Some Thoughts on the Roseanne Revival

Some Thoughts on the Roseanne Revival

Are we in for a realistic take on a family politically divided or a vehicle for Roseanne Barr’s personal beliefs? (Also: The show we should’ve been watching all along.)

The Twitterverse has been alight with talk of ABC’s upcoming tenth season of Roseanne. Liberals are urging everyone to #BoycottRoseanne because of star Roseanne Barr’s support of Donald Trump. Conservatives, meanwhile, haven’t taken well to the notion that Darlene’s (Sara Gilbert) son is going to be gender-fluid (although they seem to have forgotten Barr’s butchering of the National Anthem back in 1990, which would lead to its own #BoycottRoseanne hashtag today). When a panel discussion with the cast derailed Monday into a series of characteristically controversial comments by Barr, as well as the reveal that Roseanne and Dan Conner are going to be portrayed as Trump supporters and at odds politically with other Conner family members, the Twitter-bashing ramped up again.

Briefly putting aside my views on Barr herself (more on that in a minute), I think that’s a brilliant setup for the Conners.

I loved Roseanne during its run and could easily relate to it. As far as I was concerned, Lanford, Ill., wasn’t too far removed from my hometown of Logan, W.Va. In its prime (roughly seasons 1-5), the show was a groundbreaking, realistic look at the struggles of working-class people who, often times, were barely scraping by. At home, they fought as hard as they loved and weren’t afraid to laugh at themselves. The Conners were more like the people I grew up around than any other TV family at the time. And, on another note, Barr never shied away from putting LGBT characters and issues front and center at a time when very few shows were doing it. So, okay, credit where it’s due. Barr changed the face of television in a lot of positive ways.

Somewhere around the sixth season, however, the lines between Roseanne Barr and Roseanne Conner began becoming increasingly blurred – and, as a result, both increasingly dislikable. I’ve never really been a Barr fan since – even less so given her current political beliefs and the general lunacy that has filled up her Twitter feed the past several years.

However – getting back to that “brilliant setup” remark – here’s why I’m going to give the reboot a whirl instead of boycotting it because I disagree with its star. As ridiculous and out of touch with reality as I find Barr’s viewpoints to be, she made a statement this week defending the show’s new premise that I can’t help but agree with.

“In the Roseanne show, I’ve always tried to have it be a true reflection of the society we live in. I feel like half the people voted for Trump and half didn’t, so it’s just realistic. And, in fact, it was working-class people who elected Trump, so I felt like that was very real and something that needed to be discussed and especially about polarization in the family and people actually hating other people for the way they voted, which I feel is not American.”

She’s right. After the 2016 election, I was left trying to find some kind of reconciliation between my extremely liberal views and the conservative, Trump-supporting leanings of my hometown crowd – the friends and family members that I love and respect and didn’t want to disengage from because of politics. In some cases – especially people I’d always thought to be rather progressive – the support of Trump was both baffling and unsettling. But, for whatever reasons, there we were. And here we are. Many of the blue-collar, working-class Democrats I grew up around are today’s Trump supporters. I think it makes perfect sense that, somewhere along the way, Dan and Roseanne Conner would’ve made the same transition.

Now the question remains: how well will the show portray this? Or, perhaps more to the point, how well will the show portray “Roseanne Conner”? Will we be seeing an actual character (i.e. Roseanne seasons 1-5) or will she be little more than a mouthpiece for the bitter, out-of-touch viewpoints of the actress behind her (seasons 6-9)? (I’m not concerned with how brilliant players like John Goodman and Laurie Metcalf will fare. They can take the worst material and make it entertaining.)

On the show, Roseanne Conner’s Trump support has caused a rift between her and sister Jackie (Metcalf). One promo still shows Jackie facing off against Roseanne while wearing a “Nasty Woman” shirt, suggesting that the Conners are indeed quite divided in their political leanings. If done well – and if they’re able to recapture some of the spirit and strength of the show’s earlier years – this could be a worthy take on a politically divided family, as so many families in our country are today. But achieving that would perhaps require minimal input from the show’s namesake…which seems unlikely.

But not impossible. Todd VanDerWerff at Vox offers this review: “The irony of this is that the new Roseanne — absent the star’s political leanings — is a genuinely funny, thoughtful take on how white Americans who disagree strongly over the president and his views on essentially anyone who’s not a white American can find a way to talk about these issues without killing each other. The show feels reinvigorated by the political climate in a way that, say, NBC’s Will & Grace reboot just doesn’t.”

With people like Gilbert and Wanda Sykes on the production team, and Barr having input on scripts, the scales could tip either way. Early reviews of the first episode suggest it mirrors the feel of the original — but which era of the original?

I guess we’ll have to tune in and decide for ourselves – if we choose to. VanDerWerff offers what I think is an appropriate summation: “If the new Roseanne is thinking about how dicussing politics has fractured relationships in these 2010s, it’s a dark twist that fans will now have to ask themselves whether Barr’s politics will dampen their love for the show.”

Roseanne returns to ABC March 27.

Meanwhile…

Why “Crystal” is the Show We Should’ve Been Watching All Along

I always thought the character of Crystal Anderson, Roseanne’s long-suffering friend, was who we should’ve been watching all along. Played by the underrated Natalie West (who’ll be back for the reboot), the character’s various throwaway lines, when put together, paint the picture of a woman who faced more hardship and pain than all the Conners combined. Listen to this: Thrown out of her parents’ house at 16, married at 17, divorced at 18. A tornado carried off her car. She was hospitalized for pneumonia. Her second husband, a welder, cut their trailer in half when they split up. Her third husband died when he fell into a bridge while working construction and became permanently encased in it, leaving her a widow and a single mother. After a string of breakups, she married Dan’s dad – a traveling salesman twice her age – and had two kids by him within a year, which she pretty much raised alone because he was constantly on the road. And then, well, she was basically written out of the show about midway through. Come on! What a prequel goldmine. I think Crystal deserves the Young Sheldon treatment. Who’s with me? #YoungCrystal!

 

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