The Conners – Season One

Can Roseanne survive without, you know, Roseanne? Yes, as it turns out.

What’s The Show? The Conners

What’s It All About, JG? First there was Garfield Without Garfield, a bleak look into the existential crisis of one poor man’s attempts to wrestle with life’s greatest (and smallest) conundrums. Then we have  Rosanne Without Roseanne, following in GWG‘s trailblazing footsteps! Yes, it seems that getting fired from your own show wasn’t enough to actually kill said show, so instead we have this, The Conners, which is literally Roseanne but without the title character who died on the way back to her home planet off-screen of an overdose. Everything else about the show is exactly the same – the same characters, situation, difficulties and so on, just without the matriarchal centre that held the show together up until this point (even the title music and font remain the same). That means that John Goodman’s Dan shifts rather more to the middle of the show, while also loosening things up a little so it feels more like a genuine ensemble piece rather than “Roseanne, oh and also everyone else”. That format worked well enough for Roseanne the show, but how well can the series survive without it’s primary creative force and principal character?

Why Did You Give It A Go? Well it’s always interesting to see how shows like this are able to handle the transition from one state to another. The revived Roseanne (written up elsewhere on this blog) never caught fire in the way the original did, so there’s a certain morbid curiosity to see how well or otherwise the show would do without its creator being on board.

Is It Any Good? Well, the answer to the question, “how well can the series survive without it’s primary creative force and principal character?” is, in fact, just fine.  Better in absolutely every regard than the one revived season of Roseanne, The Conners stakes a strong case for Roseanne Barr’s removal from the show on more than just racist grounds but on creative ones too.  To a certain extent the removal of Roseanne from the show gives a little more breathing space to the other characters, which helps to explain why this feels a bit more satisfying. Never exactly underpopulated, Roseanne‘s revived series had so many characters in it that almost none of them had enough time spent on them to make them engaging, but by freeing up time not having to deal with clumsy social or political commentary everyone gets to spend a little longer in their own stories and it makes the show immediately more interesting. Goodman in particular seems much more energised here than the dejected slump of a performance he turned in last time out, and is far more watchable and entertaining here.  That’s important because the rest of the cast feed off his improved performance and are all better as well. Extra time spent with Laurie Metcalf or Sara Gilbert is never a bad thing, but it’s so much more fun to watch them when their talents are being properly used, and here they absolutely are – not just in comedy but on the more dramatic side too, with Metcalf in particular working great with Goodman to deliver on the show’s more serious side. Equally the show doesn’t abandon it’s commitment to dealing with social or socio-political issues, but they’re handled more low-key and as such integrate much more successfully into the show. But saying that, there’s a lightness of touch to The Conners that was sorely lacking in the last season of Roseanne and it just makes everything so much more entertaining than it was last time out. It’s a sad thing when the removal of the primary creative force in something actively ends up improving the final product but here, at least, that is absolutely the case.

How Many Episodes Did You Watch? All of them, but unlike Roseanne it never felt like an obligation.

Would You Recommend It? For anyone who was hoping for Roseanne‘s return to be as good as the original but felt let down by it, absolutely. In terms of both performance and tone this feels much more akin to the original show, not subtle but able to walk the line between comedy and the difficult situations the characters find themselves in. I don’t want to overstate things – this is still a slightly-above-average comedy that still has a fair distance to go to reach “compelling” but the progress over just one season at least suggests there’s a chance it might get there. The improved dramatic heft helps a lot here too – Roseanne’s death by misjudging a dose of medication links back successfully to the last season of Roseanne and gives John Goodman the chance to do some proper fury acting, but it’s handled with much more care and nuance than the clumsy “America has an opiates problem!” protheltizing we got last time out. Issues of pregnancy, fertility and adoption (by a lesbian couple) help to keep a female-centric aspect to much of the drama too, retaining a core element of the original show. But this is, in the end, a comedy show and that’s where it stands or falls – and here it stands. This iteration of the show is less inclined to go for zingers or “joke-canned laughter-joke” but will allow actual stories to play out over an episode and derive the humour from that. Of course there are some zingers or “joke-canned laughter-joke” moments as well, but they’re less common and as a result the comedy feels much more relaxed and, well, genuine. Again, while this isn’t yet close to being can’t-miss-it comedy it’s also become an easy show to recommend and, mercifully, an easy one to watch.

Scores On The Doors? 6.5/10

EDIT! As it happens, The Conners never did develop into much of anything. It’s serviceable enough, though almost never anything more, and Gilbert and Metcalf remain the only real reason to bother with it. Rating it after another two seasons’ worth of episodes I’d drop it to 6/10, though some is due credit for it actually bothering to acknowledge Covid very directly.

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