play Becky on the original run of ‘Roseanne’?” you’d be correct. The show wanted to use both actresses, and this is a creative way of using them. Darlene (Sara Gilbert) is back living with her parents with her two children in tow after losing her job and moving back to Lanford from Chicago. D.J. (Michael Fishman) is recently home from serving in the military in Syria and raising his daughter while his wife continues to serve overseas. Fishman almost has nothing to do in the first two episodes, in fact he doesn’t even appear in the second.
The relationships between Roseanne and Dan and Roseanne and Jackie were always the most interesting aspect of “Roseanne” for me and these relationships are still perfect. I do hope the return of the show gives Goodman more to do in upcoming episodes.
The one critique of the show, and it’s a small one, is that some of the acting seems a little unnatural and I’m not really surprised. Goodman and Metcalf, who recently received an Oscar nomination for her fine supporting turn in “Lady Bird,” are the only cast members who’ve really acted in the last two decades. Roseanne, Goranson, Gilbert and Fishman haven’t remained too active, if active at all, in the acting business and it kind of shows at points. But, because we love these characters it’s not something to dwell on much.
I look forward to the rest of the run of this series, which like NBC’s revival of “Will & Grace” will probably be a hit for audiences looking for nostalgia, while also being fresh. If it does work well maybe we’ll see even more “Roseanne” on down the line.