Roseanne

Can one of the stronger sitcoms of the 80’s make it in the 2010’s? Yes, but also, very much no.

What’s The Show? Roseanne (Slight Return)

What’s It All About, JG? Well, ostensibly it’s about a working class family in the fictional town of Lanford, IL struggling to make ends meet and dealing with the family, loves, successes and failures of everyday life. That may not be what it’s remembered for now though… The revived Roseanne is part of the pattern of dragging old properties from the past and giving them another season years after the original bowed out, and everything from The X-Files to Will & Grace have been reanimated in the hopes of hitting that ratings magic again. The surprise is that Roseanne actually managed it, proving to be a big hit and getting a near-instant second season renewal. That’s all fallen by the wayside now, thanks to Ms. Barr’s ability – like the president she so admires – to be racist on Twitter, a move which got the show cancelled just as swiftly as it got its initial renewal (and, though it’s understandably and correctly not what people are focussing on, all credit to the network, ABC, for not fannying about and just canning the show straight up despite its success).

Why Did You Give It A Go? The original Roseanne remains extremely defensible – a smartly written sitcom that, particularly for the time, was unusual for its focus on working class families and struggles at a time when most sitcoms were blandly middle-class. There was a verisimilitude about it that rang true, and an outstanding cast delivered funny material in a meaningfully emotional way without just being cloying or patronising. It fell apart in its last season (fairly spectacularly), but for the most part it really was an excellent TV show. So of course I was going to try this.

Is It Any Good? Not especially. One of the most dispiriting aspects of the show’s return is just how little effort seems to have gone into it. The idea of picking up the lives of the Connors a decade on, dealing with the concerns of getting old in the same way as the original show dealt with the problems of a poor family struggling to get by, is in fact a good one. But there’s a clumsiness to the revived Roseanne the belies the intelligence of the original. People have criticised the show for being pro-Trump, and that’s fair enough, but honestly it’s relatively small fry in the grand scheme of things. There’s a couple of comments in the early running about how “he talked about jobs” that suggests a legitimate line of enquiry as to why working-class families would support a blowhard bigot like Trump, but it doesn’t go anywhere and politics swiftly takes a back-seat to other issues. Well, I say “other issues” but the revival is frustrating poor at landing its points in the way the original excelled at. Take the episode that “dealt” with the opioids problem, and Dan and Roseanne sharing drugs to get by because they can’t afford the pills they need for both of them. That’s a legitimately great thing for the show to discuss, but it peters out and the whole thing eventually gets resolved by a flooded basement, an insurance claim, and Roseanne getting surgery – the show goes for a happy ending when it should go for pathos or tragedy, and it just doesn’t work. It’s not that Roseanne isn’t allowed a happy ending, it’s that the show takes the easiest, most convenient get-out instead of staying honest to the situation the characters are in.

How Many Episodes Did You Watch? All of them, for my sins. I kept hoping the spirit of the original might poke through – after all, it had been off the air for a while and it’s understandable that it might take a little time for the old rhythms to click back in. They, however, did not. The revived Will And Grace was a bit shaky in its early episodes as well, but it found its feet fairly quickly and long before the season bowed out we were back to the show as it was – charming, funny, and a little bit pointed. Roseanne never found it’s balance again – and it’s not exactly hard to guess why.

Would You Recommend It? Even before the obvious racist tweet issue, not really. Again, this is mightily frustrating, because even the idea of this cast getting back together – especially John Goodman, who quite rightly bailed before the final, dreadful season – seemed impossible. Yet, aside from Laurie Metcalf (always excellent) and Sara Gilbert (beyond excellent, and far too good for this rubbish) nobody in the original cast is trying a leg. John Goodman is an out-and-out brilliant actor but gets maybe… two minutes of actual acting in nine episodes? I have no idea why he even bothered being in this – he was already free and the character was dead, so why bother being here if you’re not going to make the effort? Roseanne herself seems to struggle to do anything with the role she created – she can land the odd zinger or one-liner, but the caring-person-under-the-hard-exterior that made the original version of the character so appealing has gone, replaced by Actual Roseanne rather than Character Roseanne, and the different is stark. To put it another way, she’s not acting any more, and that’s a great shame because she was good at playing that character. Not any more. Now, to be fair, Other Becky (Sarah Chalke) does fine, and in his one episode appearance so does the why-did-he-come-back Johnny Galecki – his moment opposite John Goodman, cowed but just a little defiant, is one of only two moments where Goodman appears to act, rather than just recite lines, and the difference is amazing. Yet, annoyingly, despite all these flaws this can’t be completely written off either – there’s a proper attempt at diversity in having a young boy (Mark Conner-Healy, played remarkably well by Ames McNamara) be gender non-conformist. It’s redolent of the “oddness” of D.J. from the original run without simply replicating it – just what a show like this should be doing – and again, that’s strikingly unusual in a working class sitcom, rather than the cosy middle-classness of something like Modern Family. Children having to move back in with their parents – families and all – because they just can’t afford anything else and are desperate? A valid concern, and again exactly what a show like Roseanne ought to address. The fact that it comes so close, yet misses by such a wide margin, is indicative of just how lazy the revived show is. This is a bust.

Scores On The Doors? 4/10

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