I’d much prefer to visit any other place than Easttown.
Shows about zombies have been popular for a while now. But what about a show that’s something of a zombie itself?
That’s what ABC’s asking with its resurrection of Roseanne, which first saw life 30 years ago, survived several seasons past its sell-by date and finally keeled over in 1997. Now the show’s back, and nearly everyone’s back with it—including characters who supposedly died (Roseanne’s husband Dan Conner, specifically) and cast members who’d been recast. (Both the show’s Beckys, Lecy Goranson and Sarah Calke, return, though Calke plays a new character.)
Yes, Roseanne is back from the grave—in Dan’s case, quite literally. And the result is about what you’d expect from any zombie worth its salted innards: the same, just messier.
This is not to say that Roseanne was squeaky clean to begin with.
The show, starring the famously crass comedian Roseanne Barr, officially launched in 1988 to wild critical and commercial acclaim. Roseanne was the sharp-tongued materfamilias for the working class Connor family, and her titular show was seen as the antithesis of more aspirational, traditional-family sitcoms on the networks then, such as the feel-good wholesomeness of The Cosby Show or Growing Pains. The Connors weren’t rich. They weren’t at all aspirational. And those qualities formed a good chunk of its charm. Here’s a family that looks like mine, many viewers said. And they said it in droves.
Roseanne became the highest-rated program on television in short order, snagging a 23.8 Nielsen rating score in just its second season. (For comparison’s sake, the This Is Us 2018 finale banked a 2.7 Nielsen rating.) Over its nine-season run, it won four Emmys and a Peabody Award. And in 2002, when TV Guide unfurled its list of the “50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time,” Roseanne logged in at No. 35.
But for such a supposedly grounded show, Roseanne took some surreal flights of fancy toward the end. In the ninth season, the Conners apparently win the lottery and struggle with their newfound wealth. Then, in the final episode, the show tells us that the big lottery win was made up: Roseanne herself created the fiction to help her cope with the death of husband, Dan, who suffered a fatal heart attack at the end of season eight. Oh, and Jackie, Roseanne’s longsuffering sister, was outed as a lesbian.
Aaaand, that’s a wrap.
Now, 20 years later, the whole ninth season has been expunged from memory with the exception of a few knowing nods. (In the opening episode, for instance, Dan picks up an unpublished novel Roseanne apparently wrote, joking, “It would’ve sold like hotcakes if you hadn’t killed off the most interesting character.”) It’s a hard reboot where everything reverts to form (not unlike NBC’s recent reboot of Will & Grace), right down to the colorful afghan on the Conner couch.
This is not to say that the Conner family has been frozen in time. Both Roseanne and Dan are older, if not much wiser. Daughter Darlene is living with Mom and Dad again, along with her own kids—daughter Harris and son Mark—though the latter wears makeup and fingernail polish and is, his mother explains, “exploring” with his sexual identity. Son D.J. also has a kid in tow, Mary. Oldest daughter Becky seems apparently kid-less—but is plotting to be a surrogate mom to new character Andrea (played by former Becky, Sarah Chalke. “Look at us!” one says to the other when they meet for the first time on screen. “We could be the same person!”)
Roseanne has never been afraid to explore controversial subjects, and the new show follows suit. Obviously, issues of gender identity take a central role in the reboot, given Mark’s uncertainty over his own. And Becky’s surrogacy leads, in the very first episode, to debates stamped with the abortion-rights mantra “my body, my choice.” While Jackie is apparently straight this season, Roseanne’s lesbian friend Nancy Bartlett will give the show “LGBTQ+ representation,” according to Pop Sugar. (On the flip side, perhaps it’s worth noting that Roseanne is perhaps the most sympathetic Trump voter you’ll see on television.)
And, of course, the sitcom continues to show the blue-collar “reality” of the Conner family: Dan still drinks beer by the case in the garage. Kids and parents scream at each other. The new Roseanne is no more aspirational than the old.
But for all those faults, the strengths of the show remain, too. Roseanne and Dan may fight with their kids. The decisions made by their progeny may frustrate, infuriate and flat-out mystify them. But in the end, they love their children, and their children love them right back.
And that makes them a sight better than most zombies.
As the show tries to erase its bizzaro ninth season and catch viewers up on what’s been going on with the Conner clan for the last two decades, Darlene tries to heal the rift between her mother, Roseanne, and her beloved aunt, Jackie. Meanwhile, Becky announces her plans to be a surrogate mother for money—using her own eggs as part of the surrogacy procedure.
Both Dan and Roseanne feel as though Becky’s decision amounts to “selling” a grandbaby. Jackie’s fully supportive, however, saying that because it’s Becky’s body, it’s ultimately her choice how to use it. Roseanne reluctantly agrees. “Dan, it’s her body, her decision,” she says, and Dan storms out to the garage.
It’s obvious that Jackie and Roseanne had a falling out over politics: Jackie calls Roseanne a “deplorable,” and Roseanne ends a dinnertime prayer with this: “Most of all, Lord, thank you for making America great again,” echoing Trump’s prominent campaign slogan. They eventually reconcile, agreeing to disagree. Roseanne tells Jackie that her support of government-supported health care just shows that she’s “a good-hearted person who can’t do simple math.”
Mark, Darlene’s son, wears makeup and nail polish, much to the chagrin of Roseanne and Dan. “He’s exploring,” Roseanne tells Dan. “May the winds fill his sails and carry him to the boys’ section at Target,” Dan adds.
Dan and Roseanne get suggestive in bed, with Roseanne suggesting that he “pleasure” her. Elsewhere, Dan doles out his and Roseanne’s prescription drugs, calling himself the “Candy Man.” They make light of taking the drugs, and when Roseanne accepts her pain meds for her bad knee, she exclaims “Oh, my babies!” Dan tells her that all the antidepressants are hers: “If you’re not happy, I have no chance of being happy,” he says.
Dan goes to the garage to drink. We hear joking references to “drunk clowns,” bondage, wizards and suicide. Darlene hides some uncomfortable truths from her parents. Characters say “a–” twice, “d–n” twice, “crap” and “sucks” once each.
Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.
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