To this day whenever I hear a harmonica in the wild (and for a minute in the 90’s that wild was usually Blues Traveler) my first thought is always “Is this the intro to Roseanne?” That is how deeply ingrained into my psyche that show was. Plus, this is just a really good song.
The Conners did for the struggling working class what The Bradys did for the blended family or The Jeffersons did for the black community. They all gave America a glimpse into thriving non-nuclear families who not represented on television. Before them the general idea was Hollywood showed you what your life could or should be like (Has anyone ever actually cooled an apple pie on a windowsill WERE THERE NO BUGS IN THE 50’S?) and that life was a mother, father, two kids, middle class, white.
Then along came Dan and Roseanne Conner. Not only were they played by non-traditional Hollywood actors, but they had real world problems. And for someone like me who didn’t have the biggest house on the block and who was being raised by a single mom, it was comforting to see people struggling and fighting and laughing and loving. Perfect families made me feel bad. The Conners made me feel normal.
The show’s return was already receiving criticism because of its choice to make Dan and Roseanne Trump supporters. That was kind of a bummer. Then I started to think about what was actually going on in Illinois in the real world, in 2016. It turns out their trajectory is pretty accurate. With the help of our managing editor who is from Chicago, we estimated the fictional town of Lanford is probably located in one of the rural counties (Ogle, Lee, LaSalle, Kendall) an hour or two west of Chicago, which Trump won. Those same counties voted for Bill Clinton in 1992 and 1996 which would explain the Roseanne and Dan Conner we all knew and loved. Happy to report this new season of Roseanne has successfully Made The Conners Great Again. And while there are plenty of Trumpisms (gotta get that MAGA in), it’s the Trump supporter who was told more jobs were coming, not the racist homophobic angry mob Trump supporter we know and hate. I’m not sure if that distinction is okay to make but it’s the reality of the show.
I didn’t realize how much I missed the following sentence until I heard it at the show’s start. “Roseanne is taped in front of a live studio audience.” Holy shit, that’s crazy in 2018. Hell that’s crazy in 2008. You can really feel a different energy of a show when actors are able to feed off the reactions of actual humans and not just the debilitating silence of a television studio while one PA chuckles in the corner.
We jump into 2018 immediately. The constant reminders of the present day are a little heavy-handed. Before the first commercial even hits there is a reference to insurance being too expensive, Uber, Darlene’s son is exploring himself via fairly feminine outfit choices and Jackie appears wearing a Nasty Woman T-shirt and pink pussy hat while calling Roseanne a Deplorable. Jackie and Roseanne are feuding because of who they each voted for (wait for Jackie’s M. Night Shyamalan style reveal). That’s a very real thing nowadays. Families have been torn apart by the 2016 election. It’s nice to know that Roseanne can still hold a mirror up to America and reflect all the shit back to you, but with just the right amount of sarcasm. That’s the secret. Roseanne brought back a lot of people who were involved with the original show. You gotta know these characters as well as the actors themselves because you’ll never know them as well as the fans. That’s who you’re writing for.
The reboot puts the focus more on Darlene and her children, Harris Conner (played by Emma Kenney of Shameless fame which less face it is essentially Roseanne on meth…literally) and Mark Conner (Ames McNamara). Darlene, jobless, has moved back home under the guise of taking care of her parents but more importantly than that Darlene and Becky (played by OG Becky Alicia Goranson) are still able to play a successful game of verbal insult tennis that almost makes me wish I wasn’t an only child. Ever insult yourself? It’s not as fun. Sure was nice to see some of this again…
Our reintroduction to Becky is with a thrilling announcement that she’s going to get paid $50,000 to be a surrogate. The twist? It’s going to be with her own egg. Who needs her baby? That’s the OTHER twist that I won’t blow. You only need to know that Becky lies and says she’s 33 not 43 but thankfully her skin is 33 years-old and hello I can identify with that 100% because in November of 2017 my friend’s younger sister said I looked 29. I was 37. WHO’S COUNTING?
It’s interesting that Dan has more of a problem with Becky using her egg (in his words “selling her own kid”) than he does with Darlene’s son Mark given his status as a Trump supporter. In fact his biggest concern regarding Mark is not his clothing selection but rather how the world will treat him because of it, which is a legitimate fear. Again this doesn’t jive with the angry Trump voter we often see highlighted on social media but I think it’s a lovely decision the show made to gently introduce us to the new Dan and Roseanne. It’s also it’s the right thing to do. Some of my favorite Roseanne moments were always the really moving, tender parts. There were some very heavy issues dealt with extremely well in the original show and the reboot appears to be on the same track. In one scene Darlene is talking to her son about being different after his first day at a new school and you can tell this particular conversation really hit home for Sara Gilbert.
Jackie, ever the wandering spirit, is now a life coach. If you think about it who better than to guide others on their personal journey than the woman who has been everything from truck driver to cop to small business owner. And Laurie Metcalf, who is finally getting the recognition she deserves, is still able to transform her face with each passing second. I could watch Jackie on mute.
The new show both moved forward and stayed exactly where it was and that’s all you can ask from a reboot of a classic. At the end of the second episode we find Dan, Darlene and her kids playing basketball. Some things never and shouldn’t change.