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“Roseanne” becomes “The Conners”…

September 1, 2018, 10:51 AM

Funny how real life sometimes writes the plot.  I was planning to do a review of the tenth season of Roseanne in this space back in May, but while I was writing it, the show was cancelled by ABC after Roseanne Barr posted some pretty vile stuff on the Twitter.  That put the partially-written Journal entry on hold, because those events affected a lot of what I was working on.  However, the network’s reaction to the Twitter rant was completely understandable.  I can’t imagine that any company would want to be associated with such vile rhetoric coming from one of their key players.

Based on the fallout, where Barr blamed Ambien for her racist rant, I can tell you one thing: she’s not sorry.  Sure, she’s sorry that she ran her mouth and lost her job, but she’s not sorry for what she said.  If anything, her using the medication as a scapegoat cements that those were her true feelings.  The idea is that the medication “removed the filter”, and, with nothing to prevent vile things from being said, she let out what she had really been thinking all along.  And then she doubled down on it on a Fox News appearance later on.  I’m disappointed, because I expected better from Barr.  But I suppose that it doesn’t matter anymore, because Barr’s career is most definitely over, destroyed by an ill-considered Twitter post.

I suppose that this is also a lesson about how to handle your relationship between your personal social media and your employer, especially when you’re in a very public position.  People hear about stuff like this and complain about free speech, but the whole concept of “free speech” as laid out by the First Amendment only applies to the government.  A private entity is completely free to fire you for saying something vile on the Internet, and that’s what happened with Barr.  The government played no role in her firing.  She ran her mouth, and boom – she lost her job.

When the new season of Roseanne was announced, I was excited. I wrote a Journal entry about it at the time, discussing how they might pick up again.  Back then, I presented three scenarios: present the “real” family that the book was based on, dismiss the final scene but treat the rest of the ninth season as canon, or dismiss everything from the ninth season and go about like it never happened.  I was delighted to find out that they took the third scenario, and dismissed the ninth season completely.  In fact, they did even better, as they appear to have dropped everything after this point:

The end of Darlene's wedding episode

In other words, they decided to pick up exactly where the original show should have ended, right before it went completely off the rails.  That meant no heart attack, no lottery, no Prince Carlos, no terrorists, no infidelity, etc.  I was pleased about the method that they used to hand-wave the final season away as fantasy, having Dan hold up and briefly discuss Roseanne’s completed manuscript as something that might have had potential, but that never got published.  Good riddance to a bad season.

I was also pleased about how they did the sets on the revived show.  It was a recreation of the old Roseanne set, with additional touches to represent the passage of time, such as an aged look in the kitchen, mismatched chairs around the kitchen table as chairs were replaced as needed, a few new appliances, and so on.  All in all, it looked just like the Conners’ house should look in 2018.  No major renovations, but a lot of piecemeal changes over the years.  The bedroom sets in particular were absolutely spot on.  I also loved that they made new establishing shots of the “Roseanne house” in Evansville, Indiana.

The opening was classic Roseanne, with everyone in the kitchen, interacting with each other as dinner was being served, with the camera panning around a fully-built set, just like in earlier seasons.  No morphs showing the characters changing over the years, as was done in the last two seasons of the original run.  The music was reminiscent of the theme used during the first and second seasons.  I would have probably based the new theme off of the versions used in the third or seventh seasons, as I considered those to be the best themes from the original run, but I suppose that basing it off of the first season works, too.  Only question I have is, who is that laughing with Roseanne at the end?  In the original run, Roseanne laughs alone, but now there is a male voice laughing along with her.

