REFLECTIONS ON ROSEANNE
Before she dives into recaps of the new Roseanne episodes, Julie reflects on what the original series means to her (and tells you exactly when she thinks it jumped the shark).
I remember loving sitcoms when I was a kid. It didn’t matter what the subject was or who was in it, I couldn’t get enough of the predictable plot lines, the prescriptive laugh tracks, and the tidy storytelling. Golden Girls, ALF, Mama’s Family, Punky Brewster, Silver Spoons, Kate & Allie, Empty Nest, Gimme a Break, The Facts of Life, Family Ties--I loved the safe predictability in these shows that was so lacking in my own chaotic, dysfunctional life.
When Roseanne premiered in 1988, I was immediately captivated. For the first time ever, I saw a family like mine on television. Living in rural Illinois, I was thrilled every time they named an Illinois landmark that I recognized. It was amazing to see a family talk openly about money and financial concerns. And of course I drew parallels between the Conners and my family. I, of course, was the headstrong and sarcastic Darlene; my sister was prissy and perfect Becky. Even my mom was just as smart mouthed as Roseanne. (However, my father wasn’t anything like Dan Conner, who was, without a doubt, the best of all sitcom husbands and fathers, and it’s a travesty John Goodman never won an Emmy for the role.) The Conner family was realistic in a way I’d never seen on television, and the storytelling was authentic in a way that I really appreciated.
Watching television was one of the few things my family did together. Through the show, my mother was able to start conversations with me and my sister about difficult topics, and through the emotions the characters displayed, we were able to express our emotions in a roundabout way. Because of this I formed an intense emotional bond with the show that persists to this day, despite the terrible way the series ended.
At the time, when Roseanne started to go off the rails (I’ve decided that season seven, episodes nineteen & twenty, clips shows called “All About Rosey 1 & 2”, are when it really started to jump the shark), I felt incredibly confused. While Roseanne had always flirted with meta storytelling and the surreal (the episode “Sweet Dreams”, where Roseanne fantasizes about a bath alone without interruption, is one of the more successful examples), season seven is when this meta storytelling began taking over the show, to its detriment. The strength of the show had always been based in the realness of the characters and the humor that came from their relationships and situations. (Also, the morphing credits of season eight, where Lecy Goranson’s face melds into Sarah Chalke’s and then back again, is one of the more disturbing things I’ve ever seen.)
I have a huge problem with art that doesn’t adhere to its own internal storytelling logic. I had the same issues with the Sex and the City movies. Whatever other flaws the series had, at least it propelled itself to an ending that made sense for the world and the characters it had created. The ending of Roseanne was the same way. Roseanne’s insistence on turning the last season into a back-door pilot for her American Ab Fab, and making Dan Conner cheat on her when he would never, ever do that, and that final, brutal thrust of the pen when she took the lazy way out and told us it had all been her (terrible) novel after all, were such nonsensical choices that I felt physically angry about it.
So I’m actually looking forward to seeing what Roseanne and the team does about these mistakes. Representation is important, and television still lacks diverse and accurate portrayals of working class families. Roseanne might not have always gotten it right, but when she did, it was life changing, especially for nine year old girls growing up poor in Illinois.