I also liked the way that the characters were updated.  Roseanne and Dan were still living in the same house in Lanford, though Dan now used a CPAP machine for sleep apnea, and both of them were on various medications.  Roseanne’s sister Jackie was still single and living in an apartment, and it was made clear in the first episode that she and Roseanne had been estranged for some time before this.  Oldest child Becky, played by the original actress, is single again, as her husband Mark had died for unspecified reasons at some point in the past (Glenn Quinn, the actor who played Mark, had died from drugs in 2002), and was initially looking to bear a child as a surrogate mother for a new character played by Sarah Chalke, who replaced Goranson as Becky for a few seasons in the original run.  Middle child Darlene and her husband David were separated (Johnny Galecki, the actor who played David, is a regular on The Big Bang Theory on CBS, and thus was unavailable for Roseanne), and they had two kids: a daughter named Harris, whose name was the only thing carried over from the ninth season, and a son named Mark.  Third child DJ is a military veteran, and married a girl named Gina, with whom he has a child.  Jerry Garcia Conner, meanwhile, was more or less hand-waved out of existence, explained briefly as being away doing something or other.  Roseanne’s mother, Bev Harris, was kicked out of the retirement home for bad behavior, and moved in with Jackie.

Then various other characters reappeared, too.  Crystal, who married Dan’s father in the fourth season, appears in two episodes.  Nancy appears in one, as do Annemarie and her husband Chuck.  Surprisingly, we never heard a peep about Leon, Roseanne’s former boss at Rodbell’s and later her business partner at the diner.  I can only assume that Martin Mull, the actor who played Leon, was unavailable.

The new season did leave a few continuity questions.  First: what happened to Jackie’s son Andy?  You may recall that Andy came about because actress Laurie Metcalf became pregnant in real life, and quickly developed a very large baby bump.  So rather than write Jackie out of the show for a while, they made the character pregnant as well.  Considering that Andy never really got any character development, I imagine that they just retconned him out of existence, and figured that no one would notice.  Likewise, what happened to Jackie’s house?  In the fifth season, after Dan briefly got into house flipping and got ripped off by Tim Curry‘s character, Jackie bought the house that had them in dire financial straits.  In the new season, Jackie lives in an apartment.  Perhaps an apartment set was already available vs. recreating the set for Jackie’s house, but it’s never explained.

We also never find out what happened to The Lanford Lunch Box, which was the diner that Roseanne, Jackie, Nancy, and Bev started in the fifth season.  It’s very clear that Roseanne and Jackie don’t work there anymore, but we never found out if the diner went out of business, if they sold their interest in the diner, or what have you.  They were shown giving up their shares in the diner in the ninth season, but with the ninth season’s being hand-waved away, it leaves that issue unresolved.  All we know is that Roseanne and Jackie are no longer involved with it anymore, and they now have other jobs.

I also appreciated the nods to continuity here and there.  For instance, while they didn’t say it directly, it appears that DJ married the girl who, back in the seventh season, he didn’t want to kiss in a play because she was black.  That was a good way to tie up that bit of story, and showed that things worked out well in the end.

And then, ironically enough, the worst character in the whole show was Roseanne herself.  The new season had a lot of cringeworthy moments, and almost without exception, they all were in Roseanne-centric scenes.  Right out of the gate, in the very first episode, there was the reconciliation with Jackie over political issues.  Jackie had voted for Jill Stein in 2016, which fit her character well enough.  It was also made clear, without actually saying it explicitly, that Roseanne Conner was a Trump supporter (Barr is a Trump supporter in real life).  I remember seeing that scene and feeling like the Roseanne revival would be terrible on account of its being overly political in a format that wasn’t designed for it.  Thankfully, the second episode was closer to a standard episode of Roseanne.  If that awful first episode had been shown alone, without the second one’s airing immediately after, I might not have continued to watch the show.

Roseanne as portrayed in the new show also contradicted the way that Roseanne was portrayed in the old show.  Remember that sixth-season episode where DJ stole the family car, Roseanne spanked him, and the rest of the episode was about how she had instant regret about hitting him because she had been abused as a child?  Fast forward to the new show, and she’s holding her granddaughter’s head under the sink in a malicious way in order to make some sort of point.  I was cringing at that scene as well, since it went against so much of what the old Roseanne had stood for.  Likewise, the Conners always used to lean leftward when it came to politics, and this was played upon quite a few times.  Seeing Roseanne as a right-winger in the new series didn’t make sense.

And then the most cringeworthy episode of the entire season was “Go Cubs”, where Roseanne needed to use her Yemeni neighbors’ wi-fi to make an online call to DJ’s wife, who was stationed in Afghanistan, after they had to let their own Internet service lapse due to financial issues.  First they made all of these remarks about the large amount of fertilizer that was being delivered to the neighbors’ house (because, as it turned out, the husband didn’t understand how online ordering worked, and the wife was unhappy about it, too), and then there was all of this trepidation about going over and asking permission to use their network.  And then Roseanne and Jackie acted all awkward around them, while the neighbors were quite friendly and accommodating.  Then there was a later scene where Roseanne and the neighbor were both in the grocery store checkout line, and the cashier made an insensitive remark to the neighbor about her ethnicity, and Roseanne got all holier-than-thou about it, telling the cashier how horrible they were for their remarks.  Give me a break.  We saw the earlier scenes.  “There is no one more virtuous than a reformed whore,” as the saying goes.  I was glad when that episode was over.  So much awkwardness crammed into thirty minutes’ time.

About the only decent Roseanne-centric episode from the new season was the final one, where it is revealed that Roseanne needed surgery for a medical condition, and also was addicted to prescription painkillers.  That was a classic Roseanne-and-Dan scene, but Dan was clearly not fooling around with his wife’s health.

In any case, that short season demonstrated one thing: Roseanne Barr was a drag on the show that bore her name, as all of the other characters were far better actors and had better stories than the alleged star, who was mostly reacting to everyone else in an ignorant way.  Sara Gilbert‘s character, Darlene, was the real star of the new show.  Admitting as much would have put the show in the same league as the Full House and Boy Meets World revivals (Fuller House and Girl Meets World, respectively), which both had generation shifts, where the kids from the old shows were the stars in the new shows, and the parents from the old shows were more distant supporting characters.  It would have made sense to do that for Roseanne, but I imagine that Barr’s massive ego couldn’t handle that.  I imagine that with Barr now out of the picture, that much-needed generational shift will happen.

I also found it a bit jarring about how much name-dropping there was for various Internet companies on the show.  How many times did they say “Facebook” or “Instagram” in a scene?  Roseanne also drove for Uber, which was named by name.  Then the Yemeni neighbors ordered things from Amazon, rather than something more generic-sounding, like “online”.  I understand where they were coming from, with the prevalence of the Internet, social media, and the gig economy, but using real names, and not doing so as the butt of a joke, seemed out of place, and felt like an old show trying to demonstrate that it’s hip and cool in the modern era (which, like adults trying to act cool for the kids, never works).  All of those references could have been genericized to no ill effect.

All that said. I’m looking forward to The Conners.  Based on the promotional and news material that I’ve seen, it’s going to focus on Darlene and Dan.  With Roseanne out of the picture, Darlene would be the matriarch of the family, with Dan as the grandfather, and it could focus on family and working class issues, and hopefully keep the politics out of it.  It sounds like Dan will be a widower in the new season, as Goodman indicated that Roseanne Conner will be dead.  This seems a good way to keep Barr out of it permanently, if her character is killed off – and good riddance to her.  I’m also looking forward to seeing the writers shine without having Roseanne Barr’s ego driving or otherwise interfering with the creative process, as Barr will have no creative or financial interests in the show going forward – and good riddance to her.  So hopefully, The Conners will fix all of the rough edges from the tenth season of Roseanne (mostly due to Roseanne), and be a long-runner in its own right.  Other shows have continued to do just fine after abruptly losing a main character, and I imagine that The Conners will do similarly.  I look forward to finding out how this Roseanne-without-Roseanne will do.

Categories: Television